Monday, May 4, 2009

Learning kettlebells from a DVD

Let me state from the outset that I really do not think this is a good idea. There are some extremely good DVDs out there for those who already know the basics, but I strongly believe that the first time you pick up a kettlebell it should be under the supervision of a certified kettlebell instructor who has taken you through a series of preparatory exercises and deemed you kettlebell-ready. There's just too much potential for injury otherwise.

But, suppose you're basically a healthy person with pain-free knees, a strong back, and stable shoulders, who's not an exercise novice and has maybe even done a little Olympic lifting. And suppose you live way the heck out in the middle of nowhere, a day's drive or more from the nearest kettlebell studio. Should you give up on the idea of kettlebells altogether, or should you order a DVD and give it a shot?

This is not a rhetorical question in any sense. Without in-person coaching from someone who knows what he or she is doing, you inevitably are going to miss subtle nuances of technique that can make all the difference. This is true of every body discipline, not just kettlebells. If you've ever had a private Pilates lesson you know just what I mean. There are loads of wonderful Pilates DVDs on the market, but Ana Caban talking at you on the TV is not the same as Ana Caban there in the room with you, watching you do the exercises and correcting your form as needed.

On the other hand, even if working along with a DVD isn't as good as an in-person lesson from a qualified instructor, it's still a good bit better than nothing. Maybe. If you don't hurt yourself.

As you can tell, I'm deeply ambivalent. In our sedentary society people need to move more, and if DVDs will help them accomplish that I feel I should be supportive. But not if it leads to injury. And there are certain kinds of exercise--including kettlebell training--where I feel that the potential for injury is great enough that you just shouldn't take the risk. Take a class or two, learn some technique, then practice along with a DVD at home if you like. But don't rely on DVDs alone.

Really, that's my best advice. But if after all that you still want to give kettlebells a shot and a DVD really is your only option, go to the Dragon Door website or the PerformBetter website and order one of their intro packages. I have the Art of Strength Kettlebell Clinic DVD and I think it's excellent, although in all honesty I can't tell whether it provides adequate instruction for someone who has never had any in-person coaching. It's definitely good for reinforcing your knowledge base, however, or at least it seems so to me.

I do not own any of the Dragon Door DVDs, but I have trouble believing that Pavel or the DuCanes would put out a bad product. I've also gotten good feedback from friends with no prior kettlebell experience who've used the Kettlebell Goddess DVD successfully ... and learned enough from it about proper technique to be horrified by Jillian Michaels' display of kettlebell ignorance on "The Biggest Loser."

Speaking of which ... whatever you do, do not assume that just because someone is a superb exercise instructor she knows what she's doing when it comes to kettlebells. I think Gin Miller is fantastic, but I REALLY wish she hadn't made a "kettlebell" workout. If you're an instructor and you want to jump on this particular bandwagon, please acquire the necessary expertise first!