9.28.12 Issue

Annette van de Kamp-Wright, Editor of the Jewish Press

Russian Kettlebell is not a very well known sport. In fact, if you’ve never heard of it, you may be forgiven: the first Kettlebell instructor certification program in the United States was only developed in 2001.

Kettlebells, also known as Gyria, were developed in Russia in the 1700s. The Soviet army used them as part of their physical training and conditioning programs in the 20th century. They have been used for competition and sports throughout Russia and Europe since the 1940s. Kettlebells look kind of like cannonballs, with a handle on top; they come in various weights, starting at 16 kilograms. They are used for cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training, and they are not for the meek: “The movements used in Kettlebell exercise can be dangerous to those who have back or shoulder problems, or a weak core,” one article in the Statesman Journal claims.

Aleks doing a rack lunge Kettlebell

If you want to know more about this unique athletic tool, you might want to spend some time with Omahan Aleks Salkin. A self-described “dweeby, unathletic kid,” Aleks was born and raised in Omaha. Dweeby? Not likely. At the age of 19, he got into Muay Thai kickboxing, and started basic weight training. He then moved on to Krav Maga, and in 2008 a friend introduced him to Kettlebell.

“I got bitten by the iron bug, and have been lifting ever since,” he says. “In 2010, I decided to take the plunge, and get certified as an Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) instructor. I trained five days a week, for eight months; it’s a very tough and highly physical certification.”

And that’s not all: in November of this year, Aleks will travel to Tel Aviv where the RKC will be holding its first ever three-day Kettlebell instructors’ certification on Israeli soil. “It’ll be a brand new challenge in Israel,” Aleks says. “But this time it won’t come from politics or hostile neighbors — this time it will come from a cast iron ball.”

Founded in the US by former Soviet Special Forces physical instructor and world-renown Kettlebell and strength expert Pavel Tsatsouline, the RKC is the first and most widely respected Kettlebell instructor certification in the world.

“This marks a huge step for both the RKC and for the Israeli fitness scene,” Aleks says. “The level of instruction and professionalism at these events is unbelievable. I was a different lifter and a different person by the time I left the last day of my training nearly two years ago, and it’s amazing to see the transformation people experience. Knowing I will be a part of that for others is a privilege I can’t even describe.” Alex will travel to Israel as an assistant instructor, because in addition to being certified, he is fluent in Hebrew.

“It almost feels too good to be true,” he says, “since I only started lifting four-and-a-half years ago. If you had told me back then I would be doing this, I would have kindly asked you to put down whatever you were smoking and get serious.”

In anticipation of his trip to Tel Aviv, Aleks has been brushing up on his Hebrew — which shouldn’t be too hard, since he is also a Hebrew teacher at Beth El.

“Although the entire course will be taught in English, there is a lot of hands-on learning at these events, and being able to convey subtle nuances of the techniques will be crucial in helping the candidates improve their form and understanding of the RKC training principles. Nobody passes this course just by showing up; you have to demonstrate flawless technique, strength, and teaching ability.”

So what makes Kettlebell so cool and decidedly un-dweeby?

“There are a lot of fitness gimmicks out there,” Aleks explains. “I always felt there was a piece missing in my quest for what I like to call ‘no B.S. fitness.’ Despite all my attempts at weight training I just wasn’t feeling it, and wasn’t in great shape. As a full time student with tons of homework and a part-time job, I just couldn’t put in enough time. Kettlebell training finally did it for me; it instilled in me the right mix of safe and effective strength and cardio training, while giving me twice the results in half the time.”

In addition, Kettlebells have found wide appeal in other sports as well: “Thanks to Pavel Tsatsouline and his program, they’ve found their way into the training arsenal of sports teams everywhere, and even made it into the training protocols of the US military.”

Nowadays, Aleks owns about 12 Kettlebells, ranging in size from 20 lbs to 70 lbs, and they all get regular use, he says. “I love the variety of ways you can use them,” he adds, “it’s unequaled by any type of equipment. Lock me in a room with a 20 pound Kettlebell, and I’ll figure out a way to get stronger.”

Aleks currently takes private clients, and has started a corporate fitness program for WOWT employees. He’s planning to make Aliyah in January of 2013. Nobody knows how he will manage to get his Kettlebell collection onto the plane, but he’ll probably find a way.