two recent articles have come to light lately, highlighted by this article in the NY Times this week: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/turning-to-kettlebells-to-ease-…
but both of the scientific ones are from a month or two ago, and i feel the need to comment on them. the reason is that i beieve any one exercise mode and any one exercise tool is just that – any one – and not necessarily for all. if promoters would simply note that and then highlight the salient features both good and bad about any particular fitness instrument, we would be less apt to follow the hype and more apt to try what works best for each of us. first, some background.
the article above discusses the value of kettlebell (kb) swings for those with low back problems. it was based on a study of subjects who had low back and neck issues resulting from their line of work: Scand J Work Environ Health. 2011 May;37(3):196-203. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.3136. Epub 2010 Nov 25. every so often, when you read a summary article, go to the article itself…and you’ll learn that one group did kb’s, the control group did….nothing. which group improved? well, short of making things worse, exercise in general and in this case kb exercise specifically made pain diminish. lo and behold, they subjects who exercised got stronger too. hmmm, now how did we know that would happen? jeez, could it be because the kb group…exercised? duh! my point is, when the media writes it up, suspect a mis-reading of the story and check it out yourself. interestingly, in contrast to the NY Times piece, this study concludes no aerobic benefits were accrued; however, those were not the intent of the program so it makes sense none were accrued.
the other article referred to in this piece – in the Jan/Feb 2010 ACE FitnessMatters – aerobic benefits were noted, to the tune of about 21 calories per minute from a 20 minute routine. kb routines are often sequential, with many swings of different types involved. since they are large body movements with multiple muscle groupls – squats or deadlifts plus sharp extensions of the spine and some sort of shoulder movements – many calories are expended. the estimates above suggest a 400 cal workout in 20 minutes. this is based on an anaerobic burn of about 6 cal/minute. what that suggests is the ‘afterburn’ that occurs from an intense workout. now, those are calories to include in your daily expenditure, so don’t get me wrong here. and even if you only included the 13+cal/min of aerobic value, which would mean about 260 cals in 20 minutes, that would be a helluva good workout. and so it is. kb training is intense. for intensely trained athletic types, it sure is efficient. my gripe is, of course, that this is being sold to the public and doing so is potentially dangerous. i would request writers of such pieces simply put the caveat out there that not everyone should be trying this. and even with an expert trainer, not everyone is a candidate for this type of training. from the Scandinavian J of Work Environment Health abstract (not the full article), we have no idea what the sources of back pain the subjects were experiencing. it may not be like yours – discogenic, etc. if muscular, then kb training is appropos. if not, watch out!
one more more recent article -by a renowned spine researcher, stuart mcgill – J Strength Cond Res 26(1): 16–27, 2012- noted the muscular actions of the kb swings and carries. these were found to be quite useful in training the spinal musculature. so while i suspect that kb training is good for you, and has therapeutic value to many with low back issues, i just want to note the basic caveat that (1) find a good qualified trainer to teach you how to use them, how to progress with them, and (2) progress slowly, with low wts and emphasis on technique first; add wt much later, after reps are built up. finally, read new articles with a twinge of suspicion, and don’t assume the writers have read or reported on all aspects of the studies they refer to. that takes patience, diligence, and a sense of responsibility.
so go swing.