“When you train, you should train as if on the battlefield”
This was a typical quote from my newly purchased Russian Kettlebell manual. What had started as a cursory glance at some conditioning exercise in an old cycling magazine had, far too quickly, escalated me to buying a series of kettlebells – basically iron cannonballs with a handle – as a kind of alternative to joining a gym. I tried them for size, and according to the manual, I had come up lacking. So my aim: to achieve a rating of “Average Strength Lady”.
Why, for my first post in a year, I hear you ask, am I talking about some fad weight-training regime and not about cycling? Well, I reflect miserably, looking outside at the glorious weekend sunshine and first springtime temperatures of 2022… that’s because I can’t. The Russian manual, goading me with more weight and faster progression, pushed me too far.
“Do not be a sissy, keep your warmup short” it said, “Do not hold back. This is hard style”.
Maybe that was the reason.
“Treat your kettlebell as if it is always loaded” it said.
Definitely should have listened.
“There is no way to advance to the next kettlebell other than dominating the previous one”
Shit, that’s right! The thing just looked back at me blankly, like some cold KGB contract killer. I certainly didn’t dominate it. It dominated me.
And that is what put my back out.
That was two weeks ago, and a few things have happened since then, but I still ain’t back on the bike.
I did a hike the next day (foolish), a hard session on the bike trainer (more foolhardiness) and a few days later hauled my bike to Shibuya for my long awaited interview with NHK Japan (yeah, bet you didn’t see that coming. I’ll write about my upcoming documentary in another post)
I also visited a Japanese doctor. And that, as most residents know full well, is more hit or miss than any of all this.
My first experience with a local doctor was my first year in Japan, and I had woke up simultaneously with flu, tonsillitis, and a terrifying hangover (in those younger, stupider days, I would of course try first to address all ailments with huge amounts of alcohol). I found a so-called English-speaking doctor next to the “secret encounters” section of the Tokyo Classifieds and made an appointment. The diagnosis was quick and concise (“ah you not good, you not good, no?!”) and he gave me a large condom-like thing to pack with ice and wrap around my neck.
The treatment was not very successful. Furthermore, it has taken the last twenty years of my life to track down and destroy every remaining photograph of that experience.
Luckily I’ve met some good doctors as well over the years (tip: don’t go to the “English-speaking” ones). This time, the doctor was more professional, but even less talkative. He was impatient to move onto his regulars, and move me on to the various torture machines as soon as possible. He gave me a generic printout of some exercises – I noticed only later that a couple of them had been circled in red ink (did that mean do them, or avoid them? I would never know).
As the nurse was efficiently ushering me out the room, I managed to get in a question.
“So should I just give up the kettlebells?” I asked.
“Oh?” he said, “No, this isn’t the kettlebell’s fault. It’s just shouganai”.
Shouganai – It is what It is. Or another way of putting it – That’s Life.
And then the door was shut in my face.
As the next nurse was delightedly strapping me into the third back-stretching contraption of the morning I recalled another important maxim highlighted near the beginning of the kettlebell training manual.
“Kettlebells do not hurt people. People hurt people”
So was I wrong? Was swinging kettlebells around an inherently safe and superior method to build strength, mobility and flexibility? A simple and efficient alternative to supplement my cycling, instead of all the malarky around weights and stuff? Apparently then, my back would have gone anyway, with or without the kettlebell?
I don’t know, but I’m not touching those evil things again. Don’t trust kettlebells. Don’t trust Russians. And most of all don’t trust those doctors – they may be secret KGB contract killers in disguise.