The Gym-Free Pandemic Workout: Kettlebells, Indian Clubs, Sandbags, Oh My!
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if might makes right, getting mighty is alrighty!
By Eugene S. Robinson
- With gyms shuttered, it’s time to get back to the basics of old-school workouts with kettlebells, Indian clubs and sandbags.
- These simple items accomplish a total body workout that typical gym gear can’t match.
“COVID’s closing down the office?”
It was March and the word had come down: Working from home was now mandatory, a development that set the wheels spinning. You see, all of that commute time could now be turned into Project Yoke: Those who were so inclined could use that extra hour of not being boxed in on a freeway of weekday misery to get in shape! We could get our collective asses to a gym!
It was a glorious 30-second celebration before more news came across the media transom: “Gyms will be closed too, BTW.”
Cue: clown music.
It took two weeks of letting the body rest from injury. Maybe a week more of “I’m going to get more flexible.” And then one week of full-blown panic precipitated by someone in a Zoom meeting busting off with, “Wow … looks like you’ve really lost some weight.”
For me, it doesn’t get much more elegant than being able to get a total body workout with one tool.
Tim Dymmel, gym owner
A guy who has spent his entire life training in martial arts and lifting weights has zero interest in hearing that he looks less formidable.
To the rescue: all of the strength guys who hadn’t been inside a “conventional” gym in years. These are adherents to old-style strength methods, like Brooks Kubik, Matteo Fadini and an Italian Karl Gotch obsessive, plus many who, more impressed with results, have been lifting everything other than weights.
“I trained exclusively with three kettlebells and an occasional pull-up bar for three years,” says Tim Dymmel, a CrossFit competitor and gym owner. “I was in great shape for rugby, my job in construction and then as a police officer.”
For the uninitiated, kettlebells are cast-iron balls with top-mounted handles. A cannonball with a handle. Brilliant The basis of your workout with a kettlebell — which can be bought online and run the weight range from 5 pounds to I’ve-lost-my-mind 80-pounders — is also simple: You swing it, either one-handed or with both hands, between your legs and not any higher than your chest.
“I like elegant solutions,” Dymmel says. “For me, it doesn’t get much more elegant than being able to get a total-body workout with one tool.”
I used to bench 345 pounds for reps, squat 405 for comfortable sets of six and deadlift more than 600. In my driveway during lunchtime I felt ridiculous swinging a kettlebell. I felt even more ridiculous doing the farmer’s walk exercise, where you’re just walking around, a kettlebell in each hand. Just walking. That’s it. It’s supposed to work your grip. I scoffed.
By the next day, I was a believer. And as soon as I could move again, I was back at it, not only with kettlebells but also with other old-style accoutrements such as …
If you ever had the occasion to wander into an old-style gym, you’ve seen these. They look like bowling pins, are made of steel or wood and sit in the corner until an old guy who knows what the hell the deal is comes along. They’re called Indian clubs because supposedly they originated on the Indian subcontinent. They require a lot of what feels like useless swinging, but beyond the seeming stasis of a traditional weights routine that seeks to isolate muscles, they make the muscles work the way that muscles work: in concert. My shoulders, which have irked me for months, have ceased to do so.
As Omar Lima, of Functional Core Fitness, put it in an earlier OZY piece: “If you think about strength as the walls of a house, balance would be the foundation and endurance is what keeps it working together.”
So while working the grips on the club, the fingers, hands, forearms, biceps, triceps and shoulders are not one and done after a few reps. Nope. You go on for minutes. If you can, that is. Will you look like a bodybuilder after three months with these things? No. But strength is not static and you will be strong. Maybe even strong enough for …
Now, these are not really sandbags (though you can certainly use a sandbag The proprietary names are Wreck Bags and Bulgarian Bags. Filled with sand, water or rubber, weighted bags are a good complement to kettlebells and Indian clubs, since all of them emphasize muscle in motion.
The best part of these bags, outside of them not costing much — the Wreck Bag is considerably cheaper (about $50) than boutique Bulgarian Bags, which can run $300 or more — is that with one tossed over your shoulders you can squat, do lunges or just plain run. Because I’m still a firm believer in not missing leg day, bro.
Below is my workout. Note: Your injuries are not my responsibility, so consult a doctor first and heed what Dymmel told me before selling me my first kettlebell: “While kettlebells are fantastic tools, a tool is only as good as its user. I’ve seen and corrected terrible form over the years with kettlebells, and even body-weight squats and pushups.” So seek the help of a professional if need be.
How Eugene Is Trying to Kill Himself Today
All to be performed with a kettlebell of your choosing. At present, I’m swinging a 35-pounder.
- 10 swings: start with right hand, then switch to left
- 10 overhead presses: see above
- 10 bent-over rows
- 5 sets of 10 goblet squats: Hold the kettlebell in front of you like you were trying to place it on a shelf and squat
- 5 sets of 10 Indian club halos: If you don’t have an Indian club, you can use a sledgehammer. Hold it in front of you and then rotate, starting with your left side, to the back, like you were John Henry. The shoulder girdle loves it.
- 10 minutes of sandbag stuff, à la Turkish get-ups: Like on your back on the ground and hold the sandbag above you like you’re about to bench it. Then you stand up. Easy, yeah? Give it a try. We’ll wait.