My Grand Old Kettlebell Plan

Dec. 1, 2008
No longer will the mainstay of firefighter workouts be 30 second bench press sets that do little, if anything, to prepare you for the job.

I foresee a set of kettlebells in every firehouse!

I could end the article there and call it a day, or I could go into endless reasons why I feel this way, and how every firefighter that took part in the program would benefit.

Don't Americans already know how to get in shape?

There seems to be no shortage of super fit models adorning billboards, magazines, or TV commercials. But I urge you to take a closer look. Are we simply assuming these models are capable of any real work or possess athletic ability, or are their results more about appearance, diet and good genetics? We know how to pump up muscles, but bodybuilders are not performance-oriented athletes. As firefighters, it's ludicrous to think that training like a bodybuilder will do anything but handicap job performance.

Why Kettlebells?
Our job, firefighting, is all about strength-endurance. I've written numerous articles about just what that is, but for simplicity's sake we can define strength-endurance as strength that endures. Superhuman, one repetition maximum lifts have no real place on the fireground, nor do isolated movements designed to train only minimal amounts of muscle.

Kettlebell timed sets, whether utilized in sports-oriented or fitness protocols, build the elusive quality of strength-endurance like nothing else. The student learns how to not put the bell down, going that extra, extra mile to finish the set. But do we just bull through this? No! We master technique, meaning we find a way to work with the bell, minimizing stress per rep, doing 10 times as many reps than we'd have thought possible.

Imagine performing a set of 150 reps (versus 15) while never putting the bell down and only switching hands one time. That's 75 reps per hand. This takes more than just brute strength, but tremendous endurance, mental fortitude, as well as a high level of technique - that everybody that's passed a CPAT can achieve.

I see it firsthand every day. Young men and women who couldn't pull a hose line, drag a dummy, last three minutes on a step mill, transformed into physically fit and capable people. Backgrounds all vary. Some have been running and weight lifting and are shocked that they had very little real work capacity or endurance. A certain percentage of people that show up at my gym are completely deconditioned. Real kettlebell training can drag them back from the depths of the sedentary.

But people resist. Understandably so. Years of commercial advertising has defined fitness for most Americans. I know we, as firefighters, must do better. We need to find a really workable system that addresses exactly the specific aspects of fitness necessary for our survival. I've found it, and offer it to you, fire departments across the country.

I see a set of kettlebells in every firehouse. No longer will the mainstay be 30 second bench press sets that do little, if anything, to prepare you for the job. Kettlebell sets, lasting two, three, and even 10 minutes will closely replicate what we actually do, and prepare the individual both muscularly, and aerobically--addressing our greatest need, increased cardiorespiratory capacity.

Mental fortitude, strength, endurance, cardio, all in a nice neat little package called the kettlebell. As the American Kettlebell Club's Fire and Rescue Advisor, my mission is to bring kettlebells to every department in the United States, big or small. Be one of the first.

MIKE STEFANO, a Contributing Editor, is the author of The Firefighter's Workout Book and American Kettlebell Club (AKC) Fire/Rescue Advisor. For more information on kettlebell and firefighter workout programs, visit To read Mike's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.You can reach Mike by e-mail at [email protected].

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