Health: Kettlebells: From Russia, With (Tough) Love

Russian athletes and Hollywood A-listers swear by these unusual — and gut-busting — free weights

It’s only five minutes in and I can already see why kettlebells are Hollywood’s hottest workout. I’ve just completed my first round of swinging the 8-pound, cast-iron, cannonball-like handled weights between my legs and my entire core is burning, and I’m gasping for air like I’d just sprinted up the Art Museum steps — twice!

[sidebar]I had walked into Bryan Adler’s kettlebells class at East Falls Fitness for two reasons: First, I heard it could transform my body — celebs like Penelope Cruz, Claire Danes, and Matthew McConaughey use them to tone up. And second, you can get a butt-kicking workout in only 30 minutes because it increases strength, endurance, agility and balance all at once.

"You train your body in fewer movements and still get a great workout," Adler says. The key is to not actually do any heavy lifting. You use centrifugal force and momentum to swing the weights. I know what you’re thinking — it sounds like cheating, right? But that’s how kettlebells differ from standard weights. Your whole body will feel the burn because you’re fighting to hold your center of gravity. "When you swing the ball, it tries to get away from you," Alder says. "So your body activates more muscles and utilizes your core to maintain your posture and pull yourself back."

The body-busting move he threads throughout each class is like a basic squat. You hold the kettlebell with two hands and then squat down, lowering the weight until it is between your legs. You then stand up, while at the same time extending your arms until the weight is straight out in front of you at eye level. Once you get a rhythm going, you start to feel your heart really pumping and your quads and glutes smoking.

The centuries-old weights originated in Russia and have been used by Olympic athletes in training. Now the Eagles and Flyers are keeping in shape with them at Old City’s Maxercise, which was the first gym in the U.S. to incorporate kettlebells into their training programs in 2000. And the trend is only getting stronger, says Maxercise owner, John Disimone, who plans to host a kettlebell teacher certification workshop for area instructors in April.

Adler says kettlebell training is ideal for those looking to get a solid, full-body workout, loose weight and get strong in a short amount of time. Take his class at East Falls Fitness on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. or work up a sweat on your own with a 10-pounder or two ($29.99,