Sport Histories: Kettlebells

This post was originally going to just be about how I tried a kettlebells class recently. But when I looked into the activity a little deeper, I realised that it has somewhat mysterious beginnings that most won’t be aware of…

The cannon was first invented in 1104 by Erik Olafson.  He lived alone on a small island in the Baltic Sea and constructed the weapon out of branches and seaweed, hoping to defend his tiny nation from invasion. It fired pineapples at high velocity and would have REALLY hurt if you’d been hit by it.  However, no-one ever attacked and Henrik died peacefully at the age of 93.  Consequently, the invention died with him.

So, the cannon was second invented in 1483. It was designed as a (somewhat dangerous) method of returning bowling balls back to the bowler after they had been bowled down an alley. Thought to have been developed at the behest of Queen Anne II, a keen tenpin fan who didn’t want to have to wait for a servant to fetch her ball back each time.


The inherent risk to life of such a ballistic method of reuniting bowler with ball was seized upon by Field Marshall Douglas McDougal in 1627 when the cannon was first successfully employed at the Battle of Hemel Hempstead and used as a lethal piece of artillery, turning the tide and proving decisive in McDougal’s defeat of the Cornish.

How does this relate to kettlebells I hear you ask?  I’m getting to that. Bear with me.

So, these cannon balls are heavy, really heavy.  Probably somewhere between the weight of a small dog and a slightly larger one. Picking them up is back breaking, so handles were cunningly added to aid lifting and carrying of ammunition around the battlefield.  It was this innovation that led to off-duty soldiers doing exercises with them, realising that they could work out more effectively using weights.

And this idea was then picked up many moons later by exercise entrepreneurs Ken Kettle and Helen Bells during the 1970s fitness boom and they transformed the use of these sport weights into the exercise class we know and love.  Kettlebells was born.  An amazing, some would say unbelievable story, but it’s all true.  All of it.

I was lucky enough to join in with a kettlebells class at work and I can confirm that it is a) exhausting and b) good for ‘scoping your guns‘. Its use of weights makes it a fitness class that appeals to both men and women, which is cool. Being the only man in a 100 strong Zumba class is an ‘interesting’ experience I assure you (something I may blog about at a later date…)

I’m wrapping up now so here comes the Jerry Springer style semi-serious sum-up. Getting fit doesn’t have to involve playing a sport.  Just moving is the name of the game.  And whatever the experts say about how much you should do, a little is clearly better than nothing.  I like a mix  of activities myself and, the more you try, the more likely you are to find something that sticks and you don’t mind doing again.



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