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Sport Histories: Kettlebells

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.


Mr Motivator

Mr Motivator

I ran my first parkrun on Saturday.

Correction, I very slowly jogged my first parkrun on Saturday.  Out of probably 800 people, I was 630th.  I don’t care though.  I very much doubt I’ll ever care.

Hmmmm, that sounds a little negative, right?  Particularly as I work for Sport Wales.  I guess I should explain.

It’s about motivation. And that’s different for everyone.  Some people do sport to win medals, to beat the other team or their personal best.  I signed up for parkrun because I realised I just wasn’t doing enough exercise and was looking a little too much like the guy above.  I figured that the distance was doable (5km) and it looked like a friendly atmosphere (and it turns out it was).

What was important was that, as I wandered up to the starting line, I saw every shape and type of person there.  It made me feel at ease.  There were people twice my size and people half of it, people in their 90s and some not ready for ‘big school’.  Most didn’t look like runners.  They looked like me (no offence) and that was so encouraging.  Yes, there were hardcore runners too, ones that took half the time I did, but they were the ones that made me smile the most.  A fair few of them ran around a second time, slowing to run alongside, and encourage the ones that were more tortoise than hare.

I should also point out that there were a large number of volunteer stewards lining the circuit too, and their main role seemed to be cheering people on, which they did with gusto.  Such unbridled positivity was great to see, and made a change from the pressurised, tense atmosphere that can be experienced on sporting touchlines elsewhere.


And so, for me, it was a good fit.  And that day, I WON.  My target was to complete the course and I did just that.  I felt good.  Even when my 36 year old asthmatic chest wheezed and my joints ached . Even as I walked home in the cold and lashing rain.

This blog is about me, but also more widely about the importance of physical activity at the lower levels.  We all know people (or ARE people) who would far rather do a sit down than a sit up.  I am more active now than I ever have been,  but it’s still not a lot, not really enough.  I understand the battle it can be just to do a tiny bit of exercise.  But doing even a tiny bit is really, really important, vital in fact.  And the equation is simple:

Eating better + Moving more = Healthier you

Will my 5km jog lead to me running a marathon?  Honestly, I doubt it.  But will it lead to me doing another parkrun next week? Jogging home from work once in a while? Maybe getting a bit healthier in a way I can manage and keep up over time?  I think it just might.

– Max Harvey


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