Weights are for girls too. You can still wear pink, you’re not going to end up looking like Madonna, it burns oodles of calories AND boosts your metabolism (so you can eat more) and, heck, it’s really fun. Victoria Purcell takes the plunge and tries her first kettlebell class
‘Kettlebell training is the best training you can do,’ enthused my boss. ‘In fact, why don’t you buy your own and I’ll train you?’ My boss (our group editor Mark Kebble) loves kettlebells. He loves boxing sessions. He loves anything high intensity. He is the only one in our office that doesn’t regularly crowd around the pile of cake and snacks that stack up in the office of an afternoon. His body is a temple, we joke, but he’s not kidding.
I politely declined his offer, however, not least because I spend five days a week in his company as it is and, you know, he’s the boss – he’s all mean and demanding. Images of him yelling at me as I’m slumped, weeping, over 16kg weights fill my head. Oh and, while enthusiastic, he’s not a qualified trainer. I fear for my spine.
There’s also the fact that ketllebells in my house would no doubt act solely as some kind of accidental shoe stand. I need a class. I need to get outside. I need fresh air and a fun group to workout with – and I found it with Suzie Lubuska and her team at Wonder Woman Workshops.
Wonder Woman Workshops offers a variety of training experiences outdoors in Canary Wharf, Greenwich Park and on Blackheath – personal training, Boxing and Bodyweight Blitz classes, Strong Girl classes, Running Club, Bootcamp and monthly three-hour, female-only Wonder Woman Workshops. I tried the Tuesday evening kettlebell session on Blackheath, running from 6.30pm-7.30pm.
Now, I’m not a strong girl. I can’t do press ups. The thought of lifting weights makes me want to cry. I run, I cycle, I yoga, but I know I need to incorporate some strength training into my routine. My reasons behind this are two-fold. First, I want to eat more burgers, and boosting my metabolism means I will burn calories better, so I can do just that. Secondly, I seem to have somehow got into endurance events recently – half marathons, cycling the length of Wales just for fun etc etc – and strength training is very beneficial for such endeavours (distance running breaks down the muscles in the body, so a combination of strength training and going the distance works well).
But I didn’t realise just how many benefits for women there were to strength training:
- It increases bone density, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis – a condition that is much more common in women than men
- It’s just as good as a cardio workout in terms of burning calories – a high-intensity weight lifting session can burn up to 500 calories per hour
- It boosts your metabolism – weightlifting has been proven to raise your basal metabolic rate for up to 24 hours post-workout, and in the long term, more muscle means a higher resting metabolism, so you burn more calories even when you’re doing nothing (= more burgers)
- A stronger back, shoulders, neck, and core helps you stand up straight and look taller and more confident. Better posture also preserves the spine and reduces lower back pain
- It strengthens joints, ligaments, and tendons, which is critical for injury prevention. It’ll also improve sports performance and boost all-around full body strength.
When I meet the group on Blackheath, it’s clear from the off that this is a friendly bunch who regularly train together. There’s chat of traffic and work and holidays as the group warms up, then I’m taken off to one side to be shown how to lift kettlebells properly. I’m a first-timer, so it’s important I know how to do it properly so that a) I get the most of the workout and b) I don’t put my back out.
We start with a good beginner exercise – the Russian kettlebell swing. With the kettlebell just in front of you and your feet hip width apart, bend your knees and drive your hips back into an almost squat position. Reach forward and grab the kettle bell, swing it back between your legs then thrust it upwards using your hips, making sure not to swing it above shoulder height. This move targets the shoulders, back, hips, glutes and legs. Like anything new, you have to concentrate on the technique, but with regular classes you’ll soon get the hang of it and progress to heavier weights as you build up your strength. I’m start with 10kg and already I’m looking longingly at the 8kg kettlebell while simultaneously wishing I could handle the 16 like some of the crew.
We ran through a circuit of varying exercises using the kettlebells, some of which required a little more weight – like the kettlebell deadlift – and some that required, in my case, a lot less (essentially anything that involves me lifting weights above my head). My arms are seriously weedy, and for exercises like the two-arm kettlebell military press, where you pump them from your shoulder above your head for three agonising sets of 10 reps, I was down to 4kg in each hand. I somehow managed a few single-arm kettlebell snatches with the 8kg, but I didn’t trust my arms enough and I feared I’d knock myself out with the thing, so I downgraded.
The kettlebell circuits are interspersed with a few runs and those rotten things called burpees, and the instructor, Suzie, groups similar abilities and introduces elements of competition to keep you motivated. She employed a particular stroke of cruel genius during the travelling lunges when, with a kettlebell in each hand, you had to reach a certain point and get back again while your partner held the plank. If your partner drops to the floor before you make it back, you both have to start again. It sure makes you grit your teeth and move quicker.
The class is hard but fun, and studies show that training outdoors can also improve your mood, lower tension and anxiety, reduce stress and improve performance. Where better to achieve all that than beautiful Blackheath?
Single classes £12.50, pay monthly plans from £39. Nutrition advice is also available. See wonderwomanworkshops.co.uk