David Ganulin was studying martial arts in Japan in the 1990s when he came across kettlebell-like objects. “I knew they could be the next big thing,” he remembers. “They’d been used for hundreds of years and had a certain legitimacy. Plus, in the gym world, everything is cyclical. This was the workout that time forgot.”
Thanks to Ganulin, kettlebells are now commonplace in gyms across the country. But just ten years ago, he says, only old Russian dudes on the Coney Island boardwalk were using them. “I thought—let’s bring them to Equinox, let’s bring them to Crunch!” says, Ganulin, who today is the CEO of Kettlebell Concepts, a New York City-based company that teaches the fitness cognoscenti how to incorporate kettlebells into group fitness and personal training.
At first, Ganulin was literally laughed out of gyms. “I was presenting these bizarre-looking iron objects and suggesting that people swing the weights around,” he remembers of his peddling days, going from gym to gym, in NYC. Only Russian trainers, who’d grown up seeing kettlebells used in competitive lifting, seemed familiar with them. (Though Ganulin says they were used in this country in the 1920s, along with sandbags and medicine balls, which have also come back into vogue.)
The last stop on his sales train was Equinox, where Dr. Paul Juris of the Equinox Training Institute and Carol Espel, Equinox’s the national group exercise guru, both immediately understood the magic of these hunks of iron with a handle attachment. So Equinox became the launch pad for the nationwide kettlebell craze.
First trainers used kettlebells in one-on-one training. Then the concept carefully spread to group fitness, where dozens of trainers influenced the method. Now classes of toned New York women swing around the same style weights once favored by Russian competitors and their Coney Island fitness brethren.
The genius of kettlebells? The hunks of iron are economical: They provide a total body workout, unlike most gym machines that isolate muscle groups. And because of their uneven center of gravity, they simulate real-world movements like hauling your groceries home, dragging your bags through an airport, or picking up your kids.
In terms of efficiency, the cardio-weight training combo of kettlebells is really appealing for busy New Yorkers, says Ganulin. It’s a case of an old world object meeting a very modern need. —Alexia Brue
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