I don't know much about proper kettle bell techniques. Neither does Jillian Michaels.
FOR THE RECORD: Fitness DVD: The In-Your-Face Fitness column in the Oct. 11 Health section about a kettle bells instructional DVD by Jillian Michaels gave the wrong first name for a kettle bells instructor and misspelled the name of his company. He is Mark, not David, Cheng, and the business is Kettlebells Los Angeles, not Kettle Bells Los Angeles. Also, the article said Michaels obtained introductory fitness certifications 17 years ago but didn't seem to have recertified, based on information on her website. After the column was published, Michaels provided copies of her most recent certifications with the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America and the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Assn., and the two organizations confirmed that her credentials with them are up to date.
I have an internationally respected fitness certification and 17 years' experience with free weights, yet I lack the audacity to pretend I am qualified to teach kettle bells.
Jillian Michaels, on the other hand, is lacking in shame. At least that's what I thought until I realized Michaels is not actually a real fitness trainer — she's an actress playing the role of fitness trainer on TV and in a line of popular DVDs.
It's analogous to Jesse Ventura's choice of a Gatling-style minigun to mow down guerrillas in the 1987 movie "Predator." Most viewers thought it was way cool, but real soldiers shook their heads in disbelief that anyone would schlep such an ungainly weapon through the jungle.
Same thing with Jillian Michaels. Typical viewers think she's great, yet the collective jaws of professional trainers hit the floor after witnessing her regular displays of poor technique and unsafe training practices.
Michaels obtained some introductory fitness certifications (National Exercise & Sports Trainers Assn. and Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America) 17 years ago and does not seem to ever have recertified. The biography on her website goes on and on about her multimedia endeavors, but there is not a single mention of any health-and-fitness education or credentials.
And now, seemingly without any qualifications, Michaels is teaching amateurs how to use kettle bells in her latest DVD, "Shred-It With Weights." Her toned, tanned and possibly Photoshopped physique stands proudly on the cover holding a kettle bell, while a bubble on the cover exclaims, "Lose up to 5 pounds a week!"
Lose 5 pounds a week? Sure, if you start off weighing more than a Smart Car.
It's not the first time she's made such a claim. Even though it takes hundreds of hours for a serious professional to become certified as a yoga instructor, Michaels made a yoga DVD that also promises you can lose up to 5 pounds a week, which is about as likely as Paris Hilton winning the Nobel Prize in physics.
A kettle bell is a traditional Russian training tool that looks like a cannonball with a handle affixed. It allows for a wide variety of swinging movements that focus more on development of power and endurance, whereas most weightlifting focuses on slow-speed strength. In order to reduce the risk of injury and maximize your results, qualified instruction is strongly recommended.
What made an unqualified Jillian Michaels decide to create a kettle bell DVD? I imagine she received a call one day from her agent that went something like this:
Agent: Jillie! How's the yelling at fat people business?
Michaels: Tiring. Almost as tiring as counting all my money.
Agent: Uh-huh. Listen, I've got an idea. It's totally hot right now. Two words: "kettle bells," baby.
Michaels: What's a kettle bell?
Agent: Some kind of bowling ball thingy. It will be a real moneymaker!
Michaels: Money? I'm in.
All jokes aside, I wanted to give Michaels the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she got some professional instruction to ensure her kettle bell technique was safe and effective. So I asked Dave Cheng, chief instructor at Kettle Bells Los Angeles, to critique her form for me.
"Her technique is appalling," Cheng told me. "What she says in the video and what she demonstrates are two different things. She doesn't break things down into manageable pieces that prompt people to get the correct form, so instead she is enabling bad form… I would not recommend this from a safety perspective."
Cheng also added that he thought Michaels "is simply trying to capitalize on the popularity of kettle bells without going through her due diligence."
I asked Dave about the benefits of kettle bells compared with traditional weightlifting, and he informed me that kettle bells "allow for improving ballistic strength, making for a more optimal athlete," which actually sounds pretty awesome.
If you dismiss Cheng's comments as those of someone jealous of Michaels' fame and riches, consider that he is far from the only certified kettle bell instructor disconcerted with her technique. Denver-based instructor Josh Hillis had this to say in a blog post regarding her technique: "It's just wrong ... in every way. All of it. Every single thing she does is wrong."
Austin, Texas, trainer Jude Howe was so disgusted with Michaels' kettle bell movements that he posted a YouTube video showing how they really should be done. "Her technique and approach was so off the mark," he told me. "It couldn't have been more dangerous, and I felt the need to show people proper form."
If you decide to try kettle bells, Cheng recommends your instructor be RKC-certified, because the process is mentally and physically grueling, and they'll actually fail potential instructors who don't cut it; some other organizations will certify anyone who shows up with cash.
Now let's take a look at Michaels' weight-loss claims using the example of a middle-aged woman who weighs 190 pounds. Since there are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, to fulfill Michaels' promise of losing 5 pounds a week, this woman needs a weekly deficit of 17,500 calories.
Part of this massive caloric deficit can result from dietary restriction — but not too much or it could cause her metabolism to slow down and she would experience intense hunger. A minimum intake for our hypothetical woman is around 1,400 calories a day, which is about 500 less than her typical weight-maintenance diet. Over the course of a week, she could lose 1 pound this way. So just 4 pounds — or 14,000 calories — left to account for.
Kettle bells can be a tremendous calorie-burner in the hands of an experienced user. But since Michaels' DVD is targeted at overweight and out-of-shape women, I think a generous estimation of how many calories our hypothetical woman can burn is about 600 an hour. Considering that she would burn roughly 100 calories sitting on the couch, the actual extra calories burned from doing Michaels' workout is 500 per hour.
Dividing that into the remaining weekly deficit of 14,000 calories, we find that our poor woman needs to use Michaels' kettle bell DVD for 28 hours each week. That's four hours of kettle bells a day — every single day.
I can hear the exploding lumbar discs already.
Since no one can reasonably expect that people are going to do this DVD for 28 hours a week, the only conclusion we can make is that Michaels is really bad at math.
I contacted Michaels to get her side of the story, but her schedule was too full to make room for a conversation with me, according to her publicist Ashley Sandberg in New York.
While Jillian Michaels fans must be frothing at the mouth, I think when a person proclaims the only way to get in shape is through hard work (true), then adds her name and image to a brand of diet pills (hypocritical), then faces a class-action lawsuit over the lack of efficacy regarding said diet pills (unsurprising), coupled with myriad examples of unqualified and unsafe training along with outrageous weight loss claims, then it's time to find a new source of fitness education and inspiration.
Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.