Kettlebell workout lessons from The Warrior Room

My wife and I recently got a chance to spend 3 months taking classes The Warrior Room kettlebell gym in Milkwaukie, Oregon. I'm excited to tell you about our training experience at this fantastic facility. In short, it has a great atmosphere, has amazing coaching, and really kicks your ass.

Kettlebells? Functional movement?

An entire gym completely dedicated to that most simple, and yet dynamic, of weight training equipment: the kettlebell. That's what The Warrior Room offers. You've heard me talk at length about functional movement and strength, real world applications of the exercises we do, and hence why free weights are better than machines and chronic cardio, but kettlebells take that principle to the next level. In fact, the first part of this great source-heavy site about kettlebell training defines functional movement. As opposed to isolating an individual muscle in an uncommon or unnatural way, functional movement training promotes intramuscular coordination of muscle fibers and muscle groups, strengthening reflexive pathways and training the body to move in a functional position without constant thought.

Kettlebells can be traced back to ancient Greece, although came into wider use in Russia in the 1700's and 1800's (super interesting piece with documentation about the history of kettlebells here.) Originally pyramid-shaped weights used on scales to measure crops, over time the tool changed in shape and size, and began to be manufactured for strength training by the Russian strongmen. The kettlebell is a unique weight lifting tool because its center of mass extends beyond the lifter's hand, allowing for smooth ballistic and swinging movements.

However, it's only since 2001 that kettlebell training has become more widely known in the U.S., after the first instructor certification program was developed here (the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge)).

Why kettlebells rock

As The Warrior Room says, Kettlebells are "a devastatingly effective piece of work out equipment that’s been proven by The American Council on Exercise to “boost strength and cardiovascular fitness, while also increasing balance and flexibility.” Kettlebell exercises are great for building strength, especially targeting the lower back, legs, glutes, and shoulders (i.e. the posterior chain), and can also increase grip strength and endurance. (Source)

The basic kettlebell exercises activate muscles throughout the entire body at once in a way that mimics functional movements we perform in real-life situations. Every kettlebell exercise involves the spinal and core muscles. Kettlebells are often used by physical therapists for rehabilitation for patients with hip, knee, and back pain. (Source/direct sources: Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997449,
Mechanical demands of kettlebell swing exercise. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22207261, Kettlebell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22580981.) Lots more info and sources at KettlebellScience.com, too.

The Warrior Room kettlebell gym

Classes, structure, and coaching style

The gym has a bunch of different classes to choose from, including Kettlebell Conditioning, Endurance,  ½ Isolation + ½ Tabata, and Boot Camp. We mainly attended Kettlebell Conditioning as it fit our schedules best, was highly focused on skill-building, and was still a brutal, awesome workout! We also tried several of the other classes so we would know what the gym had to offer.

Going in on our first day was a new experience because, at that point, we'd been doing CrossFit on and off for 8 months and this was a big change of direction from that. Even though a CrossFit gym doesn't have big machines everywhere, they still have weights, tons of racks and pull-up bars, and a wide variety of different equipment.

The Warrior Room has a completely different feel from most of the CrossFit gyms we visited, both in equipment and in attitude. The single line of painted kettlebells along the front wall, the floor covered in mats, and a couple of tires and boxes in the back seemed a little bare at first. It was also new to us that we removed shoes and socks in the Kettlebell Conditioning basics class, and felt the ground under our feet as we used the bells. It all seemed so simple! Instead, I found out very quickly why exactly you can have an entire gym dedicated to this one implement. The kettlebell is basically a cannonball with a handle attached, but this simplicity and balance allows it to be one of the most dynamic strength training tools known to man with a diversity of techniques that is not present in any other tool.

A typical Kettlebell Conditioning class goes like this:
  • Quick warm-up
  • Initial technical instruction (ex: the swing)
  • Timed workout #1 (6-10 minutes 2-3 movements including the previously trained skill)
  • Partner coaching
  • Timed Workout #2 (same deal, different movements, adjusting to different weights if needed)
  • Partner coaching 
  • Additional technical instruction (something more complex ex: snatch)
  • Timed Workout #3
  • Partner coaching 
  • Guided practice through Turkish Get-Ups with very low weight for beginners. 
  • Cool-down/mobility work (foam rolling, etc.)

As you can see, it's jam-packed. All throughout the hour-long class, the coaches (we took classes from Ashley and Alexis) are spending time with individual students, and making technical corrections to our movements. The timed workouts are extremely challenging, and then you typically get a break to partner with someone else in the class and take a break while you trade coaching each other, but it's also incredibly valuable to pay attention to what the movements look like on another person and how your movements look to him or her. It helps to have someone looking at your form, but also gives you direct experience in how to assess the finer points of the complex movements.

For example, the Kettlebell Swing, even as a relatively basic technique, has many technical details that can be challenges for some people, and many of us need that individual assessment and repeated help. This was something I felt The Warrior Room excelled at by having a formula that allowed everyone to actually get the one-on-one time that they needed, while still having a larger enough class size that the prices are extremely reasonable compared to branded workouts or one-on-one coaching.

Here I am getting coached after our first class.

Benefits for different skill levels

My wife, who was at the time less experienced with weight training and less comfortable with heavy weight while maintaining proper form (her words, not mine!), also had a good experience with the classes and group and individual coaching.

She observed that while kettlebell training is often included in weight training routines you can do on your own, and there are some great videos and articles about doing the movements properly, there was a serious learning curve for her on even basic movements like the Swing. She could tell she wasn't doing it quite right when she started to feel strain in her low back, and it took several classes of practicing and getting coaching from Ashley on what she needed to focus on before she felt comfortable.

The Warrior Room also first introduced my wife to the PVC pipe trick for proper squat form (great for other movements with glute strength and hip hinge) and we practiced with a broom at home to keep our heads, upper backs, and tailbones aligned. It really is a matter of retraining the body to do those movements in proper alignment, and we both improved so much since training with the pros at The Warrior Room!

How to get the most out of your kettlebell workout

The classes are a full hour, and are definitely difficult for students of many skill levels (there was a wide range in the classes we took). We were very tired after our first few classes, not used to doing more cardio-intensive movements for longer periods of time, so I definitely recommend going when you are feeling and fueling your best.

Since there's so much to do during the class hour, the warm-up and cool-down parts are very short, so I definitely recommend coming several minutes early to do some mobility work on the sidelines, and plan to use the foam rollers afterward in the classroom or at home.

Check it out!

As you can tell, we had a great experience kettlebell training at The Warrior Room and recommend it for anyone looking for a fast-pasted, challenging strength training and high intensity workout. Or for someone looking to perfect kettlebell and other functional movements in your own workouts. Supplementing with some Warrior Room classes would be a great idea to stay on track with your form and progress.

Check out The Warrior Room online and on Facebook, or drop by at 1928 SE Washington St in Milwaukie!

Now that I've got that most important message out there I need to add a disclaimer. I was given, in exchange for writing this post, a 3 month trial membership at the gym. My wife and I both went to several different class types during that time and really got to know the range of classes they offer.  I was never told what specifically to write about, how much to say, anything to avoid saying, or any other instruction about how to cover my experience there. I was under no obligation to even write this post if I didn't feel like it, and was never told to not post if I had negative comments. That, my friends, is how a business does marketing with integrity. Now, lucky for me, and for them, that integrity showed throughout my experience there, and I really don't have much of anything but positive comments to make. Thanks so much to The Warrior Room!
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