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Kettlebells as the "Fountain of Youth"

January 18, 2011 09:24 AM

Kettlebells as the “Fountain of Youth”
Actor Sam Robards

About five or six years ago I started out working at a gym in New York City and I was seeing some good results. I was not using kettlebells. A wonderful trainer, a man named Pat Manocchia runs this gym and he has some great trainers in there. I started to see some great results in mixing strength and endurance, but again, they were more traditional, isolating certain muscle groups.

I went away for a while. I came back to New York. I went to the gym again and I noticed these very odd-looking things on the floor, black balls with handles on them. I had no idea. I was like, “What is it...? I don’t get that.” One of the trainers there said, “Well, you can do all sorts of things. Then he showed me sort of a swing, not a real swing as I now come to find out, sort of a snatch, and some other exercises.

But the thing that really got me was that one of the trainers showed me how to do a Turkish Get Up and he did it without any weight, just the fist of his hand. I had the hardest time comprehending what that movement was, but I could feel that there was something about it. I was like, “Okay, this is very interesting.” At the end of the session, I asked the trainer, “Where do you get more information?” He said, “Dragon Door.” I was like, “Dragon Door. How do you forget Dragon Door? You don’t.”

I went and I got on the website. It just blew me away…

Especially, the way that you and Pavel were talking about this tool...this fitness tool. It just made sense to me. So, I ordered The Russian Kettlebell Challenge Book and DVD. Then I ordered an 8 kg kettlebell, a 12 kg kettlebell, and a 16 kg kettlebell. I thought, alright, I’m going to start super small at 15-16 lbs because I don’t know what I’m doing! I’d read the book and I did the DVD and I started to get it, sort of. But I enjoyed it and I wasn’t banging my wrists on the cleans, and starting to get into it and really started getting results.

One thing that I noticed was that I was not getting sick as much. The other thing was that I was not having these back problems. I’d been having back problems and I was doing crunches like a maniac and doing my abs work...but I was having back problems. Even training with trainers was not rectifying that situation. All of this faulty information, misinformation, disinformation, non-information, was just all sort of circulating in my head. That’s what I really appreciated about the kettlebell program was that it was clear, it was concise and it worked!

I wasn’t really thinking of the strength aspects of it, until I took a one-day Level I Seminar with Mike Mahler in California. I had to work the next day, so I was worried that I was going to be so sore that I was not going to be able to move.

So, I was like, you know what? This is a serious man and I’m not going to bail out on him, so...I went. He had us clean a 70 lb kettlebell at high tension...and every single one of us did it to prove how the high tension in your body worked! That was it!

Since then, I have never had a single moment’s hesitation about it. So, I did it for a couple of years and then this year I decided, “You know what? They are doing the first kettlebell certification outside of the United States and it was in Copenhagen, which was strange to me since I had just moved to Copenhagen. I was like, Well, obviously, I am meant to go!”

So, I signed up for it and I was training. I’d moved up to the 20 kg kettlebells and I was doing a lot of Mike Mahler’s exercises that are the double military presses, renegade rows and things like that. I remember that I had been doing that for about three weeks, we were in California and I went to go play Ultimate Frisbee with my son.

Somebody threw the Frisbee and it was too far away for me, but I ran as fast as I could to catch it and I caught it and it was a score! Everybody stopped and I don’t know why, but I found out was a guy who was about my age...I was 43 at the time and he was like, “How old are you?” I said, “I’m 43.” He was like, “That’s amazing!” I don’t say this to be egocentric, but, people started clapping and I was like, “Okay, this is very strange.” He said, “You just took off like a rocket!”

And I realized it was simply from the strength training with the kettlebells.

You know, the kettlebells are not just a physical strength tool to me. It changed the way that I think about myself, the way I am in the world. As an actor, there’s a lot of proving yourself, as there is for anyone else in any day life. But I feel it acutely, because it’s mostly in front of large groups of people that I don’t know. So you are constantly being tested that you have the goods.

I do eight shows a week. I do Tuesdays through Saturday nights at eight o’clock. Then, you have two shows. You have a show at three on Wednesday and Saturday. So you have two shows Wednesday and two shows Saturday and you have Sunday matinee with Monday off.

Well, usually what I would do is I would train Monday and Tuesdays and then I would rest Wednesday because I had have two shows. Then I trained Thursday and Friday and I had two shows Saturday, so I can’t train Saturday. On Sunday, I just give myself a day off.

I remember in the early Russian Kettlebell Challenge DVD, Pavel said, “Don’t favor one pet lift over another.” But, now it’s all changed, because I got the Enter the Kettlebell. And I’ve gone back to the swings. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t trained for the eight weeks before on the Enter the Kettlebell program, I would not be an RKC right now. I went back to that gym. I was impressing a lot of those trainers that I had worked with previously.

I’m very proud personally to have completed it because I had serious reservations about coming to this weekend, if I could complete the snatch test. My personal record for a snatch was like forty snatches and I had a P.R. this weekend of 74!

And, that was like 40 snatches of: 10 snatches one hand, 10 snatches the other, 10 snatches the other hand was more than just, “Hey, I don’t want to fail in front of other people.” You know, the minute that you got in here...Yeah you know in your mind that it’s down to business and it’s serious, but it’s.... There was a...just a...well, I hope it’s not too metaphysical, but sort of an energy coming from the instructors of “Hey, now this is serious. We are here. We are going to do the work, but also of support.”

It’s very similar to when you are in a play by a good playwright. If you are in the middle of a play and you can’t quite remember the line or the moment or something like that, a good’s like an invisible hand underneath you that gives you that support, so that then you can move to the next moment with confidence. It was very much like that in this seminar. Yeah, it’s tough, man and you’d better train for it if you want to be an RKC, because you’re not going to make it otherwise. There were even some people that didn’t pass the snatch test that I thought were shoo-ins. You know, actually...when Tommy said, “You don’t want to do this tomorrow” in the middle of my test I was like, “You know what? You’re absolutely right! I don’t want to do this tomorrow.”

I am forty-four, but when you are doing kettlebells, you certainly don’t feel it. I mean, my body feels better now than twenty-five years ago! I am stronger. I am more flexible. I have more mobility. What you and Pavel have crafted has really been a gift to me....because it really has changed my life and I appreciate it.

My wife and kids sort of roll their eyes. My seven year old said to me last night, when I got home, he said, “Daddy? Are you going to do kettlebells forever?” I was like, “Well, as long as I live, but I won’t be doing them forever all of the time...”

“...I’ll take breaks...short, thirty second [laughing',” but it was sort of sweet. He was just like, “Oh, well, okay.”

There may not be such a thing as a “fountain of youth” but this sure does help!

The son of Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards, Sam Robards himself has had a distinguished acting career in the theater, television and movies.

He began his acting career in 1980 in an off-Broadway production of Album, and made his feature film debut in director Paul Mazursky's 1982 film Tempest. He appeared alongside his father in 1988's Bright Lights, Big City, which starred Michael J. Fox. He also costarred with his mother in the 1993 Robert Altman film Prêt-à-Porter.

Robards portrayed Harold Ross, first editor of The New Yorker, in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle in 1994 for writer-director Alan Rudolph.

To date, his film resumé also includes Fandango, Casualties of War, American Beauty, and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

He was nominated for Broadway's 2002 Tony Award as Best Actor (Featured Role - Play) for Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All the Luck.

His television credits include appearances on Spin City, The West Wing, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Sex and the City.