- Pumping Irony -

PUMPING IRONY: A Little Weight Gain

Can 5 pounds make a real difference in a kettlebell workout? I’m afraid so.

A 25-pound kettlebell is not what most people would describe as an impulse item, but there I was, rolling a cart down the aisle at Target with My Lovely Wife the other day when I spied the hunk of iron on the shelf and asked more sheepishly than I intended, “I really need that.”

What I should’ve said was, “I forgot that I really need that.”

Here’s why.

A few months ago, I made what I thought was an offhand remark to my health coach about getting to the gym once a week to ramp up my weightlifting routine. I was thinking for some reason that it would be cool to really kill myself in The Pit on a weekly basis, because happily swinging my 20-pound kettlebell around every morning just didn’t seem quite punishing enough to me. (Guys are like this.) She wrote this aspiration down, of course, and I knew she’d bring it up the next time we chatted about my various health-related challenges.

I never made it to the gym for that bicep-busting engagement, but I figured that if I added some poundage to my morning routine, it might have a salutary effect. Because, truth be told, my old 20-pounder just gave me too much joy in the morning, and joy is not what you’re seeking with your fitness regimen. As most weightlifting pros point out, if you don’t push the poundage or increase the reps, you’re going to end up wandering aimlessly on some fitness plateau and never grow up to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I don’t completely buy this, to be honest. My only goal with all this morning workout stuff is to keep my body from falling apart as I descend inexorably into my twilight years. All the research I’ve read (including this recent study)  tells me that muscle mass, bone density, proprioception, and everything else that keeps us upright and vital in our youth erodes precipitously when we hit advanced middle age, unless we push ourselves through some regular strength training work. I have a very simple measuring stick, one that gets me going every morning: As long as I can crank out 30 pushups as a prelude to my workout, I know I’m hanging in there. If I ever get to the point where can’t do that, I know I’m in trouble.

And until recently, I’ve followed those pushups with a 15-minute, high-intensity kettlebell routine with my 20-pounder. It was fun, it was exhilarating, it was . . . everything anyone in Plateauville would recognize as comfortable. That all changed when I hoisted that 25-pounder for the first time. It was not fun. It was not exhilarating. It was a sweat-inducing, heart-pumping, body-crunching grind.

Nobody’s ever told me this, but I’ve come to believe that the most effective workouts are those you wish were over way before they are over. This is how it was the first time I swung that 25-pounder. I knew instinctively that this was just what I needed to get my body’s attention again, but five minutes into it I was wondering where I put the receipt so I could get my money back.

You wouldn’t think that 5 pounds would make that much of a difference, but it does.

Pushing through that eighth, ninth, and tenth rep of the shoulder press or weighted lunge left me feeling a little dazed the first time through. A little like hoisting unfamiliar iron in The Pit. You walk away on shaky legs, feeling like you’ve pushed yourself right to the edge of — or maybe slightly beyond — your capabilities.

When I talked with my health coach last week, I confessed that I hadn’t made it over to the gym like I’d promised, but when I told her about my new kettlebell, she agreed that it was a fine alternative. So I’m off the hook for the time being. I figure I’ve got at least a year or so before I’ll begin to feel the impulse to look for a 30-pounder.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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