Thursday, August 05, 2010

An Inspiration of Fitness and Personal Success: Steve Cotter Leads the Way

Fitness is more than a series of exercises or regular visits to the gym, as if workouts alone could explain the totality of this idea. Rather, fitness is a way of life, both mentally and physically, a means by which people can improve themselves and continue their pursuit of excellence. But finding the right individual to lead the way - discovering a genuinely inspiring figure who has the experience and trust to chart this path to good health - is a challenge. Thankfully, Steve Cotter is such a leader, a pioneer in the use of kettlebells and an internationally acclaimed speaker who travels the world popularizing an incredible idea: the benefits of using kettlebells, a proven - and versatile - means of enhancing cardiovascular strength and building muscle.

I had a chance to review Steve's website, the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (, which is a rich source of information, replete with products, videos, articles and Steve's innovative brand of education. His emphasis on the latter - his ability to teach people about the proper use of kettlebells - is important, because he has an approachable style (of instruction) that is neither intimidating nore hard to follow. Steve makes fitness fun, which is a plus for millions of people who otherwise, alas, avoid exercising because of their (understandable) concerns about self-perception, lack of knowledge and fear of inadvertently harming themselves. Thankfully, Steve encourages individuals to customize a fitness plan that is practical, one that incorporates kettlebells and begins this exciting process of self-renewal.

Steve was gracious enough to answer some questions about his use of kettlebells, which you can read below. I highly recommend his services, and consider myself a new fan of everything he represents.

1. What are some of the benefits, for both fitness enthusiasts and those who want to improve their physical health, from using kettlebells?

Kettlebells provide a very time-efficient, comprehensive method for fitness users and those looking to increase physical health and vitality. Because kettlebell training combines together resistance training, cardiovascular exercise and range of motion/flexibility training, it is an efficient use of the exerciser's precious time. There is no need to segrate these aspects, they can be done all together with kettlebells. Also, kettlebells has the right blend of intensity, which brings advanced fitness, without the pounding of the joints that is associated with things like running and jumping. So one can make great strides in fitness without injury and breaking the body down.

The physical benefits are obvious and comprehensive---improved muscle strength and tone, improved cardio-respiratory function, and improved range of motion throught the entire body---bringing the benefits of more energy, more self-confidence and better physical control of the body, thereby improving physical function in a wide range of daily activities.

2. Please describe your role as an advocate for the use of kettlebells. In other words, how did you become a leader concerning this issue?

My role is as a teacher who shares my extensive experience as an athlete, coach and fitness enthusiast. I have been blessed with a gift to be able to communicate in simple terms how to use kettlebells as a form of physical expression. My background is in extensive study of martial arts as a boy, in which I gained an appreciation for the Eastern concepts of mind-body integration and whole-body comprehensive movements--training movements and principles and not just isolated muscle groups. Thus began my journey into the study of whole mind-body fitness and wellness. I began teaching adults as a young teenager, then children and also seniors. By the time I was in my mid-20s I had over 10 years of experience leading and teaching hands-on a diverse audience of hundreds of people. When I became interested for my own purposes in kettlebell training in the early 2000s, I had by then already developed a diverse athletic and teaching success, so it was a natural extension for me to move into a role as a leader in this brand new area of study.

3. Kettlebells seem like an excellent way to burn fat and build muscle. And yet, many people at my gym are unsure how to use kettlebells. Indeed, there's a sense of intimidation when I raise this issue. Why is that?

That an accurate observation. I think the primary reason is because kettlebell training is dynamic and explosive and that visual observation does not match the mental construct that many people were raised in regarding the use of the body and physical expression. For example, with the popularity that Arnold Schwarzeneggar gave to bodybuilding, many people grew up with magazines and images of moving in a slow, single plane movement, training individual muscles. Another factors is what I call the 'gym class' mentality--the cultural conditioning that athletes are born and they play the team sports, whereas everybody else who is not a jock, takes a PE class because they are required to at school, but never develop the confidence and self-awarenss to realize that we all have an athlete within us. Yet another cultural issue is that until only very recently, women were not encouraged to be physical. Not encouraged is an understatement--they were discouraged or even outright restricted from taking part in "boy's games".

So to see kettlebells at first flies in the face of these cultural mindsets for many people. They think "wow that looks fun but dangerous" or "that is too intense, too difficult, too athletic, etc for me".

Further, our Western civilization traced its origins in philosophy to the Greeks, who valued the mind and intellectual faculties over the body. So in a science-based culture, the leaders of our society have been doctors, lawyers, engineers, those who use their brains, while those who use their bodies---the athletes--were there to entertain the intellectuals.

The reality is we have this vessle this amazing body with so many faculties and we owe it to ourself and our existance to develop it to the fullest, just as we ought to develop our mind and our character.

To put our listeners at ease, kettlebells when understood and integrated in a logical progression, are very safe and in fact improve our health and physical condition.

4. Nutrition also plays a big factor in personal fitness. Please offer some practical ideas concerning nutrition and ways to incorporate kettlebells into a person's workout/lifestyle routine.

It is important to keep in mind that food is a fuel for us. We generally all have some emotional relationship with foods, some of us more than others. So eating out of habit or to elicit a feeling is common and can cause a lot of problems. When we decide to take on an intelligent, comprehensive, well-rounded health program for ourselves, we can see eating/food as one key component to the entire whole program. We make progress with exercise and physique and so we are encouraged to continue to eat well. We eat well and feel more energetic, and we have more productive workouts. So the entire cycle feeds itself.

One nutrition plan or one exercise plan will not define us and it will not bring us lifelong success. We have to have an understanding of the goal and some good information and then continue to learn and study and find the right formulas for ourselves. We all have unique needs and properties. I could easily say follow this program or that program or eat this way or that way, but that would be irresponsible of me as a professional, because I know that we all have different needs and circumstances. There are some general guidelines for both nutrition and exercise that can be applied across the board to pretty much everyone. Since this is a general discussion and not a tailor made program for an individual, I can list some important general guidelines:

Drink plenty of water
Eat mostly fresh foods
Do your best to each foods according to their category alone. E.g. eat fruits with fruits only, eat meats alone, eat dairy alone, eat starches alone. The other part of this is to avoid as much as is practical mixing categories: e.g don't eat fruit and meat together and so on. This is a fairly in-depth topic referred to as Food Combining. Basically different foods require different enzymes to digest and there are different 'transit times' for different foods, which is how long it takes to go from stomach into intestines. Eg. fruit may take 30 mins to transit whereas meat may take up to 4 hrs to transit. So if you eat them together, the fruit will began to rot and turn rancid in the stomach while mixed with the slower-to-digest meat. This created health problems
Eat whole food as much as possible, not processed (boxes cans, etc)
Eat raw foods, many if not exclusively, they are fresher and more nutritious than cooked varieties.
If you do take supplements, research it and find high quality products. It makes no sense to save money on health products, You can save money on hospital bills by spending more money on healthy choices.

Ways to incorporate kettlebells into a person's workouts/lifestyle routine:

One of the greatest benefits and values of kettlebells to the modern person is that it is portable, it is a hand-held gym. So you can use it WHEREVER YOU ARE! You do not need a gym membership, you can use KB at home, in the office, outside or in the gym. You do not need a lot of space and you do not need a lot of kettleblels. You can use just one and get an amazing workout. So practical application is the first step! You have to USE it to receive it's benefits.

Then decide realistically how much time each week you can commit to yours health via kettlebell training. Start conservatively. If you do nothing now, just commit to 10 minutes a day, then once you have stuck with it for a week or two, you can increase the time.

It does not have to be a drastic change, it just has to begin and the progress will drive the formation of a new habit of health!

One you decide, you can do it, the mind is the commander and the body obeys.

Then stick with the basics, the tried and true tested techniques---swing, press, squat and things like that. The basics use the whole body so there is not need for many different exercises, you can train everything with just a few key movements that include everything.

5. Where do you see this issue - the popularization of the use of kettlebells - developing in the next few years? How common will the use of kettlebells be?

They will become more popular, because they have a huge and impressive track record of giving tremendous results to kettlebell users. This is undeniable and there is ample evidence for this. So from a purely practical perspective they will grow because they promise results in fitness.

Now HOW popular will depend on factors such as marketing and education. Right now there is not enough easy access to high quality and clear education about how to use kettlebell practically and safely. I travel all over the world teaching and my communication is very clear, but I am only one person. It is a big job!

The obvious growth is among athlete, martial artists, military, firefighters and others who use their bodies for their living. But the larger market is the regular people in the cities and town and homes across the country and world.

Sooner or later, everyone who has an interest in fitness will know about kettlebells---they are that significant and important for fitness.

6. How do you use kettlebells in your daily exercise routines?

I do a variety of things, sometimes focusing on a weakness, such as grip exercises, sometimes working on a specific exercises as a skill practice. Most of all I always refer to the basic, core lifts, these are the foundations of excellence and continuous progress.

A few times per year I will compete in Kettlebell Sport (Girevoy Sport) competitions, so 3 months out I will began specific preparation for those competitions by increasing the amount of competitive lifts, such as Snatch, Jerk and Clean & Jerk. Squats of some variety are always a stable of training as well.

Just like everyone else, I have to fit a program that is realistic for my life and my unique needs and one that is practical to stick with. I travel year-round all over the world, so I am not in one place for any extended periods of time. Kettlebells for me is a way to have as much intensity and variety as I could possibly want, and in a time-efficient manner.

7. Please offer some "success stories" of people you've helped by introducing them to kettlebells.

I have some nice ones.

One example is a young teenage boy who was very awkward and shy and unconfident. He was overweight and flabby, not particularly athletic and not popular. But he because interested in girls and decided he was going to do something to get notices. So he began training with kettlebells and soon it became religious and dedicated. A year later he was lean, muscular, super fit and had become a very strong athlete from the improved strength and cardiovascual power. And of course he became more popular with the girls!

Another example is personal training client of mine from a few years ago. He was a large man, still is, about 6 foot 5, but also very obese, about 400 lbs. Nothing had worked for him, or he had tried things but never stuck with them. So his brother, who I was training, has showed massive improvement in his fitness and physique after 6 months with me, so that encouraged him to try.

Tim lost 80 lbs training with me in 6 months time and of course his energy and health improved immeasurably. This type of thing is very common with kettlebells. The obese population in particular have so much to gain from a sensibly developed kettlebell program.

One other story is with an NFL player I was training 7 years ago. He had a break out season as a special teams whiz for the Philadelphia Eagles and he was going to be getting significant playing time at the next season. I had worked with him 5 days a week all summer and he was in amaizing conditioning. On the first game of the season, he recovered a fumble for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff he ran down to make a tackle and got a devastating knee injury on the play---season and possibly career over. At that time the nature of his injury was very serious, and the procedure, a microfracture, was not very developed. An NFL player had not ever recoved from a microfracture procedure. But we worked and worked and worked that off season once his surgery was completed. I had to devise new ways to train because the knee was so delicate he could not put hardly any weight on it. So we developed so much power on his one leg. Then we began to train out on the beach in the deep sand. He was able to do most things there because of the absorption from the sand. So I trained him harder than I have ever seen anybody train. Doing things that most people would not think possible, jumping, running, throwing, lateral--you name it. His conditioning was so extreme that he made it to the final cut the next NFL season after the team doctors had already written him off. His conditioning and physical strength and fitness was off the charts, but when they looked at his xray it was still so ugly that they just did not want to take a chance. So he got so close to getting back but did not make it. StillI consider that one of my great successes as a kettlebell teacher. The Philadelphia Enquirer did an article about it because of how bad his injury had been they could not believe he got back to that level.

8. How is your approach to this topic different from the competition?

I work with the mind and not just the body. I do not recognize the impossible and think only about what I want to do, what the client wants to achieve. Then I devise a program and get to work. I will bring someone further than what they can do or conceive of on their own.

Where i differ is that I am not a trainer, I am a teacher and I lead by example.

9. Your website has a lot of useful content. What sections would you like visitors to further explore?

I advise visitors to go to the Events page to see what courses we offer and the various locations. There is no better way to learn than hands on education and the experience of training with my guidance.

In addition, I offer many valuable educational products that can be found in the website store.

I also advise visiting the media section for useful, fun, education and motivational videos.

Lastly we have a nice resource section with articles a discussion forum and social media so visitors can go more in-depth with theri studies.

10. Please offer some of your best tips for summer fitness.

-Drink water, preferably only water and lots of it
-The weather is gorgeous try to be outside and when not in a hurry, walk or jog or ride your bike as a form of transpertation. Don't take your care to go to the corner store! It all adds up
-Do something NOW, get up off the couch and move. Do something, do anything, but do it! To sit and think and talk about what you are GOING to do does nothing. Make a decision a commitment to your self that everyday you are going to do something. If you are doing nothing now, even walking is a great improvement
-We have to see a big picture and take action. Do not think in terms of doing something in one day, one workout, one week or one summer. Invest in yourself, save a 'dollar' a day
-Since it is in season, fill up first on fruits, then if still hungry 30 mins later you can eat something heavy--you will eat less of it and by eating lots of fruit you will reduce your total caloric intake
-Mix veggies with every meal, if you are not used to eating veggies by themselves, cut them up into pieces and mix with your favorite lean meat.
-If you are busy, swing a kettlebell for 10 minutes, you wil burn a ton of calories
-If you have free time, swing a kettlebell for 30 minutes
-It bears repeating, drink lots of water throughout the day