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In-Your-Face Fitness

Ring the kettle bell. School's back in.

Jillian Michaels needs to know what she's doing before she makes promises about her new fitness DVD.

October 11, 2010|By James S. Fell, Special to the Los Angeles Times
(Andrew Southam )

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.

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