Fitness Files: Kettlebells Come to Karachi
Pakistanis are more interested in fitness today than ever before, if the number of gyms and studios popping up all over the place is anything to go by. One of the more recent fitness trends is the Kettlebell workout. And the person bringing it to Pakistan is Umar Chaudhary, certified Kettlebell trainer.
Originally from Karachi, Umar went to Australia for further studies. Here he not only picked up his master’s degree but also a lifelong passion for Kettlebells. And he hasn’t looked back since.
A perfectionist by nature, Umar now shares his expertise and passion with students at his gym, UC Fit, scrupulously supervising every session and pushing each of them to achieve their goals.
Newsline caught up with Umar Chaudhary and asked him about what makes Kettlebells so special.
So what exactly is a Kettlebell?
Well, it looks like a canon ball with a handle on it. It originated in Russia some 300 years ago where it was originally used as a weighing tool by farmers. Gradually they started to have competitions in villages and it went on to become a national sport in Russia. Today Kettlebell competitions are held to determine muscular strength and endurance.
The bells were introduced to the western world by a gentleman called Pavel Tsatsoline in 2001. He used to train the Russian special forces and is considered to be the father of modern Kettlebells. One of the reasons that the Russian teams always dominated at the Olympics was the fact that they trained with Kettlebells.
What makes the Kettlebell a superior training tool?
The secret lies in its design. The weight is off-centred as opposed to a dumbbell. A dumbbell is balanced so when you lift it you are using only a certain set of muscles. But to lift a Kettlebell your body has to stabilize itself. You have to use your core and engage all your muscles. So the muscles have to work in harmony and you achieve greater fat loss.
You know the kettle bell is called the AK-47 of exercise tools. And it is so versatile. It is used for cardio, strength and ballistic exercises.
Furthermore, the American Council of Exercise concluded that Kettlebell exercises burn the highest number of calories per unit. You can easily have a 1200 calorie workout. All these features make it superior to weight machines etc.
As a trainer, you always emphasise functional fitness. What does that mean?
Functional fitness is anything that engages the body muscles and makes them work in harmony. Functionality is what impacts everyday living. Kettlebell exercises are plane specific, not muscle specific and so they enhance functionality. Another thing is that Kettlebells will never make you bulk up. It doesn’t add body mass. It strips fat and develops lean muscle which will help you in practical life and you’ll look great as well.
How did you discover kettle bells?
Well I have always been into fitness. I went to Australia to study in 2010 and joined a gym there. I saw a guy working out with Kettlebells and all the others seemed a bit intimidated by him. He could do amazing things the others couldn’t. He was a former member of the Russian Special Forces and I asked him to teach me how to train with the bells. And the minute I picked one up, I was hooked.
I started training with him and I achieved a new level of fitness. I realized this in small ways. At the time I was holding down three part-time jobs and I remember being late for work one time. So I ran some four kilometres and when I got there I realized I wasn’t out of breath.
Another time I had to move a huge cake fridge at the store where I worked and I managed to do it on my own without any help.
And when did you decide to become a trainer?
Well I was very dedicated to Kettlebells by now because it gave me fitness and results unlike any other workout or training equipment. So I joined the Functional Training Institute in Adelaide and I quickly understood how much I had to learn. You have to study the mechanics of the human body, how it all works.
At that point I just did it for myself. But after I got a double certification as a master Kettlebell trainer, I started applying my knowledge by training some friends. Slowly word spread and I started holding classes in my apartment and later in the gym in my building. I even held sessions at the park. And I realized that this was something I was really good at. I love being in the service industry, engaging with people and helping change their lives.
When did you decide to return to Pakistan?
A friend sent me some videos of trainers using Kettlebells in Pakistan and I was appalled because I saw that they did not understand the basic general principles of Kettlebell use. So I decided to return and bring international quality training to Pakistan.
I started working at a gym and in less than a year I opened my own studio. The moment people start using a bell they get hooked. And you can see the results. I have people of all ages coming to my classes from their teens to their sixties, both men and women. And its super safe because its functional. When you lift a bell, the energy travels through your body. You develop muscles, ligaments, it improves joints and strengthens your back without hurting your spine.
And you can continue using bells well into old age. There is no bulking up of muscles so there is no sagging. In fact, I would say Kettlebell training reverses ageing.
You seem to have picked the right time to bring this training to Pakistan.
I didn’t pick the time. It picked me. This nation has to become more active and cultivate a positive mindset.
Your classes are very personalized. Have you thought of expanding, training others to teach?
I wouldn’t do that because I’m not authorized to certify other trainers. They would have to go to an authorized institute. A doctor cannot train someone else to become a doctor.
I remain in touch with the Functional Training Institute in Australia and they are very proud of the work UC Fit has been doing in Pakistan. One of the world’s top trainers Steve Cotter personally keeps up with me. So you feel very happy when the work you are doing shines and catches the eye of the best in that field.
Zahra Chughtai has worked and written for Pakistan's leading publications including Newsline, the Herald and Dawn. She continues to write freelance.