Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The LA Times & Yahoo News Jillian Michaels Kettlebell Controversy

Just in case you've been lucky enough to be off the grid for a while, let me fill you in.

Not too long ago, I was contacted by James Fell, a fitness writer for the Los Angeles Times, to speak on a new kettlebell DVD featuring The Biggest Loser star, Jillian Michaels.

To say that I had a few issues with the quality of her instruction was to put it rather lightly. Then again, my situation is a little unique. My very first exposure to kettlebell training was directly from the man who essentially revived the use of the ancient Slavic strength training device, Pavel Tsatsouline himself. The VAST majority of what I've learned about the use of kettlebells and strength training comes directly from time spent directly under Tsatsouline's tutelage.

And as someone who makes his living as a health care professional dealing primarily with musculoskeletal pain, I see plenty of people who come into my clinic with injuries sustained while "exercising" or "training" or "working out". That's why I think so highly of the Functional Movement Systems information that's taught by another of my mentors, Gray Cook.

Cook's teachings echoed the same emphasis on disciplined movement that I'd grown up with in traditional martial arts. Moving in a sloppy fashion for the sake of exercise is just a precursor to "repetitive motion injury", a.k.a. "non-contact injury", a.k.a. "weekend warrior syndrome". The names are many, but the outcome is simple = PAIN.

With that in mind, it's not hard to see why I'm a stickler for details in movement, especially in teaching movement for the sake of exercise. If you try and muscle someone around in a combat situation instead of relying on well-developed finesse, you'd better be damn strong, or else you're going to be injured rather often. If you try and muscle around a weight, especially without the guidance of a qualified instructor, your likelihood of injury just went through the roof.

So as much as I'd prefer to be diplomatic and not ruffle any feathers, there's the small issue of integrity that I had to deal with. As much as it might benefit my bottom line, I don't like seeing my patients over and over again for the same or similar pains or injuries. If I do, that means that there's something I'm not doing right or addressing completely. It's a horrible business model, I know, but I'm the one who has to be able to sleep peacefully at night. Thus, I felt compelled to speak honestly about what I saw Ms. Michaels teaching as far as her movements and the safety of her kettlebell technique.

Mr. Fell quoted me accurately, even if he didn't name me or Kettlebells Los Angeles accurately (...Who the heck is "Dave" from "Kettle Bells Los Angeles"?). The words I spoke voicing my concerns about Ms. Michaels's teaching methods & technique were reproduced word for word.

So shortly after the article hit the net, the buzz started happening surprisingly fast. Here's the link to the original LA Times piece... fortunately with the correction to my name printed as a sidebar...,0,5152686.story

And just today, the Yahoo! TV Blog posted a story about this as well, thankfully with my correct name.

Some folks are interpreting what I've said as a personal attack on Jillian Michaels. The truth is that as much as I appreciate what she's doing as a motivator, I think she needs to learn more about what's at stake with biomechanical errors like the ones she's propagating. As well-intentioned as she may be, that's no excuse for taking the persuasive power she wields and treating it carelessly.

Whether she gets her RKC, her HKC, or whatever other internationally recognized kettlebell instructor certification that's solidly recognized by kettlebell experts the world over, I'd hope that she'd be conscientious enough to invest the time & sincere effort to learn the safest & most effective means of training with kettlebells that she can find.... not the easiest, not the most streamlined, not a few lessons.... before putting out an instructional DVD that will be used by thousands of people in the hopes of getting in shape.

The bottom line to me is this, as I posted on my Facebook page under the link:

"Folks, let's call it the way it is. I'm not out to get Jillian, and I'm glad that so many people see her as a motivator to get healthier. Rather, I'm out to make sure that we're not "adding fitness to dysfunction". We all need to go back to... what my mentor, Gray Cook, outlines as priorities: "Move well, then move often." Tons of reps that don't observe strict form are enabling movement patterns that are counterproductive and potentially injurious in the long run. Exercise professionals need to hold themselves to a higher standard, even if the industry or the public doesn't."


Patrick said...

You don't have to be so nice to her. You are right. Someone is going to get seriously hurt and maimed. She's a public hazard. You worked hard to get where you are. She's just making shit up.

Dr. Mark Cheng said...

Patrick, thank you for your comment. It's less an issue of me trying to be nice as much as trying to be professional.

I highly doubt Ms. Michaels is doing the things she's doing out of malice. However, that doesn't excuse the fact that a large part of what she's teaching is biomechanically unsound. So that's why I said what I said in my interview.

As a culture, we don't appreciate finesse anywhere near as much as we used to or as much as we should now. Brute force takes less time to develop, and since we're looking for shortcuts, it's natural that we gravitate to the easiest way of getting by. But there comes a time when that sort of cutting corners will bite us in the rump. I just don't want to see anyone get injured from something that could have and should have been prevented with better instruction.