Yesterday evening I made the trek out to The Warrior Room in Milwaukie to check out two of the most prevalent workout trends of the times: 1) Kettlebells, those cast-iron handled weights that were introduced in the US from Russia (where they have been common since at least the early 18th century) in the early '00s that have been causing weight loss aficionados' hearts to flutter for their time-efficient, full-body exercise potential:
And 2) the increasing trend of economy-stressed people moving away from the expense of hiring a personal trainer in favor of participation in less formal, small group training environments like the Warrior Room, where a maximum of six participants work out in a two-car garage under the watch of NESTA Certified SAQ Specialist and ACE Certified Personal Trainer Ashley Jensen, who also keeps one eye on a video monitor of the house's interior. Inside lives an elderly man (her partner's grandfather) suffering from dementia for whom Jensen works as an around-the-clock caretaker, occasionally leaving her "warriors" to their kettlebell repetitions to dash inside and assist him.
It's partly due to these circumstances that Jensen's rates are low (eight one-hour sessions: $64, unlimited monthly pass: $96) compared to other workouts with that level of personal attention, though she also feels strongly that people shouldn't neglect their fitness goals out of monetary concern. The class sizes (nine are offered each week, including one class for kids) help foster a tight-knit community. In the yard of the house they've created a community garden, swap healthy recipes, and support each other through monthly challenges and weekly competitions like sticking within daily calorie allotments or completing an additional number of reps of a certain exercise within one week's time.
The one-hour workouts focus on kettlebells, which are used in swinging and lifting motions that engage multiple parts of the body simultaneously, often said to mimick the motions of manual labor such as farm work. One of the reasons it's been so lauded is that it combines cardiovascular with strength building exercise, cutting down the length of time spent working out over all to achieve the same effect. Calorically, studies have shown it to burn at the same rate as running six-minute miles. As the American Council of Exercise (ACE) proclaimed:
Based on comparisons with data from previous research on standard weight training, the HR and VO2 responses during the kettlebell snatch routine suggest it provides a much higher-intensity workout than standard weight-training routines. Furthermore, the kettlebell snatch workout easily meets industry recommendations for improving aerobic capacity. “This is good news for people who are looking for a very good resistance-training workout that will also help them lose weight,” says Schnettler. “For people who might not have a lot of time, and need to get in a good workout as quickly as possible, kettlebells definitely provide that.”
The kettlebells are broken up with short circuits of the sorts of activities you'll find in a boxing or CrossFit gym, from jumping jacks and burpees to jumping in an out of a tractor tire, or "slams"—literally slamming a long pair of thick, heavy ropes up and down on the floor. The exact routine of each class is different, but it's all different kinds of kicking your ass. (To put it into perspective, if I were still training at a classical boxing gym, I would have smoked the 40-second circuits—boxers go for 3.5 minutes at each station. My current regimen of running an average of 25 miles per week, plus Bikram about once a week and 400 crunches more or less daily saved me from abject humiliation at the Warrior Room, but I had to punk out more than once and switch to a lighter kettlebell and half-assed more than a few "v-ups"—like a sit-up, except your feet and hands both shoot straight up to meet each other over your straining torso.)
It's not that the exercise offered here is all that unique, but its class size and rather ad-hoc location are, as is the comradery among the (mostly women) who work out here. (One man who comes four or five times a week after not having exercised for 20 years is a favorite among his classmates; he's lost 30 pounds and counting since joining two months ago.) After our workout we went out for a late dinner and drinks. Over and over the phrase "sense of community" kept coming up, and the proof was in the pudding. In no time at all we were cackling and telling stories and dirty jokes like old friends over rounds of beer and wine, something you might not do very often with your trainer under traditional circumstances. But for Jensen, demonstrating that you can find balance in your life—that old saw about work hard, play hard—is part of the ultimate point.
Finding a place like The Warrior may take a little more digging than a Google search—most of its participants seem to have come by word of mouth. But if you're stuck making tough decisions about your finances, and gym memberships and trainers are near the chopping block, it may be worth it to pay a little closer attention to Craigslist, or the flyers on the community board of the grocery store.