Softness is a Menace and Kettlebells May Be Our Best Defense
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
The harsh fact of the matter is that there is an increasingly large number of young Americans who are neglecting their bodies - whose physical fitness is not what it should be - who are getting soft. And such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation… in a very real and immediate sense, our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security.
John F. Kennedy penned The Soft American as President-elect in December of 1960 as a call to action for the American people. According to Kennedy, physical fitness was a “vital prerequisite to America’s realization of its full potential as a nation” and a key factor in defeating the Soviet Union should the Cold War turn hot. As President, Kennedy’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports developed programs to encourage youth fitness, and the administration promoted the La Sierra High School Physical Education program as the gold-standard in youth fitness development. He dubbed this attempt to create a stronger, more vigorous and productive society “The Great National Effort.”
Back in the USSR
While teenagers in La Sierra, California learned how to move, climb, carry, sprint, and burpee, Soviet teens experienced a different, less democratic national effort. The state-sponsored physical programs developed by the Soviet Union were designed to develop high-level athletes and Olympic champions that could represent Soviet power on the world stage. Rather than teens doing calisthenics, picture a scene closer to the Ivan Drago training montage from Rocky IV (if he dies... he dies). From 1952 to 1988 the efforts of Soviet coaches and scientists paid off; they not only produced the highest gold medal counts in six out of nine Olympic appearances, but also pioneered advanced training techniques (fine print: and the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs). The exercise science literature written in the Soviet Union during that period continues to influence Olympic and sport training across the world today.
Not all of the Soviet techniques were advanced or complex, however. Since the turn of the 20th century, the Soviet Army has used the same tried and true method of kettlebell training. Here’s a necessary history of kettlebell training in Russia:
In 1898, Russian Tsar Nicholas II’s personal physician attended a gathering of strongmen in Vienna. While in Vienna, Vladislav Krayevsky, the Tsar’s physician, was exposed to strength and conditioning via kettlebell. Krayevsky returned to Russia and introduced the new techniques to the Tsar; Tsar Nicholas II fell in love with kettlebell training and popularized it in the Russian Army. The kettlebell, with its minimalist presence, persisted as a training tool for the “working man” until 1948 when the government declared Girevoy (the sport of kettlebell lifting) the national sport. In 1981, for many of the same reasons JFK promoted the La Sierra High physical education program, the USSR mandated kettlebell training for factory workers.