SmartBells Strength

Lisa Wheeler
Year Released: 2005

Categories: Total Body Workouts

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I’m reviewing this workout after doing it maybe half a dozen times, including once very recently for the first time in a few years.

General workout breakdown: This 59.5-min. strength routine workout may also work your cardiovascular system, too; this is more aerobic weight training and endurance work than muscle and pure strength building. This falls under the label of “functional fitness,” with its focus on moving through ranges of motion, as might be done in everyday life and common sports (e.g. picking something off of the floor and putting it up on a shelf, or rowing-like movements that mimic canoeing), engaging the core in every exercise, and incorporating balance challenges.
We all know it’s bad to swing weights around, but this workout isn’t like that. Controlled momentum is the key. Lisa constantly reminds you that it’s not about pushing and pulling along a linear plane but rather thinking about arcs and natural curves.

*The warm up (just under 11 min.) starts right away with basic SmartBell moves. (It’s worth picking up a lighter SB, if you have one.) Moves include the Russian, SB circle, triceps (overhead) extensions, plie squats w/ the Russian, lunges (prisoner style, w/ hands behind head), orbital circles, basic or small torso twist, twist w/ a pivot, bent-over row, lat flow, press overhead, squat w/ elbows to knees, spinal flexion & extension (rounding & arching), and standing forward bend / hamstring stretch.
*The standing portion (just under 32 min.) contains these series:
single-leg squat – single-leg squat pulses – single-leg squat w/ tap out – single-leg squat w/ tap out & torso rotation, 1-legged balance w/ circling the SB
floating lunge (forward & reverse lunge) – floating lunge w/ rotation – floating lunge w/ rotation & toe tap / knee up – floating lunge w/ figure 8 & toe tap / knee up
squat – squat w/ Russian – squat w/ 1-arm swing – squat w/ several 1-arm swings
infinity loop #1
step side to side – step w/ side leg lift – step w/ side leg lift & lateral raise – step w/ side leg lift & 1-arm lateral raise
pick the SB off the floor & press it overhead – pick the SB up & press it up to the other side
swing side to side, step & tap behind – step & curtsy lunge – cha cha / shuffle & step behind – shuffle w/ reach to the side – shuffle w/ 1-arm reach to the side
1-arm rear flye w/ stir it up in the middle
runner lunge w/ row – reverse lunge w/ row – reverse lunge w/ row & toe tap / knee up, lateral lunge – lateral lunge w/ infinity loop (1 leg only) – lateral lunge w/ infinity loop & toe tap / knee up – lateral lunge w/ infinity loop to overhead & toe tap / knee up
squat w/ overhead press – squat w/ overhead press into triceps (overhead) extension – squat w/ overhead press into triceps extension while on 1 leg – squat w/ overhead press into triceps extension w/ leg extension
rock back - rock back w/ opening up (SB in alternating hands)
fencer lunge – fencer lunge w/ biceps curl – fencer lunge w/ biceps curl & outside curl – fencer lunge w/ 2 biceps curls & toe tap / knee up
straight-legged deadlift – deadlift w/ weight on 1 leg – 1-legged deadlift – hold 1-legged deadlift for circling SB.
As you can see, Lisa usually sets up the lower body pattern, then adds in the upper body movement, and finishes with the balance challenge. Lisa does quite a few reps on each side, usually in sets of 8-12; you’ll end up doing several sets for a total of several dozen repetitions. Although Lisa often stops just about when I’m starting to really feel the move, I also find that I’m just starting to get a little bored of that move at that moment, so it’s a good number. There is a little pause between each exercise, which Lisa might fill with a shoulder roll or two or some comment about how no, that’s her favorite, or how are you doing, Kimberly?, and so on. The reps are usually done at a deliberate, controlled pace, although Lisa takes a few final sets at a tempo that are just a hair fast for me (perhaps because I have long limbs? although my well-known lack of coordination probably is a factor, too…).
Although Sherry Catlin is credited with co-creating the routine, the cursty, lateral, and fencer lunges are all Lisa…
*The floor work (8 min.) has (bent-knee partial) roll-down to elbows, v-sit rotation side to side (see Russian twists), and a combo of the two; bend & extend legs & arms (a close-grip bench press-type move); chest flye, chest flye w/ opposite leg extended, and chest flye w/ opposite leg opening (first with unweighted arm keeping with the flye motion, then held); pullovers, 1 leg at a time lifting & lowering, and a combo of the two; legs push out & in; crunch, crunch w/ 1 knee in at a time, and crunch w/ rotation toward opposite knee; quadruped / bird dog w/ SB on lower back for 1 arm at a time reaching out, then 1 leg at a time, and opposite arm & leg; and child’s pose. Rep ranges are smaller here: you may do as few as 1-2 reps or as many as 5-6 on each side. Again, the pace is controlled.
*The stretch (9 min.) has a low lunge for the quadriceps and hip flexors, standing side bend for the side of the torso, chest expansion, triceps stretch (w/ option to add in some shoulder stretch), before finishing with a final Russian and exhale. This portion also uses the SB to assist in going deeper into the stretch. The stretches are held for a decent amount of time, but several parts of the body are left out (hamstrings, calves, inner thighs, and glutes).

Level: The cover recommends this for all fitness levels, but I wouldn’t recommend this to true beginners to exercise, especially weights / strength training. This video is probably best suited for those in the beginner / intermediate through intermediate +, maybe intermediate / advanced range, using the appropriate SmartBell(s) for your level.
When I first got these I considered myself an intermediate exerciser, and the 6 lb. SmartBell was appropriately challenging. I now consider myself more of an int. / adv., crossing over into low adv. at times, especially with strength training. Even though I did this recently after a 10-days’ battle with a nasty cold, I would say the 6 lb. SB is now too light for me, at least for most of the workout itself, although I should note that I’m now used to working with the heavier weight of a kettlebell in these types of movements. I couldn’t accurately judge my heartrate this past time, since it doesn’t take long for my heart to be pumping hard with this illness, but I did notice that as you might expect the lunge series, for example, got it up decently, but it dropped off later in the workout, especially with the more upper body-focused routines.

Class: Kimberly Spreen and Rob Glick join Lisa, who instructs live. Kimberly often stays with the progression before the balance challenge is added in; that’s about it for modifications.

Music: pleasant and with a beat. At times it has an almost Asian flair, and in another moment it’s sort of Spanish guitar, but mostly it’s forgettable.
A few times Lisa tells you to ignore the beat and go at your own pace, but she can’t ignore her years of dance training and still moves rhythmically.

Set: the 2005 CIA set with light brown walls, some plants and chairs placed around, and glass objects on the wall and shelves off to the side.

Production: the clear picture and sound and mostly helpful camera angles you expect from a Greg Twombly production.

Equipment: SmartBell (your choice of weight, although Lisa, Kimberly, and Rob use the 6 lb. one), sneakers, and maybe a mat for the floor portion.
Yes, this is really best done with the SmartBell. All of the quick moves around the body are more comfortable with the curved weight rather than regular dumbbells or weight plates.

DVD Notes: There’s a promo/intro that I’ve been able to skip by hitting “menu” on my DVD player’s remote to get to the main menu, with its options of Introduction (to the series that just talks about what makes the SB special; this is the same introduction on all 3 original videos), The Workout (Warm-Up, Standing Work, Floor Work, & Stretch), and Contact and Credits. There are some chapters within the workout sections.

Comments: This was one of the three original workouts available with the SmartBell when it was released to home exercisers. Lisa has made a few more workouts for the SB since then, but they were released with little fanfare and haven’t gotten much positive press here. As with some many gadgets, even ones with promise like the SmartBell, this seems destined to fade into oblivion. Yes, I am annoyed I sat through too many long, incredibly tedious, dull, and boring hours of proctoring tests to afford this set, only to have this gadget never really take off, leaving me with a very expensive paperweight and not much to do with it.

Why did I originally buy the SmartBells and these videos? At that point I had very few gadgets; I didn’t even have a step or stability ball! But this caught my eye for a number of reasons: I liked (and still like) Lisa, Kimberly, and Rob. I had gotten bored with my ever larger collection of strength videos that revolved around more traditional gym-style weights (how many ways can you do biceps curls?) and needed some variety. Someone wrote something on the Forum about these being good for shoulders, which has never been my strongest area. And the 6 lb. SB is even my favorite color: red (even if mine isn’t shiny like on the video, but at least it doesn’t smell). I used these somewhat regularly for a bit because I liked them and felt like I had done something without feeling wiped out like I did with my Cathe workouts.

My interest in functional fitness eventually led to the acquisition of a few other similar workouts, including the Tracie Long Training (TLT) series and one of Denise Beatty’s Fitness Fix. I also picked up a few other functional toys, including the Bosu, although I’ve yet to fall in love with Bosu strength workout DVDs. But I don’t seem to pull these types of workouts out much except during recovery weeks.

A now obvious comparison is with kettlebells. I think the SmartBells inventor, Paul Widerman, would have a hard time denying that he created the SB without any knowledge whatsoever of the kettlebell (just as he’d have a hard time denying he thought about dumbbells and barbells). But the SmartBell isn’t a Kettlebell Lite - nor is it just a curved dumbbell or weight plate - since the types of movement this type of weight allows and the emphasis on controlling momentum are major parts of what makes it interesting. I felt the SmartBell had some advantage over the kettlebell when it comes to variety of upper body moves; at least, the lighter weight and shape felt more comfortable to me while executing moves like the orbital circles, triceps extension, rear flye, etc. But the kettlebell has a huge edge when it comes to the lower body, especially if you follow more conventional kettlebell advice to pick up an 8 kg or heavier kb for swings, deadlifts, squats, etc. I have to admit that I cringed this past time when I saw the Russian, which is the top part of an overhead swing but with minimal lower body involvement; it seems like the typical general fitness instructor’s take on a swing (see Jillian Michaels, Kelly Coffey-Meyer), where they see a weight moving from between the legs to overhead and assume it must be an upper body exercise. With the lighter SB it’s not such a big deal, but if you use SBs as a gateway to kbs be aware that you’ll have unlearn this type of thinking and relearn how to engage your lower body.

I wonder if those who like the Kettlenetics and similar systems would find the SmartBell enjoyable. I’ve only read about Kettlenetics, but it seems like they have similar ideas about using a lighter weight for aerobic weight-type workouts. Both systems owe something to kettlebell as well as other weight training but bring some graceful, flowing qualities, if only because their instructors are both dancers.

Instructor Comments:
Lisa doesn’t include a lot of form instruction but offers a fair amount of form pointers, primarily reminders to keep your shoulders back. She teaches via the “watch me” method, having you stay with Kimberly and Rob as she shows the next progression. She mirror cues. Her cuing of moves is fairly easy to follow, but she tends to introduce the exercise, then leave you without much verbal prompting as you follow along with what she does. She is a talker; and while it’s workout-related she spends more time talking about how enjoyable the workout is, trying for that rapport with her background exercisers, etc., than instructing or cuing. Lisa is upbeat and encouraging in this workout, although within my realm of tolerance. (Keep in mind, however, that I seem to be one of few who likes her as an instructor; most people are rather “meh” on her.)