The average business traveler tends to have a fairly standard array of carry-on items: laptop, blackberry, cell phone, brief case. The tools of the trade, you might say.
My business as a fitness trainer specializing in kettlebells frequently involves travel. As a two-time world champion in International Giveroy (Kettlebell) Sport Competition, I have flown to give presentations and participate in competitions around the world. Business travel often requires I tote the tools of my own trade: kettlebells, which are weights with a handle designed to be swung rather than lifted. But to airport security, they kind of look like the old-fashioned bombs you see in World War II movies or comic books.
Fitness training is often likened to boot camp, conjuring the image of a tough drill sergeant counting off pushups or the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality of a Navy SEAL exercise. I certainly don’t look anything like a gruff military man, nor would I have ever thought my training tool of choice would be mistaken for an explosive device.
Most people would describe a kettlebell as a sort of small bowling ball with a handle. They’re actually quite cute and even come in vibrant colors depending on their weight. My 35 lb competition bell is bright yellow. But at an airport security checkpoint, a kettlebell can look very suspicious indeed, like something Wile E. Coyote might use to chase his cartoon adversary, the Roadrunner. There is nothing funny, however about trying to convince a stern and skeptical guard that the object you are carrying is a perfectly benign piece of fitness equipment as opposed to a dangerous device.
There was one instance when I was traveling with my competition bell, choosing to bring it onboard with me in an effort to avoid the wait at baggage claim (as well as the excess poundage charge). I was prepared for the screeners to stop me even before the bell passed through the scanners, ready to explain, cajole and convince them that my kettlebell was nothing more than harmless sports equipment.
The screener’s eyes immediately met my bell with skepticism, and for a moment I felt panic over the idea of my training tool being confiscated. While kettlebells are fast becoming the latest new workout rage, it’s not yet a piece of equipment you can pick up at any local sporting goods store. The only thoughts that crossed my mind were ‘How will I train for the next three days? Will I have to get another bell?’ I started calculating how many days it would take for a new bell to be shipped to me if I ordered it today and how many days of training it would cost me if they took it. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all.
With permission, I gave an impromptu demonstration, all but offering the bell to the screeners for them to try a few moves themselves as people passed, claiming their laptops, shoes and purses. Naturally this attracted quite a bit of interest from the other screeners as well as passengers. Thankfully my little demo convinced security that it was indeed harmless. But the issue was not yet resolved- the three screeners were now debating whether this piece of equipment, given its size and weight, could be brought onboard as opposed to checked.
The issue became a battle of the egos; who knew more about airline policy. The verdict was eventually decided in my favor as the kettlebell was deemed on par with a bowling ball – acceptable to bring onboard. I carried the bell away and onto the plane with a sigh of relief!
But imagine the looks I got from fellow passengers when hoisting my kettlebell into the overhead compartment. I made sure everyone seated near me knew I was a kettlebell trainer on my way to an international competition. Trouble is, not too many people are familiar with kettlebells so my explanation raised more questions than it answered.
I thought I’d learned my lesson. The next time I flew with a kettlebell, I decided to check it with my luggage. I packed it snugly in it’s case but recalling the scrutiny it had received when X-rayed as a carry-on, I was concerned that red flags would be raised during the screening process for checked luggage.
As I would not be able to explain or demonstrate to the ground crew, I taped to the bell photos of myself in competition as well as a hand-written sign that read – “This is a weight for fitness!” I was intent on assuaging any doubt about this object. For further edification, I filled the bag with numerous articles regarding kettlebell history and its benefits in terms of fitness. It must have worked, as the flight left on time, without incident.
Ironically, kettlebells, which are Eastern European in ancestry, were embraced by the former Soviet Union army and became the training regimen for the Russian Special Forces, creating soldiers who possessed incredible explosive power and endurance. Today, kettlebells are used by Olympic and professional athletes like Lance Armstrong, Hollywood celebrities like Penelope Cruz, and even senior citizens.
As kettlebells grow in prominence around the country, I anticipate I’ll be flying more frequently, to compete as well as to teach in cities beyond my classes in New York City. But just to be on the safe side, I think I’ll leave my bells at home!