There’s only been a few times where I’ve seen kettlebells in use on television. So when I saw them in action on one of my favorite shows I had to write about it. This particular scene is very short but features a couple of the most iconic kettlebell exercises.
It all begins with a close-up shot of a new primary character first introduced in this season’s premiere. General Michael Mercer (portrayed by Michael James Shaw) begins by lifting the kettlebell from the floor into the rack position. Ironically enough, this specific move defines a dead clean. Not because of the show’s name but rather how the kettlebell is at rest or “dead” before being picked up.
We then see Michael continue to perform the clean move for a few more reps as another character walks on screen. Although, what is shown now is slightly different from that first rep as they are hang cleans. This simply means the weight drops or hangs low to the floor instead of touching. Obviously, that entails less squatting but does speed up the process a bit.
The 2nd Kettlebell Exercise
Personally, I hate trying to have a conversation when I’m training with kettlebells. Not only because it’s taxing on the body and lungs but I’m usually counting reps in my head too. So I have to give credit to Michael for not breaking stride when this other character, his sister, confronts him.
Perhaps it’s this interruption that inspires him to switch to the explosive and powerful kettlebell snatch. We only briefly see one full shot and rep of this exercise. However, it’s clear that he is still using the hanging technique as he did with the clean.
Technically speaking, it is a half snatch that Michael does since the kettlebell first drops back into the rack position. Dropping it from the lift directly to a hanging position would make it a full snatch. Regardless, the snatch, widely touted as the king of kettlebell exercises, provides a wide range of benefits.
Filming The Scene
Aside from the 45 seconds or so of kettlebell exercises, Michael incorporates some reps with a weight machine and pullups. In fact, the entire sequence is less than 3 minutes. That’s an extremely short workout by any means. Yet, what is shown on screen does not reflect the work the actor put into the scene.
I discovered an interview on decider.com which really puts the matter in perspective. It’s discussed that the scene took around 3 hours to put together. Furthermore, Michael estimates that he probably did 100 reps of each exercise. If true, that’s a hell of a way to tone your body while doing your job!
The Weight & Size Of The Kettlebells
It’s impossible to determine the exact weight that 6’2″ Michael James Shaw lifts. It appears, by my count, that a kettlebell set of 6 weights is available but he only uses one for the shot. Since these are cast iron kettlebells the only way to know for certain is by looking for a pound or kilogram marking.
Now, if they were competition kettlebells, the color of each weight would make it easy to know their size. That’s provided they utilize the standard color-coding feature that most manufacturers follow. The Walking Dead film crew cleverly made it dark enough so that no one can determine what brand they are.
Taking all this into consideration, it’s my best guess that this set ranges from 25 to 70 lbs. This is just my assumption from what I see based on the size of the kettlebells proportionate to their handles. As for the weight used in the scene? My instincts are telling me it has to be close to the most popular weight of 35 lbs.
Analyzing The Technique
Michael’s kettlebell technique is very impressive! It wouldn’t surprise me if the Walking Dead producers hired a personal trainer to assist Michael with that. This is extremely important, especially when doing so many reps. After all, these are full-body exercises and involve more muscles than just the arms.
The explosiveness is apparent when watching Michael use his lower body to power the clean and snatch upward. Even switching hands looks seamless and is exactly how you’d see a professional perform the transition. One of the biggest no-no’s is the broken/bent wrist when lifting or holding the kettlebell overhead. This puts unnecessary strain on that part of the body which thankfully wasn’t the case here.
Summing things up, viewers are treated to some great form displayed by Michael in his kettlebell routine. Sadly, I’m not getting my hopes up that we will see them return for the rest of the series. For timeline purists out there, kettlebells were initially popularized in western culture back in the late 1990s. So it’s not unrealistic to see them used in the Walking Dead Universe.