An Introduction to Kettlebell Sport

Kettlebell Sport, also known as Girevoy Sport (GS), is a highly challenging power-endurance feat of a cyclical nature. Lifters’ success involves technique, flexibility, strength, proper breathing patterns, aerobic capacity, stability, and mental focus. 

As opposed to Olympic or Power Lifting, traditional GS events require an athlete to lift a sub-maximal load, completing as many repetitions as possible in ten minutes. 

The Russians can take credit for developing this unique form of competition, yet weights with handles have been used as early as 8th century BC, when the Greeks began creating their own versions of gymnasiums and were the first to develop organized approaches to weight training and sports.

Halteres, from the Greek allomai, means “leap” or “spring”. These metal or stone weights with holes were used for lifting as well as for assisting athletes in the long jump. By holding one in each hand, halteres, weighing between 12 and 35kg, allowed an athlete greater jumping distance.


Dates of Interest

Fast forward to 1704, when the word Girya (Kettlebell), was first published in the Russian dictionary. At this time, kettlebells were primarily used as weights on the scales in the marketplace. At the end of the market day, farmers would swing and press the bells to show off their strength and prowess. Soon kettlebells were commonplace as various lifts, Swings and Juggling became popular events at festivals, fairs, and in the circus.

Strongmen Juggling

1948- The All-Soviet Union Competition of Strongman was held in Moscow. Only the winners of the competitions of all 15 Soviet republics were qualified to attend. Contestants performed Jerk of two kettlebells from the chest and single arm Snatch.

1950s- In Russia, training with kettlebells continued to gain popularity among rural youth, farmers, and soldiers of the Soviet Army and Navy. In addition to their training program, Soviet Olympic weightlifters utilized kettlebells unilaterally in order to strengthen their weaker side. Competitions were held in the form of Strongman competitions, but unlike today’s meets, there were no rules, no classification standards, and no time limit, so you can imagine these lifters went on for many hours!

1970s- Kettlebell sport was included in the National Sports Federation as the official ethnic sport of Russia. A commission was created to unify rules, sports classification, and expanded the sports calendar.

1972- The first official match between republics was held in Skadovsk city. The top teams came out of the Tatar republic, Krasnoyarsk, Svedlovsk, Moscow, Perm, and Lipetsk regions.

1981- The Russians realized that Kettlebell use would be a tremendous benefit to their economy in terms of a more fit, productive, and less injured workforce. The Official Kettlebell Commission was formed, advocating mandatory Kettlebell training for all workers. 

1982- Triathlon is changed to biathlon: Jerk followed by Snatch. 

1985- The first National Championship was held in Lipetsk, Russia. With it came the opportunity to win the prestigious title of “Master of Sports”.

1989- Introduction of the 10-minute time limit and the first time Long Cycle was performed at First Cup of Girevoy Sport in Russia.

2001- Women are included in the snatch competition for the first time in the Russian National Championship

Weights Used

  • At certain meets, the weights lifted are determined by the host organization. They may or limit weight options.
  • In International meets, the Elite men lift 32kg/72lb and Elite Women lift 24kg/53lb.
  • There are also Veteran and Junior categories.
  • US meets have become very enticing since around 2007 as women can compete with bells as light as 8kg/17.5lb and men with 16kg/35lb. This enables novice lifters to build on their technique and move up gradually while enjoying the experience of competing and achieving Ranks.


Colors Representing GS Competition Weights: 

  • Pink         8kg
  • Blue       12kg
  • Yellow    16kg
  • Purple    20kg
  • Green     24kg
  • Red        32kg


The Traditional Lifts of Girevoy Sport

Lifters choose the weight and lift they wish to perform at competition, usually months in advance. They then train to show quality reps and fulfill 10 minutes in their chosen lift.


1. Jerk

  • The lifter Swing Cleans the kettlebells to the Rack position with the elbows resting on the abdomen
  • From the Rack, the lifter quickly dips the legs from the knees with the pelvis also dipping forward
  • The next movement, the ‘drive’, accelerates the bells off the body with a fast straightening of the legs.
  • Under Squat – the lifter quickly bends his/her knees so that they are ‘under’ the arm and bell by the time they straighten
  • Straighten the legs and arm(s) with the bell motionless to achieve a rep
  • Let bell(s) drop back to Rack position
  • Men use 2 bells, women choose to use one bell, changing sides once, or 2 bells.


2. Snatch

  • The lifter begins the Snatch with a backward Swing, then accelerates the bell forward and up using momentum 
  • Just before the bell reaches the overhead position, the lifter slips their hand into the handle
  • The bell is fixated overhead with knees and arm straight and the bell motionless to achieve a rep
  • The bell is rotated slightly to reduce its momentum on the downswing and caught before it passes between the legs
  • Men and women use one bell, changing sides once at any point in the set


3. Biathlon

  • Performed with 10 minutes of Jerk, then at least 30 minutes rest, followed by 10 minutes of Snatch
  • For Jerk, men use two bells, women have the choice of using one bell, changing sides once or two bells. 


4. Long Cycle

  • Swing Clean bell(s) to Rack position, followed by Jerk overhead, and down through Rack again to the next Swing
  • The bell(s) is fixated overhead with knees and arm straight and the bell motionless to achieve a rep
  • Men use 2 bells, women have the choice of using one bell, changing sides once, or two bells. 

Besides the traditional 10-minute events, there are also 5-minute, 30-minute, 60-minute, and 120-minute marathon events to choose from!

Rules of GS

  • Lifters are given 10 minutes to put up as many reps as possible
  • A judge is assigned to each lifter to ensure proper repetitions are counted
  • In GS, there are no points awarded or deducted for style. In order for a rep to count, the lifter must perform the lift with proper execution and show straight elbows and knees in the overhead position. The bell(s) and the lifter’s body must ‘fixate’ momentarily prior to lowering for the next rep.  
  • Athletes compete in their weight and age category. These can vary depending on the host organization’s ranking tables.
  • When the bell(s) is placed down, the lifter’s set is over and their result is compared to the other lifters’.
  • On single arm lifts, the lifter has one opportunity to switch hands at any point in the 10 minutes
  • Lifters must wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts, making knees and elbows visible to the judges
  • Nothing but chalk may be used on the hands
  • Lifting belts, wrists guards and knee braces may be worn
  • It is prohibited to compete barefooted

In general, the lifter is given a “No count” command if:

  • The movement is not continuous
  • The Jerk is performed with a press-out, indicating interrupted movement
  • There is a lack of fixation at the top position in any of the lifts
  • There is an extra swing executed by the lifter

The lifter is given a “Stop” command if:

  • The kettlebell(s) stop in a hanging position
  • The bell is lowered to the shoulder during the Snatch 
  • The bell is lowered to the platform
  • The hand touches the kettlebell, legs, or trunk 

Fulfilling the 10 minutes is not necessary in order to win or achieve a rank.

Can Anyone Compete?

  • There are no age restrictions in GS, there are 5-year-olds through 75-year-olds on the platform, a beautiful and inspiring sight!
  • World Championship meets require a lifter to qualify at a sanctioned meet
  • As with all resistance training, providing you don’t have any debilitating medical issues or acute joint problems, GS is available to everyone
  • An individual doesn’t need a wealth of resistance training experience to prepare for competition, but a solid foundation with Presses, Push Press, Dead Lift, Squats, trunk, and shoulder stability will help you get started
  • It is highly advisable that a lifter utilizes a sport Coach throughout the competition process to guide you in the many aspects of the sport- from breathing patterns, pacing, execution of lifts, footwear, hand positions, hand care, specific assistance drills to overcome weaknesses, recovery, mental preparation and much more
  • For novice lifters, a minimum of 6 months preparation is typically recommended before the first competition. For more experienced lifters, a minimum of 4 months is usually necessary, though everyone progresses at a different pace due to age, work and family life, motivation, and other factors.
  • If you enjoy activities like running, cycling, rowing, tennis, or swimming, you can utilize them to further develop the aerobic capacity necessary for GS.


Earning Medals

Lifters have the opportunity to win Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals in their weight class, age class and the Overall by putting up the most reps in any of these categories, using the same weight as other lifters in the same category.

Earning Ranks

Ranks are awarded when a lifter fulfills a certain number of reps dictated by their weight class. Rank abbreviations are:

  • HMS – Honored Master of Sport*
  • MSIC – Master of Sport International Class
  • MS – Master of Sport
  • CMS – Candidate for Master of Sport
  • Rank 1, 2, 3

*Honored Master of Sport is awarded through the Russian Sport consulate to only a handful of athletes who have accumulated 150 points through the following prestigious meets:

  • Cup of Russia
  • European Cup
  • European Championship
  • World Cups

For example, winning first place in Cup of Russia earns the lifter 10 points, but winning first place in European Championship earns 35 points. 

A Sport to Grow Young With

The incidence of injury in GS is very low when compared to other sports. GS involves standing in one place while moving the weights overhead through the use of the hips, feet, legs, spine, abs, and shoulders… in other words, the entire body! The process of training results in increased lean muscle, fat loss, reduced risk of osteoporosis, aerobic conditioning and endurance, and a balanced muscular system utilizing 3 dimensions of the joints. Since GS is a power endurance sport, it creates bodies that are, in most cases, lean and strong.

What Training Entails

Typically, within a training week, lifters will perform:

  • Their competition lifts in various timed sets, with varied weights
  • Assisted drills to improve flexibility, timing, grip strength, and tempo and breathing patterns
  • Full body resistance training
  • Flexibility training
  • Cardiovascular exercise in the form of running, swimming, biking, rowing, skating, etc. at various intensities  

Workout sessions are performed an average of 3-5 days per week with each lasting approximately 1-2 hours, in order to build stability, endurance, conditioning, and mental focus. 

It is imperative for the lifter to have a clock and video camera available at all training sessions in order to perform the required reps and review technique on each training day.

How would it feel to be Strong, Leaner, and more confident in your body?