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 and power, proper breathing patterns, aerobic capacity, stability and mental focus.
As opposed to Olympic or Power Lifting, Girevoy Sport requires 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 a scale to measure marketplace goods. At the end of the market day, farmers would swing and press the bells to show off their strength and prowess. Soon kettlebell were commonplace as various lifts, Swings and Juggling became popular events at festivals, fairs and in circus.
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 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 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- The first time women competed in GS championships.
The Three 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.
Performed with 10 minutes Jerk, followed by 10 minutes Snatch, with a minimum 30 minutes rest between the two lifts. For Jerk, Men use two bells, women use one, changing sides once.
These (2) 10-minute events are very challenging to perform and prepare for, therefore Biathlon is not ideal for beginners.
The lifter Swing Cleans the kettlebells to the Rack position with the elbows resting on the iliac crests.
From the Rack, the lifter quickly dips the legs from the knees with the pelvis also dipping forward. There is no change in the position of the arms or bells.
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 with the arm still straight and bell fixated.
-Lifters are given 10 minutes to put up as many reps as possible.
-Athletes compete in their weight and age category. These can vary depending on the host organization’s Ranking tables.
-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, then show straight elbows and knees at the top of the lift, fixating the bell momentarily.
-When the bell(s) is placed down, the set is over.
-Lifter has one opportunity to switch hands (on Single-arm lifts) either from Right to Left or Left to Right hands.
-Lifters must wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts so knees and elbows are visible.
-Nothing but chalk may be used on the hands.
-Lifting belts may be worn, no wider than 12cm.
-If a competitor uses wrist wraps, its width must be no more
than 10 cm/4 inches.
-It is allowable to use knee braces.
-It is prohibited to be barefooted.
-A judge is assigned to each lifter to ensure proper repetitions are counted.
The lifter should be prepared by knowing the rules of the host organization prior to competition day.
In general, the lifter is given a “No count” command:
•If movement is not continuous
•If the Jerk is performed with a press-out, indicating interrupted movement
•If there is lack of fixation at the top position
•For every extra swing executed by the lifter
The lifter is given a “Stop” command:
•If kettlebell(s) stop in a hanging position
•If the bell is lowered to the shoulder during the Snatch
•If bell is lowered to the platform
•If the hand touches the kettlebell, legs or trunk
Fulfilling the 10 minutes is not necessary in order to win or achieve Rank. In fact, it’s common for a lifter to perform a set in less than 10 minutes. Various reasons include overtraining, lifting a heavier weight than they are accustomed or lifting at a faster pace than they have prepared for. With consistent and thorough training, the lifter will have the endurance to fulfill the 10 minutes and earn a higher result of quality reps.
-At certain meets, the weights lifted are determined by the host organization. For example, female lifters planning to compete in the Russian National Championship or Cup of Russia know they must Snatch 24kg/52lb.
-At IGSF meets, women only Snatch 16kg/35lb
-In International meets, men typically lift 32kg/72lb or 24kg/52lb, depending on their age class.
16kg/35lb is used by juniors and seniors only.
-US meets have become very enticing 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 endurance while enjoying the experience of competing and achieving Ranks.
-Dimensions and design should be uniform at all competitions
•Height - 280mm
•Body diameter - 210mm
•Handle diameter - 35mm
Colors Representing GS Weights:
Can Anyone Compete?
-There are no age restrictions in GS. I’ve seen ages 5 thru 75 on the platform, a beautiful and inspiring sight!
-Some meets require qualification via video submission prior to competition, while others do not.
-As with all resistance training, providing you don't have any debilitating medical issues or acute joint problems, GS is available to everyone. You don’t a need a wealth of resistance training experience to prepare for competition, but a solid foundation with Presses, Push Press, Dead Lift, Squats and trunk stability will help you get started.
-It is highly advisable that you use a good Coach throughout your competition process. A Coach is necessary 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 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.
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.
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
Here are Men’s (double bell) followed below by Women’s (single bell) Ranking charts used by IKSFA- International Kettlebell Sport and Fitness Academy.
Weight classes on the top bar are shown in kilograms.
1kg = 2.2lb. Each lift earns one rep:
AKA/IKSFA Men's Ranking Tables
Men performing Long Cycle would need to lift (2) 32kg bells in order to achieve CMS, MS or MSIC class.
AKA/IKSFA Women's Ranking Tables
Women performing Long Cycle would need to lift a 20kg or 24 kg bell in order to achieve CMS, MS or MSIC class
*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
For example, winning first place in Cup of Russia earns the lifter 10 points, but winning first place in European Championship earns 35 points.
Earning World Champion Status
Those outside of Russia desiring to earn World Champion title, should compete at either the IGSF or IUKL World Championships. Each organization has its own ranking tables detailing different weight and age categories.
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 legs, spine, abs and shoulders. The process of training results in increased lean muscle, fat loss, reduced risk of osteoporosis, aerobic conditioning and endurance, a balanced muscular system- utilizing 3 dimensions of the joints, flexibility, muscular symmetry and joint stability. Since GS is a power endurance sport, it creates bodies that are, in most cases, lean and strong.
What Training Entails
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
•Cardiovascular exercise in the form of running, swimming, biking, rowing, skating, etc. at various intensities
Workout sessions are performed an average of 4 or 5 days per week with each lasting approximately 2 hours, in order to build stability, endurance, conditioning and mental focus.
It is imperative for the lifter to have a clock available at all training sessions in order to perform the required reps for each training day. After a couple years of training, the lifter will be able to perform the competition pace they’ve trained for without reliance on a clock, yet the majority of competitions have visible clocks and rep counters for competitors to view while on the platform.
Sample workout week-
GS sets shown here are for a beginner Male performing Long Cycle, can also be applied to female using one bell:
Set 1- (2) 16kgs 90 sec 12 reps total / 8, 4
Rest up to 3 min
Set 2- (2) 14kgs 3 min 21 reps total / 7 per min
Strength & Conditioning-
•Bilateral Farmer’s Walk
•Barbell Squat 4 sets 6-10 reps
•Handstand against wall for time
•Heavy Double arm Swings
•Hanging Leg Raise
•Cable Chop Low-High
Cardio 20 min
Set 1- (2) 16kgs 2:30 min 20 reps total / 8, 8, 4
Rest up to 4m
Set 2- (2) 16kgs 2:30min 21 reps total / 8, 8, 5
Strength & Conditioning-
•Barbell Deadlift 4 sets 6-10 reps
•Barbell Push Press
•Double KB Front Squat
•Med ball Russian Twist
•Overhead KB carry, unilateral
Set 1- (2) 16kg 6 min 39-41 reps total / 7, 7, 7, 6-7, 6-7, 6
Strength & Conditioning-
•Dumbbell stair climb
•Barbell Push Press
•KB Renegade Row
•Lateral speed shuffle
As this wonderful sport grows internationally and here in the states, I hope you will join us and spread the word about Girevoy Sport to your friends and family. You can find listings of upcoming competitions from host organizations such as IKSFA, WKC, IKFF and IUKL.
I hope to see you at a future meet! Lift smart and lift well!
Lorna Kleidman is a 3-Time World Champion in Kettlebell Sport, 3-Time MSIC (Master of Sport International Class) and Master of Sport.
Current and former World Record Holder, Coach and member of IKSFA. Lorna is also creator of the KettleX Method of fitness and teaches at Equinox and other locations in NYC.