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 and power, 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 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
- 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 must Snatch 24kg/53lb.
- In International meets, men typically lift 32kg/72lb or 24kg/53lb, 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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
- Performed with 10 minutes Jerk, followed by 10 minutes Snatch
- A minimum 30 minutes rest between the two lifts is given
- 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.
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, then show straight elbows and knees in the overhead position, fixating the bell momentarily
- 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 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 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 lack of fixation at the top position
- 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.
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
An example of ranking tables from WKSF
*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 4 or 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 available at all training sessions in order to perform the required reps for each training day.
By Lorna Kleidman
US Kettlebell Lifting member, 4x Kettlebell World Champ, 5x MSIC, trainer, author, presenter, DVDs, founder KettleX® & SPRY® Method