ROD 090410


Saturday, 04Sep10,


The Sport of Kettlebell    



1  a game, competition or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job
2  all types of physical activity which people do to keep healthy or for enjoyment

3 old fashioned  fun or enjoyment  

Girevoy (kettlebell) Sport (“GS”) as practised in Russia encompasses various tests of strength endurance. Depending upon age , sex and ability, competitors participate in various weight divisions to achieve the highest number of repetitions in a 10 minute time limit. Furthermore, the spirit of competition is enhanced by special feats such as “odd” lifts and kettlebell “relay races” after the main program is completed. History  During the 20th century, kettlebells were used by strength athletes e.g weightlifters and “strongmen” to compliment more traditional barbell lifts. In 1948 Russians commenced kettlebell sport, whereby a man performed as many legal repetitions as possible in his chosen event(s), the snatch (weight swung with one arm straight above head ), the clean & jerk ( 2 bells swung to chest once, and then put overhead as many times as possible) and the one armed push press. Such was the conditioning developed by competitive gireviks that eventaully a 10 minute time limit  was imposed to allow the meeting to be completed in a reasonable time frame! The competition press was deleted from the program for the same reason it was turfed from Olympic weightlifting: simply the event was too difficult to fairly judge. The sport evolved from military circles to the wider population and in 1985 the first official Russian national championship was held. Since then many other nations have entered international competitions. Finally it is becoming a world sport! The GS Novice Whilst the individual lifts may not seem that taxing, or indeed technically challenging for a few reps, once the lifter starts to build an element of endurance into the session he/she will find the degree of difficulty rapidly escalates. At this point the natural tendency is to think “this is impossibly hard – not for me!”. To succeed in competition requires the rhythm and efficiency of a rower , the tenacity of an high altitude mountaineer (with no supplemental oxygen!) and the technical skills of an Olympic weightlifter. Only with an iron will and dedication to mastering efficient technique will the aspiring lifter be able to achieve a competitive score. Having said that, the sport requires tremendous patience to gradually increase both strength and stamina over years, at the same time ensuring he/she is able to complete high volume and high intensity of training without overtraining and burnout. So new is this sport outside Russia and the Baltic states that it will probably be several years before Western athletes are able to significantly challenge the majority of the experienced (and in many cases professional) athletes. Ranking systems have been developed to track progress of skills, manifest in improved repetition totals over months and years (see “GS rankings” section). So it is clear that competitive Girevoy Sport attracts those with the discipline to endure often repetitive training and a grim determination to build ever increasing power endurance, tempered with the patience and commonsense to enable continued progress. 

Though many who sample GS are unable to stomach the type of training required, for those who persist the mental & physical rewards are high. The athlete will develop truly exceptional conditioning, flexibility, strength and power. Indeed, one’s overall work capacity may greatly exceed that of even highly trained athletes in other disciplines. Whilst the training is largely based on repetitive lifting, a variety of assistance exercises and modalities used to complement the competition lifts are help prevent staleness or boredom. The challenge is to maintain progress on several fronts.  Activities such as running, swimming, cycling, rowing, rollerblading, skiing and ball sports are encouraged to develop and maintain all round sports skills . The solid base of GS training will ensure that at any age the athlete will have qualities enabling him to excel at these activities. It is obvious to all that use them that kettlebells used to their full capability build tremendous injury resistance whilst maintaining joint flexibility and stability. What kind of person might be suited to Girevoy Sport? Given the wide range of body types exhibited at GS events, clearly no specific physical attribute is required. Clearly, tall athletes have to move the bell farther, whilst a stocky athlete with short arms and powerful lower body might be well suited to the jerk event. Fundamentally though,  all athletes have weak points which when addressed through mindful training , enable all to compete on a relatively even keel. 

It is unlikely that complete athletic novices will be attracted to this type of training. Otherwise anyone who enjoys a physical challenge, the thrill of practise & learning as well as the will to persist under duress may be attracted to this sport. Obviously, weightlifters and those from power sports such as throwers (shotput, javelin, discus, ball sports) are at an advantage in that they will be possess the knowledge of applying controlled power in a tightly honed groove. Endurance athletes understand well the skill of energy efficiency. However, any sportsman with a strong will to succeed may find the sport irresistible. Over time, many older athletes find the rigours of  certain sports excessive (impact sports, throwers have a use-by date, competitive weightlifting requires ongoing coaching and often close to maximal loads…with attendant injury risk). GS offers the challenge of a constant load performed in a safe fashion with the ultimate result dependent upon mental fortitude (“guts”), efficient technique and cardiorespiratory conditioning. Though to the uninitiated the weights used seem rather heavy, and the movements rather “dangerous”, in fact the weight is primarily moved by the large muscles of the body whilst the smaller muscles merely  provide control. Safety, longevity issues. The injury rate even amongst elite gireviks is low compared to most sports.As long as the athlete is aware of  signs of overtraining (e.g. persistent tightness/soreness, lack of energy, poor sleep, performance plateau etc) he/she can recover quickly between training sessions. On competition day when maximal performance is called for, the volume of preceding training will ensure the tendons, ligaments and muscles are well accustomed to an heavy workload. It is well accepted that weight training is highly beneficial in maintaining muscle mass, promoting stability and control of joints and reducing the risk of osteoporosis in men and women. Furthermore, the nature of kettlebell exercises emphasize power endurance and flexibility of the back muscles as well as delivering superb conditioning of the often troublesome shoulder rotator cuff muscles. The cardiorespiratory  benefits are immense, and unlike heavy lifting sports the risk of a “lift gone wrong” is negligible.  



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