By now, you should know what a kettlebell is, or at the very least, you should have heard of kettlebells. They are popping up everywhere, and you can even purchase them from your local sporting goods retailer. There are kettlebell fitness trainers, kettlebell boot camps, kettlebell gyms, and even kettlebell infomercials. Kettlebells certainly have broken into the mainstream. Some might say this is good while others might say this is bad.

After learning of kettlebells in 2002, I started to take great interest in the sport of kettlebell lifting. Unfortunately, for those of us here in the United States, information is hard to come by. Over the past few years though, this has changed, and the sport has exploded.

What is kettlebell sport? Kettlebell sport, sometimes referred to as “girevoy sport” (GS), involves the repetitive lifting of kettlebells in a given period of time. The competition involves two events—the biathlon and the long cycle—and the lifter is given ten minutes for each event to perform as many repetitions as possible.

Kettlebells have been around for hundreds of years, and the sport of kettlebell lifting was organized on an official level around the 1940s or 1950s. The origins of the sport are in Russia and eastern Europe, although today it has spread in popularity worldwide.

In my opinion, kettlebell sport lifters are the pinnacle of kettlebell training. Not only are they capable of amazing feats of strength with very heavy kettlebells, but they are capable of amazing feats of strength endurance as demonstrated in competition. Consider that at the highest levels it is common to see a kettlebell sport competitor performing over 100 jerks with a pair of 70-lb kettlebells!

Honored master of sport, Valery Fedorenko, in an impressive display of strength endurance jerks a 60-Kg (132-lb) kettlebell. In this particular demonstration, he performed over 50 repetitions before setting the kettlebell down.

The competition lifts parallel the lifts contested in weightlifting—the clean and jerk and the snatch—and in the early days, the press was contested as well.


The biathlon is made up of the jerk and the snatch. The jerk is performed by cleaning two kettlebells to the chest, referred to as the rack position, and then utilizing an explosive leg drive to lock the kettlebells out at arm’s length overhead. The bells are then dropped back to the rack position prior to the next repetition.

The snatch involves swinging a kettlebell between the legs and explosively lifting it to a fixed and locked out position overhead, all in one movement. After fixating the bell, the lifter lowers the kettlebell in a swinging motion back between the legs and performs the next repetition. Because this is a one armed lift, the lifter must switch hands one time and complete snatches on the other hand as well.

Women’s amateur division at the 2009 Arnold Sports Festival Kettlebell Sport Championship performing the snatch with 12-Kg (26-lb) kettlebells.

Depending on the federation, some require the snatches to be averaged, some total the snatches performed on each hand, and some require the same number of repetitions per hand when determining the lifter’s score. In the biathlon, a lifter’s score is calculated by adding the jerk repetitions and snatch repetitions together to calculate the lifter’s total.

In some federations, women perform the snatch only while in the competitions held by the World Kettlebell Club and its affiliates, women may participate in the biathlon. For women, the jerk is performed with one arm utilizing the one hand switch as in the snatch. Men jerk two kettlebells and snatch one kettlebell.

Long cycle

The second event is the long cycle. In the long cycle, the lifter cleans two bells to the rack position (one bell for women), jerks them to a locked out position overhead, drops them to the rack, and then cleans them again prior to the next repetition.

Basic rules

In both the biathlon and the long cycle, the lifter has ten minutes to complete as many repetitions as possible in each individual lift. The one major rule is that the lifter may not set the kettlebells down or the set is considered complete. In the snatch, the lifter may rest with the bell locked out overhead, and in the jerk and long cycle, the lifter may rest with the bells in the rack position or in the locked out position overhead. When the one armed lifts are contested, the lifter is allowed to switch hands only one time.

In World Kettlebell Club-affiliated competitions, men may compete with 12-Kg, 16-Kg, 20-Kg, 24-Kg, 28-Kg, and 32-Kg kettlebells in the biathlon and long cycle, depending on their level of sport mastery. Women may compete with 8-Kg, 12-Kg, 16-Kg, and 20-Kg kettlebells in the biathlon, and in the long cycle, up to 24-Kg kettlebells may be used, depending on their individual level of sport mastery.


The sport of kettlebell lifting is a blend of power and endurance. To quote Catherine Imes, the first American to achieve a master of sport lifter classification in kettlebell lifting, the lifter must “become comfortable with discomfort.” If the lifter plans to complete ten minutes of jerks or snatches, exceptional technique and a fairly high pain tolerance is required.

Training for the sport requires focus, patience, and discipline. Typically, most of the training time is spent building large amounts of volume in the specific competition lifts, although many lifters perform supplementary exercises with kettlebells, barbells and even body weight to strengthen weak points and improve overall strength and endurance.

For an in-depth look at how I have incorporated kettlebell and kettlebell sport training into my personal training plan and that of my athletes and clients, I recommend my book, Kettlebells for Sport, Strength, and Fitness, available on my website at

Kettlebell sport in the US

In America, we are lucky to have honored master of sport and former world champion, Valery Fedorenko, sharing the knowledge he acquired over his competitive career. Due to this, we have had two men and many women achieve the advanced lifter classification/ranking of master of sport, which is similar to an elite ranking in powerlifting. This is a testament to Fedorenko’s training methods, considering that just five or six years ago, Americans were just learning about kettlebell sport.

In 2007, Fedorenko launched the World Kettlebell Club to serve as an organization to promote his training methods and the sport of kettlebell lifting worldwide. In addition, he formed the American Kettlebell Club and has successfully established kettlebell clubs in many different countries as well.

In an effort to promote the growth of the sport, many of Fedorenko’s top coaches have begun holding kettlebell sport meets at the local and regional level and have attracted a following from all ages and skill levels. In March of 2009, kettlebell sport was included as an event in the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic Sports Festival in which over 100 lifters participated.

Getting started

The sport is easy to get into. The equipment required is minimal and fairly inexpensive, and a lifter does not need a spotter, although having a coach or someone to assist you with the technical aspects of the lifts and with the organization of training is recommended and extremely beneficial.

If you are interested in learning more or participating in the sport of kettlebell lifting, I suggest finding an American Kettlebell Club coach or an American Kettlebell Club/World Kettlebell Club-affiliated training center in your area. If you need help finding a coach or if you have any specific questions regarding kettlebell sport or kettlebell training, feel free to contact me at I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.

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