By now you’ve certainly seen them. They’re everywhere – in department stores, on TV, and pretty much every gym in the country. Those funny looking weights that look like cannonballs with a handle? Those are kettlebells. No, not “kettle-ball”, kettlebell. Think: dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell.
A kettlebell is a training tool used to develop full body strength and conditioning. The unique shape, where the weight is displaced from the handle, is going to make some exercises harder, challenging your core and stabilizer muscles, and others easier, promoting greater work capacity. While kettlebells can be used to develop maximal strength and muscle hypertrophy to a point, they’re really best for developing work capacity, or strength endurance – the bridge between aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.
Kettlebells come from Russia where they were traditionally used as counterweights in shipyards and markets. And so try to imagine turn of the century Russia: you’ve vodka and ego – the perfect recipe for competition. Kind of incredible to imagine that kettlebells’ fitness application was birthed from such an environment.
Most of you are probably familiar with Olympic weightlifting, where athletes, divided by weight class, attempt to lift the heaviest weight possible in the snatch and clean & jerk, or possibly powerlifting, where athletes test themselves in the squat, deadlift and bench press. Here, the heaviest lifts win.
Instead of maximal strength, Kettlebell Sport tests an athlete’s work capacity. Divided by weight class, athletes lift a sub-maximal weight for ten minutes without stopping for as many reps as possible.
There are three events: jerk, snatch, and long cycle (clean & jerk). Traditionally an athlete competes in a biathlon of jerk and snatch, snatch only, or long cycle only.
Jerk: men use two kettlebells, women use one or two kettlebells, and lift from teh chest to overhead position.
Snatch: the kettlebell is lifted from a low position between the legs to overhead in one fluid motion. Both men and women use one kettlebell and can switch hands only once.
Long Cycle: same rules as jerk, except the kettlebells are lowered between the legs and then raised up to the chest between each jerk. So, low position to chest, chest to overhead, back to chest, then back to low position.
Professional and higher level male athletes compete with 70 pound (32kg) kettlebells, and amateurs use 53 pounds (24kg). Women will lift 53 pounds and 35 pounds in the professional and amateur divisions, respectively. However, these days many hosts will allow athletes to use lighter and intermediate kettlebell weights to help develop the sport and competitive spirit. At any competition in the US you’ll find athletes of all ages, from 6 to 60 years old, lifting between 16 and 70 pound kettlebells. It truly is a sport for all ages and fitness levels.