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What is kettlebell sport?

Kettlebell sport is a weight-lifting sport that combines strength and endurance into one competitive event. It is referred to as “GS (girevoy sport) style” kettlebell lifting as compared to the more well known version of kettlebell lifting “hard style” kettlebell lifting. What separates kettlebell sport from powerlifting or Olympic lifting is that athletes do not just lift a maximum load one time but are given points for each correct repetition completed in a timed set.  Time of sets may be 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes. Athletes who are successful at GS sport have perfected their technique to maximize the effectiveness of each lift and to use the least amount of energy possible. Preserving energy with each repetition allows athletes to lift heavier weights at faster paces.  The winning athlete is the athlete who earns the most points in their timed competition set. Each point is earned but completing a specific exercise correctly and achieving “lockout”. Lockout is the term used for when the athlete stops the momentum of the kettlebell in the overhead position for a brief moment in time. Athletes elbows and knees must be fully extended. When this is achieved, the athlete’s judge will issue a count.  If the judge deems that the exercise was not completed properly or the athlete did not fully stop the momentum of the bell in the lockout position, or the knees or elbows were not fully extended, the judge will issue a no-count.  Essentially the athlete went through the entire process of a repetition, expended energy that is not rewarded with an increase in score. Almost all kettlebell athletes have experienced this and it can be heartbreaking, it is definitely something to be avoided with proper training and technique! Points are not awarded or deducted for style or individual lifter differences, only for proper execution of the exercise and achievement of lockout.

Winning in kettlebell sport can happen at the individual and team level. In this sense it would be analogous to swimming or track and field.  Kettlebell sport consists of several disciplines.  While these may vary depending on the federation, gender, and level of competition the lifts are as follows: snatch, half-snatch, double half-snatch, one and two arm long cycle, and biathlon (One set of single or double jerks and a second set of snatch). Some events will also include triathlon, long cycle, jerks and snatch scores all combined for one award.  In the individual disciplines athletes compete against competitors of similar body weight and lifting the same weight bell.  All competition style kettlebells are the same size but vary in weight based on how hollow or filled the inside of the bell is. Competition weights increase in 4 kg increments and weight is designated by the color of the kettlebell. 8 kg kettlebells are pink, 12 kg kettlebells are blue, 16 kg kettlebells are yellow, 20 kg kettlebells are purple, 24 kg kettlebells are green, 28 kg kettlebells are orange, and 32 kg kettlebells are red.  Although there may be some variations in colors, knowing this an observer has a good start at knowing the weight that an athlete is lifting in competition.

Competition is separated into professional, amateur and beginner. Typically men’s professional weights are 28 and 32 kg and men’s amatuer weights are 20 and 24 kg. Women’s professional weights are 24 and 20 kg and women’s amateur weights are 12 and 16 kg.  Again, there may be some variation in these weights depending on federation and level of competition.

In traditional GS Sport (10 minute sets) lifters may only change hands once while longer marathon sets typically allow lifters to change hands as many times as they want. Athletes of all disciplines may not set kettlebells down during a set.  If the bell touches the platform so that its momentum is changed or the bell is dropped it is considered a “stop set” and the athlete cannot continue. In marathon lifting (30 and 60 minute sets) setting the bell down for any reason is considered a disqualification and the athlete is not considered for an award or rank.

Kettlebell sport challenges an athlete’s strength, endurance, and emotional stamina like no other sport. Athletes must master all of these to be considered a Master of Sport.

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