They look like cannon balls with handles and you may have seen someone swinging them around at the gym, but where did kettlebells come from?
Kettlebells have been around for centuries, The word girya (meaning kettlebell) was first seen in the Russian dictionary in 1704. Back then kettlebells were used to measure the weight of grain and other foods. People at fairs and festivals would show off their strength by swinging and lifting them, they soon realised the health and strength building benefits of using kettlebells.
On August 10th 1885, which is considered to be the birthday of weightlifting in Russia, a weight training hall was opened. They were serious about muscular development and needed someone with a science background to devise ways to achieve this, the man behind training the athletes was called Vladislav Kraevsky. The programmes he prescribed paid close attention to skill development, loading and correct breathing techniques, with athletes training three times a week executing one and two-handed presses, the snatch, clean and presses. Traditional kettlebell training became popular with people in rural areas, the military and Olympic athletes. In addition to their training programmes, Soviet Olympic weightlifters would use kettlebells unilaterally to help develop their weaker sides. Even to this day kettlebells are still used for supplementing the training of many athletes and the armed forces.
In 1948 an all-union competition was held in Moscow, entrants were winners from republican competitions and came from all 15 soviet republics. The two kettelbell events held were snatch and jerk, and at the time pressing and push pressing were allowed in the jerk, but these are no longer allowed. Other than that there were no rules and no time limits.
In 1962 kettlebell sport or girevoy sport rules and weight classes were established and athletes competed in the triathlon, this consisted of the press, jerk and snatch. There were no time limits so contestants would stay on the platform for 40 minutes plus!!! A long time to be continuously lifting and I would imagine quite boring for the spectators!
1974 saw Girevoy sport officially declared the ethnic sport of Russia, and very soon after this it became part of the United all State Association of the USSR. In 1985 the committee of kettlebell sport was established along with official rules, regulations and weight catagories, also included was the prestigious master of sport award. In the same year the first kettlebell sport championships were held in Lipetsk, Russia. In 1989 the long cycle (clean and press) were introduced, and the last major rule change was put in place, the competition time on the platform was limited to 10 minutes.
Today there are three main events in Girevoy sport, the jerk, long cycle and snatch, with men using two kettlebells and women using only one. In the jerk athletes are required to clean the ketttlebell(s) to the chest once, and then jerk them overhead as many times as possible. The long cycle requires the athlete to clean the kettlebell(s) prior to each jerk performed. The snatch is the only event where both sexes use one kettlebell, it is performed by swinging the kettlebell between the legs before brining it up to the overhead position in one uninterrupted motion. Athletes in events using one kettlebell are only permitted to switch hands once in the competition time frame. The kettlebell weights used in competitions range from 8-32kg.
Amateur adults (any age) 12kg or 16kg
Pro adults (any age) 24kg or 32kg
Juniors (up to 14) 12kg
Juniors (up to 16) 12kg or 16kg
Juniors (up to 18) 12kg, 16kg or 24kg
Masters (40+) 16kg
Seniors (55+) 12kg
Amateur adult (any age) 8kg, 12kg or 16kg
Pro adult (any age) 20kg or 24kg
Juniors (up to 14) 8kg
Jumiors (up to 16) 8kg or 12kg
Juniors (up to 18) 8kg, 12kg or 16kg
Masters (40+) 12kg
Seniors (55+) 8 kg
Today, kettlebell sport is practiced all over the world and is growing very rapidly. The sport is very technical with professional athletes lifting a total of over 7 tonnes during their 10 minute competition sets, this requires a certain type of special strength endurance which is quite unlike any other sport.
Here are some leading authorities in kettlebell sport:
From starting off as a unit for measuring produce, kettlebells are now common place in many gyms around the world. Aside from the sport side of kettlebells more and more people are realising the benefits of using them in their workout programmes, and seeing results faster than they would with traditional machine or cardio type training sessions. Part of the reason why kettlebells are so effective comes from the shape of the kettlebell. When held in the hand the bells centre of mass hangs below the hand, unlike the dumbell for example, where its centre of mass hangs directly in the hand. This makes the kettlebell very unstable when in use, which in turn makes it harder to control, making your body work harder as you try to control its movements.
Some of the benefits of kettlebell training:
- Improve strength
- Weight loss
- Injury prevention
- Mental toughness
- Improve work capacity (strength endurance)
- Strengthen posterior chain
- Improve posture
- Improve core strength
- Enhance athleticism – flexibility, coordination, balance, etc.
The other great thing about kettlebells is that they are very portable and you don’t need a gym to use them, you can train with them at home, in the park or take them to work. You can easily put them into any existing programme that you may have or even replace an exercise with a kettlebell move, for example you could replace a dumbbell military press with a kettlebell press from the rack position to work the shoulder muscles from a different angle.
As with most exercises injuries can happen when bad techniques are used and kettlebells are no different. It is really important to get advice from an expert, you can find advice from the links I have included above or you can find a trainer in your area accredited with a qualification with one of the above organisations.
I am more than happy to help with any questions that you may have about kettlebells, please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.