Kettlebells are a fixture in gyms across the globe, offering a variety of exercises that build full body strength and endurance. If you’ve been to a gym, you’re more than likely familiar with some classic kettlebell exercises like the swing, sumo squat and the Russian twist. But what you might not know is that kettlebell lifting is a rapidly growing competitive sport, with the world championships beginning this week.
Australia is sending a contingent of six athletes to the 2022 kettlebell sport world championships in New Delhi. The event is expected to feature more than 400 athletes. The large number of competitors is a sign of the sports emergence on the world stage, with hopes of the sport joining the Olympics in the near future.
Kettlebell exercises are an essential aspect of a full body workout that will have you feeling the burn everywhere. But the world championships take things up a notch. The world’s best athletes compete in a variety of punishing challenges that the average gym-goer wouldn’t dream of attempting.
“What makes it hard is the fact that you can’t put that bell down, you cannot wear gloves or anything and your hands rip. People don’t really understand that it’s a real sport and then they try it and they’re like, oh it’s really hard,” competitive lifter Monica Bezuidenhout told the ABC.
The sport is growing in Australia. With the increased popularity of kettlebells in CrossFit and strongman workout routines, more people are getting involved in sanctioned competitions and it’s only going to keep growing.
How does competitive kettlebell lifting work?
Competitive kettlebell lifting is a little different than what you might be familiar with doing in the gym. A variety of disciplines test different aspects of competitors strength in a combination of endurance, mental toughness and raw power.
The world championships will include six different disciplines for men and women. The jerk, snatch, long cycle, biathlon, relays and an all-round category. The disciplines test a variety of strengths with one or two hands and range from ten to 60 minutes, but the principle remains the same. Don’t drop the kettlebell.
In the snatch discipline, competitors start with a kettlebell between their legs and use one hand to heave the weight above their heads. The winner is the athlete who can complete the most repetitions during the timeframe. Hand-switches are only allowed once, meaning endurance is tested just as much as strength.
In the long cycle discipline, competitors must combine a number of repetitions in one of the sports most gruelling events. With a weight in each hand, athletes must bring the kettlebells to chest level, complete an overhead jerk, control the weights back down to chest level and finish with a dropping swing between the legs.
Where does the sport come from?
Kettlebells find their origin in Russia as early as the 18th century, where cast iron weights were used to measure goods. Eventually, people realised that they could be used as a test of strength and competitions were held as kettlebell lifting became a popular pastime across Eastern Europe.
Kettlebell lifting took over the Eastern European exercise circuit. In 1948, it even became the national sport of the Soviet Union. Kettlebell exercises soon spread to the western world and a committee for the sport which introduced official rules and regulations, was established in 1985.
Anthony Evans, a member of the Australian team headed to India, told the ABC “The Russians invented it but the sport itself has really taken to Europe and it’s travelled around the world now everywhere. It’s like an avalanche it’s just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Now there’s a push to get the sport introduced into the Olympics. With the sport’s growing popularity, that dream could soon become a reality. Besides, what’s a more suitable Olympic sport than a classic test of Herculean strength?
Kettlebell exercises to introduce to your workout
Whether or not you have aspirations to compete at the next world championships, kettlebell exercises are a great way to build strength over multiple muscle groups and can even build cardio endurance. Here’s some kettlebell exercises to introduce to your workout routine.
The kettlebell swing is a classic. It’s the easiest and most common exercise kettlebells can be used for. Keep a straight back with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Use both hands to grab the kettlebell with your palms facing towards you. Bend your knees and swing the kettlebell forwards with straight arms until it reaches chest level.
The kettlebell swing targets muscles all along the posterior chain. You’ll fell the burn in your glutes, hamstring, lower and upper back, as well as shoulders.
Start with your feet pointing slightly outwards and more than shoulder width apart, like you would for a regular squat. Sumo squats engage your core, so keep your back straight and your chest up. Hold the kettlebell between your knees and squat as low as your range of motion will allow and don’t let the weight touch the ground. Sumo squats are a great lower body and core exercise.
Begin this exercise in a typical raised plank position with a kettlebell just outside one hand. Reach under and across your body and drag the kettlebell across to the other side. Swap hands and repeat. Keep your hips square to the ground and don’t lean as you pull the weight. Plank drags are great for your core and abs, as well as building endurance for regular planks.
Kettlebell flyes can be performed on an incline or flat bench. They provide a greater range of motion than regular dumbbells and keep the weight on the outside of your wrist, allowing for better form. Lying on a bench, hold the kettlebells above your chest and shoulders with your arms extended. Slowly lower the kettlebells to the sides of your body with your elbows slightly bent until you start to feel your chest muscles stretching, then bring the weights back up to their starting position.
A kettlebell thruster combines an overhead press with a squat. Hold a kettlebell with two hands at chest level with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Lower your body for a typical squat while keeping the kettlebell at chest level. After returning to the starting position, raise the weight above your head, and control its descent back to the starting position. Kettlebell thrusters target a variety of upper and lower body muscle groups in a gruelling full body workout.