What Is Kettlebell Sport?

By Bea Rodriguez-Fransen

Did you know you can compete in Kettlebell Sport aka Girevoy Sport (GS)? Whether you want to lift for fun or to become a top kettlebell athlete, there is a place for you in the growing kettlebell sport community.

Kettlebell lifters develop a tremendous amount of coordination, static muscular strength, muscle endurance, power endurance, anaerobic capacity, cardiorespiratory endurance, and mental fortitude. That’s a lot of benefits for your body and mind!

Competition Kettlebells

The steel kettlebells used in GS competitions are different than the cast-iron or vinyl kettlebells you may see in many gyms. Unlike those of cast-iron or vinyl bells, the dimensions and handle sizes of competition kettlebells don’t change as they get heavier. While cast-iron bells are usually black, competition bells are color-coded according to weight.

Kettlebell Sport Lifts

Kettlebell Sport is a power-endurance sport that requires athletes to work under a submaximal load, lifting their kettlebells for as many repetitions as possible in a given time frame. Originating from Russia, the sport has grown throughout the world and has many variations, depending on the organization’s rules and competition formats. Three of the classical lifts are the jerk, snatch, and long cycle.


The jerk is performed by cleaning the bell once to rack position — which means rounding your upper back and extending your hips so your elbow can reach your iliac crest or torso, resting the kettlebell in the triangle between your bicep and forearm — then lifting it overhead as many times as possible. The phases of jerk include: first dip (bend your knees while sending your hips forward), bump or triple extension, second dip (get under the bell, push hips back), lockout, and dropping the bell back to rack position.

Depending on the competition format, you can choose to jerk one or two bells.


The snatch is performed by swinging the bell to overhead position in one continuous motion. In many competition formats, men and women use only one bell. The phases of a full snatch include: the swing, acceleration pull at the top of the swing, hand insertion, lockout, dropping the bell from overhead, and re-gripping the bell.


In some competitions, lifters can compete in half snatch events. In full snatch, you drop the bell from overhead in one continuous motion, all the way to the swing. In half snatch, you drop the bell from overhead to your rack position, where you can rest before repeating the movement.

Depending on the competition format, you can choose to snatch one or two bells.

Long Cycle

The long cycle, also known as the clean and jerk, is performed by cleaning the bell to rack position then jerking it overhead. The phases of long cycle include: clean, rack, first dip, bump or triple extension, second dip, lockout, and dropping the bell back to rack position.


Depending on the competition format, you can choose to clean and jerk one or two bells.

An Endurance Sport

The goal of kettlebell sport is to perform as many accurate repetitions possible within a given time frame. Lifters are assigned to a platform; a judge and a counter are assigned to each lifter, to record the number of reps and determine the accuracy of each rep. Depending on the competition format, athletes can choose to lift for:

  • 5 minutes, without setting the bell(s) down, only one-hand switch
  • 10 minutes, without setting the bell(s) down, only one-hand switch
  • 5 minutes, with the option of setting the bell(s) down, multiple switches
  • 10 minutes, with the option of setting the bell(s) down, multiple switches
  • 30 minutes (half marathon), without setting the bell down, multiple switches
  • 30 minutes (pentathlon), six-minute set for each of the five lifts, with five-minute recovery in between sets
  • 60 minutes (marathon), without setting the bell down, multiple switches

Kettlebell lifting also emphasizes mobility and technique training that emphasizes efficiency, grip strength, conditioning, and lift-specific breathing cycles.


Competitors can choose to lift in one or more events in a given competition. They can also choose to use one or two bells, and choose their own kettlebell weight. Events can include:

  • Jerk
  • Snatch
  • Long cycle
  • Biathlon (jerk and snatch)
  • Triathlon (jerk, snatch, long cycle)
  • Half-marathon (30 minutes of one chosen lift)
  • Marathon (60 minutes of one chosen lift)
  • BOLT Ironman (double snatch, double jerk, double long cycle, single snatch, single jerk, and single long cycle).
  • Pentathlon (clean, clean and press, jerk, half snatch, and push press)
  • Timed team relays (jerk relays)

Ranking & Placing

Organizations have various ranking tables, which are similar to the belt system in martial arts. For example, if you hit a certain number of reps within your weight category, your ranking can be Rank 3, Rank 2, Rank 1, Candidate for Master of Sport (CMS), Master of Sport (MS), and Master of Sport International Class (MSIC). This is a good benchmarking tool for your individual progress in the sport. Ranking tables take into account your age and gender, bodyweight category, the weight of the kettlebell.

Placing is different than your individual ranking. When you place first in your event, this means that you scored the most number of reps compared to everyone else in your category (including gender, age group, bodyweight), lifting in the same event with the same kettlebell weight. In addition, some organizations choose to use a formula to determine the top coefficient lifter in each event.

A Great Cross-Training Opportunity

GS training can be integrated into any training program and is especially beneficial for other iron sports (strongman, CrossFit, powerlifting) and combat sports (MMA, boxing, wrestling, judo). Some athletes may choose to train in kettlebell sport during their off-season.

A Sport for Everyone

One of the best things about kettlebell sport is its accessibility — you don’t have to be an elite athlete to pick up this sport. I have seen five-year-olds and 70-year-olds alike, stepping on the platform for the first time. All you need to get started are a few kettlebells, a good kettlebell sport coach, and the patience and focus to develop your technique.

Whether you decide to enter kettlebell sport competitions or simply train for fun in the comfort of your own home or gym, I hope that this article inspires you to pick up a kettlebell and start swinging. Happy lifting!

Infographics courtesy of Chicago Kettlebell Club.

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About the author:  Bea Rodriguez-Fransen

Bea Rodriguez-Fransen is the Founder & President of Chicago Kettlebell Club LLC (CKC) and the International Kettlebell Sport Summit. A NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Kettlebell Coach by International Kettlebell Fitness Federation, KETAcademy, Ice Chamber, and International Kettlebell Fitness & Sport Academy, she enjoys conducting workshops and certifications throughout Chicagoland. As the Illinois Director for International Kettlebell Lifting Federation, and as Country Director for Grassroots Kettlebell League, she hosts competitions geared towards beginners. Because kettlebell training has helped transform her health and well-being, she created CKC in 2013 to bring the beauty and power of kettlebells to as many lives as possible.

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