What is Kettlebell Sport?

Learn how you can train for this sport like an athlete without stepping up to the platform.


By Lauren Weiss


Most weightlifting avenues have a competitive aspect to it. There is the growing popularity of the Crossfit Games for those who belong to a box; old school lifters gravitate toward StrongMan Competitions; and olympic weightlifting and powerlifting (performing an barbell lift at a maximal weight for one repetition) have both seen huge increases in the past decade. Kettlebell enthusiasts also have a competitive aspect, but it’s a little bit different than other weight lifting competitions.

Kettlebells originated in Russia, where their lifters are known as “gireviks.” These Russian lifters all perform the same lifts with kettlebells that their barbell-enthusiast counterparts do: the snatch, the clean and jerk, and the jerk.

These movements can be performed with a single kettlebell or a kettlebell in each hand, but instead of performing these for a one repetition max, like the barbell lifters, these movements are performed at a sub maximal weight for a maximum number of reps during a ten minute competition set.

There are two styles of kettlebell competitions: Girevoy Sport and BOLT. Girevoy sport lifters select one lift to perform for ten minutes. They cannot set the kettlebells down during their set or their set is ended and their score is recorded. If gireviks are performing a lift using one kettlebell, they can only switch hands one time, essentially having to try to perform as many repetitions as possible on one arm in about five minutes before switching sides.

These lifters utilize what’s called the rack position, a resting position in which the kettlebell(s) are resting in between the forearm and bicep at chest height. These lifters are typically scored on a points system based on the weight of the kettlebells being used and the lifter’s bodyweight.

That scores provides them with a final rank anywhere from a Level III lifter (novice lifter) to an International Master of Sport lifter. Lifters compete against other lifters of the same gender and body weight using the same kettlebell weight for the same lift for first, second and third place.

BOLT competitions, on the other hand, are more high intensity, interval-based. In this competitive format, lifters can place the kettlebells down as often as they choose and if they are performing a single kettlebell lift, they can switch hands as often as they need to. However, because this style is more cardiovascular endurance-based, your score is based on your total volume. The weight of the kettlebells is multiple by the number of completed repetitions in the ten minutes, and each lifter is competing against anyone of the same gender and weight class performing that lift, regardless of the weight of the kettlebells the other lifters are using. One lifter could end up using a lighter weight kettlebell and achieve first place if they perform enough repetitions to get a higher volume score than another competitor with a heavier bell.

Training for these competitions varies depending on which style of competition the lifter is competing in and what lift they are performing. However, the general format is often the same: the lifter has a main set that focuses on that single lift, and then pairs it with supplemental exercises that will help increase the muscular and cardiovascular endurance needed to perform that lift for ten minutes at their very best.

Taking a page from these kettlebell sport lifters, here’s how you can adapt their training style into your own programming!

Step 1: Pick one main movement you want to focus on - this could be a bodyweight movement like a burpee or a weightlifting movement like a deadlift.

Step 2: Select an interval that allows you to work safely and effectively on that one movement, and then allow yourself a short time to rest. Working at least at the ratio of 2:1 work to rest is great, as it challenges the cardiovascular system by requiring you to work twice as long as you rest, but can still allow for a fair amount of rest time (40 seconds of work will still allow you 20 seconds to breathe and catch your breath).

Step 3: Pick a number of rounds that challenges you, but still allows you to perform each round safely with proper technique. Working anywhere from 5 to 8 rounds should be safe and effective.

Step 4: Look at the major muscle groups that are working during that main movement, and pair it with other supplemental exercises that will help strengthen that main lift. When looking at the deadlift example, pairing deadlift sets with an abdominal exercise, a lat-focused exercise, and a bodyweight leg exercise will hit all the major muscle groups that work during the deadlift, ultimately making your deadlifts stronger down the line.

Even if you don’t have aspirations of becoming a competitive weightlifter, taking a look at their training methods can be a great way to learn more about an alternative way to build strength and increase your endurance.

Lauren Weiss is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor based out of Long Beach, CA. She specializes in kettlebell training and unconventional workouts and has been working with both types of fitness for over a year. Lauren has her BOLT Kettlebell Sport Certification through the USA Kettlebell League and has expertise working with kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells and several unconventional fitness tools. Lauren received her BA in Journalism and uses her writing expertise to craft thought-provoking articles about trending fitness, health & wellness topics. Follow Lauren on her websiteFacebook, and Instagram.

Main Photo Credit: Dragan Grkic/; Fourth Photo Credit: wavebreakmedia/