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Kettlebell Sport Training

A fitness trainer participating in kettlebell sport training.

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To many Russians, kettlebell sport training is a form of religion. Across the country in archaic gymnasiums that reek of rusty steel and stale sweat, they hold annual kettlebell competitions. It’s their equivalent to a country fate except that, instead of cake sales and polite lawn games, gireviks duke it out over the 10-minute snatch. Even the Russian military boasts a kettlebell sport training program, replete with league tables and scientifically formulated workouts.

This love of kettlebell sport has resulted in a complex training methodology. Internationally acclaimed powerlifting practitioners and prominent scientists such as Alexander Falameyev and Prof. Alexey Medvedev have contributed to this cannon.

What follows is a brief overview of the kettlebell training recommendations as per the official Girevoy Sport Competition Guidelines. These recommendations offer practical advice on how to structure your kettlebell routine and get the most out of your workouts.

Kettlebell sport training book.

Kettlebell sport training guidelines

Below I have grouped the kettlebell sport training guidelines into three distinct sections. The first section outlines key considerations of how to organise a programme.

From the big picture, we shift our focus to the workout process. Here we review the standard structure of a training session in addition to practical advice on safe lifting methods.

Finally, we’ll take a look at how you can further develop your kettlebell handling proficiency. This section suggests tried and tested tactics that will help you sharpen your skills while improving your kettlebell fitness.

Kettlebell programme

Implementing a programme is by far the most effective way to master the sport and bag the many health and fitness benefits associated with kettlebell training. But, because designing a programme can be a complicated process, some people will be put off by the idea. (That’s why I offer a Personalised Training Programme Service, as it saves you the trouble.)

However, as I argue in Atomic Kettlebells, this process can be simplified. It’s your training goals that determine the complexity of your programme. For example, if you plan to compete for a podium place in a competition, you will need to apply the principles of periodisation. This is the pinnacle of technical programming which can vex even seasoned practitioners.

Setting our sights on more modest training outcomes, such as staying consistent, relaxes the requirements of our programme. The guidelines compiled under the next heading will enable you to craft a basic kettlebell training programme that can:

Improve exercise consistency
Enhance kettlebell handling skills
Increase general fitness conditioning
Develop confidence

Girevoy sport training program

Aim for a minimum of three weekly kettlebell workouts. To provide the body with sufficient recovery, place the workouts on non-consecutive days – for example: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. (Get started with these Kettlebell WODs >)

For the first two months, beginners are advised to limit each kettlebell workout to 30 minutes. In addition, at this stage only apply the sets-reps-rest formula to kettlebell exercises and keep the loads low.

Once your fitness and lifting proficiency improves, you can begin integrating AMRAPs (as many reps as possible) into your routine. In addition to boosting muscle endurance and aerobic conditioning, AMRAPs will align your programme with Girevoy Sport competitions. Furthermore, events such as the 10-minute jerk enable you to formulate and establish specific training goals that can be tracked and monitored. 

Even the most committed girevik will experience flagging enthusiasm from time to time. An effective method of maintaining motivation is to set yourself both short- and long-term goals.

A short-term goal could include achieving a specific number of repetitions during a 10-minute clean-and-jerk competition. Long-term goals might involve broadening your exercise repertoire or remaining committed to a 6-week Kettlebell Training Programme.

Kettlebell workouts

The loads selected should allow you to perform between 5 and 20 clean repetitions per set. When going heavy, ensure to prioritise the quality of the lift over the quantity of the weight lifted. Also, always transition through the full range of motion and never cheat on an exercise.

When the lift patterns become physiologically integrated – that is, you no longer have to think about the movements – turn your attention to the synchronisation of your breathing. Pavel Tsatsouline, author of The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, argues that correct breathing can improve lifting technique and training performance.

Factor in rest periods between sets. During rests, ‘calmly walk around’ or, better still, isolate and practice particularly troublesome techniques (with ‘phantom bells’ – i.e., no resistance). Strength and conditioning expert Nick Grantham calls this ‘movement quality training’ – or MQT for short. Grantham recommends making time in your routine for MQT as it ‘reinforces correct posture and positioning of the body to allow for effective athletic movement.’

Prioritise the practising of the following core exercises: the one-arm snatch, jerk, and clean and jerk cycle (3 to 5 sets of 5 to 20 reps). For this training approach, you can rest after each set. However, once a week, aim to complete a set on both arms before resting. This tactic helps to build muscle endurance and lifting stamina.

Further kettlebell training development

As your training confidence and kettlebell handling skills improve, begin integrating two-arm exercises into your routine. But beware. The technical jump from single to double kettlebell exercises is greater than most trainers realise. A simple way to get used to two bells is by first practicing simple movements such as the swing or sumo deadlift. Once you’ve nailed these, start increasing the technical difficulty of the exercises.

It is acceptable practice to include barbell lifts in your kettlebell workouts. In addition to diversifying your training, the supplementary use of barbells enables you to go much heavier than is possible with kettlebells alone. However, when training for an event, as the competition approaches, kettlebell lifting takes priority.

Kettlebell sport training guidelines

Though largely comprehensive and robust, the Girevoy Sport Training Guidelines are riddled with limitations. For example, no mention is made of the importance of observing the correct training protocol – warming up, cooling down, and stretching.

Furthermore, it fails to provide advice on how to begin a kettlebell workout. Nor does it cover the process or importance of facilitating neuromuscular activation, an essential function of the warm-up that can enhance training performance while reducing injury risk.

I have attempted to fill in the gaps left by the Girevoy guidelines. So, as part of every workout and every time that you attempt a competition, observe the following process.

Kettlebell training process

1. Always spend 10 minutes warming up. The warm-up should consist of aerobic exercises – such as rowing and the cross-trainer – and light resistance exercises. Also, ensure to raise exercise intensity gradually across the duration.

2. Before venturing into the main training tasks of your workout, perform 3 to 6 light sets of 8 to 20 reps of kettlebell swings. The swing is a terrific foundational exercise that activates every link in the posterior chain and primes the muscles for resistance training. I never start a kettlebell workout without swinging.

3. It is of paramount importance to prioritise the quality of your lift over the quantity of the weight lifted. Bruce Lee put it best when he said, ‘Above all else, never cheat on an exercise; use the amount of weight that you can handle without undue strain,' (The Art of Expressing the Human Body)

4. When performing complex exercises for reps, it is wise to isolate yourself from the general gym population. In the possible eventuality of losing control, you may have to jettison your kettlebells. Of course, it’s best to do so without running the risk of crushing that unsuspecting narcissist to your right frantically trying to sculpt their abs.

5. Conclude your kettlebell workouts with a 5- to 10-minute cool-down and 5- to 10-minute stretch. These two training principles, though often omitted, have been shown to ‘improve muscular relaxation, remove waste products, reduce muscle soreness and bring the cardiovascular system back to rest,’ (Strength Training Bible).

6. Don’t forget to replenish your body after training. The ‘golden hour’ rule isn’t a myth. In the highly informative book Food, Nutrition And Sports Performance 2, we are reminded that the ‘early intake of carbohydrates after strenuous exercise is valuable because it provides an immediate source of substrate to the muscle cell to start effective recovery,’ (Burke et al – 2007). Put another way, ingesting quality nutrients within the first hour after exercising supports the repair of damaged muscle tissue in addition to replenishing depleted glycogen stores.


Kettlebell sport training (FAQ)

To wrap up this review of kettlebell sport training, I have answered three frequently asked questions. The questions selected for this FAQ are a little off-topic as the focus shifts to competitions and legendary lifters. We conclude with a kettlebell sport workout for you to try. 

What’s competitive kettlebell lifting?

Competitive kettlebell lifting involves organised events where gireviks (kettlebell lifters) aim to amass as many reps as possible in certain disciplines. The main disciplines include the snatch, long cycle, and two-arm jerk.

As I explain in this Kettlebell Sport blog, each event is scheduled for 10 minutes and the objective is always the same: perform the highest number of repetitions before the time runs out.

Who are the best kettlebell athletes?

Ivan Denisov is one of the most decorated gireviks in the history of the sport. As well as winning multiple titles in every major event, including Russian, European, and World championships, Denisov broke the 10-year-long records of legendary lifter Sergey Mishin. In the 2005 Moscow Championships, Denisov set ‘absolute world records’ in the jerk and biathlon. These records still stand.

Sergey Mishin is credited as being the mainspring that propelled the kettlebell sport into popularity. He established a panoply of records, many of which weren’t broken until recent times. Mishin, who at the advanced age of 65 is still active in the sport – in a coaching and promoting capacity – was the first man in the USSR to be awarded the honour of master of sport.  

Kettlebell sport training workout

A woman completing a kettlebell sport training workout.


About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and fitness coach. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam at

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