History Of The Kettlebell

 By Dan Piper, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, Workout4Results.com
reblogged from <kettlebellscience.com>
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This section is categorized into (i) Kettlebell Roots, (ii) Kettlebells in the West, and the (iii) History of Kettlebell Sport.

Kettlebell Roots

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Kettlebells have long been used as a dynamic tool to develop strength and endurance for centuries. Their origin is still a matter of speculation, but archaeological records show evidence of their use in Ancient Greece (Sanchez, 2009, p.4). At the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, in Athens Greece, a 143 kg kettlebell is stored. On the kettlebell an inscription is imprinted with the adage “Bibon heaved up me above a head by one head” (Istorija, IUKL). Kettlebells made their way to Russia at the beginning of the 18th century, where in 1704, the word ‘Girya’ (meaning kettlebell), was first published in the Russian Dictionary. At this time, the kettlebell just happened to be used as a weight to measure grains and other goods.

However, as the Russian culture views strength as an honourable quality, during festivals and fairs, vendors started swinging and lifting these kettlebells to show their strength, and quickly recognized the health benefits related to this activity.From 1870 to 1880, Russian Dr. Vladislav Kraevsky, who is considered the founder of heavy athletics, travelled through Europe gathering information about physical culture and sports with the intention of new ways to improve health, well-being and physical education. Upon returning to Russia, the doctor introduced exercises with kettlebells and barbells to the Russian athletic community. On the 10th of August in 1885, under the leadership of Dr. Kraevsky, a weight training hall was opened. This day is considered the birth of weightlifting in Russia. The goal of the weight training hall was muscular development. Weight training was held three times per week. The athletes executed one and two handed presses, the snatch and the clean and jerk with the doctor controlling doses and loads (Baszanowski & Casadei, 2005). He gave close attention to sequence of loading, formation of skill development, correct breathing technique and methods to struggle against exhaustion. (IUKL).Early in the 20th century, physical culturists, strong men and circus performers from around the world; such as Arthur Saxon, Edgar Mueller and Eugene Sandow, trained with kettlebells in the traditional fashion of the Russian strongmen and athletes (IUFL), introducing kettlebells to a wider audience outside of Russia.  However, World War I and a Russian civil war caused Russian sports and traditions, and ultimately the kettlebell, to stay within the Russian borders (IUKL). Nevertheless, kettlebells continued to flourish in the former Soviet Union. Training with kettlebells became common practice for people in rural areas, the military and Olympic athletes. In addition to their training program, Soviet Olympic weightlifters utilized kettlebells unilaterally in order to strengthen their weaker side. To this day, countries of the old eastern bloc rely on kettlebells for supplementing the training of many of their athletes and armed forces (Sanchez, 2009).

In Russia, kettlebells are a matter of national pride and a symbol of strength .Unlike most national armed forces, which test their soldiers with push ups; the Russian armed forces test their soldiers using the high volume kettlebell snatches with a 24 kg kettlebell (Tsatouline, 2006).  In 1981, the Russian government recognized the various benefits that kettlebells could provide its working citizens; and an official commission enforced mandatory kettlebell training for the masses, relying on the kettlebell to increase productivity and to decrease the healthcare costs of the country (Sanchez, 2009, p 7).

From being used as a weight for market products in Russia, to a tool for athletic development and health, the kettlebell slowly developed into a sport of its own. By 1974 it had been officially declared the ethnic sport of Russia (Sanchez, 2009, p. 6) and in 1985 the First National Championship of the USSR was held in Lipetsk, Russia.


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Kettlebells in the West

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Kettlebells in North America were non-existent in the later parts of the 20th century. In 1998, Pavel Tsatouline, former Soviet Special Forces physical training instructor, and considered the “modern king of kettlebells”, wrote an article discussing kettlebells in a popular American magazine for strength athletes; the article was extremely well received. As a result, Dragon Door Publications approached Tsatouline and offered to manufacture kettlebells in America, if Tsatouline agreed to teach people how to use them. Sub-sequentially, in 2001, Dragon Door published The Russian Kettlebell Challenge and manufactured the first US made Russian style kettlebell. Shortly after, the RKC certification was established, training qualified kettlebell instructors. In 2002, the kettlebell made it on to the Rolling Stones Magazine Hot List as ‘the Hot Weight of the Year’. Currently, among the RKC, there are various kettlebell instructor certification bodies, including the International Kettlebell & Fitness Federation, the Agatsu Kettlebell Certification in Canada, & The World Kettlebell Club, among others. 

Kettlebell Sport

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Kettlebell competitions have always been a part of the Russian culture since the early days of the kettlebell, where villagers would compete at fairs and festivals to prove who had the best skill, endurance and strength. In 1948, the ‘first’ official All-Union kettlebell competition took place, and “was attended by more than 200,000 people, from then on, kettlebells went from being used for general physical conditioning to a sport of its own” (Sanchez, 2009, p. 8). In 1962, kettlebell sport rules and weight classes were established and athletes competed in the Triathlon, consisting of the press, jerk, and snatch with no time limits, it was not uncommon at this time to see kettlebell lifting competitions in villages, factories and universities. In 1974 kettlebell sport was officially declared the ethnic sport of Russia and kettlebell sport became part of the United All State Sport Association of the USSR. In 1985 the Committee of Kettlebell Sport was established, along with official rules, regulations and weight categories, as well as the prestigious title of ‘Master of Sport’, also that same year, the first National Kettlebell Sport Championship was held in Lipetsk, Russia. In 1989, the ten minute time limit was established and the long cycle became an official event.Today, kettlebell sport, also known as Girevoy Sport (GS), is a power/strength-endurance sport that requires athletes to work under a submaximal load, completing as many kettlebell lift repetitions as possible in a set time frame of ten minutes. Kettlebell sport entails ballistic multi-joint movements requiring full body integration and core stabilization. The sport is now contested worldwide, with organizations such as the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting (IUKL), the World Kettlebell Club (WKC), the American Kettlebell Club (AKC), the International Kettlebell & Fitness Federation (IKFF), & the Canadian Kettlebell Sport Federation (CKSF) among others, hosting competitions regionally, nationally and internationally.There are 3 main events/disciplines in kettlebell sport; (i) the jerk, (ii) the long cycle clean & jerk, and (iii) the snatch. The jerk requires the athlete to clean two kettlebells to the chest once, and then jerk them overhead as many times as possible. The long cycle clean & jerk requires the athlete to clean both kettlebells prior to each jerk. The snatch, which is the only event that uses one kettlebell, is performed by swinging the kettlebell between the legs and brought up to the overhead position in one uninterrupted motion. The athlete is only allowed to switch hands once during the time frame. Professionals compete in weight categories using 32 kg kettlebell(s) for men, and women using 24 kg kettlebell(s). Each event is tested for maximal repetitions in the ten minute time frame without setting the kettlebells down. A judge is assigned to each athlete to ensure that only proper repetitions are counted. Because the athlete cannot set the kettlebell(s) down, efficient technique must be used to last the entire ten minutes.

At sanctioned kettlebell sport competitions, male athletes compete in either the biathlon event (jerk and snatch event combined for total reps), and/or the long cycle clean & jerk event on its own. Women compete mainly in the snatch event, but the one arm jerk or one arm long cycle events are slowly being accepted. 2001 was the first time women competed in kettlebell sport championships (Balagonov, 2010).

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