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History of kettlebell and kettlebell sport

This is an excerpt from Kettlebell Training-2nd Edition by Steven Cotter.

Kettlebells have their origin in ancient Russia, where importance was placed on physical strength. The first recorded mention of the word girya, meaning a traditional Russian weight made of cast iron, was in a 1704 Russian dictionary. At that time kettlebells were used as counterweights to measure goods in the local markets of farming villages. Russian farm workers discovered that the girya could be used to swing and press in order to demonstrate strength. Contests were held as a pastime in villages and towns during festivals, fairs, and circuses.

In 1913 an article in a popular Hercules fitness magazine in Russia increased the recognition of kettlebells as a powerful tool for weight loss. In 1948 kettlebell lifting became the national sport of the Soviet Union. The champions from 15 Soviet republics competed in Moscow at the All-Soviet Union Competition of Strongman. Athletes competed in the double kettlebell jerk and the single-arm snatch. During the 1950s kettlebells were being used by Soviet Olympic weightlifters to improve strength on the nondominant side, and kettlebell competitions were held, although there were no rules, standards, or time limits. The winner was the athlete who lifted the most repetitions, irrespective of time or technique. Powerlifters, Olympic athletes, and military personnel all benefited from lifting kettlebells.

By the 1960s kettlebell lifting had been introduced in schools and universities. In the 1970s the sport became part of the United All-State Sport Association of the USSR, and a commission was created to develop unified rules, classifications, and a competition calendar. By this time there were athletes representing 20 regions of the USSR. In 1981 the USSR government created the Official Kettlebell Commission and mandated kettlebell training for all workers as an effective way to improve fitness and productivity of the workforce.

In 1985 a committee for the sport of kettlebell lifting was created, and kettlebell sport (known in Russian as girevoy sport) was officially a formal sport with formalized competitive rules and regulations. That year the first USSR national kettlebell championship was held in Lipetsk, Russia. In 1988 a new competition event, the long cycle, was contested at the First Cup of Girevoy Sport. In 1989 the last major rule revision was added with the introduction of the 10-minute time limit. The first world championship was held in 1993, and in 1999 women competed for the first time. In 2001 during the Russian National Championship, women competed in the snatch competition for the first time.

Today kettlebells are used all over the world throughout all realms of athletics, martial arts, and general fitness training. No accurate statistics exist that show exactly how many people are using kettlebells in homes, gyms, and sport clubs around the world, but we do know that the number is increasing.

Primary Organizations for Kettlebell Sport

Below is a list of organizations that promote, organize, and host kettlebell sport competitions within the United States as well as internationally. Since kettlebell sport is a young and growing sport, new organizations continue to form.

North America

  • IKFF—International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation
  • OKC—Orange Kettlebell Club
  • WKO—World Kettlebell Organization
  • AKA—American Kettlebell Alliance


  • KSWL—Kettlebell Sport World League
  • WKSF—World Kettlebell Sport Federation
  • IGSF—International Giri Sport Federation
  • IUKL—International Union of Kettlebell Lifting
  • WAKSC—World Association of Kettlebell Sport Clubs

Weight Classes for Kettlebell Sport

Kettlebell sport is competed along weight classes and follows the international metric system for weight categories and the weight of a kettlebell (1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds). Athletes within the same weight division compete against one another using the same weight kettlebell (e.g., athletes lifting 24-kilogram kettlebells compete against other athletes in the same weight class using 24-kilogram kettlebells). The weight divisions for adults and juniors (under 22 years of age) are the following:

  • Men: 58 kilograms, 63 kilograms, 68 kilograms, 73 kilograms, 78 kilograms, 85 kilograms, 95 kilograms, 105 kilograms, and 105-plus kilograms
  • Women: 58 kilograms, 63 kilograms, 68 kilograms, and 68-plus kilograms

Kettlebell Sport Training Styles

Training for kettlebell sport can be classified by three core styles: competition, repeats, and intervals.


This style of training uses time (duration) as the primary goal of the training set or sets, and it is primarily aerobic in nature. Kettlebell sport competition sets are 10 minutes long and require the lifter to perform as many repetitions as possible. Therefore, the training sets focus on 10 minutes, though they may be in the range of 7 to 12 minutes in most cases. The starting point for competition-style training is the weight of the kettlebell used and the duration of the set or sets; the speed of the set (repetitions per minute, or RPM) is adjusted accordingly to allow the lifter to be able to complete the time goal.


This style of training will typically consist of 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 minutes each; it is a blend of aerobic and anaerobic training. The RPM will be slightly faster than the competition goal pace. The rest periods between each repeat set is the length of the set plus 1 to 2 minutes (e.g., 3-minute sets will have 4 to 5 minutes rest between each set).


This style of training is anaerobic in nature and consists of multiple sets of short duration at a pace much faster than the competition pace, for example, 30 seconds to 1 minute for 5 to 20 sets, with approximately a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio. The total time of the work sets will be close to a 10-minute set (e.g., 30 seconds for 20 sets or 1 minute for 10 sets).

More Excerpts From Kettlebell Training 2nd Edition