Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kettlebell Sport, the Formula 1 of Kettlebell Lifting

People ask me a lot "what is kettlebell sport?"  The best way I found to explain what kettlebell sport is is to liken it to Formula 1 racing.  Formula 1 pits the very best of the auto industry against one another to prove who's best on the racetrack.  All of the latest and greatest technology is utilized; from ultra efficient hybrid engines, super lightweight yet strong materials and bodies specially designed to reduce drag yet increase down-force to provide maximum traction to the tires. The result is the best that the car manufacturers have to offer which leads to an immediate trickle down effect that we as consumers and drivers get to utilize everyday. Our cars are safer, faster and more efficient because of the work done on the racetrack. 

This is kettlebell sport. You will notice the kettlebells themselves are different. They are all uniform in size to allow for consistency when performing kettlebell maneuvers. All of the techniques are refined to the minutest detail to provide maximum efficiency and power. No effort is wasted. Any unnecessary movement negatively affects the performance so these flaws in technique are immediately eliminated.  From the breathing to the grip to the fluidity in which the movements are performed, nothing escapes the scrutinizing and uncompromising eye of competition. 

The reason why kettlebells work so well is because kettlebell sport taught you how to make them work whether you realized it or not. Kettlebell lifting was born out of competition when one farmer said to another "Hey, I can lift a heavier weight than you." Its effectiveness is why the Soviet Union nationalized it and created the official sport in the 1940's.  And the sport is the reason why every personal trainer, CrossFit gym and DIY fitness enthusiast is using them.   Just like Formula 1, kettlebell sport is the pinnacle of its field.

Nikolai Puchlov, Owner S.K.C.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


SEATTLE—For Adrian Cowens, picking up a kettlebell wasn’t just opening a door to a way to get in better shape, it ended up being a matter of life or death. While in his mid-30’s Adrian was fighting obesity, hypertension and kidney failure.  “This was my epiphany moment that there needed to be drastic changes made if I was going to have the life that I wanted to enjoy.”  Said Cowens, who at one time also faced a potentially fatal health problem of congestive heart failure.  

Cowens joined Seattle Kettlebell Club and with the help of owner and professional trainer Nikolai Puchlov, managed to lose his first 20 pounds in just the first six to eight weeks of training.  Along with starting a healthier diet, Cowens managed to lose 90 pounds during his first 10 months of kettlebell training.   “Although I was being consistent in my eating and my workout plan, I found myself on a plateau.  I then decided that perhaps now was the time to add a kettlebell competition to my active lifestyle pyramid” said Cowens.  “Nikolai started working with me doing 60 minute kettlebell sport training and in 22 months I lost another 30 pounds.”

On August 8th, Cowens and seven other members of the Seattle Kettlebell Club will be participating in the 4th annual Northern California Kettlebell Sport Championship in Berkeley, California.  The competition will feature representatives from all over the country.

Cowens says the hardest part of a 10-minute long competition set is something he calls “the valley of darkness” which is about minute four or five to eight or nine. “You are just standing on the platform holding the bells and everything in your body is screaming at you to put them down, but somehow you keep pumping out reps.” Cowens said of the difficult exercise, “I liken it to when the Space Shuttle is reentering the atmosphere.  You lose radio contact with mission control, there are flames surrounding the shuttle, everything is shaking so violently you think there is no way this is going to hold together.  Then you gradually breakthrough the atmosphere at about the eight or nine minute mark and you realize you are going to live and you get kind of euphoric.”  

Seattle Kettlebell Club is dedicated to the education and advancement of kettlebell lifting for fitness and sport through personal training, classes and workshops.  Follow us on Facebook: and be sure to visit our website at:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

One or Two Hands on the Kettlebell Swing?

I hear the question of "which is better, the one or two handed swing?" a lot. 

I'm a big proponent of the "can't grip it, can't lift it" principle when it comes to the swing. If you can't lift it with one hand you probably shouldn't swing it - it's like a built in safety. There is also the anti-rotational benefit of the single handed swing that really benefits core stabilization. Lastly, the handles on kettlebells rarely fit two hands comfortably, leading me to believe they are not designed for two handed use. This just seems like common sense to me. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Secret to Burning 1200 Calories Per Hour

In our most recent blog post WHY TRAINERS ARE GOING BALLISTIC FOR KETTLEBELL SPORT & YOU SHOULD, TOO, we referenced a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) which found a 20 minute workout consisting of kettlebell swing and snatch intervals to burn 20.2 calories per minute, equating to 1212 calories per hour! 

Now, this little factoid gets used ad nauseam in kettlebell articles across the web and we used it, too because it still gets me really excited.  I mean, it's amazing and it's validating.  However, even though it's probably obvious I can't let it go unsaid...

Despite what the internet would like you to believe, you're not going to go to your first kettlebell class or PT session and burn 1212 calories.  The catch here is actually my favorite thing about kettlebells:

It's more than a workout, it's a practice.

Learning kettlebell sport technique is a lot like learning to drive a stick-shift or play an instrument, or switching from a PC to a Mac.  The more you practice, the more efficient you get using it.  The more efficient you get using it, the faster you can go from zero to sixty or play an arpeggio or do pretty much anything on a computer, or... Burn 1212 calories per hour.

You've got to build up to it.  That's what kettlebell sport training is all about.  In the beginning, a two-minute set of swings or snatches will probably be challenging.  When you're there, it might blow your mind a little that there are people who actually do hour-long marathon sets - without ever putting the bell(s) down!  If swing and snatch intervals with rest would produce 1212 calories burned, imagine what a marathon set would do!

If you're interested in "the journey is the destination" kind of exercise, we think you'll love kettlebell sport training and we invite you to "go from kettlebell shmo to kettlebell pro" during a SIX WEEK KETTLEBELL 101 CLASS SERIES.  Out of the area?  Join us for training via Skype.

Take Care!

SKC Kettlebell Sport Class.  Photo by Amos Kallen.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why Trainers are Going Ballistic for Kettlebell Sport & You Should, Too

Sergey Rachinskiy.  Photo courtesy Andrew Bellamy

If you’re like most Americans, you probably only recently became aware of what they are, but kettlebells have been with us for a long time.  It’s believed that kettlebells were used as scale weights in Russia even as early as the 17th century, when people began to marvel at the incredible strength and agility of the farmers who used them.
Fast forward to the Cold War, when there was fierce competition between the East and the West to become the dominant superpower.  Huge amounts of resources went into creating a stronger nation.  Many resources went to infrastructure and weapons and other resources went into creating stronger, smarter and more resilient people.  Out of this arms race, the Soviet Union took kettlebell lifting (a favorite pastime of peasants) and turned it into a competitive sport, with the first documented competition being held in 1948.  Rules and regulations formed over the subsequent decades, culminating with membership in their National Sports Federation. 

The creation of the sport turned ordinary weightlifting into a very scientific, traceable and effective way of training the muscular, cardiovascular and nervous system.  The competitive nature of the sport rid it of the inefficiencies and inadequacies of basic kettlebell lifting and adopted the best practices of the top lifters.  The basic lifts - the swing, the clean and the press - remain the same in name, but it is the efficiency in which they are done that separate kettlebell sport from other types of kettlebell workouts.   

Kettlebell Sport events include the jerk, snatch and long-cycle. Whether you are competing against yourself or others, your ranking is determined by your weight class, the weight of the kettlebells you use to compete, and the amount of reps you complete in a 5 or 10-minute time limit.  Kettlebell sport has been referred to as fluid style kettlebell lifting because of the smoothness of the movements and the relative ease at which the athletes seem to make the weight levitate.  It is this smoothness that allows you to perform the higher repetitions which benefit the cardiovascular system while being easy on the joints and gaining superhuman strength at the same time.

Lifters compete in Snatch at the 2015 OKC Cali Open.  Photo courtesy Nazofoto

It takes true mastery of the techniques in order to make it look effortless, which is why it appeals to intellectuals as well as gifted athletes.  It is fantastic strength and endurance training, and a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found a 20 minute workout consisting of kettlebell swing and snatch intervals burned 20.2 calories per minute, equating to 404 calories in those 20 minutes, or 1212 calories per hour!

Professional lifter Denis Vasilev.  Photo courtesy Nazofoto

When I first picked up a kettlebell it was not with the intention of becoming a kettlebell instructor.   I had heard stories that kettlebells could improve your core and grip strength and improve stability around your shoulders, knees, ankles, etc.  I was curious and thought the kettlebell might improve my deadlift, squat and bench press, so I started some very simple exercises with a very light kettlebell to see if I could get a bit of a boost.  Immediately I was humbled by the amount of work that I could get in with such a small, compact weight.  With kettlebells, I was building more strength than ever - and faster, I might add - and I was developing my cardiovascular capacity, which I had never been able to do with powerlifting.  My joints were feeling better instead of worse after a long workout.  The kettlebell challenged me in ways I'd never been challenged... it was living up to its reputation.  Ultimately I transitioned from using kettlebells to assist my barbell work to using barbells to assist my kettlebell work.

Kettlebell Sport class at Seattle Kettlebell Club

As a personal trainer and the 2014 WA USAPL Coach of the Year, I love that while kettlebell sport can be very challenging it is a sport that even if they never compete, people of all fitness levels and abilities can learn, practice, and achieve fantastic rewards from… making it a true sport for the everyman.

Friday, March 6, 2015

SKC at the OKC California Open Kettlebell Championship - RECAP!

Hello everyone,

It has been a busy, busy past 6 months. 

On September 1st, Seattle Kettlebell Club found a new home at Ridge Fitness.  At about this time I decided I wanted to compete in my first kettlebell sport competition at the IKFF NW Kettlebell Championships.  With only one month to train I set my eyes on the 5 minute snatch with a 24 Kilogram kettlebell.   A few weeks in to the training, I realized my hardstyle kettlebell training systems were not adequate to get me to the level needed to compete in kettlebell sport, so I enlisted the help of Mikhail Marshak to refine my technique.  Although we had only three sessions before the meet, he was able to get me to a level where at the competition I achieved a 1st place finish and a rank 1. 

The fitness level and mastery of the kettlebell I was able to achieve during this short amount of time had me hooked on kettlebell sport.  Shortly after the competition I saw an event for another competition on facebook.  I immediately signed up for it, not knowing it was a much larger competition with a much higher level of athlete attending.  For this competition I called Mikhail right from the start and asked him to write my program and he agreed.   At about the same time I decided I wanted to test a kettlebell sport class, so we began a free kettlebell sport series that was to happen every Saturday for 7 weeks.  The sport class became my favorite, right off the bat.  The same people kept signing up for the class as soon as registration opened up and the class would be full only a few days into registration.  I knew we had a winner.  It was so great to watch how quickly the student’s fitness levels and ability increased using kettlebell sport techniques and by the last few weeks people were practically begging me to start a regular paid kettlebell sport class.  On January 3rd we started the kettlebell sport series.  Since I knew the program well and could do a good job teaching it, the focus of the class series was the same as the event I was training for: the biathlon.  (The biathlon consists of a 10-minute set of jerks and a 10-minute set of snatches.)  In just 7 short weeks, I watched our members go from barely finishing a one-minute set to having completed multiple 10-minute sets.  The series ended February 21 and the next competition, the “OKC California Open Kettlebell Championships” took place the following Saturday in Costa Mesa. 

Throughout the sport class series, two other class attendees developed enough confidence and skill to also enroll in the competition:  my wife, Amber, and Adrian Cowens.  So on Friday, February 27, 2015 my wife, son Aleksander and myself flew to LAX and drove the rest of the way to Costa Mesa for early weigh-in at 6pm. I had been adhering to a no sugar, low-carb diet for the past week to hopefully make the 73 kg weight class, but the night before the flight I was still 3 pounds off, so that Friday I refrained from any food or water and even turned the heat as high as it would go in the rental car on the way to the weigh-in to hopefully sweat out those last few pounds. I was so nervous but it worked! I came in at 72.55 kg, but Lord was I hungry and dehydrated!

At the weigh-in I had my first glimpse of our competition and they looked fierce. I know most of these people on Facebook, but kettlebell sport athletes must be a humble bunch because their Facebook selfies did not do them justice. Usually it's the opposite! LOL.  After the weigh-in we went to our hosts home to get some rest - which our 23-month-old was having none of.  The three of us got about three hours of sleep the night before the competition.

Game Day!  The next morning, Saturday, February 28th, we woke up around 7 AM pretty groggy but we were feeling good because we had plenty of time before the competition which was supposed to start at 10 AM. As we took turns showering and fixing coffee I was thinking about a big breakfast. Amber checked the OKC website for flight times and said "Oh, no!  We start at 9 AM, not 10!" “So much for breakfast,” I thought. We hurried to remember all of our gear and get our son dressed, but made it to the event in time. The flight times were: Amber 9:10 AM jerk, Adrian 9:45 AM jerk, Amber 10:50 AM snatch, Adrian 11:35 AM snatch, Nikolai 1:15 PM jerk, Nikolai 3 PM snatch. During the morning my responsibilities as father, husband and Coach were to watch Aleks, prep Amber and Adrian, chalk their bells before snatch and make sure they know what pace to work at. Oh and set up the camera to film their sets. The most difficult of all those jobs by far was watching Aleks. He could not be left for a second or he would run headlong into the warm-up area where people are swinging heavy bells or into the parking lot with moving vehicles. Amber's first set came and it was the jerk. Adrian held Aleks just long enough so I could set up the camera and wish Amber luck. I took Aleks back and watched the start of Amber’s set. She looked smooth and steady, but Aleks began to scream, so I ran him outside so as not to disturb anyone. We came back in at the very end of Amber’s set where she had put up a respectable 126 reps. I was stoked she had completed the ten minutes!

We had 25 minutes before Adrian's jerk, so I helped him pick his bells and went over his strategy. Amber was itching to go over her set, so we went out to the car to talk about it. She was definitely feeling like she could've gone faster, but I assured her she did great and that just finishing is a huge accomplishment for her first meet. A quick glance at the clock told me Adrian was up! I ran from the car just in time to set up the camera as everyone was already on the platforms waiting for the countdown. 321 Adrian and the five other competitors and his flight were off. I prayed he would stick to his pace and not get rattled by the fast pace of the guy directly to his right because it was obvious he had been doing this a while and Adrian's only chance was to be consistent and catch him later in the snatch. Adrian's pace was steady for the first three minutes, but around three minutes 30 seconds he started to slow. It looked like his breathing was out of sync, but he charged along holding at about seven reps per minute. I yelled at him to breathe and he seemed to snap out of it. At the seven minute mark he was looking good again and at the eight minute mark I yelled “two more minutes!”  You could see everyone was getting fatigued, but they were tough SOB's and were grating it out. I yelled again “one minute left, give me 10 more reps!”  Adrian began pumping out the reps as I counted them out loud. Adrian finished with an incredible pace for him of about 14 reps per minute. All of the lifters dropped their weights at the end of the 10 minutes. It'd been a shootout for the final minute.

We had about 55 minutes until Amber's snatch set, so we focused on getting her hydrated and we congratulated Adrian on his set. With 15 minutes before Amber’s set we picked her bell and took it over to chalk it. We discussed her strategy and got her settled on the platform. I was able to watch her first minute before Aleks began to melt down. She really seemed to be enjoying herself and was actually smiling.  Amber's pace was a little slower than the other girls, but I knew she could pick it up. I took Aleks outside and was able to calm him down by the five-minute mark, so we headed back in. By the six-minute mark she was still on her left hand and had not switched. She looked like she could go all day with her off hand, but that's not the goal.  I yelled "okay Amber, go ahead and switch!" She did and settled into her new pace with her strong arm. The other girls had switched hands quite a bit ahead of her and were already starting to fade. At the nine minute mark her top two other competitors had dropped out. Their grip simply didn't have it that day and they had to set the bell down. Not Amber though. We had done copious glove sets in the weeks leading up. Glove sets are when you wear cotton gloves and snatch the bell for as long and as fast as you can. It can be excruciating, but gives you an iron grip. At the nine-minute mark Amber smiled and completely ran away from the other girls hitting about 20 reps per minute in the end. Everyone was cheering her on and even the judge came over and commended her performance.

We had 35 minutes until Adrian’s set - or so we thought.  I helped Adrian choose a bell and took it over to chalk it for him. At the chalk station I chatted with other coaches and competitors. It's weird but chalking the handle is one of my favorite parts of the sport. It's calming to me and I can see instant results from my effort. I also know it can mean the difference between a personal record and a lousy set. At the chalking station I met Moses Dungca, owner of Las Vegas Kettlebell Club. He's a super nice guy and I was really enjoying our conversation when Adrian ran up and yelled "I'm up!" I grabbed his bell and chased him up to the stage and set his bell on the first open platform, but the judges motioned to me that he was on the far end, so I picked the bell up and ran it down to the other end, but at this point the time had already started.  Everyone had about a seven second head start on Adrian, but Adrian went ahead and started anyway.  John "Wild" Buckley was next to me and informed me that because he was late on the platform, his set would not count. He was very apologetic and I totally understood. I decided to let Adrian go on with his set even though the judge was not counting his reps. Adrian's pace was good and his grip has always been strong.  Unlike in the jerk, Adrian was keeping pace with everyone and around the 8 to 9 minute mark his other competitors started dropping like flies. At about the nine minute mark I yelled “last man standing!  One minute left!” and Adrian kicked it into high gear finishing very strong! John “Wild” Buckley came over and congratulated him after his set. I could tell there was a comradery between the two heavyweights. I congratulated Adrian myself and told him how proud I was. I carried his bell back. When I had him alone I asked him if he wanted the good news or the bad. He looked at me seriously and said "the bad!" I said "because you were late on the platform your set didn't count." His face dropped and I could see the anger and disappointment building. I said "Listen!  You came here with lasting the whole 10 minutes as your goal - plus you smoked those guys! You did great!" He started to settle down and shake his head yes in agreement.  Neither one of us could figure out how we let that happen, but under closer inspection of the flight roster his original start time had been crossed out and his new time five minutes earlier had been written in. A tough break, but better to learn this lesson early on rather than at a more important juncture.

I had a little over an hour until my jerk set and I was a ball of nerves. I had only completed 10 minute sets with 16 and 20 kg bells in practice. Now I'm going to be on stage with a pair of 24 kg kettlebells at my lightest weight in 10 years and barely anything to eat. I continued drinking water but didn't have much appetite and kept having to use the bathroom. Not exactly nerves of steel. When my time came I grabbed two matching bells and headed to the platform plenty early. I did not want to be late! I anxiously awaited for the time to pass and finally the other competitors took the platform. We waited out the countdown, cleaned our bells into the rack and it was on. Initially I felt pretty good finding a slow steady pace, but at about the four-minute mark my leg started to fade and fast. Each second in the rack felt like an eternity. With my legs cooked I had to wait longer between each rep and with each rep my form deteriorated. About halfway through, my judge began telling me to "fixate more" and "lockout".  I knew I was in trouble. At about the seven-minute mark I started missing reps. First one, then two in a row. When I missed three in a row at seven minutes 30 seconds, I dropped the bells. I was totally dejected.  I’d been trying so hard up till then, but that day the weight was just so darn heavy. Amber and Adrian tried to lift my spirits, but once I get down it's best to let me alone.

I had another hour to stew before my snatch set and that's what I did.  In my head I told myself I could pull off a miracle snatch since that is my strength. I had originally planned on 13 to 14 reps per minute but now I was thinking I would do 16 to 18 reps per minute. Crazy! Finally the time had come. 15 minutes till go time. I headed over to choose my bell. I had a dilemma… there were two to choose from.  The Valerie Fedorenko with a wider handle and smaller hole for hand insertion, or one similar to the ones I had back home, but the handle was super rusty and would take a lot of work to prep. I grabbed them both, but started prepping the Valerie Fedorenko. After checking the bell I looked at it and had a moment of doubt, so I grabbed the one with the rusty handle and began sanding the old chalk and rust off.  I soon realized this would be a tough job. I had another moment of doubt and said "screw it," grabbed the Fedorenko, and headed to the platform. I set my bell on the platform and ran to the bathroom one last time before my set.  I arrived back to the platform with a minute to spare. Kevin Jodrey was on the platform directly to the right of me and gave me a little elbow bump. I was feeling pretty good at this point. I love the snatch. They did the countdown and we were off. In order to work at a higher pace I only did one to two breath cycles at the lockout position as opposed to 3 to 4 when I work at my normal pace. My pace was fast, but I was getting more torque than normal during the hand insertion and on the drop I was feeling my grip start to slip. This has never been an issue. I really pride myself on my grip strength. I felt my grip slip really badly at about the four-minute mark which led me to pull the bell up very awkwardly and outside of my center of mass. This rep was getting away from me and fast. I knew I had to switch hands. I began to let it drop, but it was still quite a bit outside of my sweet spot and when the weight hit my grip it popped right out of my hand and fell on the ground. I was disqualified and dumbfounded!  I hadn't even gotten a chance to use my strong side and despite the bad form I had been cooking at 20 reps per minute. I left the platform and took a seat to watch the rest of the guys complete their sets. It was tough to watch. I had so much left in the tank. I let my team down, my coach down and myself down. These are the risks you take when you go for it all. Sometimes you fall flat. In retrospect though, in four minutes on my left arm I had completed nearly as many reps as I completed with both arms five months earlier and I still had plenty left!

I learned a lot during this competition and it's because I set high goals. Because of the way the competition was set up, people who had never competed in a Ketacademy event were placed in a beginner class. That included Amber, Adrian and myself.  Adrian took first place in his class, Amber took 2nd and a “rank 1” - a very high honor especially in a first competition - and I took a humble third place. The event was full of ups and downs, but the one consistent theme was “how can I improve and where's the next one?”  Our new goal is to increase the number of team members, continue to improve on our technique and finish the next sport series with a trip to Vancouver, B.C. for another competition!