With over 500 competitors representing more than 30 different countries around the world, the IUKL World Championships in Germany was the biggest Kettlebell Sport competition I’ve ever participated in, as well as my first international meet. Over the three day event in November, we witnessed multiple new world records broken and dozens of inspiring performances.
YouTube will never do it justice. You have to experience the electricity of the event in the flesh – the cheering, the smell of chalk and sweat slowly filling the gymnasium throughout the day, and the opportunity to share the platform with world champions.
While I hope my international experience will only strengthen in the upcoming years, this meet will always be special, as it was my first of this magnitude. In hopes that it will inspire others to pursue similar experiences in Kettlebell Sport, or any other sport for that matter, I want to share three important takeaways from my weekend in Hamburg.
Kettlebell Sport Lesson #1: Relaxation is the Most Important Aspect of Kettlebell Sport to Master
Those new to Kettlebell Sport often approach their lifting with the same tension and intensity as they would apply in powerlifting. This manifests itself in a number of different ways, such as applying a death grip to the kettlebell handle, panicked breathing, and contorted facial expressions.
I find that these mistakes are the effects of improper framing or more simply put, they’re not thinking about the sport correctly. As a weightlifting sport, they only see the need for strength, power, and explosiveness. And while these attributes are important, they neglect the fact that Kettlebell Sport is actually an endurance sport, which requires an element of relaxation.
Relax! Smoother! Breathe! More relaxed! These were the most common cues coaches and teammates were giving their athletes on the platform. The “let’s go!’s” and “you can do it!’s” were saved for the final minute – the sprint finish – the time to go for broke.
The true world-class athletes will be able to relax in ways you didn’t think were possible – in the drop from the overhead position or in the microsecond that the kettlebell is weightless in the pull of the Kettlebell Clean or Kettlebell Snatch. But for beginners, the first steps are simply learning to hold the kettlebells comfortably in the rack and overhead positions.
Kettlebell Sport Lesson #2: Your Team Should Do More Than Cheer You On
On the international level, like at the IUKL World Championships, your team is your compatriots. For other meets, it could be your local club team, the group of students under a single coach, or even just a group of friends. Regardless, you should have a team and they should do more than just cheer for you.
In addition to reminding you to relax, teammates can help with keeping pace during the set. Once you start breaking into high anaerobic heart rate zones, math and counting is quite a challenge. This is where it becomes very helpful to have someone remind you of your target numbers each minute.
The supportive role extends off the platform as well. Teammates can help each other stay on schedule with warming up before flights by providing equipment, water or snacks, chalking kettlebells, and massaging tight forearms.
And lastly, and maybe most importantly, teammates can help each other stay in good spirits before and after sets. From giving an inspirational pep talk to just keeping things light by joking around – it’s essential to have a good crew who knows how to help you manage the mental side of competition.
Kettlebell Sport Lesson #3: Never miss an Opportunity to Learn Something New
Whether it’s local, regional, national, or international, meets will bring together athletes and coaches who don’t regularly interact with each other. Thus, the event becomes not only an opportunity to compete against one another, but to learn from one another.
Watch how different athletes warm up and recover during sets, especially the strongest lifters. Study their technique and determine what makes them successful. Then there are all the little things: what are they eating and drinking, how they wear their belt or other special equipment, etc. And of course talk with each other – but just be sensitive to the fact that some lifters will be more willing to discuss their training than others.
And most importantly, stay in touch and build your lifting network. Kettlebell Sport is still in its infancy in many countries like the US, and so most of the strongest lifters are very spread out geographically. As a result, there are a lot of big fish in little ponds. But by staying connected online throughout the year, your virtual training partners will inspire you to push harder in training, even if your gym is in your garage or living room.