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If you want to build real muscular endurance and mental toughness, you need to get involved in Kettlebell Sport.

How to Build Mental & Muscular Endurance with Kettlebell Sport

Written by
March 12, 2014
Updated May 15, 2020

Kettlebell lifting, in one form or another, has been part of strength training since ancient times. Weights with handles have been used throughout history as a means of increasing strength and stamina. These early implements developed into various training tools, including the modern kettlebell.

The modern kettlebell design has its origin in Russian market scale weights. Developed to be manipulated with relative ease by shopkeepers, these early proto-kettlebells were used for strength demonstration, juggling, and training.

Even though kettlebell-like implements were already being used in many parts of the world, we owe its modern development as a training tool to a late 19th century Russian doctor from St Petersburg. Doctor Kraevsky’s work was the kick start for the usage of kettlebell lifting in its modern form.

From its early days in the 1800s to the present day, kettlebell lifting has seen much evolution. New technologies made possible the improvement of what it used to be, a very rustic and inconsistent training tool. In addition, sport science has shed light on the potential benefits of practicing kettlebell lifting and on its methodology, making it a powerful and versatile training tool. The kettlebell lifting endurance sports, such as Girevoy and BOLT, and the modern competition kettlebell design represent the pinnacle of the kettlebell lifting evolution and earned this implement its righteous place in the strength and conditioning world as a valid and effective training tool.

The Kettlebell Difference: Training Movement Instead Of Muscle

Nico Rithner, founder of the USAKLNot so long ago, when you spoke of strength training the first assumption was that you were referring to bodybuilding. Because we instinctively associate size with strength, the shaping techniques of bodybuilding misled the general public to believe that any muscle that was large must also be strong. To make things worse, this type of training often led to stiffness and poor mobility, effectively deterring a large number of athletes from strength training. Even though the general public still commonly assumes that strength training will make a person “muscle bound,” we are seeing a change of perception due to the popularization of movement-based strengthening techniques. Training movement instead of isolating muscles can improve athletic performance and depending on the method applied, can also increase muscle size. Kettlebell lifting has such an approach.

Beyond the “1 Rep Maximum” Angle

There are four different manifestations of strength:

  1. Explosive Power
  2. Maximal Strength
  3. Muscular Endurance
  4. Isometric Endurance

Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Strongman Training, and other feats of strength, such as metal bending, are expressions of the first two. Kettlebell lifting, stone lifting for repetitions, gymnastics, rowing, swimming, running, etc. are expressions of muscular endurance. Isometric endurance expressions are found in all activities.

During the performance of most sports and daily life activities, muscular endurance is needed. We rarely have to make a maximal effort, but we are constantly handling small and medium loads that involve pressing, pulling, twisting or holding, as well as stop and go exertions. Maintaining a good posture requires muscular endurance; playing sports such as soccer, lacrosse, or rugby require muscular endurance.

Maximal strength and power are beneficial to all athletes to different degrees. A lineman will benefit most from a program that focuses on explosive power and maximal strength development, whereas a wrestler will need an even combination of both. Kettlebell lifting endurance athletes, soccer players, long distance runners, and swimmers depend almost purely on muscular endurance.

Kettlebell Lifting Endurance Sports

Nico Rithner, founder of the USAKLKettlebells can be used for maximal strength, but even the heaviest kettlebells will be too light for most strength athletes. Even though we can use them for other goals such as inducing muscle hypertrophy, this reliable implement serves us better as a muscular endurance training tool; everything in the kettlebell design makes it perfect for this type of training. The handle, the shape, and the type of loads available are ideal for high repetition multi-joint movements.

Kettlebell Sport Training: Girevoy Competition

Girevoy sport is the traditional Russian discipline of kettlebell lifting endurance. The number of lifts has changed through the years but its most recent version includes the following lifts:

Events for Men:

  • Biathlon – The biathlon involves two separate lifts: Snatch (Single) and Jerk (Double)
  • Long Cycle (Double Clean & Jerk) – Usually performed in meets dedicated to this move

Events for Women:

  • Snatch – In Russia, women compete only in the Snatch.
  • Long Cycle (Single) – Practiced only by women outside Russia.
  • Jerk (Single) – Practiced only by women outside Russia.

Each lift is performed separately. The duration of the set is 10 minutes. There are a lot of minor rules, but basically the kettlebell has to be held for the duration of the set, and in the case of single lifts, the kettlebell can switch hands only once. Scoring is determined by the number of repetitions.

Russians, in an attempt to preserve the essence of their national ethnic sport, are now reaching out and embassies of the Russian Girevoy Sport Federation (RGSF) have been coming to the USA to provide very inexpensive clinics and training camps.

Kettlebell Sport Training: Bolt Competition

BOLT is the International Kettlebell Lifting (IKL) official sport. This sport started in Denver, Colorado at the Colorado Kettlebell Club, and is now practiced around the USA and in Europe and is in constant growth.

The lifts practiced in BOLT are:

  1. Double Half Snatch
  2. Double Jerk
  3. Snatch
  4. Single Clean & Jerk

Each lift is performed separately and men and women compete in all lifts. The set duration depends on the type of competition taking place. Scoring is determined using the USAKL Volume scoring system and lifters can choose the weight they will compete with.

There are four types of competitions in BOLT:

  1. BOLT Standard. Lifts are individual and a lifter can compete in one or more lifts of his/her choice. Sets are 10 minutes for adults and 3 minutes for youth.
  2. BOLT Endurance. Lifters complete a set that includes all four lifts performed in order for 10 minutes each (40 minutes total). Youth athletes complete 3 minutes per lift and Juniors 5 minutes per lift.
  3. BOLT Blast. The lifter completes four intervals of 3 minutes each with a 1 minute break between them. Each interval involves one of the lifts.
  4. BOLT Relay. Similar to BOLT Blast, but each lift is completed by a member of the team and there is no rest between intervals.

The Lifts: There are five major lifts that a kettlebell lifting endurance athlete can compete or
rank with:

  1. Double Half Snatch
  2. Double Jerk
  3. Double Clean & Jerk (aka Long Cycle)
  4. Snatch (single)
  5. Single Clean & Jerk (aka Long Cycle)

The Double Half Snatch

Kettlebell Sport: Double Kettlebell Half SnatchThe Double Half Snatch is a challenging movement but is not as difficult as the single Snatch.

Instructions: The lifter starts with the kettlebells on the ground. The kettlebells are swung back between the legs, and using the momentum created, the lifter snatches the kettlebell up. To catch the kettlebells, the athlete extends the arms until the elbows are locked. To complete the lockout position (which marks the end of the repetition), the knees and hips must be fully extended. To start a new repetition, the kettlebells must be lowered to the chest where the rack position is assumed.

Some exercises to improve the Double Half Snatch include: Heavy Double Swings, Power Snatch, Rack Hold Static Hold, Lockout Hold, and Plyometrics.

The Double Jerk

Kettlebell Sport: Double Kettlebell Jerk ExerciseThe Double Jerk is a very popular lift. Even though it’s difficult at the beginning, it usually takes less time to master than the Snatch.

Instructions: The lifter starts with the kettlebells on the ground in front of him/her. The kettlebells are cleaned to the rack position. To initiate the Jerk, the lifter pushes the weights up by means of the legs so that they move upwards. The lifter catches the weight in the partial squat position, also known as the second dip. In this position, it’s a requirement that the arms become fully extended before the lifter completes the lockout. The lifter then extends the hips and knees to complete a full lockout, thus completing the lift. To initiate a new repetition, the kettlebells are lowered to the rack hold position.

Some exercises to improve the Jerk include: the Kettlebell Press, Incline Bench Press, Dip and Drive Drill, Squat Jump, Jerk-Specific Squat Drill, Dips, Squats, Jumping Rope, and Plyometrics.

The Snatch

Kettlebell Sport: Kettlebell Snatch ExerciseThe Snatch appears to be the simplest lift, but it is by far the hardest to master.

Instructions:The kettlebell is positioned on the ground in front of the lifter. To initiate the lift, the lifter swings the kettlebell backwards between their legs and drives it up with a continuous motion until the kettlebell reaches the lockout position. To lockout, the arm, hips, and knees must be extended and the kettlebell must be immobile. What differentiates the Snatch from the Half Snatch is that the kettlebell cannot be lowered to the Rack Hold position. To initiate a new repetition, the lifter must lower the kettlebell and with just one swing, perform another repetition.

Some exercises to improve the Snatch include: the Kettlebell Swing, Farmer walk, Deadlift, Pull Up, Power Pull, Rowing, Running, and Plyometrics.

Here Are A Few Kettlebell Sport Training Workouts

“Endurance Cross Training”Key: Exercise x Sets x Repetitions or Time (Resting Period)

  • Warm Up x 15 minutes
  • Squat Jumps x 3 x 10 (1 minute)
  • Double Half Snatch x 20, 400 meters jog, DJ x 20, 400 meters jog, Snatch x 20/20, 400 meters jog, C&J x 20/20, 400 meters jog
  • Jump Rope x 5 x 2 min (30 sec)
  • Core Training
  • Cool Down/Stretch

“Jerk Workout”Key: Exercise x Sets x Repetitions or Time (Resting Period)

  • Warm Up x 15 minutes
  • Box Jumps x 3 x 1 (3 minutes)
  • Back Squat x 3 x 8 ( 3 minutes)
  • Jerk Aerobic Set 30 minutes at 70% HRM. BOLT or GS rules, depending on personal goals.
  • Core Training
  • Cool Down/Stretch

“Snatch Workout”Key: Exercise x Sets x Repetitions or Time (Resting Period)

  • Warm Up x 15 minutes
  • Snatch Flat Top Pyramid x 3 1st load x 10/10 (30 sec) , 2nd load x 10/10 (30 sec), working load x 3 x 10/10 (2 min), 2nd load x 10/10, 1st load x 10/10
  • Dips x 3 x max
  • Core Training
  • Cool Down/Stretch


Nico Rithner is the Colorado Kettlebell Club Head Coach. From this post he trains the general public to achieve multiple fitness and athletic goals and serves Glendale Rugby men team (Raptors) as Strength and Conditioning Coach. Coach Rithner, founded USA Kettlebell Lifting, a non-profit organization devoted to promote the American Rules Kettlebell Sport and other Kettlebell sporting activities, such as Girevoy Sport.
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