It is here, competition day. The time is now, I have done my training; I’ve got this. Why am I so nervous? I need to warm-up, I need to focus. I see the end result; I have prepared myself for any mishaps that may, and will, arise. Those are only a few of the thoughts I wake up with on competition morning. I play my workout playlist to fire me up. I walk around as though I’m ready, but the truth is that I am never really ready until I step foot on that platform.

Months of training, have both physically and mentally equipped me for this exact moment. I am now excited, elated even! I have allowed the nerves to work themselves through, and I am so ready to get to work. Time to enjoy the beauty of this sport. I’ve set a goal for myself (two goals really). First and foremost, is to honor my coach, IKFF Ken Blackburn, in this 10 minute set. How?

By showing him I have taken all that he has shown me and mastered it, through my unwavering work ethic, my heart, will, passion, and sportsmanship. A prime example, when I achieved my goal of being the first female to ever compete in the world with a 32kg kettlebell.

Secondly, knowing that I left it all on the platform, some refer to it as “to die” on the platform (these are only two of many examples). I have to give credit to Mitch Blackburn for truly showing me the meaning of this, dedication not just to a sport but to something much deeper. A sweet sense of being humbled, looking not for a medal or some accolade, but to see how much you can reach inside and find that insecurity and conquer it once and for all.

I’m a great lifter no doubt. I have more heart, will, and determination than most; so much so that I sometimes surprise myself. With that said, I was lucky enough to watch Mitch compete on multiple occasions. The last time I saw him he demonstrated the true meaning of this.

He lifted 90% of his bodyweight, and achieved Master of Sport. That’s all well and good for status and rank, but for me, I saw a boy shaking, sweating, wobbling, struggling to even remain standing at this point, and all the while digging deep within himself to finish; and finish he did!

He was carried off the platform that day. I’m not sure what others may have thought (or if they even noticed). However, I noticed and said to myself, “I want every set to end like that whether it is in training or competing.” He inspired me that day! I will always hold on to that feeling. It was a gift. It has helped me in my training mindset (mental training) and in competition. I will give you examples of that later.

Kettlebell Sport Training

Mitch Blackburn competing for team Onnit at the IKFF Competition

Ok, let’s get to the training aspect of Girevoy Sport (Kettlbell Sport). Let me start off by saying that these are my experiences and opinions, so as not to offend or lead anyone to believe that this is an “absolute” to training and/or preparation for this sport.

My first competition ever, as I stated in a past issue, was a goal of CMS, Candidate of Master Sport (a pretty huge expectation I know). I believe everyone should have a goal in everything you do because it will hold you accountable. This mindset has changed who I am on the platform and off.

Once you decide you’re going to compete, the best advice I could give you is to find yourself a coach. I have found with my coach (yes, THE Ken Blackburn) that I can be the athlete; I don’t have to guess at I what I need to do in the gym (that’s his job); I have a plan before I walk in the door.

My job as the athlete is to follow the program: do the work, prepare, and be honest in my results. It depends, of course, how serious you are and if you want to be a World Champion, recreational lifter, or some where in between. I get my program weekly. This is crucial as it allows me to see the work sets ahead of time. This sport is 90% mental, so that in itself is the mindset training. I eat, sleep, and prepare for this work set the day before.

I know exactly what days I will be focusing on my GS (Kettlebell Sport) training. I also prepare my mind by envisioning the end result; I not only see it, I believe it. I meditate on it. I tell myself nothing will distract me, that this is my only focus. The morning of, I get all fired up. This is the fun part! You can do anything from listening to a song, watching a motivational clip, or having a teammate ignite that fire. This is whatever works for you.

Here’s a funny little story: I knew I had a huge set with my 32kg kettlebell (which is 84% of my bodyweight). I was so ready and mentally ablaze that morning. I went to Starbucks before my workout as I always do, but this time, I bypassed the line, walked up to the register and ordered. I was so dialed in, it carried over to daily life.

It’s funny because the people who know me there were like, “What the heck are you doing!?!” My response was, “Getting my coffee! I’m a Viking, dammit!” with a chuckle! My point is, your mindset is so powerful that you can achieve anything you desire if you choose to believe. I didn’t mean to come off rude in the coffee shop, but my mind was so dialed into what my intentions were at every single moment, I made it happen!

Prepare to Compete in Girevoy Sport

I love the preparation for competition. There are many factors to consider before you are even ready to pick a competition and date to compete. The first is acclimating to time, which was difficult at first. When you complete a 5 or 10 minute test set, it acts as the set-up for the next phase.

You need to understand your body, endurance, focus, grip (tension, over gripping), how it feels at all the stages of your timed set. Are you comfortable, nervous? Did the nerves subside? How’s your heart rate?

Secondly, what is our reaction to all the above? If our heart rate elevates, what is our ability to recover? If our grip fails early, can we keep it together mentally and not quit? The competitor next to you is making odd noises, or drops the kettlebell; will it cause you to lose focus? During training, you need to prepare for any and all distractions; this is where mind endurance training comes in.
Third, it’s all mental.

When in complete discomfort, disintegrating lift/ technique, physical and mental breakdown, how will you handle it? Will you find comfort while suffering? Your body hurts, your stamina is diminishing, the clock is wearing on your psyche; now you’re in the moment of truth. Are you prepared to enter the stage of jubilation, or are you an absconder? Know this: if you choose to persevere and overcome all these obstacles, it will be advantageous to your set and to you as an athlete.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Kettlebell Sport

Donica Storino getting pumped up for team Onnit at the IKFF competition

The hard days are brutal. By hard and brutal, I mean a work set that really challenges you and brings you to the brink of breaking while you are deciding if you can muster up everything inside of your being to finish and/or “ to die” on the platform. Ah… but when you do finish, it’s a wonderful feeling! The more experienced you become, you realize that it’s not the number of reps, so much as it is that you dug deep within; you had the heart and will to suffer and be okay with it.

The good days are an insane high, nothing and no one can ruin it. There will be moments in training that are not so glorious. These days will be a tell tale sign of who you really are, and how serious you are with your goals. Some of you may quit, some may want to quit, some may recover and become hungrier to get it next time, most will make excuses of why they can’t or didn’t (for instance, “

I can’t, my hands hurt,” or “it’s not for me, I looked up kettlebells online and youtube said they’re not safe,” or even, “ I can’t do what you do”). The truth is that those people are weak-minded. They’re afraid of greatness. It scares them. Sure your hands are going to hurt (hell, they’re even going to bleed), sure you’re out of breath, sure you’re uncomfortable, sure, sure, sure…. to all the excuses.

Well, I’m here to INSPIRE you all to greatness. I have had my share of what I refer to as “bad work sets,” along with many tantrums. With that said, let me be frank with you: there are NO BAD WORK SETS, only deposits into your training bank account. My Coach Ken, and teammates, always help me through those days. It’s the passion inside me that gets upset. I often say, “I’ve done it already,” or, “Last week I had more reps,” or “3 minutes felt like 20.”

What in the heck is happening to me? Truth is, that it’s all I had that day. Look at it as an event, a moment in time that is now over, and move on; don’t think about it again. As long as I gave it “The Mitch Effort,” I’m proud of myself and my work. Ken has given me this advice after a major tantrum moment. I was broken, my spirit crushed.

I called for some insight. His advice has stuck with me to this day, and I often give it to others. He said “It’s not how well or not well you did in your set, it’s how you recover from it.” Brilliant!

If you take anything from this article, I ask you to please take the drive, determination, heart, and pure will that us Kettlebell Sport athletes live for. Yes, we train hard, and so do others. What we do differently is that we not only train our bodies, but we train our minds. We train them to have laser beam focus, endurance, drive, time acclimation, the ability to find comfort when uncomfortable, to push when everything in your brain says quit. WE TRAIN TO KEEP GOING ‘TIL WE ARE FINISHED!

Girevoy Sport Platform

Alas, we are on the platform. We are ready as I stated above (nothing new here). We’ve prepared for this moment. We have done test sets, so on, so forth. The timer starts, things are going great. I’m getting my reps, I’m sticking to the strategy, the plan I’ve made with my coach. I’m sure the scenario is the same for most athletes and coaches. It’s how you react when you’re in the thick of it.

We are nearing minute 3:30 (for those of you who are unfamiliar with Kettlebell Sport, you compete for ten consecutive minutes with one hand switch in ladies Long Cycle and Snatch both in men and women), this for me is a crucial time when my grip is starting to fatigue. Heart rate is going up. I need to rest in my rack (the clean), meditate, and breathe. Begin again, almost to 5 minutes, fresh switch coming up.

If you’re like me, grip fails early sometimes, which just means I have more time to work on the other hand (usually 7 minutes of work). I don’t recommend this, but I have learned that I will work through any adversities that arise. I will not give in to my own failure. I will complete in 10 minutes and make a Rank whether it be Master of Sport or Master of Sport International Class, I FINISHED!

Getting Over “The Hump”

Ken Blackburn congratulates Onnit Athlete Mitch Blackburn after a IKFF competition

This leads me to “The Hump,” the toughest part your set. Usually minutes 5-8 are awful and it takes all your conditioning and mental endurance to get through. Minutes 9/10 you begin a euphoric stage where you fly (I’ve heard many runners talk about this euphoria they experience near the end of a marathon; it’s nothing short of awesome) and you no longer are a victim of the clock. You just go; you pull it out of your heart. This is the determination and pure will you have been training for. These are the reps that the mean the most (well, at least to me).

So, in my opinion and experience, I believe it all comes from within. Let me give you an example and then explain how to apply it. My last competition was in June 2013. I competed with a 32kg, and only a 5 minute set (a good way to start with this beast of a bell at my bodyweight). In training, I felt good. I had big numbers, I was ready, or so I thought. I stepped-up onto the platform, have 2:30 mins of solid reps, I’m pretty happy how things are going.

Yes, I have two no-counts and a warning, but I’m still fine, it’s not seeping into my mind. It’s an event, it’s a rep and it’s over. Moving forward with my set, I switch hands. 3:30 goes by, even more solid reps. I’m feeling great. Wow, the kettlebell didn’t go up. Regroup and give it another go, dang it! Same thing. Ok, I get one up.

This is good but I almost lose it on the down swing. I realize that things are falling apart quickly. I re-clean and rack. I look at Sincere Hogan, my great friend. He sees in my eyes I’m not ready to be done. I regain focus as he motions to his head like a telephone (a sign to dial it in).

Just then, Ken Blackburn says, “meditate and breathe.” I listen, I try again. Still no good. I take a few more seconds. I quietly decide in my head during my ultra-quick meditation that I’m going to get my reps. I’m going to do this because I can. I give it another shot (this is all happening in a 30-40 second time frame). It goes up! WHOOP! WHOOP! I DO 5 MORE INSANE STRONG REPS! I FINISHED MY SET!

What You Should Take From This

Ken Blackburn giving Onnit Athlete Donica Storino a hug after IKFF competition

The point of my experience is to fight the urge to flee. Getting over The Hump is so much more rewarding than the medal. What I learn from every set is that I am capable of so much more than I realized. That set above was a war. I battled that day and I won. Sincere Hogan said, “I saw a fight in your eyes,” something I have found with experience. It meant a lot to me that he saw the fight, the growth in me as an athlete. We are all capable.

The key to getting over The Hump (minute 5-8) is to be focused, be aware of your technique, have a mental checklist (grip, connection, deflection), utilizing your energy dispersion (only withdrawal on energy as you need it), train so hard your brain hurts (focus wise), be prepared to battle (not pretend to battle as you will have to live with that for the rest of life).

Really, truly go to war; it’s survival on that platform. Those who truly battle will be carried off the plat- form like Mitch Blackburn. He is a true warrior, and my hero. We are all warriors at heart, are you prepared to go to battle?