How Kettlebell Lifting Became a Sport
Updated: Apr 27
While many may see kettlebell training as a hip new form of exercise, today I learned that kettlebells have been used for activities to improve strength and endurance for several centuries.
Born in Moscow, Russia, Mikhail Marshak has been involved in kettlebell training and competing since 1995. Along with being an instructor at Seattle Kettlebell Club, Marshak runs a popular YouTube channel called kettlebellsport.
When he started university at the Moscow Aviation Institute, Marshak knew that he wanted to pursue some type of competitive sport, and at the time he was in-between wrestling and lifting when his coach introduced him to kettlebells.
“It was not what I expected,” said Marshak. “I told my coach I wanted to pump iron, and he told me ‘No, it’s lifting kettlebells.”’
Marshak competed for his university for 10 years before moving to the greater Seattle area in 2007.
Although kettlebell lifting as a competitive sport did not gain popularity until the '60s and '70s, kettlebells have been used since the 18th century; when workers would use them as tools for measuring goods. In fact, girya (kettlebell in Russian) was published in the dictionary in 1704.
Workers realized the exercise benefits of handling kettlebells, and they began to use kettlebells to perform power tricks such as juggling. Soon Dr. Vladislav Kraevsky applied more scientific methods to the sport and introduced the public to different kettlebell exercises.
When kettlebell competitions gained more popularity in the 1970's, the lifters followed the same rules as Olympic weightlifters where they would compete in triathlons with no time limit.
“They [Americans] think that all Russians lift kettlebells, but it’s more of an underground sport” Marshak said.
Marshak also notes that kettlebell competitions have changed overtime. Techniques have changed, and exercises include shorter sets as well as a time limit.
Despite the Olympics excluding kettlebell sport, this type of training has become more more popular over time and has gained popularity in North America and Europe. In 2001, the first female kettlebell competition was held, and the practice has become more popular in the recreational fields, for athletes now have more options in weight to choose. In traditional competitions, participants are limited to certain weights.
“Powerlifting is pure power. Olympic weight lifting is power plus speed, and kettlebell sport is power and endurance.” Marshak said.
Make sure to check out Marshak’s channel KettlebellSport, which is Youtube’s best resource for kettlebell training, competing and exercising. With updates almost every day, and over 11,000 followers, the channel offers over 1200 videos with content featuring exercises, power juggling, instructional and competition videos, and interviews from athletes.