By Sara Lee
Language and history
GS stands for “Girevoy Sport,” and is better known as “Kettlebell Sport” in the US. “Girevoy” means “kettlebell” in Russian. Related words are “girya” referring to the bell, and “girevik” referring to the lifter. GS has its origins in the Russian marketplace where the bells were used as weights for commerce purposes. Over time, people started playing with them and maybe showing off a bit. Pavel Tsatsouline brought kettlebells from Russia to the West. Valery Fedorenko, also of Russia, brought us the actual sport of kettlebell lifting. It has continued to gain momentum ever since. There are a few obstacles to overcome, but hopefully it will eventually be recognized as an Olympic sport.
Ok. How do you play?
The rules are pretty simple. A lifter gets 10 minutes to do the same lift as many times as possible without resting. If one bell is used, it may switch hands only once. It can be thought of as the endurance component of Olympic lifting as the kettlebell lifts are similar. With few exceptions, the lifts used are the snatch (one bell for all), the jerk (one bell for women and two for men) and the long cycle, which is the clean and jerk (also with one bell for women and two for men). Biathlon refers to a cumulative score of the total jerk score combined with the snatch score. Depending on the table used, the snatch score is usually reduced by half before tabulation. A table is consulted to determine the rank given to a lifter for their weigh-in weight compared to the number of reps performed at the bell weight.
How is this different from the Crossfit kettlebell lifts?
There are two styles of kettlebell lifting: hard style and soft/GS style. Hard style is the type of lifting a person would do when the goal is to get a good workout. More energy expended is more calories burned. Soft or GS style has a different goal: maximize volume. Every rep should take as little energy as possible so that the lifter can keep going and going. Being picky about form means following the path of least resistance in order to do more reps and more weight without rest.
What do I need?
To begin, any kettlebell will do, but if you ever even think that someday you might compete, invest in competition bells. They’re not cheap, and owning multiple sets gets hard to justify on most budgets. They are also more difficult, so even if you only want to use them for fitness, you’ll get more bang for your buck. Much of the weight is in the handle of a cast iron bell, making them easier to lift. Their handles are also typically thinner and have more flared “horns” making them easier to grasp. Cast iron bells are black and vary in size and shape according to their weight. Every time a lifter changes bell weight, their form must adjust to a different bell. The beauty of competition bells is that they are exactly the same size and shape (including the handle) no matter what weight they are. For this reason, they are color coded. (Pink=8 kg/18 lbs, blue=12 kg/26 lbs, yellow=16 kg/35 lbs, purple=20 kg/44 lbs, green=24 kg/53lbs, orange=28 kg/62 lbs, red=32kg/70lbs)
As you progress, you may want to invest in a few other items. Wrist guards can keep your forearms from getting too banged up, especially while learning. Some lifters like chalk to prevent slippage. A clock with a second hand or timer is important for tracking duration and pace. Weight lifting shoes are helpful as well. Some Adidas (men’s and women’s ), Amber (men’s only), and the first couple of editions of IronEve (women’s only) are offered in synthetic leather. Men also wear a belt for the jerk and long cycle. These can also be found in nylon and synthetic leather.
Ready! How do I learn this stuff?
The gold standard is to find a certified trainer in your area to show you the ropes. Bad habits can be tough to break, and risk of injury is higher without qualified support. That said, I know what it’s like to live in the middle of nowhere and to just want to get started. You may also simply want to explore a bit to see if this sport interests you. If you choose to go on YouTube, make sure the person you’re watching knows what they are doing. Do your research before you watch a video. Seeing it done right thousands of times can be very beneficial. Some of my favorite people to watch are: Ksenia Dedyukhina, Ivan Denisov, Valery Fedorenko, Sergey Rudnev, Vitali Sitnikov, Bill Esch, Donica Storino, Steve Cotter, Ken and Mitch Blackburn, Lorna Kleidman, and the Ice Chamber Kettlebell Girls. While watching anyone with great technique is helpful, I find I get the greatest benefit from observing lifters most similar to myself anatomically.
Although there are not many vegans competing with kettlebells yet, we are uniquely suited to do so. We are strong with great recovery time. The foods we eat are nutritionally dense with easy to manipulate macros. I love what Fedorenko said on his Facebook page about vegans lifting kettlebells, “It’s how they get their iron.” As the distance athletes have shown, our stamina can carry us through. As the body builders have demonstrated, it’s easier to get and stay lean on plants. This is a weight class sport. Having strong, lean walking around weight is a tremendous benefit. I hope to see many more of us on the platform in the coming years. The highest rank awarded is MSIC (Master of Sport International Class). Who will be the first vegan to get there? It could be you! Start swinging!