Can You Swing It?

By Joanne Blackerby, A.C.E.-P.T., A.C.E. A.H.F.S. – April 1, 2015
photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

Tucked away in a small studio off Burnet Road, the Texas Kettlebell Academy is a close-knit community of athletes and fitness enthusiasts committed to the art of competitive Kettlebell Sport training. Aaron Vyvial, owner, master level coach, and self-described “kettle nerd,” is the founder of the internationally recognized kettlebell gym. Vyvial has trained with the best, including the legendary Russian kettlebell champ, Sergey Nikolaevic Mishin. Vyvial, along with fitness instructor and coach Jessica Gorman, leads one of four competitive Kettlebell Sport teams in Austin.

Teaming up nationally and internationally with like-minded kettlebell athletes and coaches, Vyvial and Gorman will be bringing the Texas Kettlebell Open Championship to Austin this May.

The Texas Kettlebell Academy is a simple, unassuming training space. The central training room features five custom-made square training platforms, each providing a suspended floor for lifting and training. Traditional kettlebells—all the exact same size—line the walls. They are differentiated only by weight and color. Vyvial explains that the equal sizing of the bells empower clients while training since people aren't intimidated by moving from one weight to another. It is only the lifting experience that is different. Vyvial's passion for movement is evident; his words themselves are brought to life by movement and he can’t help but demonstrate the exercises as he talks about them. Vyvial said he is equally proud and humble of the years he has devoted to developing the craft of Girevoy Sport.

Kettlebell Sport, or Girevoy Sport (GS), found its early beginnings in rural Russian farmer's markets when farmers would gather at the end of the day to show off their strength and prowess by swinging and juggling the weights used on the marketplace scales. Today, Girevoy Sport (GS) focuses on an intensive and challenging power and endurance skill. The GS athlete is required to lift a sub-maximal load as many times as possible in ten minutes. Athletes train for months, sometimes even years, to compete in regional, national, and international events.

The Three Traditional Lifts

Despite all of the possible variations of kettlebell exercises, there are three traditional lifts in true Girevoy Sport:

Snatch:  A single kettlebell is swung using one hand from between the knees to above the head in a single motion.  (pictured above)

Jerk: Two kettlebells are grasped in each arm at shoulder level and stabilized in the 'rack position,’ then are jerked above the head.

Long Jerk (or Long Cycle): Two kettlebells are cleaned from knee level to shoulder level, then jerked above the head.

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In competition the lifts are traditionally combined in two events:

The Biathlon: Performing a set of jerks for ten minutes, followed by a set of snatches for ten minutes.

The Long Cycle: Performing a set of long jerks (clean and jerk) for ten minutes.

 

The highlight of the Texas Kettlebell Open Championships in May will be that—for the first time—women will be allowed to compete in the traditional events with two kettlebells, just like the men. 

“In classic European GS competition, women could only compete in the Snatch event and only with one hand,” Vyvial said. “There was a lack of scientific study on the effects of female training. There were questions about what would happen to a woman's body if she had two kettlebells resting on her stomach.” This remains the international standard for competition in Europe and Russia—only men can lift two kettlebells in competition. 

Kettlebell training has been gaining momentum and popularity in the United States, with kettlebell classes and training groups common in many gyms and fitness studios. 

Kettlebells are designed to be comfortable and used in high intensity endurance lifting training. There are no fancy workout regimens. By its nature, kettlebell training integrates the whole body. The only way to improve is to keep working at the basics. By focusing on the same exercises consistently, clients are able to see and feel real change in their fitness. As you get stronger, your strength and endurance incrementally improves.

“Kettlebell Sport makes you truly superhuman because it seems impossible,” Vyvial said. “The only way to get through the sets is just to relax and breathe. It transforms you into a superhuman; you do things you never thought possible.” 

Gorman agreed, adding that the sport gives you a chance to focus on one thing and doing that one thing really well. “How often do we get that opportunity in life?” she asked rhetorically.  

Whether you choose to compete or watch in awe at this year’s championships, how you master the craft of Kettlebell Sport is uniquely up to you.

 

 
 

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