When you hear the word grind, you probably aren’t jumping for joy. Instead, you may think of something you dread like work. In kettlebell training grinds are work, but they are also your pillar movements of building strength. In this case you should be excited when you hear kettlebell and grinds together because these are the movements that create a strong and powerful body.
What is real world strength you ask? Real world strength is having the ability to take on any task physical or mental at any time. At a moment’s notice, you need to be able to sprint, jump, crawl, climb, lift, carry, fight, etc.
Tommy Kono says it best when it comes to Quality vs. Quantity, “Making one incorrect lift requires three correct ones in a row to erase the memory pattern that was set up. Make 3 incorrect lifts in a row and you have to perform 27 correct lifts to erase the memory pattern that was set up.”
Kettlebell Sport (also known as Girevoy Sport) is a sport that originated in Russia back in the 1800’s. Back then, kettlebells were used as measuring tools at farmers markets. 1 pood was 16kg and 2 pood was 32kg. It did not take long for the farmers to realize the strength benefits of the kettlebells as they would lift them showing off to others their feats of strength.
In the beginning, kettlebell competitions were performed at the circus and festivals. As kettlebells became more popular, competition rules and a governing body were established and the actual first kettlebell sport competition was held in 1948. Since then many changes have been made to the sport as it continues to grow.
Kettlebell Sport has 3 main lifts Jerk, Snatch, and Long Cycle. Normally a lifter chooses to compete in either long cycle or biathlon. Biathlon is a combination of Jerk and Snatch. Lifters can also do triathlon which is all 3 events in a competition. In kettlebell sport you lift the kettlebells continuously for 10 min without setting them on the ground.
In the beginning of the sport, there were no time limits. Lifters would just lift until they could not lift anymore. In the 1980’s they changed it to a limit of 10 minutes. There are also 5 minute events, which are essentially a sprint. There is also the half-marathon and marathon competitions which are 30 minutes and 60 minutes.
Kettlebell sport has weight classes that you compete in as well as different kettlebell weights to compete in. In the beginning, you had to compete with either the 16kg, 24kg, or 32kg. Now you can compete with any kettlebell from 8kg to 40kg. The way it works is you compete against other lifters in your weight class that are competing with the same kettlebell weight.
You also have the option of competing with one kettlebell or two kettlebells. With one kettlebell you only get one hand switch for the entire 10 min or 5 min event. In half-marathon and marathon events you are able switch arms back and forth as many times as you like.
The lifter with the most reps wins. For example if you lifted more reps than anyone else in the double long cycle using the 20kg kettlebell in the 73kg weight class you are the winner. Sometimes, competitions group weight classes and different kettlebells together. Then, the winner is determined by a coefficient score which is (Total Reps x KB Weight/Actual Weight).
Actual weight is what the lifter weighs the day of the event. The coefficient score rewards the person who is strongest pound for pound. It does not matter their weight or the weight of the kettlebell. The coefficient is used to determine the best overall lifters of competitions as well. The best overall lifter goes to the best male and female lifters in long cycle, biathlon, and snatch.
Kettlebell Sport has rankings for each kettlebell weight. The purpose of these rankings is so that a lifter knows when they can safely progress to the next kettlebell weight up. The rankings go in the following order with MSIC being the highest and Rank 3 the lowest:
MSIC – Master of Sport International Class
MS – Master of Sport
CMS – Candidate Master of Sport
The lighter kettlebell weights have Rank 1 thru 3 rankings. Master of Sport is only achieved with the heavy kettlebells. Master of Sport is the coveted goal everyone wants to achieve as it proves you are a great lifter! MSIC is ranking that only a few have achieved.
Kettlebell sport is not just about winning, but also about improving your performance and climbing up thru the rankings. It is a sport for all age levels and athletic abilities. The trainings are hard and intense but the competitions and rewards are well worth it!
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Ladders are a great way to increase your strength and endurance. You can also do quite a bit of volume in a short period of time and it’s a great way to break up your normal routine.
If you had to choose just one exercise to perform, the clean, squat, and press would be it. With the complex movement of the clean, squat, and press you can train the whole the body in minimal time. This training complex covers each of the 4 main movements push, pull, squat, and hinge. You can build enormous strength and size with just this exercise.
Your breath plays a big role in everything you do and especially when it comes to training. How you breathe directly affects the outcome of your performance. Paradoxical and Anatomical are the two types of breathing that take place during training.
Explosion! That is the key component of a ballistic movement. These dynamic movements are a combination of speed and power.
At 6am with a crisp chill in the air and the sky still pitch black, I pull up to Comiskey Park in the RV (insert your National Lampoon’s one liners here). I quickly start to set up so I can start warming up and get ready for an 12 hour ordeal I was about to put my mind and body through.
My helpers for this location start to show up shortly after I arrived and assist with the set-up. Then, the next thing I notice I have only about 20 minutes until my 7:00am start time and I have yet to pick up any kettlebells. I quickly grab the 28kg bells and start to warm up. My preparation and training has led up to this day and I am determined to finish all 12 hours and not die.
As I grab the kettelbells, I realize my first mistake. Don’t leave your kettlebells in the RV over night when it is only 20 degrees outside. Those were some nice cold handles on the bells first thing in the morning. The freezing temperatures never fluctuated much throughout the day. It started at 20 degrees and never got above 32 degrees. I know what you are thinking, “I picked a great day to lift kettlebells outside for 12 hours huh?”
Just the Beginning
Well, the sun finally starts to come out and I begin lifting right at the 7:00am witching hour. I start off with 2 bells (24kg’s) in the jerk. After I finished my first jerk set, I flippantly joke that I only have 5000 reps to go. I know I have a long day ahead of me. I have always resorted to levity and jests in order to get myself through tough challenges. It ensures that that the mood shifts from “this sucks donkey balls” to “piece of cake.”
Part of my plan was to see how long I could go using two kettlebells and then switch to one bell if needed.
The lay out for the day was simple; spend 90 minutes lifting at each of the 6 locations. At each location I would spend a 30 minutes on jerk, 30 minutes on snatch, and then 30 minutes on long cycle.
The work to rest ratio would consist of lifting for 1 minute and then rest for 90 seconds. This is the timing that I followed the entire day. I wanted to make sure my rest was longer than my work sets because I had one goal in mind and that was to complete all 12 hours. During my first jerk sets at Comiskey Park I was feeling good and the bells left light. I was averaging about 16 rpm.
I was glad to start moving around and lifting weights as it kept me warm. I knew it was cold because I noticed my helpers constantly going in and out the RV to warm up. Next, I move on to snatch and it was felt good as well. I start to notice that my hands looked really red and dry from the cold. I had brought a few pairs of gloves, although I did not put them as I did not feel like I needed them yet.
My water stayed very cold throughout the day as ice would form in the very bottle I was drinking from. Well, about 15 minutes into long cycle, I start to feel a bit of exhaustion. It became evident that I was going too fast and needed to slow down or I would not make it to the second location. Pacing myself was going to be the key to successfully navigating this arduous terrain.
As the final minutes at the first location were approaching, I quickly assigned people an object to grab and get it into the RV. Getting to the next location as quickly as possible is essential. During the transitions of locations I allocated 30 minutes to get from one location to the next.
Each location takes about 15 minutes to get to and then the rest of the time I spend eating food or going to the bathroom. Also, I think by going to different locations throughout the day helped a lot in the mental game instead of constantly being in one spot for 12 hours. Each time I got to a new location my goal was to just make it to the next location.
As I pulled up to the Alder Planetarium I felt a bit of exhilaration as I gazed upon the Chicago skyline. For those of unfamiliar with Chicago, the Alder Planetarium is a museum about outer space that sits right on the edge of Lake Michigan and has tremendous views of the city.
Anyways, the time has quickly come to start lifting again. I start off with the 24kg’s in jerk and immediately notice that something is off and the lifts are not as easy as the first location. I keep plugging along and one of my helpers played the Imperial March from Star Wars to keep me motivated. (Hey, whatever gets you motivated, use it.)
Another set of jerk done and then it’s onto snatch. My hands start to hurt. I was expecting this, but not this early in the game. I did a few more sets and the pain lingered, progressively getting worse.
I put on a pair of thin gloves very similar to ones you would use in a glove snatch set. I was starting to get frustrated as I could not get my hand inserted properly into the bell and the gloves themselves where sliding all around. I tried another pair of gloves put could not get them on my hands. So I just stuck with the other gloves and eventually the pain in my hands went away and turned to numbness.
I was able to properly insert my hand into the bell. For the rest of the day I would only use these gloves to snatch in.
I did jerk and long cycle bare handed the whole day. After that ordeal it was on to long cycle again. I opted to go with the 20kg’s since I needed a break and a pick me up.
What I started to do now was put on a pair of thick gloves during the rest to keep the hands warm and also try to prevent them from drying up. I did this for the rest of the day for all my jerk and long cycle sets. I finished my long cycle sets and quickly got everything packed up and into the RV. Once loaded, I took off to the third location.
I was angry that my numbers had dropped significantly from the first location to the second. I was still feeling pretty good and surprisingly I had not sweat through my clothes. Because I was still relatively dry, I felt I could go another location before changing clothes. This would become my mistake number 2. At each location I did put on a fresh pair of socks and even my shoes were soaked in sweat it still felt good to put on a dry pair of socks each time.
Well I am now at the 3rd location which was the Wrigley Building in front of the Chicago River. Thinking that I can make ground I opted to use the 20kg bells the whole time. At all of the other locations there were people passing by and checking me out. However, at this location we saw that most onlookers were passerby and tourists as we were located on the Magnificent Mile.
I remember one of the helpers talking to people from Finland and Russia. Of course, when more people are watching you it makes you push yourself even more. I quickly get into my jerk sets and I am doing well for a while. Then, I get frustrated again as I am just not producing the reps I want with lighter bells.
Move on to snatch and that felt good. My hands did not hurt that bad at all and I was happy with the numbers I was getting. Next up, I moved to long cycle. The first set first rep is good. As soon as I began the second rep my right bicep all of the sudden starts to cramp up and tighten. I try to do another rep and it feels like it wants to tear.
I take a second and try using just one bell still same result. One of my helpers tries massaging it out a bit and digs her hand to help alleviate whatever it is that is going on in there. Now I notice the clock and the time wasted already I decide to just do jerk again and the result is the same.
As you can imagine I am getting extremely frustrated knowing that I am only about 5 and a half hours in and still have a long ways to go. On top of that, one of the local news teams are on their way to this location.
There is no way I can quit. I still had 3 more locations to go and a bunch of people coming to see me at the last location. So I thought just like any normal person would, “that I am going to have to finish the rest of the day with just one arm.”
I grab the bell again pissed off and hoping some miracle will help get me through this. I go ahead and jerk with my left no problem I then hesitantly switch to my right and it was tolerable. This is the point where I switched to just one bell for the rest of the day.
My second mistake of not changing my clothes prior to this location comes back to haunt me. I feel part of the reason my right bicep started to cramp up on me was it was cold, wet, and stiff.
This whole ordeal took about 5 minutes but it seemed forever as all I could think about was time I wasting not getting reps. Well I made it through the rest of the Wrigley Building location and then packed up and moved on to Daley Plaza.
First thing I did once I got to Daley Plaza was change out of my wet clothes and put on dry ones. I also had brought along a pair of compression arm sleeves, which I put on. I think the sleeves helped me get through the rest of the day.
The Daley Plaza is a symbolic location in the Chicago Loop. It is also where the city Christmas tree is located along with the Christkindlmarket each winter. For all you Blues Brothers fans the Daley Plaza is where Jake and Elwood drove thru the windows in the end of the movie.
Ok, back to lifting. I feel better with a change of clothes but at the same time worried about my arm. I have now changed my focus to finishing the day and completing all 12 hours and not worrying about the reps. In hindsight, this is where my head should have been at the previous 2 locations.
I start off with jerk using the 24kg and just one bell now. The arm feels good. I still feel my right bicep acting up, but it is fine. At this location I must mention that one of my volunteer helpers was like a fearless sales person telling each person that walked by “World Record Attempt here take a picture and tweet about it” I told him he needs to be my sales guy for my gym.
It was moments like these with my helpers cracking jokes which really helped me get through the day and make the time go by faster. While training for this world record attempt, I would just stare at a brick wall for 3 hours a day. So, any conversation during my rest periods was definitely welcomed.
After the jerk, it was on to the snatch. I was a bit concerned how the arm would hold up in the snatch motion but it was fine and did not bother it all. This is also the same time that WGN came to video tape me. He took a bunch of different video angles of me.
During my breaks, he would ask questions but sometimes I would cut him off to start my next cycle. At this stage of the day, l had become a machine. As soon as 90 seconds was up, I was onto the next cycle. The story ended up playing later that night on WGN news.
Well, back to long cycle. Using the 24kg bell this time, I decided to change my grip. I usually swing thumb up instead of thumb back. So, I switched to thumb back and the arm felt fine. I was able to continue on doing long cycle with no problems.
After wrapping up and packing up at Daley Plaza, I was now on my way to location 5 at the Roosevelt Bridge. During this transition from Daley Plaza to the Roosevelt Bridge I felt awkward in that I was not really feeling great and at the same time I was not feeling too fatigued.
I had been just lightly snacking on food throughout the day and drinking a ton of coconut water. So needless to say I would not have made Will Ferrell’s cheer squad as my energy levels were quite low. In the days leading up to this, I knew all I had to do was make it to the last location and I could just feed off other peoples’ energy to get me through the last hours.
I just needed to get through one more location before reaching the final location and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
As usual, I started off with jerk. For some reason, it felt really good and the motions were easier than the last location. I thought this was quite odd. I made that comment to my helpers and they agreed stating that that is not right and something’s wrong.
Well, jerk continued to keep going up easy and so did snatch after that. It was at the Roosevelt Bridge location where I produced the most snatch reps for the day; 10 hours into it. It was also at this time that the sun was starting to disappear over the horizon.
The realization that I had been lifting from sunup to sundown washed over me and slapped me in the face. This gave me the push I needed to make it through the final 3 hours. Started to get into my long cycle sets happy because I knew I only had a half hour ago at this station, but at the same time it was this half hour that seemed the longest. My hands were really starting to swell in excruciating pain and fatigue was becoming more and more present.
Finally, I got through my last set of long cycle, packed up the RV, and headed onto my last location at Rocky’s Bar and Grill.
Rocky’s Bar and Grill
I was in my final transition and I completely collapsed into the seat of the RV. It was during this transition where I finally felt like crap. However, at the same time I knew I had made it to the last location and just had 2 hours to go. I came this far now it’s time to finish it.
We pull up to Rocky’s and I think other people were more excited to see it than I was. The only thing that kept me focused was my determination to finish the final two hours. I made one last change of clothes and before I knew it, it was time to start lifting just as it had been all day.
Rocky’s Bar was near where I started in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. I was stationed right in front of Rocky’s. Cars would honk as they go by and bar patrons would watch from the comforts of inside the heated bar enjoying some beers. People would come outside for a bit to watch and then go back inside to warm up and enjoy libations.
In the final hours, I only focused on when it was time to lift. This strategy, oddly enough, allowed me to put up the most jerk numbers at this location.
I was now moving on to snatch knowing that I was getting closer to the end but still had a ways to go. My hands were continuously throbbing, but I was able to suck it up and get through it.
Racing through my mind is that I have an extra 30 minutes since this is the final location. I know that I must choose to continue lifting or not and if so which lift and bell to use. Well obviously I chose to keep lifting all the way since it was 7am to 7pm not 7am to 6:30pm. So, I decided the lift I would do for the last 30 minutes would be jerk.
The bell size I was thinking was 20kg. It was also around this time my spot on WGN news came on in the bar and everyone cheered. I just happened to be in a rest period at that time and was able to watch it. My rest time had come up but how often do you get to watch yourself on TV? So, I continued to watch the rest of the segment and then went back to lifting.
That definitely gave me a lift to keep on going. I was now into my long cycle sets for last time. This was a good thing because my hands where really starting to hurt. It was at this point that I realized my 3rd mistake.
When deciding to do 12 hours of lifting, don’t perform snatch and long cycle back to back. For those of you that don’t know me, my hands are completely callused. I was born like that and when they get dry they crack and are excruciating to bend. Playing in the dirt is my enemy although playing in the sand is my friend as it will soften up my hands and I will be able to move them.
I don’t ever tear my hands. It is not because I use flawless technique (I don’t I have a ways to go yet, but I think it is has to do with my callused hands). Maybe this is why God gave me callused hands so I could compete in kettlebell sport.
The Final Push
Heading into the homestretch, we are in the final sets of long cycle and I can’t wait to be done as my hands are giving me death threats. As I start my jerk sets there are mixed emotions going through my head. One is telling me just not to pick up the bell and the other is saying this is it, let’s finish this thing. Ten minutes to go people are starting come outside to witness the final minutes.
I finally decide that the last 5 minutes I will not set the bell down and just keep going. The 5 minute mark approaches and I am switching arms about every 30 seconds because that is about all I can withstand. Two minutes to go. I am almost there.
I want nothing more than to set the bell down, but I can’t I am so close to finishing and there is no turning back now. The final minute approaches and I just start cranking out what I can. It is now 7pm I drop the bell and put my hands up in victory! I did it! I was able to be lift for 12 hours. There was a cheering applause to my finish and then congratulations from everyone. I felt relief that it was finally over and I had done it.
Afterwards it took me awhile to change and then go into Rocky’s where I did not need to buy a single beer as people just keep buying them for me. The soreness set in pretty quick as I got up to go to the bathroom. It was a struggle much worse than after playing a rugby match.
People asked how I felt afterwards. The only way I can describe it is as after you have been to the deep sea for a day and then come back to land. It takes some time to re-acclimate. I really don’t think my body knew how to react and that is why I felt so out of it that night.
Obviously I was sore for a while. Every time I moved new muscles reminded that they were involved in that 12 hour fight with the kettlebells. The thing that hurt the most the next day was my hands and I think they are still recovering. They have been peeling like a reptile’s skin for weeks.
The total amount of volume I ended up lifting over my head for the day was 110,720kg equal to 244,095lbs. The total amount of reps I did in all three lifts for the day was 4108 reps. I came about 900 reps shy of that 5000 rep comment I had made earlier in the day. I think something that made this more exciting was that I accomplished this feat on my Dad’s Birthday and he was there to witness it.
I took on this challenge because I wanted to see if I could actually lift for 12 hours straight and also to see if I could mentally last. Well, I must say I survived the 12 hour fight against the kettlebells.
However, I won’t say I won as the bells took a toll on my body and nothing happened to them except for maybe a few scrapes. I have recently started training again for kettlebell sport and I very much enjoy the shorter training sessions. I still find myself in a fight to gain back my endurance as I came so use to just 1-2 min sets.
Basically, this challenge can be used as a metaphor of life’s challenges. Your challenge could be the fight to get through a busy day at work, to finish school, to rehab an injury, to get through a long road trip with the kids, etc.
Life is a fight and there will be many highs and lows like I experienced in my 12 hours fight, but if you persevere and don’t give up, you will finish and become victorious.
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In the society we live in today, it is hard not to have tight and stiff joints. Joints thrive on blood flow and range of motion. So, when we sit at desks and in cars for years on end, it takes a toll on our bodies.