10 Life Lessons I Learned from Kettlebell Sport
Faster isn’t always better. Start slow and finish strong.
When it comes to a kettlebell set, the first minute is a lie, which means you will feel like sprinting, but you should actually conserve energy for the long haul. You’ll always have a better set and a stronger finish if you start out a little slow than if you start out too fast.
When it comes to life, we tend to rush through things. We want to be done and move onto the next, we want to skip to the advanced movements, we want to find the hack that allows us to finish first. The truth is, starting slow sets you up with a better foundation, no matter what you’re doing. Whether it’s physical or mental, taking the time to progress slowly is key to learning how to do something correctly, and will allow you to finish stronger than if you rush or take a shortcut.
Just because you’ve done something before, doesn’t mean it will be easy to do it again.
When it comes to kettlebell lifting, achieving a particular result (i.e. 200 reps snatch) is awesome, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy the second time around. While a tough pill to swallow, it should remind you that a successful set depends on so many different factors, and having a perfect training cycle isn’t a guarantee of the outcome you want.
When it comes to life, the same rules apply. Accomplishing something great is no guarantee you can accomplish it again; you still have to work hard, just like you did the first time. Nothing great comes easy, and there are no guarantees in life.
Once you’ve completed a 10 minute set with kettlebells, literally all other physical training seems easy.
Completing a 10 minute set under two kettlebells is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, mentally and physically. I fight a battle every single time, and it never gets easier. If you asked me to run a marathon or do 1000 burpees, it would honestly be easy compared to a 10 minute set.
This applies to life because things that are challenging in life outside of physical training are much easier to tackle with the confidence built from completing 10 minute kettlebell sets. Those sets lead to an incredible amount of tenacity and confidence that can be utilized to tackle problems in other areas of life.
You should always have a plan A, plan B, and plan C.
I teach all of my students that they should have multiple plans in place for their kettlebell set. Your brain doesn’t like surprises, which means you will panic if something happens that you didn’t anticipate. The best way to prepare yourself is to envision all the possible outcomes for your set and make a plan for each one, including how you will respond in each situation. Plan A is for your ideal set, Plan B is for your okay set, and Plan C is for your “all things go to hell” set.
Even if you’re not lifting kettlebells, your brain still doesn’t like surprises! Since most of the things that happen in the world are out of your control, you must be able to adapt and adjust the plan if things change. I’ve heard it said that “happiness is the difference between expectation and reality”. You will be happier in life if you’re able to anticipate all the possible outcomes so that your expectations and reality are more closely aligned.
Pushing through the struggle is how you grow.
Every 10 minute kettlebell set is a struggle. Your mental and physical strength grows immensely through that struggle. The hardest part of a 10 minute set is continuing to lift the bells despite your head telling you that you’re tired and you should put the bells down. Pushing past that mental dialogue and completing the set shows an incredible amount of mental strength, which is necessary to progress far in the sport.
Life, like a 10 minute set, is a struggle. People may be facing different struggles, but everyone struggles. You can choose to see yourself as a victim of struggle, or you can use the struggle to become stronger. You grow by pushing through those struggles and learning from them instead of letting them push you down.
Achieving perfection is impossible.
If you ask any Kettlebell Sport lifter whether they are satisfied with their result at a competition, they always say something along the lines of “if I could have gotten just THREE more reps…” There is always going to be a higher number than the one you achieved. There is always something technical to improve, even at the highest levels of the sport. Achieving perfection is impossible; however, striving for it is part of the game.
I know very few people in the world who don’t suffer from perfectionism. While there’s nothing wrong with striving to be your best self, I think it’s crucial to remember that perfection is not actually achievable so that you don’t let it stop you from taking action.
There is no one way to do something, and even if there is, someone will end up proving it wrong.
While there are basic guiding principles and generally accepted ways of training in Kettlebell Sport, there is no one path to success. Look around at the lifters during a competition, and notice how many nuances and variations in technique there are. Even if most people would agree that a particular technique is the MOST efficient, there will always be that one lifter who doesn’t use that technique and becomes a champion anyway.
Life is full of rules and guidelines that tell you what you should or should not do, most of which are simply social norms. There is no one correct way to do something, but many people become paralyzed by the social taboo of going against the norm, so they never stray from the beaten path. In my opinion, you should do what you want to do, explore walking a new path, and never let social norms alone tell you whether something will be successful. Everything is impossible until someone proves it wrong.
I am physically capable of WAY more than my brain tells me I am.
During every kettlebell set I’ve ever done, the thought of stopping and setting the bells down because I was tired or something was hurting has crossed my mind. Usually, the thought crosses my mind MANY times, and I know it happens to most lifters during their set. Our brains are hardwired for survival, and pushing our limits physically is warning sign, so the brain will always tell us to stop before we get anywhere near our physical limit. I’ve achieved feats of strength and endurance I never would have thought possible under a pair of kettlebells.
We have all heard those stories about parents who accomplished incredible feats of strength to save their child, like lifting a car up. The fact is that we have a whole lot of strength we don’t know how to consciously access, but shows up when you are highly motivated or under duress. All that is to say that you are MUCH stronger than you think.
If I can keep breathing, I can keep going.
Just as movement facilitates breath (i.e. move faster, breathe faster), breath can also facilitate movement. Quick, sharp breaths can cause you to move faster or be more agile. Long, slow breaths can improve your balance, accuracy, and technical precision. As long as you can keep breathing during a kettlebell set, you can keep moving. If you can take a breath, you can do another rep. The moment you stop breathing is when you’re in trouble.
I love this one as a metaphor for life. If you’re still breathing, it means you’re still alive. If you’re still alive, it means you can keep going, no matter what you’re going through. As long as there is air in your lungs, you have a chance to survive and thrive.
The best performance comes when you stay in the moment, instead of rushing to the finish line.
One of the hardest things to do during a 10 minute kettlebell set is to prevent yourself from only thinking about the finish line and the result you want to achieve. Focusing on the end result leads to anxiety, negative self-talk, and technical mistakes. This mindset leads to a higher likelihood of setting the bells down because you freak out when you aren’t on track to meet the desired goal. The best performances happen when you focus on one minute, one rep, one technical element at a time. If something feels off, you can correct it if you’re paying attention. Finding the “flow” or a zen-like state that allows you to actually enjoy a 10 minute set can only be achieved when you stay in the moment.
Life isn’t a rush to the finish line, for obvious reasons: the finish line is the literal end. Time is a nonrenewable resource; as mortals, we only have so much time to enjoy on this planet. Getting stuck in the day-to-day minutiae of checking tasks off a list is easy to do, especially with how busy we are in today’s world. If we are constantly thinking about the next step and forget to appreciate what’s right in front of us, however, we are missing out on the now. The best experiences in life are those where we are so engaged that we lose track of time and anything but the present moment.
After posting this on social media, I got some great responses for additional Kettlebell Sport life lessons and I want to share a few of them here:
Tension causes fatigue. (Katie Pollock)
The important thing is to not quit. (Michael Moran)
Just because something goes wrong in one moment does not mean you cannot recover in the next moment. (Liz Vassaux)
Don’t compare your progress to others and be disheartened if you’re not lifting the same weight, pace, technique as them. (Amanda Lang)