Canada's Self-Trained Master of Sport

As a mostly self-trained and coached athlete, Canadian Master of Sport Kathryn Golbeck has gone through numerous progressions and regressions in training during her kettlebell journey. Read the following interview to discover the lessons she learned and how you can apply them to your own practice!

1.     What is your athletic background? 

My athletic background includes cross-country skiing, rock climbing, hiking, running, road bike riding…anything that gets me outside and active. I have always used weight training to supplement my other sports. I have done marathons and shorter distance races and triathlons, as well as cross-country ski races. Currently, my competitive focus is on Kettlebell Sport and other sports are supplementary. This winter I have also skied a lot, which definitely helps my conditioning for kettlebells.

2.     How long have you been lifting kettlebells and how did you get into the sport? 

I started training with kettlebells in the spring of 2011. Charlie Fornelli was training at the gym I go to and I took his group kettlebell class. Initially, I trained with kettlebells for fitness and accessory work. It was convenient to train at home with kettlebells and get an efficient workout. Exactly what I needed as a busy working mom! At the same time, I was learning more sport-specific techniques from Charlie. After hearing about his first competition, I became interested in training for one myself. I attended my first Kettlebell Sport competition in Seattle in September of 2011 (12kg biathlon and 16kg long cycle). At that time, I was training with kettlebells once or twice each week in addition to weight training, running, and other sports.

3.     Do you have a coach? Why or why not? 

I would say that I do not have a coach in the traditional sense, however, Charlie Fornelli (Master of Sport in Biathlon and Long Cycle – IUKL / AKA) has definitely filled that role in terms of mentorship, teaching and reinforcing Kettlebell Sport technique. My own work aside, I owe my growth in the sport to his knowledge and the opportunity to train together. For the most part, I do my own programming, and answer to myself in terms of setting goals and keeping up with my training. Myself, Charlie and another local lifter, Slava Petlitsa train together when we can. We all have busy lives so much of our training is often done in alone in our basements, garages, or backyards. I think everyone can absolutely benefit from a coach, and to be successful in this sport, guidance and teaching of proper technique is fundamental.

4.     How did you decide when to move up in kettlebell weight? 

After my first competition with the 12kg, and hitting 200 snatch reps, I started working with the 16kg. When I first snatched a 16kg, I realized that if I wanted to keep going in the sport, I had better dedicate some more time to it. I had a benchmark of 200 reps with the 16kg before starting any serious work with the 20kg, and dedicating time meant a lot of snatching with the 16, 18 and 12kg bells. I worked with the 20kg for a good 18 months before I attempted snatching the 24kg. At that point I was maintaining 160 -170 reps in 20kg snatch in training, numbers that for me personally are in the benchmark range with this weight. I know that if I can snatch the 20kg for 170 reps on any given day, then I am prepared to go heavier, both physically and mentally. Currently I am working towards some goals in snatching the 22kg kettlebell. And with 24kg snatch, I am in it for the long haul. There’s no other way to look at it!

For one-arm jerks, time is my first benchmark (finishing a 10 minute set with a particular bell weight, and working towards achieving 14-15 reps / minute with solid fixation). I have consistently done 160 jerk reps in training with the 20kg bell since the Fall, and I am currently working at a pace of 13-14 reps / minute in training with the 22kg. After a year of already working with the 24kg in jerks, I think that NOW I am actually finally prepared to work with this weight properly (see my answer to the next question with lessons learned about moving ahead too quickly).

5.     How do you protect your back under the heavy load and high volume demands of Kettlebell Sport? 

This is probably the question I get most frequently from friends who do not lift kettleblls. I think most would agree that lifting with proper technique and not moving ahead too quickly in kettlebell weight is the number-one way to protect your back (and the rest of your body) from injury. Prior to starting in this sport, I was squatting and deadlifting for many years, and Nordic skiing, running, cycling and skipping to support my cardiovascular conditioning. Going in, I had a solid foundation for the physical demands of the sport. I still use barbell work as regular accessory to my sport lifting. I have also learned (the hard way) that training with the 24kg requires a different approach than what had previously worked for me with lighter bells. High volume and relentless long sets with heavy kettlebells will eventually take their toll. SI joint issues in the fall of 2014 led me to re-evaluate my programming and focus on structural imbalances that could no longer be ignored. I am now religious about regular hip and pelvic stabilization, glute strengthening, and mobility work.

6.     What is the biggest challenge of Kettlebell Sport for you? 

Hands-down, one-arm jerks. I struggle with the nuances of jerk technique and limited right-side overhead flexibility, which will always be work in progress. Over the last several months I have put in many hours working on mobility as well as the basics of the kettlebell jerk with lighter weights. I am not afraid of hard work; however, I have learned that the workhorse approach to training can be at the expense of the technical practice that is required to advance in the sport. Another challenge is the mental aspect of working with the 24kg kettlebell. That topic alone is easily another interview!

7.     Do you have any Kettlebell Sport role models or inspirations?  

Too many to name here, but I would like to acknowledge Melissa Swanson and Charlie Fornelli. Both of these athletes are deserving of their accolades in the sport for reasons that people who know them understand (including their commitment to quality lifting and sport integrity). I shared the platform with Melissa at the Victoria Kettlebell Sport Classic in 2012. I was impressed then at what she achieved with the 22kg kettlebell in competition, and she has continued to raise the bar for female athletes in the sport.

8.     What do you envision for the future of Kettlebell Sport? 

Great question! I think we will see more junior athletes advancing in the sport and setting new standards in North America. As the number of competitions increase, the alignment of ranking tables would be helpful, but I am not sure that will happen. For the longevity of the sport outside of Eastern Europe, as athletes, we need to be patient and put in the time and work required to continue the momentum. As an athlete, I am appreciative of the people working behind the scenes to host great competitions and who continue to propel the sport forward. I would love to see a sustained and increased focus on high quality, athlete-centered competitions. In the relatively short time that I have been involved in the sport, there have been many changes, so it will be interesting to see what will comes in the next 5 years. Additionally, I am watching for real dialogue around drug testing in Kettlebell Sport.

9.     At many sport competitions, there are discrepancies between how strict different judges are on fixation of the bell. What do you think is the best way to improve the fairness of judging fixation in competitions? 

This is a thought-provoking question and I certainly do not have the answers. Along the same lines as the previous question, I think that a focus on quality competition environments with a streamlined rule system that includes the judging of fixation would benefit the sport as a whole. As athletes we also have a responsibility to ensure quality of fixation and I know that when there are rigorous judging standards at competition, I am more vigilant. My best answer is continued education for both athletes and judges. I don’t think there is an easy or quick solution to this.

10.  Do you have any advice for novice kettlebell lifters?

Seek out the expertise of those who will teach good technique. Take the time to learn all of the lifts. Recognize that putting in time with the kettlebell weight that is right for you will serve you better overall. The athletes who are training and competing professionally have spent many hours learning, practicing, refining technique, and competing. These are all things that I have learned over the past few years myself. It has been my experience that training and competing at the professional level requires stress-management techniques that one might not need at the novice level. This is not to downplay what all levels of athlete experience in competition, but I was not completely prepared for the emotional (not to mention physical) demands of the sport once I moved up in weight. So I would encourage a focus on the mental training needed for Kettlebell Sport.

11.  Your son Ollie lifts kettlebells. Do you think Kettlebell Sport is safe for children and what type of training do you recommend when kids are just starting out? 

Kettlebell Sport is a great activity for children to complement other sports. Ollie asked if he could train with kettlebells after being a spectator at competitions and watching me train. At the age of 8, Ollie started training with two 5lb kettlebells with handles small enough for his hands, and he competed in biathlon in May 2014. I am envious of his jerk technique! Currently, he is training with two 10lb kettlebells. He has not yet worked with competition bells. I recommend keeping it fun, starting light, and taking your child’s lead. As in any sport, children will respond to positive encouragement, without losing focus on quality technique. Kettlebell Sport has benefits to children’s other athletic activities. Ollie has made the connection that the resiliency required for Kettlebell Sport translates into helping him in his other athletic activities (for example, Nordic ski racing). The benefits that come from a child being able to focus on lifting kettlebells for a 10 minute set speak for themselves!

12.  What competitions will you be attending this year? 

My next competition is close to home - the Vancouver OKC/Code 5 Fitness competition on April 18th, hosted by fellow Canadian Tricia Dong. I will compete in 24kg biathlon. Following that, I will compete in 24kg snatch only at the AKA / CKA Canadian National Championships on July 18th, hosted by Misty Shearer and Renee Martynuik of The Foundry Athletic Training Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. My goal is to qualify for a professional spot on Team Canada and travel to Dublin, Ireland for the 2015 IUKL Kettlebell World Championships in November.

13.  How do you recover after a hard kettlebell workout?            

I recover with regular stretching, mobility work, some foam rolling, and good nutrition and hydration. I go for monthly massage and chiropractic treatments; closer to competition it might be more frequently. A good night of sleep is the best recovery my body can ask for. As a teacher, I have very busy months interspersed with the school breaks, and at those times I will catch up on my sleep and try and get naps in when I can. I find that I feel my best athletically during the summer months when I have less life-stress and more sleep!

14.  What is your favorite post-competition meal?

I don’t have any specific meals that I would call “cheats” after competition. Proper nutrition is very important to me and leading up to competition I will tighten it up a bit, but I don’t abide by a restriction followed by extravagance approach! I always eat a lot of raw and roasted vegetables, eggs, chicken, nuts, typically one avocado a day, fruit, Greek my after-competition meal wouldn’t look a lot different than a regular meal: vegetables with some type of protein. With that said, I did enjoy a great meal of enchiladas after competing in Vegas. And I enjoy a glass of wine and cheesecake when I celebrate.

Kathryn Golbeck is a Special Education and Early Literacy Specialist teacher. She lives in Penticton, BC, Canada. Under the AKA, she holds Master of Sport in 24kg Long Cycle (109 reps) and CMS in 20kg biathlon (152 jerks / 153 snatches). Her personal best total score in 24kg biathlon in competition is 204 (104 jerks / 100 snatches).