Internal Dialogue of a Male Kettlebell Lifter


Kettlebell Sport is an endurance sport more than anything else - not just of the body, but of the mind. Lifters push through an immense amount of discomfort to get through the mental and physical battle of a 10 minute set."What were you thinking while you were lifting?" is a common question from spectators, and as an athlete you often wonder whether everyone else on the platform next to you is struggling as much as you are. This series of posts is a chance to get a glimpse into the mind of a wide variety of lifters of all nationalities while completing a 10 minute set - male, female, beginner, elite, Bolt style, Girevoy Sport style, etc.  - KB Fit Britt

"Minute 1 I tell myself: “Stay cool, stick to your pace, don’t rush.” Minute 2 my thoughts shift to my breathing pattern and my technique, checking that I’m doing everything the way I should. The 3rd and 4th minute are usually the “quiet ones”: thoughts come and go but I do not pay much attention to them. The checks have been done and the “gremlins" haven’t entered the playing field yet…. Soon however, the “gremlins”, those little insidious thoughts that just love to spread doubt and fear, enter the fray. First they tiptoe in at the end of the 5th minute, telling me “Oh man, you’ve got to do this for ANOTHER 5 minutes!!!” Then they go crazy in minute 6 and 7, which is the time I call the “abyss”. This is when the end seems so far and fatigue is kicking in. Seeds of doubt begin to grow and I question if I have trained well enough for the event. The pain increases and a battle between my mind and the gremlins ensues. The gremlins shouting “Why are you doing this to yourself?! Just put the bells down you idiot!!” and my mind trying not to listen. By minute 8 things change, I can see the end and all I can think of is simply to put one rep after the other… The final minute is the best bit. The crowd roars and that just blanks everything else out and all that remains is the white hot pain of the final sprint - and the relief when it is all over!" Laurence Clemente, United Kingdom

"Before I start a flight I feel nervous then when it starts I think about getting as many reps as I can. Then I look at the clock and see how much more time I have. Then when  I see there is only a minute left I do as many reps as  I can. Then when I hear the buzzer I get excited to see how many reps I get!"

Eric Burmaster, 10 years old, California

"0-1 min. 
I do not think much, I just want to get in pace, get the feeling of the bells and kill the nerves.

1-2 min.
Concentrate, Concentrate, Concentrate and Concentrate. 

2-3 min.
Just focus on my technique and stay on pace.

3-4 min.
Why I am doing this? Will I make the 10 minutes?
I always think of my kids, they are really my biggest fan and I want them to show what determination is.

4-5 min. + 5-6 min. + 6-7 min.
These are the hardest minutes for me. Sometimes I think about stopping and putting the bells down, but have never done it. I know my conditioning and strength are good, so I go on and listen to my coach. Breathe, breathe, breathe...!

7-8 min.
From here I know I am going to make it.

8-9 min.
This is the point I always want to accelarate my pace and really think of my two daughters. I am a fighter, so I never give up.

9-10 min.
My mind is off and it's just an adrenaline rush to the end. Not much thinking, just doing." Barry Andre, The Netherlands Rotterdam Kettlebell Academy

"Stage 1: Taming the beast. The heart is racing and adrenaline is pumping. The main goal is fighting the urge to over do too much, too early. There is a long road ahead. Stage 2: Autopilot. Flashbacks to all the cueing and technique work that was hammered in during training takes hold. Reps are just as you practiced them and you start to find your groove. Stage 3: The real fight begins.  This is when the wheels start falling off. It usually starts around 5 minutes when your bad habits start to show. They may not be noticeable to the untrained eye, but if you're lucky enough your coach notices, your teammates notice, and most importantly you notice. Now the checklist of cues is getting longer and longer between each rep. You're in your own personal hell from about minute 5 to 8.5 and this where you start to bargain with yourself. "I'm so exhausted, maybe I should slow down." "I should stop, I could really hurt myself if I push too hard." "The guy next to me stopped, why do I need to keep going?" "Why am I even doing this?!?!" A new lifter may give in, but a seasoned lifter will continue with a calm quiet confidence until the set is done. Stage 4: The last sprint. Most lifters see the light at the end of the tunnel with 60-90 seconds left. True character shines here. Even though exhaustion has set in, true strength and endurance are shown in these final moments. With every rep thrown up the body cringes, yet the brain screams "3 more breaths and another!" Tony Dyrek, Nevada

"1. The dangerous start. How you feel here is important. How do you feel, how is your heart rate and self-esteem. Please start at 1-2 rep behind your average rpm.

2. Heart rate is increasing, how you handle it means everything. If you are nervous something always happens here. Sometimes i do same pace as first minute here. A bit slower then my average competition rpm. Just to control everything.
3. At this minute you will probably find out how your set will be. Do you manage to control heart rate and style? Can you increase pace and stick to it? Kind of the "first minute" for me, since at this moment I start working my competition pace.
4. Almost half way? NO! 4th minute is dangerous, you can get quite tired here if you start to hard. If so you will break down at 5-7 min.... Important mental minute!
5. Half way? NO WAY! The 5th minute is really dangerous. Now your pace is set, heart rate is high and you have to try to stick to your plan (or your crazy coach's plan), and what happens from here and the next 2 minutes is crucial! Be tough and relaxed.
6. My most mental minute! From 6-7 is where I used to fail. For 14 months - Yes, 14 months! - I always broke down during this minute during the 10 minutes of 32 kg Long Cycle. It almost killed my motivation for continuing this sport.
7. For me, when I come to this minute, and maybe when I pass 07:30 I know I can finish the full set!! No doubt! Really! For me the 7th minute is half way!
8. I can never start my finish here, very dangerous. My sweaty hands is often an issue for me, if I start my finish too early the bells will fly out of my hands at 9:00-9:30 and fall to the ground... True story!
9. Yes, I am tired, I accept it! But when I am here I know the pain is almost gone. The job is done. Life becomes better after this. Proud moment, always. What I do here is based on how I can handle the lactic acid, my heart rate, the sweat and shaky arms.. I have never done an incredible sprint in the end with LC 32. But I know it's possible with the perfect conditions and dry hands. When that day comes I will probably make +80 reps!"

Per Helge Fjortoft, Norway 4x Norweigen Champion in 32kg Long Cycle 

"For jerk sets the mental side is a little different as there is no hand switch due to two bells. This makes the first minute and my starting pace even more important and I take the first few reps to make sure I am comfortable in the rack. If I am not comfortable in the rack it is going to be a very long set. Quite often I will start out with a slower rate (by one or two reps) per minute for the first minute or two. I chalk this up to me being  a little older than the average competitor and my body needs a little more coaxing to due what my mind wants it to do. Minute two and three are just muscle memory and focusing on keeping a steady rhythm. With the jerks there is the same mental hurdle at about 4 minutes, often I will power thru the first 4 minutes and take a small break of ten seconds between minute 4 and 5 and then after that I take it 1 minute at a time or ten to 12 reps with a small break. Major focus is on getting in a good rack and feeling my upper body muscles reload. The goal again is to make it to minute 9 as it is all down hill after that. I open up my ears and feed off the crowds energy for that last push." Mike Strangeway, Victoria, B.C.

"Being involved in Girevoy Sport for almost 10 years now (8 as competitor), I have come across many competitions. Every 10 minute set is a story of its own. What all those sets have in common is two »mental sticking points«. After three minutes of work, the energy system the body uses switches from anaerobic to aerobic. If the athlete is not ready for that, it can be a problem later on. The second sticking point comes around the 6th or 7th minute, because of oxygen debt. So, being aware of that helps in mental preparation for competition. I always make a plan, and try to stick with it as much as possible. First minute I try to do one rep less than pace required for final number (if goal is 120 reps, I intentially do 11). That way I create a »mental« space for every minute, so I have 5 seconds extra time. In the 5th minute I do that again, because, knowing myself, I always struggle the most last three minutes. That way I create an extra gap again to rest. In the 9th minute I lower my pace a lot, especially the last 30 seconds (down to 10rpm); I am trying to gather as much energy as possible for the final push. The last minute I split into two sets of 25 seconds work with 10 seconds rest in between. In competition it is easier to survive whole 10 minutes, because there are people cheering you on, and every thought of quitting is drowned out by the voices of the crowd." Gregor Sobocan, Slovenia

“I can do this, nothing can stop me. First minute out of the way, keep going strong, keep a steady pace. Don’t get distracted, just think about the music. Don’t think about the time. Just keep going at my pace. Halfway finished with this arm. I can do this. Only 1 minute left on this arm. Finish strong, pump them out. Yes, I can switch hands!! Ok, halfway through, just 5 more minutes. Stay focused. Don’t worry about the time; just keep going at your pace. I want to quit. Don’t quit, only 3 more minutes. I can do this. Stay focused. I can do it. I can do it. Only 2 more minutes, don’t worry about the time. Stay focused. I want to set the weights down so bad!! I can’t, I can’t fail my team. Stay strong. Last minute, I can do this. Finish strong, pump them out. Who cares about the pain, only 30 more seconds. I can do this. Yes!!!!! I am done!!!!! I am invincible. Thank you Lord. I am so thankful that I didn’t set those weights down.” Joseph Hoover, Florida

"During the minutes leading up to my set I'm dialed in and running my mental checklist. I counter any nervousness by cross checking all the variables and I focus on keeping my heart rate low and breathing deep. I'm excited as I wait to set my hands on the bells for the first clean. On contact my arms and shoulders become relaxed as if warm water is running down them and I feel the bells as an extension of my arms; longer levers. 

The first minute I remind myself not to l pace too quickly. I think about pleasant things that help me stay composed. My kids are usually the first to mind. Second minute comes and I'm feeling the rush from my body responding to the force of the bells. Merging and exchanging energy. I sustain my pace and start to prep for when the pain sets in.

Minute 3 I tell myself this is going well, I'm doing this, I'm going to do this. Don't get distracted. Focus on your counter, you don't need to look at anyone else's.

Minute 4 pain starts to kick in and the mental fight begins. I fight the urge to speed up or slow down. Instead I remind myself to stick to the plan. I know what I'm capable of; be relentless.

Minute 5 it becomes challenging to sustain pace but I'm too driven to stop. I take it one rep at a time, staying true to 80/20 effort. Don't burnout early.

The sixth minute I've either heard or begin to hear bells fall from other competitors and the sound and feel of it is like water splashing on my face. I think to myself "they gave all they had, I owe them the same". I push on. Pace is still solid or has dropped by 1rpm for the long haul. 7minutes in I'm thinking "wow, this hurts!!" Breathing is a challenge, heart rate is high, burning sensation in legs. But I'm approaching the top of the hill. Almost home. The eighth minute I'm in so much pain that the only thing holding me together is the nostalgia of all the training leading up to this moment. When the ninth minute sets in it's not about pacing anymore. Whatever I held back gets let out. Whether that's a sprint or even as simple as don't drop... it's the defining moment. Be the last one standing. During the 10th minute when my lungs, legs and grip are on fire I let the excitement of the countdown take over and push out everything I've got left. It's when you're hurting the most that you have to push the hardest. When the timer stops and I put the bells down, I take a moment to reflect on all that just happened. The good, the bad, the lesson. In my head it feels like hours but it's only a matter of seconds. Then I turn to whoever was lifting beside me and congratulate them on their struggle."

Juan Pellot, New York

 See the rest of the series here, here, and here. If you didn't get a chance to contribute to the article, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!