Interview with MSIC and Master Coach Gregor Sobocan


When I think of people who have tons of knowledge about Kettlebell Sport and its training methodologies, Gregor Sobocan jumps to mind. Not only has he written a book about the training methods for Kettlebell Sport, but he has tried and tested numerous protocols of training on himself. Some of his workouts seem so masochistic, I'm not sure I would ever want to train with him (oh, who am I kidding, I'm totally masochistic too!). Despite all the crazy training, Gregor has achieved great results in competition, earning him the title of Master of Sport International Class. What I find more intriguing than his personal success in the sport, however, is that he has coached multiple athletes to Master of Sport and MSIC level as well. Learn more about Gregor in the interview below! 

1. What is your athletic background? I was a professional handball player for 10 years, and competed in the junior and youth divisions for six years before I  became a professional. Being a handball player is where I got all my background, discipline and dedication.

2. How did you find Kettlebell Sport? In 2003, I joined a handball club that had a strength and conditioning coach. He was great for endurance, but I didn't agree with him on strength and power training. So I started searching for something extra. Since I am not a fan of the Western approach to strength training, I started looking for an Eastern approach. I found kettlebells, starting with the Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC), then going to the World Kettlebell Club (WKC). Everything else is history.

3. What are your best results and who is your coach?  My coach is Anton Anasenko, but I am 35 now, have two kids, and run my own gym, so he is more of a mentor to me. He gives me advice rather than coaching. When I want to get ready to lift 32kg kettlebells, that's when I follow his plan 100% if possible. The other ten months of the year I just improvise. I have enough knowledge and experience to stay in shape.

Personal records: Jerk 2x32kg 120 reps Jerk 2x28kg 139 reps Jerk 2x24kg 175 reps

Snatch 32kg 164 reps
Snatch 30kg 201 reps (in training)
Snatch 28kg 213 reps (in training)
Snatch 24kg 241 reps
Long Cycle 2x32kg 66 reps Long Cycle 2x28kg 87 reps (in training)
Long Cycle 2x26kg 91 reps

Long Cycle 2x24kg 96 reps

4. What is your biggest strength when it comes to kettlebell lifting? What sets you apart from other lifters?  I am used to pressure of competition, which I learned from my experience with handball. I was a professional athlete paid to compete, and the coaches in former Yugoslavia were tough. So, when I get on the platform to lift kettlebells, I just have fun. I believe competition is a reward for hard training. Competitions are meant for winning, not competing. Now, don't get me wrong here... winning doesn't mean doing more reps than the people next to you. Winning means doing more reps than your previous competition, showing better technique, and lifting heavier kettlebells. I think that makes a huge difference to my mentality on the platform. Some people use training as their test, but I think that is okay only for beginners.

5. Why do you enjoy lifting? What is the best part for you? I have always been involved in lifting weights and running. I love both of them, but could never really decide which one I like more. With kettlebells I have it all, strength and endurance, and for GPP I can run or lift barbells. Kettlebell athletes need almost all components of fitness: flexibility, strength, endurance, precision, stamina, power and mental toughness. Kettlebell lifting strengthens you inside and out!

6. You are known for doing a lot of crazy workouts! What is your personal fitness philosophy? How does it differ from the fitness philosophy you have for your athletes? Yeah, I was always a bit crazy, and I can't stick to a fixed routine. For me, it is important that I understand why I am doing something. I don't like to just look at the program and do it. Maybe my numbers would be higher if I had done that, but I wouldn't have developed the knowledge I have now.

My philosophy is well-known to my athletes: enjoy the path you are on and you will see the progress in the long run. When I learned about conjugate training systems, I knew that was the answer. Anton Anasenko played a huge role here, since he was the first one who introduced me to conjugate training systems. He invited me to Omsk Sport University, where I had a chance to work with some great coaches (Kettlebell Sport, Track and Field, Powerlifting, Olympic lifting), as well as doctors and scientists.

Another big step I took was attend the Ketacadamy Sport camp in St. Petersburg this year, where I had a chance to learn from some of the top lifters and coaches in Kettlebell Sport: Sergey Merkulin, Sergey Rachinsky, Aleksander Kvostov, Ivan Denisov, and Denis Vasilev.

7. When and how did you start coaching kettlebells? I started coaching in 2008, when I opened my first training facility with a few friends. Later I opened my own kettlebell center, where I focus on Kettlebell Sport and kettlebell fitness. Through training my clients with kettlebells, I can pick talented and motivated people out of the group and suggest they get involved in sport. Most of my clients combine group and sport training, but I have a few athletes who are focused only on sport.

8. What are your students' best results? My sister Tajda has a World Record of 104 reps in One Arm Long Cycle (OALC) with 24kg in the under 53kg weight category. Aleš Muhovec has done 107 Jerks with 2x32kg. Toni Tomažič just broke the Slovenian National Record with 100 reps of 2x24kg Long Cycle. My online student Lene H. Olsen recently did 239 reps in 16kg Snatch.

9. How do you decide whether a student can increase their competition weight?  I have numbers they have to reach. In Long Cycle they must do at least 80 reps, in Jerk at least 100, in Snatch at least 160. Lately I am making these numbers even higher.

10. What are the most important aspects of being a good coach and getting results  from your students?  I think it depends on the level of athlete you are training. At first, the most important aspect is to learn good technique. Once an athlete has good technique, I put him/her in a system. I have 10-15 athletes in the gym, so I put them together with a "homework assignment". That way, they can compete against each other in training. The higher the level of the athlete, the more important motivation becomes. When they train together, my athletes push each other and themselves to higher levels. I like to join some times, if they let me!

11. How much time do you spend coaching technique versus coaching mindset?  Sometimes I think I should give more attention to technique, but then again, my athletes are doing great numbers. I have always believed the coach should give direction, and the athlete should find the technique that fits him/ her. I know some people may disagree, but who says there is a perfect technique? There are so many different body types, biomechanics, compositions... I don't think any two athletes should have the same technique. I work a lot on mindset. I put pressure on my athletes, surprise them with mini competitions and tests, give them high volume and high intensity trainings, and sometimes "forget" to write a training and let them pick one. Truth is, almost all of my athletes are stronger and faster than me, and have more endurance.

12. Why do you enjoy coaching? What is the best part for you? Coaching is a special challenge for me. I have always been interested in periodization, and with kettlebells there are so many options. Online training is a little harder, since I don't get to see the athletes in person, but they are still doing good. I am very analytical and kind of a control freak, who wants feedback from my students. I love playing with numbers, and training programs allow me to do exactly that. Athletes need to have a good plan, but a coach also needs to confuse and motivate them. Kettlebell Sport training gives a well-educated coach countless options to do just that.

13. Do you think a lifter NEEDS a coach to be good? Please explain. At first, absolutely. Once an athlete gets to CMS level, he/she can start thinking on his/her own. When he/she gets to MS level, the athlete is experienced enough to know how to put things together. I think one should never settle with the knowledge he/she possesses, and always strive to learn more. So an athlete needs a mentor at least.

14. It takes a long time to develop proper technique and conditioning for Kettlebell Sport. How do you keep yourself or your athletes motivated when the ultimate goal is often so far into the future? I never set a goal too far in the future, for me or my athletes. We go step by step. Of course there are some people that come to me with a goal of becoming Master of Sport. I am excited about that, but I try to persuade them to start at the bottom. That doesn't mean MS is not achievable within six months or a year, depending on the person's athletic background.  Some people will start with 16kg, reach 10 minutes easily, and go on to 20, 24... then get stuck at 28kg. And other people will get stuck at 16kg, and move more easily through the heavier weights when they get there.

15. Is there anything in particular about your coaching or lifting philosophy that you think is different from other kettlebell coaches? In the off season I like to "play" with trainings. I have 30 trainings, which are all VERY challenging, and not really meant to be done in any particular order. Almost like CrossFit, except the trainings are done with two kettlebells. And the idea is that every time an athlete does one of those trainings, he must set a new personal record. Some of the trainings are more endurance, some develop the VO2 max, and others are just mental f#$cks!

16. Is Kettlebell Sport a strength or endurance sport?  You need strength, but it should be trained as endurance sport; similar to running 2 miles. Same energy systems, with a little more neuromuscular activation. Kettlebell Sport is a cyclic power-endurance sport; rowing is the closest parallel.

17. Do you have any tips for lifters out there who are coaching themselves?  An athlete needs to at least have a mentor, depending on what level the athlete is at. I define an athlete in Kettlebell Sport as a person with at least a CMS rank. Only then we can discuss "training". Before achieving CMS, lifting is more "working out" than training.

18. What does a typical day in the life of Gregor Sobocan look like? I know people think I just eat, train, sleep and repeat. I wish I could! Mon - Wed - Fri: I wake up at 5:30, take a cold shower (Wim Hoff method), eat breakfast, and teach class from 6:15 - 7:15. I train from 7:30 to 8:30, then I have another class at 10:00 and maybe a private meeting. Then I work on programming for online athletes, write articles, study (I like to read different coaching material). At 15:00 I pick up my kids from kindergarten and play with them. In the evening I try to go for a run if I am done with work.

Tues - Thurs: I take my kids to kindergarten at 8:00, train from 8:30 - 10:00, have class and personal meetings, then have some time off. On these two days I work the afternoon shift from 16:30 - 21:00. Usually I just crash into bed in the evening. On the weekend (if I don't have seminars to teach) I try to spend as much time with my family as possible. I am lucky that my wife is also crazy about training so we train together if the kids are with their grandparents.

19. What does the future of Kettlebell Sport look like? It is VERY hard to say. I think at the moment rules are too flexible. Not rules about fixation, but the rules about how many weight classes there are and what kettlebells to use at competitions. A few coaches (me, Sergey Rachinsky, Ivan Denisov) tried to use a coefficient, but it favors lighter lifters, and would not be as interesting for spectators. Denisov had the idea of using different kettlebell weights (32, 34 and 36kg), but he is only one person advocating for that. I will not even state my opinion here, since we just had an argument in Slovenia about it.

We follow the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting (IUKL) rules in Slovenia for now, but eventually I think we will need to set overall rules and stick to them. There are many lifters outside of Russia now, and we have a big enough sample to see what is going on: what weights are appropriate for men and women, and what disciplines work best. I would not change time interval for the sport; 10 minutes is perfect in my opinion.

20. What is the biggest misconception about Kettlebell Sport training? That you should lift heavier kettlebells in training to make them feel lighter in a competition. I used to believe this, and my numbers with competitive weight went down when I trained that way. People are too impatient; they want to get to heavier kettlebells before developing a good base. Then they start working more on GPP, and all the sudden they are doing CrossFit!

Gregor Sobocan is a gym owner, Master of Sport International Class (MSIC), and Ketacademy Master Coach* based in Slovenia. He is the head of the Elite Girevoy Sport Association (EGSA). He has coached 2 MSIC athletes, 3 Master of Sport (MS) athletes, and more than 20 Candidate for Master of Sport (CMS) athletes. 

*Being a Master Coach requires having a Ketacademy Level 3 instructor certification, along with either holding a Master of Sport International Class (MSIC) title yourself, or having a MSIC student.