Kettlebell Sport Spectating 101

Photo by Alan Calero
Photo by Alan Calero

As I heard it described at AKA Nationals 2015, watching a Kettlebell Sport competition can be "like watching paint dry, until the last few minutes"; at least for those who are not fully immersed in the land of kettle.

If you understand what the competition is all about and the incredible feats of strength that are on display, however, spectating the competition becomes much more interesting.

Here's what you need to know as a Kettlebell Sport spectator: 

  • The objective of the competition is to do as many repetitions as possible in 10 minutes, either without putting the kettlebell down or with only one switch.
  • If you drop the kettlebell(s), you will not be disqualified, but your set is over.
  • Athletes compete against other lifters in their event, weight class and kettlebell weight (this is why the awards ceremony takes forever... there are tons of categories).
  • Judges count all repetitions in which "fixation" is achieved. Fixation = athlete and kettlebell are frozen for a split second when the kettlebell is in the overhead position, during which the knees and elbows must be locked out.
  • Competition events: Biathlon, Long Cycle, and Snatch.
  • At a traditional competition, women compete with one kettlebell and men compete with two kettlebells (except for Snatch). However, there are some competitions which now allow women to use two kettlebells and men to use one.
  • Long Cycle = Swing the kettlebells up to rest them on the body in the rack position, then push them overhead. Do it again and again and again for 10 minutes.
  • Snatch = Swing the kettlebell from between the legs to over the head in one fell swoop. Drop the bell back down into the swing and repeat for 10 minutes.
  • Biathlon = Bring the kettlebells from the rack position to over your head for 10 minutes (called the Jerk). Rest for 1-2 hours. Complete a 10 minute Snatch set.
  • Scoring: For Long Cycle and Snatch, each repetition = 1 point and highest points wins. For Biathlon for men, Jerk = 1 point and Snatch = 0.5 point; combine the two numbers for a total score. For Biathlon for women, Jerk = 1 point and Snatch = 1 point; combine the two numbers for a total score.
  • Current national record holders can be found here.
  • If you're watching single bell events, the exciting part (read: possible kettlebell dropping) comes at the 5th and 10th minutes. For double bells, you don't want to miss the last 2-3 minutes - it's when you find out what the lifters are really made of.
  • Like math? Calculate how much weight the athlete lifting two 32kg kettlebells is lifting in 10 minutes (2 x 32kg x number of repetitions = wow that guy is amazingly strong). Oh and 1kg = 2.2lbs.
  • One of the coolest parts about watching people lift kettlebells is how everyone has their own unique style - none of which is right or wrong per say, just depends on their body type, flexibility, coach, and level of experience.
  • No, you can't wear gloves when lifting kettlebells. It actually makes lifting harder.
  • If someone bleeds on the platform, it's really not that big of a deal.

There are several main organizations in the United States that run Kettlebell Sport events, each one with their own specific rules, regulations, and rankings:

- American Kettlebell Alliance (AKA) - Orange Kettlebell Club  (OKC) - International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF) - International Kettlebell Lifting Federation (IKLF)

The AKA and OKC often have livestream for their events, which can be found here:

AKA livestream

OKC livestream

Do you have anything to add to this list? What is your favorite part of spectating a Kettlebell Sport competition?