A half-dozen fit, determined-looking women, each holding a 53-pound kettlebell in one hand, stand side by side under the watchful eye of a panel of judges. In one powerful motion, each athlete swings her kettlebell from knee to shoulder height, pauses, explosively presses it overhead, and lowers it back to the starting position.
Then, without resting or putting the weight down, she does it again. And again. For 10 minutes. Then the men go, holding a 70-pound kettlebell in each hand.
Welcome to girevoy (GEAR-uh-voy), or kettlebell sport: a grueling test of strength, stamina and all-around toughness that began in Russia in 1948 as a spin-off from training methods originally used to get Russian soldiers into battle-ready condition in a hurry.
In recent years, girevoy-style training has picked up steam among both male and female fitness enthusiasts, not just at formal competitions, but also at regular gyms. And their results have been impressive. “If you’re trying to look better, feel better and move better, there’s no faster way than kettlebells,” says David Whitley, a Master Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) instructor in Nashville, Tenn.
“Girevoy training builds strength and endurance at the same time, so it doesn’t make you big and bulky, but rather lean and athletic,” says Maya Garcia, cofounder of Ice Chamber, a San Francisco Bay Area training facility, and a nine-time gold medalist in girevoy. “Plus, the workouts require very little time, space or equipment.”
The focus of this workout is to improve “work capacity,” or the ability to generate force within a set time period. As in competition, you’ll be pitted against the clock, trying to squeeze as many good-form reps as possible into a limited time frame. Even if you have to rest during the set, you’re still on the clock until time runs out.
This approach not only creates an intense cardio challenge, but also gives you a clear benchmark to beat the next time you do the workout: If you did 40 reps in six minutes today, for example, shoot for 45 next time.
Throw this workout into your routine in lieu of a full-body strength or cardio session, and expect to feel and see some pretty major changes in short order.
The Girevoy Workout
The warm-up is structured to gradually prepare you for an all-out six- to 10-minute effort in the clean and jerk, one of girevoy’s competitive lifts. During the warm-up, focus on precise movements.
- Assume a pushup position on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart and feet hip-width apart, creating a straight line between your heels and the top of your head (not pictured).
- Keeping your legs and arms straight and back flat, raise your hips as high as possible in the air, driving your heels and your chest toward the floor. Pause and take a couple of deep breaths.
- Bend your elbows and swoop your head and chest forward and down toward the floor.
- Slowly straighten your arms, moving your hips close to the floor, and arch your upper back. Draw your shoulders down and away from your ears and pause again.
- Reverse the movement, returning to the hips-high posture. That’s one rep.
Perform: Two or three sets of eight slow, controlled reps.
- Stand facing an exercise bench, a barbell in a sturdy rack, or other elevated surface.
- Place your hands on the bench, slightly wider than shoulder width, and step back, trying to create a straight line between your heels and the top of your head.
- Keeping your back in its natural arch, your body in a straight line, and your elbows into your sides, inhale and lower your chest until it touches the bench, squeezing your shoulder blades at the bottom of the movement.
- Exhale as you slowly reverse the movement, pushing off the bench and returning to the starting position.
Perform: Two or three sets of eight slow, controlled reps.
- Assume an athletic stance, holding the kettlebell in your left hand, and bring the kettlebell to chest level.
- Keeping your left elbow tucked into your side, smoothly press the kettlebell overhead, finishing the movement with your left hand positioned directly over your left shoulder.
- Reverse the movement, lowering the kettlebell under control to shoulder height, and repeat.
Perform: One minute per side.
One-Arm Long Cycle Clean and Jerk
Here’s your shot at girevoy glory! This workout is a tough-and-technical six- to 10-minute challenge. Try not to put the kettlebell down for the full time period, and work up to switching hands just once — at the halfway mark — during the workout.
Perform: One set, six to 10 minutes long, changing hands as frequently as once every minute, working up to just one hand-switch total.
- Assume a shoulder-width stance, feet parallel.
- Bending from the hips, reach forward with your left hand, taking an overhand grip on a kettlebell on the floor in front of you.
- Keeping your lower back in its natural arch and your eyes looking straight ahead, exhale and swing the kettlebell all the way back between your legs.
The Forward Swing:
- Forcefully drive your hips forward, simultaneously swinging the kettlebell forward and up, allowing your left arm to bend — palm down, elbow in tight — as the kettlebell rises in front of you.
- As the kettlebell reaches chest height, quickly turn your left hand into the thumb-up position so that the kettlebell rotates to the outside of your left upper arm and forearm. This is called the rack position.
- With the kettlebell still in the rack position, dip your body down slightly, as if preparing to jump.
The Overhead Catch:
- As the kettlebell rises, straighten your legs slightly, but then quickly rebend your legs into a quarter- to a half-squat position and lock out your left arm above your head.
- With the kettlebell still overhead, straighten your legs under control, rising into a full standing position.
- Lower the bell under control, first to the rack position, and then back to the starting position. Repeat.
Andrew Heffernan is a contributing editor at Experience Life.