“Yesterday I had the pleasure of being welcomed into the home of one of the first people I met in our weird niche sport, for a cup of coffee, a workout, and some much-needed conversation. He introduced himself to me immediately after my jerk set at Crazy Monkey in 2018. This was the first time I had ever competed. He told me that my set was an inspiration to watch. My own insecurity had me internally trying to figure out if he was mocking me. Here’s one of the biggest guys in the room, who lifted 32kgs that day telling me, a noob who was throwing literally half the weigh he threw, that I inspired him. Come to find out, he was being absolutely genuine. He is one of the kindest humans I now have the pleasure of knowing. He and I got to chat about how bizarre our sport is and how kettlebell sport has taught us both patience, discipline, and empathy, and how to be all-around better humans. We talked about how it was our ballast during some extremely dark storms as well. Our excitement for the sport compounded as we talked about how to make it more inclusive and inviting to all folks out there. We want everyone to be able to join this community and see how girevoy sport will increase not only one’s muscular and cardio abilities, but, also makes us more balanced and well-rounded humans at the same time.”
Without further ado allow me to present to you…
Name: Chris Hoover
AKA: The Belt Master
Weight: 93-95 kg
Specialty: Kettlebell Sport and Kettlebell Sport belt maker
Discipline: Long Cycle
Rank: Candidate for Master of Sport (CMS)
Personal Best in 10 minutes:
16 kg bells-125 reps
20 kg bells-120 reps
24 kg bells-102 reps
28 kg bells-71 reps
32 kg bells-50 reps
Goals for 2019: Achieve Master of Sport (MS)
Update: “Though I did not hit the numbers on the platform, today I hit MS in training.”
Ketacademy ranking table
TALC Half Marathon w/20 kg bells
201 reps in 25:46
3 time US record holder in 95 kg weight class
Completed 1 hour of TALC under the 20 kg bells
Coach of the Astoria Kettlebell Club at CrossFit 1811 in Astoria, Oregon
“repetition integrity on the platform is far more important than high numbers achieved during a set”
Read on or jump straight to:
- The Kettlebell-Tool for Building Mindful Resiliency
- The Platform-Winning the Battle Between Your Ears
- Kettlebell Sport Belt Making
- Astoria Kettlebell Club-Astoria, Oregon
Coach/Influences: I train at CrossFit 1811 in Astoria, Oregon under the direction of head coach David Wray. Coach Wray is a close friend and he introduced me to CrossFit years ago before I started training in kettlebell sport. I am also an avid garage gym enthusiast. Several individuals have had a significant positive impact on my kettlebell sport lifting/technique: Adrian Cowens-Seattle Kettlebell Club, Saiko Shima-Kolesar-Crazy Monkey USA, and Tom Corrigan. When I started competing in kettlebell sport, my mobility and technique were poor. Through the help of these individuals, I have made significant improvements in these areas. Adrian Cowens has taught me that repetition integrity on the platform is far more important than high numbers achieved during a set. I now attempt to instill this same principle in my athletes at the Astoria Kettlebell Club.
It was my dad that introduced me to the disciplines of wrestling and “the Iron.” I owe him a thank you because I likely would not have embraced the lessons learned from these activities out of my own volition. The virtues gained in those activities provided a foundation for me before I found kettlebell sport. Context is important in any story, so I will attempt to provide just enough. I grew up in the mid-western United States around Peru, Indiana (3 hours southeast of Chicago). Peru, Indiana takes pride in being known as the Circus Capital of the World and has been home to the Peru Amateur Circus since 1960. My grandfather was one of the founders of the circus in Peru, and the circus has been a family tradition for four generations. My parents were in the flying trapeze together, and my mother was one of the first women to successfully complete a double somersault on the flying trapeze. Although I did not delve into circus performing myself, hard work was instilled in me at a young age. I grew up bailing hay, working on farms, wrestling, playing football, and weightlifting. I did not feel like I possessed the innate talent of my family and friends with regard to sports, circus, and general physical activity. I was the skinny, quiet, awkward kid. I have wrestled with the angst of my mediocrity for a good portion of my life. The weight room was where I retreated when life became overwhelming, and I started lifting faithfully with a barbell at the age of 14. I had grown to relate to the words of Henry Rollins in an article he wrote named, “Iron and the Soul”. Rollins wrote, “The Iron never lies to you. The Iron always kicks you the real deal. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. Friends may come and go, but two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”
I grew up not far from where the underdog movies Hoosiers and Rudy were filmed. I have always loved underdog stories because my experience resonated with the themes of poverty, bullying, and struggling to meet educational benchmarks. As a child, my greatest influences came from the quiet strength of my grandmothers. They spoke compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and kindness into my life. To this day, I believe humility and kindness is the answer to most of the problems we face, and this basic presupposition came from the strong women in my life and my faith. There have been times, recently and not so recently, where I have felt it necessary to take a stand to the opposite of these tenets. In my life, I have had little tolerance for bullying, slander, negativity, and mean-spirited conduct toward others.
After high school, I lacked professional direction and had a serious case of wanderlust. I spent one year at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana trying to navigate my newly found freedom with attempts at balancing school, friends, weightlifting, and a lifeguarding job. I was pretty confused about the direction of my future after one year at a party college, so I took a lifeguarding job on the east coast where I could pursue my passion for surfing. I had a couple of close calls surfing on the east coast from the hurricane swell, night surfing, and encounters with a species my friends and I respectfully named “the men in gray suits – (sharks)”. Three days before Hurricane Bonnie was targeted to make landfall, I was surfing alone approximately 100 yards past the end of a pier in Atlantic Beach. A thick double overhead set came through and I attempted to make the drop on the last wave but was thrown over the falls. In summary, I was pitched deep below the surface and my board was left tombstoning at the surface for what felt like an eternity. I eventually was able to climb my leash back to the surface before passing out. I almost drowned that day. After one year of surfing the coast of Carolina and surviving Hurricane Bonnie, I spent one-year fly fishing in the beautiful mountains of Utah before returning to Indiana to pursue my four-year degree. Having spent the last three years making poor choices and traveling with little direction, I was finally motivated to devote myself fully to learning how to study. I tackled college in 2.5 years by taking 18 to 24 credit hours per semester while working full time. It was an achievement for me to complete my Bachelor’s degree with a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology.
Since childhood I’ve had a passion for Native American heritage (specifically the Oglala Lakota [Sioux] nation), so I accepted a job on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota upon graduation from college. Before moving to South Dakota I married the love of my life, and she graciously committed to going with me to live on the reservation.
At the time, the Pine Ridge Reservation made up some of the poorest counties in the United States. I used to drive by the location of the Wounded Knee Massacre (that took place in 1890) and this experience was seated as a conviction in my mind of our nation’s responsibility for inflicting generational trauma on non-white people groups. I started to pay close attention and became passionate about the subject of how trauma impacts the human brain and how this shapes our experiences. I worked in elementary/middle schools where generational poverty, gang violence, domestic violence, and substance dependence affected high rates of the population. These factors significantly impacted the students and their ability to learn and retain information in the classroom, not to mention the social impact on families and whole communities. I served primarily as a school counselor. One fun fact is that I additionally served as athletic director during my last year on the reservation and I was able to introduce full-contact football to one of the schools. I went to a high school where people lived and breathed football and our stadium was affectionately called “Death Valley,” so it warmed my heart to take a little “Death Valley” football to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
My personal weight training continued at a small gym where I would continue to shake hands with the weight during the three years spent on the reservation while balancing married life, full-time graduate school, and full-time employment. I completed graduate school at South Dakota State University in Rapid City, South Dakota earning a degree in Counseling and Human Resource Development. (This degree still serves me daily.) Words cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel for the people and my experience there, and the beauty of the prairie, Badlands, and the Black Hills are unrivaled. I think the people of Pine Ridge had a far greater impact on me than I ever did on them. One of my most vivid memories of my time on the reservation was sitting at the kitchen table of Russell Means (American Indian Activist and Actor) in Porcupine, South Dakota and having a conversation about the generational trauma of his people. Russell was one of the main actors in the film Last of the Mohicans, but may have been more known for his involvement in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and occupations at Alcatraz and Wounded Knee. He was a great orator and truly polarizing individual who had an impact on my worldview.
After finishing up my Master’s degree, I took an internship at a local community mental health agency in Astoria, Oregon and we relocated to the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I continued to train (mostly in powerlifting) and was surfing about 20 hours a week. I started shaping and glassing my own longboards and made boards for friends and acquaintances. Surfing the Pacific Northwest is breathtaking and not for the faint of heart. “The men in gray suits” are a lot bigger and so is the swell, especially in the winter. I remember surfing a thick southwest swell one winter, alone, and again was thrown over the falls of a double overhead wave. My past experience had taught me to climb my leash back to the surface, except this time, I had a surprise waiting. When I finally made it to the surface, I took eight more double overhead (cold) waves on the head, one after the other, before catching whitewater safely to the shore. That was my second close call with drowning. I had reached an obvious conclusion—I had better stick with weightlifting.
The Kettlebell-Tool for Building Mindful Resiliency
The best experiences of my life were when my two children were born. As many people know, having children dramatically changes the priorities, lifestyle, and outlook on life. After our first child was born, my training fell off and I was having debilitating back pain. I was diagnosed with a significant herniated disc in my lower back that required surgery. After this diagnosis, I started working with the kettlebell almost daily. I have been able to put off surgery for almost 10 years because of my kettlebell training.
It was in 2008 that I discovered the kettlebell and consumed every book I could find written by Pavel Tsatsouline. After my diagnosis, I knew the kettlebell was the answer to the problem I was facing. In a world of information overload, technology, social media, and virtual reality, I long for being taken back to the basics (and to the 1980s). I long for simplicity and functionality in daily life and I believe the kettlebell provides me most of what I need to stay physically healthy and fit. I take kettlebells with me just about everywhere and prefer to train outdoors in nature, rain or shine, preferably barefoot. I found kettlebell sport in 2015, and kettlebell sport did more for me than make me physically stronger. Kettlebell sport is about bringing the best version of yourself each day, whether it be in training or in competition, and choosing to lift with your whole heart even when your arms feel like they can no longer perform. The diversity, positivity, and dynamic expression of the athletes that comprise kettlebell sport creates an atmosphere of inclusion and camaraderie rarely found in any other context of life. I am going to propose that the kettlebell is more than a fitness tool, and kettlebell sport is more than a competition. Kettlebell sport is the martial art for survivors, pacifists, and peacemakers.
I transitioned in my career from counseling to law enforcement, and I have worked my entire career to merge the two disciplines. Combining my counseling and law enforcement experience has assisted me in advocating for survivors of domestic violence–one of my greatest passions. Domestic violence is much more than physical violence. Long after the bones and bruises heal, the words from those experiences continue to play as tapes in the minds of survivors. These “mental tapes” cause significant impairment in daily functioning and leave victims attempting to navigate life with a variety of debilitating symptoms. I have learned over the years that talk therapy isn’t for everyone and that this approach alone has its shortcomings with individuals diagnosed with features of posttraumatic stress. It becomes pertinent to utilize therapeutic approaches that are beneficial, and that have a substantial backing of empirical evidence to suggest that the approach actually works (especially with people who have experienced trauma).
There is a growing body of research on the effectiveness of mindfulness practice and meditation having a significant positive impact on brain function. We know through brain scans that brain function in individuals that have experienced trauma and have symptoms of depression have a smaller hippocampus and decreased/damaged activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). People with damage to the anterior cingulate cortex show symptoms of impulsivity, unchecked aggression, and patterns of ineffective problem-solving capacity. In brief, folks with unresolved trauma, depression, and anxiety have increased activity in the fight/flight response part of their brain and decreased activity in the reason/decision making part of their brain. Research tells us that individuals that participate in a regular mindfulness/meditation practice increase frontal lobe activity, increase hippocampus size, and decrease activity in the brain where fight or flight responses occur. Neuroscientists have shown through the use of brain scans that a regular practice of mindfulness/meditation has a positive effect on the areas of the brain that make up perception, awareness, emotional regulation, and complex thinking and decision making. What are the activities or components that make up mindfulness or meditation practice? The key components are simple and they include being present in the moment, focusing on breath (the avoidance of shallow/panic breathing), and completing the exercise in a nonjudgmental context. What are the components of the hardstyle kettlebell lifting and kettlebell sport? Lifting the weight present in the moment (focusing on form and technique), paying attention to breath and avoiding shallow/panic breathing, and usually training or competing in a supportive nonjudgmental context. Kettlebell sport also provides the benefits of weight training and endurance sport – all combined into one activity. In conclusion, kettlebell sport changes the brain, and a kettlebell is an effective tool for building mindful resiliency.
The Platform-Winning the Battle Between Your Ears
There was a period in my life where loss was the general theme. I had a grandparent pass away, a beloved coach/mentor die in a plane crash, and a friend that was shot and killed in the line of duty all within a matter of months. As a result of these experiences, I noticed I had heightened levels of anxiety, sleep disruption, and irritability. I was looking for a healthy way to cope. Kettlebell sport intrigued me greatly, so I ordered a set of 24 kg competition kettlebells to begin my training – specifically in long cycle. Around that same time, I found videos on kettlebell sport. I remember the first time I tried long cycle under the 24 kg bells; all I had was 20 reps. I had been powerlifting most of my life, completed a squat everyday program for a year, and did a stint in CrossFit. All of these were valuable, but no training regimen helped my mental focus like long cycle. As time went on, it was not uncommon for me to complete a 30-minute long cycle sets alone in my garage during that period of healing. I noticed that when I trained long cycle daily, focused on my technique and breathing, and trained alone in my garage in a nonjudgmental environment my outlook began to shift, and I felt relief from the struggle.
Many people can likely relate to having their minds replay narratives from their past which evoke self-doubt, insecurity, and false negativity. Overcoming trials in life help break the chains of those past themes and self-perceptions, and kettlebell sport provides fertile ground for surmounting all kinds of mental strife. It is not uncommon for me to struggle with my own challenges before stepping on the platform and those closest to me know how unpleasant that can sometimes be. Stepping on the platform is a great confrontation with those challenges, mental tapes, and past narratives. It has been my observation that human beings don’t grow, thrive, and gain mental fortitude when they are comfortable. Quite the contrary – people change for the better when they make themselves uncomfortable, and growth happens when they struggle against adversity. This is an interesting paradox when we live in a world that is all about seeking higher levels of convenience and comfort. For me, the competition is not about lifting against the person standing next to me. Kettlebell sport is about winning the battle between your ears.
In addition to striving against inner discord during competitions, I have found that if I choose to lift for a cause bigger than myself, then it gives me a purpose to dig deeper, strive longer, and fight harder. There are times when I inwardly dedicate my lift to a particular individual and give my all for their sake.
Start your own kettlebell training journey today.
- 21-Days to Kettlebell Training for Beginners Video
- Kettlebell Training Fundamentals Ebook
- Kettlebell Training Books
Kettlebell Sport Belt Making
I have always enjoyed working with my hands and have gone through phases of artisanship making bamboo fly fishing rods, wood turned lamps, and pottery. My work with clay helped me eventually transition into working with leather because clay has a leather-hard phase when trimming must occur to fully finish a piece. Having a kettlebell sport belt that fits properly seemed like an important accessory to my lifting given the diagnosis of a herniated disc in my lower back. Developing my rack position took a lot of time and hours under the bells. As many long cyclists know, everyone has a unique kettlebell rack position based upon gender, body type, skeletal structure, elbow to hip connection, and for me, simply to avoid pain. Investing in the process of constructing a belt that was made specifically for me seemed like a choice that would promote longevity in the sport. I also have a tendency toward nostalgia so making my own belt for long cycle sets felt like a fulfilling endeavor. I made a trip to a saddle shop and sat down with a saddle maker to explain my project objectives. I knew that I wanted to use a durable leather that would last a lifetime and would patina nicely with use. I settled on experimenting with two different types of vegetable tanned leather: bridal and harness. I also knew that I wanted to avoid the use of adhesives so the belts would begin to take the shape of their owners much faster. Given the heavy use of a kettlebell sport belt, I opted for copper rivets to bind the leather over saddle stitching – this added durability. Copper also patinas nicely over time. The combination of leathers I chose with the copper rivets provided a look that I liked, the strength of old school craftsmanship, and most importantly, function. I never expected to start making belts for others, however, I have been fortunate to craft leather for some amazing athletes that comprise this sport. I will continue to make belts for athletes with the intention of keeping it a small operation. Should you have an interest in a belt, my email address is [email protected] and I would be happy to send you more information.
Astoria Kettlebell Club-Astoria, Oregon
The “country” part of me likes to have my kettlebell club members do long cycle burpees (a movement hated by most people) to the song “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” by Travis Tritt. The fact that we are alive and able to move (even when doing burpees) is really a gift. Some mornings, the folks in the kettlebell club may beg to differ. Our kettlebell club was officially started in 2018, however, some of the folks in the group have been working out and training together for years.
It has been stated that successful programs and teams must be comprised of individuals working hard and working together without anyone caring about who gets the credit. This statement best describes the individuals that make up the Astoria Kettlebell Club. It is with much love that I call our kettlebell club a motley crew of kettlebell lifters because the individuals that make up our club have such diverse backgrounds. Our core kettlebell club members include a CrossFit box owner/coach, an accountant, a Marine “Gunny”, a restaurant manager, a certified alcohol and drug counselor, law enforcement officers/staff, a 15-year-old track star, and court workers in various capacities. Despite our differences, we have one thing in common – we are all survivors. Coaching “the Goonies” has been a fulfilling experience.
In May of 2019, Astoria Kettlebell Club, CrossFit 1811, and CrossFit St. Helens chose to work together for a meaningful cause to raise money and awareness for a local program that assists individuals recovering from drug addiction. The program is called PowerCLEAN. It was originally started by CrossFit games athlete Carleen Mathews in St. Helens, Oregon. Carleen’s vision for the program was to provide CrossFit, coaching, and mentorship to individuals recovering from drug addiction. Participants in the program only need 48 hours of sobriety to attend, and it is offered at no cost to partakers. PowerCLEAN uniquely fills the gaps of traditional treatment approaches. David Wray, the owner of CrossFit 1811, embraced Carleen’s vision and he started a PowerCLEAN program in Astoria, Oregon. When the day arrived, the community as a whole gathered for the event. Folks that participated included the recovery community, CrossFit athletes, kettlebell athletes, community leaders, and even people that were still struggling with the disease of addiction. The kettlebell club completed one-hour long cycle (without putting the bells down), and the CrossFit athletes completed burpees for an entire hour. Community members sponsored the athletes who lifted (or completed burpees) in remembrance of someone that had lost the battle to addiction or lifted in honor of someone who was currently fighting the battle of addiction. We suffered together for one hour while the respective stories of the athletes were read aloud to the observers. The personal stories that were read aloud during the event discussed how addiction had impacted that specific athlete’s life and the person they were choosing to honor. As an example, one individual lifted in honor of his mother who had lost her life in a DUII related accident. The event was emotional and inspiring. I couldn’t be more proud of the individuals that supported this cause and made the community a better place through strength, perseverance, goodwill, and kettlebell sport. If you are going to lift, it may as well be done to encourage, support, strengthen, and inspire someone, or a group of people, or a community in need.
Astoria, Oregon has a rich Finnish culture and there is a unique Finnish concept called Sisu which means stoic determination, endurance, perseverance, the tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, and resilience. This word typifies the Finnish spirit of strength. Kettlebell sport embodies this same spirit and forges Sisu in the inner being of the lifter. It seems quite appropriate to me that one of the first kettlebell sport clubs in Oregon would be started in Astoria where the roots of Sisu run deep.