Kettlebell Sport—All the Questions You’ve Been Afraid to Ask

I love kettlebell sport, I love watching it, I know the people that compete are absolute beasts, they lift those heavy bells hundreds of times within a period of 10 minutes, and even more impressive is that they don’t put the weights down during that time! Kettlebell sport is almost like the CrossFit Games, I said ‘almost’, the specifics of that are enough for another article. I bet you though, one of these days we’ll see 10 minute long cycle in the games, mark my words.

Valerie Pawlowski Kettlebell Sport
Valerie Pawlowski and Hetmanenko Serhiy from Team USA.

I admit, I’m a little scared and unsure whether I can compete or even have a chance, I also don’t know the answer to the many questions I have about kettlebell sport, so I sat down with a 3 times world champion and asked all the questions I could think any newbie would have. Some of them are related to ranking, categories, competitions, cost, coaching, rules and more.

So without further ado, here are the answers from Valerie Pawlowski Master Of Sport, Kettlebell Team USA 3x Gold Medal and World Champion with contribution from Hetmanenko Serhiy, Team USA Coach.


How many ranks are there in kettlebell sport?

There are six ranks in total

What are the ranks in kettlebell sport?

Rank 3, Rank 2, Rank 1, CMS (Candidate Master of Sport), MS (Master of Sport) and MSIC (Master of Sport International Class).


8kg Rank 3, 12 kg Rank 2, 16 kg Rank 1, 20 kg Rank CMS, 24 kg Rank MS and 24 kg MSIC.


24 kg 3, 2, 1; 28 kg CMS, 32 kg MS + MSIC

Kettlebell sport female


What are the categories in kettlebell sport?

The categories are as following:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Junior/Youth
  • Adult
  • Veteran
  • Amateur
  • Professional
  • Weight Class
  • Kettlebell Weight

International has 7 weight class for Male: 63, 68, 73, 78, 85, 95, 95+
*America has 9, there’s 2 additional, 105, 105+

Female: 4 weight class, 58 63 68 68+

Are the requirements for each rank the same across the world?

No, variations exist according to different organizations in regard to the required criteria. Rank designation is the same but requirements and categories can differ.

Stéphane Dauvergne
Stéphane Dauvergne

Is it fairly easy to achieve your first rank within the sport?

I would say “reasonable” to achieve rather than using the term easy. Easy is relative in relationship with how one may perceive every achievement. All achievements I believe require strong work and significant effort with discipline and consistency. It also depends on every individual. Strength, stamina, endurance are all contributing factors. Once the form for good technique develops one may consider efficiency in performing a particular lift becomes “easier”.

What is the easiest to rank in and with, in other words, what is the lowest weight, shortest time someone can rank with?

Lowest weight for rank is female 8 kg which provides Rank 3 and Men 24 kg also for Rank 3.

In the high standard competition, 10 minutes is the total time given to complete a set, aside from half marathon or marathon which are 30 and 60 minutes. The total result in number of repetitions lifted, according to set criteria, awards rank. There are however, some organizations which have decided to offer lower criteria with the variation of less time allotted to complete the set using lighter weight loads to do so.

Through the years rank tables have evolved and been adjusted accordingly with increased capability and achievements thus raising the bar making it more demanding to achieve rank.

Video of Valerie Pawlowski competing in Kettlebell sport.


What factor decides what weight you rank with?

Successful number of repetitions performed and according to your body weight.

Can you rank in any event or are there certain paths one needs to follow?
Yes, Rank may be achieved for any discipline, however, there exists the opportunity for sensible and tactful approaches in following a well developed plan with coaching guidance to find ones strength for one discipline over another.


Oleh Ilika
Oleh Ilika

Tell us a bit about kettlebell sport competitions

Competitions are conducted worldwide. Each organization may generally conduct various local and regional events. There are also major qualifying national and events in many countries and world championship events. On any month throughout the year there could generally be an organization or multiple organizations offering a competition.

Cost may range from a low entry of some local events at $30 USD up to $150 USD also depends upon the number of lifting disciplines performed. When lifting in more than one discipline you pay for each category.

For some local and smaller competitions approximately 10-15 participants could make a competition. it is approximately 2-4 hours in duration of the day for all to lift. With 20 and above 75 this presents a longer full day or may be spread over two days of lifting 5-7 hours All are followed by or include award ceremonies and presentations at the conclusion or within the breaks throughout the day.

Many spectators, supporters, family, friends and their children have attended these events and have come to compete as well. It’s always a great supportive community and atmosphere. So many people find this appealing and remark that is what they look forward to when gathering at kettlebell sport events.

Also a wonderful aspect is attending a dinner outing in celebration with everyone. There have been some events where cookouts are enjoyed.

Do you need to train at a club?

Training for GS or Kettlebell Sport does not require special surroundings or necessarily going to a club for the workout to put in the actual work of performing training sets. This is one of the most convenient aspects of training in kettlebell sport. As long as you’re equipped with Kettlebells, ideally competition style, at the very least, the training can be accomplished anywhere. I have lifted in gyms, at hotels, in the bathroom, dining area, hallway, office and whether it’s indoors or outside, I could efficiently perform my training in order to be sure and complete it on any given day . I have known people who will take a lunch break with Kettlebells out of the trunk of the car and complete their training in a parking garage. The most important thing is be sure the height of the ceiling above allows ample clearance and approximate arms distance in front sides and back of where you stand.

Do you need to be part of a club, pay membership to be able to rank?

No, there is not club or team affiliation required but most clubs and teams tend to be open to everyone. The various countries could have different requirements and that is another consideration from country to country and regions. In the USA there are no restrictions. Forming a new club or team is encouraged and the training support can help create commitment with greater adherence leading to successful goals and rank achievements. Pushing one another and feeding of the energy of a group is a good catalyst for success.

Can you rank online without entering a club/etc?

No, there is not online ranking, an athlete must perform in person during a competition to be judged, awarded their rank and documented.

Does one need a coach to achieve rank?

NO generally up to Rank 3, 2, or 1

However the difficulty and formula for training to achieve the higher ranks of CMS and above a coach is highly recommended for the proper programming with discipline and to give an athlete the push towards achievement.

Does a coach need to achieve rank themselves before they can be a good coach?

Not a requirement, but certainly a consideration when you’re seeking quality and expertise of your coach.

Does everyone have the same style, or is it pretty safe to say that each and every person that achieves great results in the sport develops their own variation/style?

Variations in style do exist i.e. Dip to get under, pace, drop from lockout – but only proper efficient technique yields quality judged reps which will receive a count versus no count.

What are the top styles/variations you see employed for the clean and the snatch?

In my time as a judge one noticeable aspect in clean is with return to rack from the drop of the lifter stops there longer then moves through legs for the next repetition or with the faster drop only momentarily drops to rack to swing through legs and return to rack

Snatch variation in thumb forward or thumb back through legs on backswing.

Also. In Snatch in movement patterns upon getting under for a dip into the lockout or a more firm arm directly launched into lockout.

Everyone will have different anatomy which causes some different so called styles but generally to perform the lifts correctly it must meet what is required to be considered a successful lift.

What are all sport events one can enter?

  • Long Cycle ( and now more variety as female acceptance to use double Kettlebells advances)
  • Biathlon
  • Snatch

Please tell us a bit more about each of the events and how they work?

Biathlon requires first a set of jerks be performed 10 minutes with rest given and a return to the platform for the snatch set.

Long Cycle

2 Kettlebells are lifted to rack position followed by jerk overhead and includes a drop with backswing through the legs for every repetition. Rest may be taken with Kettlebells in rack position.

Long Cycle

Single kettlebell is performed in the same manner with allowing one time to switch arms.


The kettlebell is sent overhead to the lockout in one full motion with the drop coming down and going through legs for the backswing to return to top continuously. Rest may be taken only at the top in lockout.

The half and full marathon require full set of 30 and 60 minutes of work allowing unlimited multiple arm switching in the case of the single arm discipline.

Kettlebell Relay events would be Jerk only or Long Cycle in International events

Multiple team members each take a segment of the time to score repetitions for team total

What are the main kettlebell sport organisations?

IUKL International Union Kettlebell Lifting
IGSF International Giri Sport Federation

In your own words, what does it mean to achieve rank?

The rank system can be seen as stepping stones towards success. Ranks set a great standard for creating motivation required for achievements which are rewarded with recognition. It is a measurable mark of the indication that each rank achieved gives validation to the work, time and effort put forth which is exemplified by meeting the rank requirement. For those who keep striving and thriving, there are also endless possibilities beyond the ranks because records are made and records are exceeded all of the time.

What are some of the things you think can/should be improved within the ranking system?

Improve consistency and caliber of standards particularly within the Judging process. Especially at higher levels of ranks, quality and uniformity of requirements thoroughly understood and enforced.

In lower qualifications most are satisfactory and standards are reasonable.

What are some of the things you think can/should be improved in general when it comes to kb sport?

Bring more qualified people via acceptable criteria showing quality credentials and above all experience.

Are women treated equally yet within the sport, or do we still have ways to go?

Beginning stages Very slow progress. Discrimination? No, Not at all.

World championship men lift relay may participate in more discipline.

Women is only snatch.

Nobody makes it a priority to think about women.

No women are in positions or given opportunity to have a say in the long established male dominant organizations.

One polish woman (Anisaka Carol)? Aniska is the single female with a position and her responsibilities are only to help with administrative tasks and not in any high position or decision making within the governing kettlebell establishment.

This year, 2017, is the first year when females are officially being permitted to lift in one arm Long Cycle at the IUKL World Championship. For the females the Long Cycle 2 arm will only be permitted as an experiment in exhibition. An all male led organization makes it difficult to advance women’s equality. Progress is occurring but very very slowly occurring.

When is someone too old to start?

No one is ever too old to start or to continue on once they have begun. There are no age limitations and although veteran categories are designated, should it be desirable to compete at professional level, as I do, then it is allowable.

What is the one thing you wish could change?

Move expansion ahead with widespread recognition of the sport especially for our youth. Working with organizations, schools, Universities incorporating kettlebell sport into curriculum for scholarship and grants and making it available especially for the disadvantaged youth without access to programs. Also seeing more corporations strive to notice the team building qualities kettlebell sport can bring while invigorating and building a healthier, stronger staff of employees.

Common mistakes you see new people entering the sport make over and over again?

Poor breathing and rushing with the movement.

Over use powering with muscles wasting effort to “lift” Kettlebells rather than using good technique to “move” the kettlebell in a more relaxed manner.

What is the one thing you believe lifters can do to improve performance?

Consistency of Practice improving ability and sticking with it long term developing muscle memory. Repetition over time creates the imprint of precision this eliminating margin of errors

Kettlebell sport and the environment? Welcoming, friendly, aggressive, competitive?

Varies from region and country rivalry and support can be very good or not exist.

Locally and among internal groups very good. I generally hear people remark everyone is supportive, welcoming and friendly. However it’s been known to see someone step up on that platform and glance at the chance for the awaiting bling on display and the instinct to crush the competition takes hold. All is fair in love and kettlebell sport 😉

Quick intro to rules for lifts?

Kettlebell RackLong Cycle – swing through legs, follow through moving kettlebells to rack then dip with a launch upward and quick dip again under kettlebells as they go up overhead move under and lockout arms with fixation at top stand. . Release lockout return to rack and long Cycle through legs repeating movement.

Jerk – lift Kettlebells to rack position at chest. First dip legs then launch Kettlebells upward extending legs powerfully as Kettlebells go up simultaneous dip under and lockout arms, straighten legs into lockout as well. Kettlebells return to rack position only and repeatedly to overhead.

Snatch – kettlebell moves through legs for backswing then launched in full motion traveling directly up overhead. The hand inserts through handle and kettlebell turns over or flips into position resting upon forearm with lockout of arm holding solid fixation stopping motion. Kettlebell is released for drop back through legs for next repetition.

Quick intro to rules for attire?

Proper Lifting shoes or regular sneaker required

No barefoot, sandle or toe type footwear allowed

Shorts required above knee exposing leg for lockout judgement

T-Shirt above elbow exposing elbow for arm lockout

Headband ok

No hats

Wrist Guards of appropriate size and flexibility

Proper approved lifting belt ok

No bandages (only with Dr notice)

No gloves

Who should start thinking about entering the world of Kettlebell sport and why?

Everyone! All abilities and levels of condition can train to participate in kettlebell sport. Female or male, young or old, family, individual anyone from any category. Training for Kettlebell sport will definitely better prepare and improves performance for every other sport and likely will reduce likelihood of injury.

What is your next goal within the sport?

Personally in pursuit and approaching my second Master of Sport Rank with 24 kg Kettlebell in Snatch. Preparing for USA Nationals this August to qualify again for a spot on Team USA in the 24 kg Snatch

Additionally, there is always focus is on the goal of advancement for kettlebell sport. Being a professional role model to others brings the responsibility to show people the way. It is my passion to put it this sport into action with more of the masses of Americans, as well as support the introduction of kettlebell sport in other countries, to expand participation. I’m constantly searching, scouting and recruiting for potential athletes to train and assist in qualifying for Team USA. Experienced or no experience required and all abilities are candidates who I would Coach and help with making the journey to the world championship.

Valerie Pawlowski Kettlebell Sport
Valerie Pawlowski and Hetmanenko Serhiy from Team USA.


Big shout out to Valerie Pawlowski and her coach Hetmanenko Serhiy for taking the time to answer all these questions, please help and show them you appreciate it by sharing and liking.

Related article: Kettlebell Sport in Spain

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