Kettlebells for Kids

Kettlebells For Kids: Back to the Future—The Kettlebell Athlete of Tomorrow

I first met Moses Dungca in December of 2019 at the Seattle Kettlebell Club Pro-Am competition. He stood at the junction of the chalking station and the lifting platforms where the energy of the athletes was most palpable. The area was lit with ultraviolet lamps that clung to fluorescence, and you could feel the cool, damp air of the Pacific Northwest. The chalking station was a scene of fervent preparation. It was the unique place in the room which collected all the anticipation of athletes preparing to grace the lifting platform, the place where athletes meticulously and ritualistically prepared the steel handles of their poison, the place where athletes celebrated and fell to the floor after the exhilarating completion of a set, the final resting place of a daunting training cycle that concludes like the epilogue of your favorite novel. I believe Moses strategically chose to stand in this specific location because it was the only setting in the gym that could mirror the energy and passion that this man has for coaching and kettlebell sport.

Moses is the Head Coach at Kettlebell Sanctuary in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was a competitive gymnast from 1980 to 1992, and he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1997 where he earned a living as a performer. Moses started training with kettlebells in 2003 and was introduced to kettlebell sport in 2004. He has coached and trained numerous Master of Sport athletes and US record-holders and he holds the USA Kettlebell Team close to his heart. Because of his passion for the USA Team, he has diligently sought ways to grow a healthy kettlebell community in the United States. Five years ago, Moses was standing on a toilet to hang a clock. He fell off the toilet and hit his head on a sink. When he awoke from the experience, he had the realization that he needed to invent the youth kettlebell. Ok, well maybe it didn’t happen exactly like Doc Brown in Back to Future, but five years ago, Moses Dungca did have a realization that he needed to start a grassroots kettlebell program for kids that would serve as a feeder program for the USA Kettlebell Team. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Dungca on his innovative design of youth and transition kettlebells.

Kettlebells for children

1. What inspired you to be the person in history to bring Youth Kettlebells to the US?

I’m sure that other KB coaches that have worked with junior athletes and children have obviously had the challenge of trying to correctly equip their kids with equipment that fit them. Unfortunately, the only bells that fit juniors were the “Cheburashkas” from Russia, which I believe are made in 4kg, 6kg, and 8kgs. I don’t think that they are difficult to find, but shipping them to the USA would be quite difficult and costly.

Being from the athletic arena myself, (competitive gymnastics as a junior, elite, and college level) I had the opportunity to go through the USGF (US Gymnastic Federation, now USA Gymnastics) Junior Development Program. At that time, the program utilized a 5 level system of developing the gymnastic skills of young athletes. All gymnasts at that time had to compete with “compulsory routines”, which were pre-set routines with specific skill levels for each age group. Now, both men’s and women’s gymnastics have a 10 level system before getting to the elite level.

If you do your own research, you’ll find that the countries with the finest athletes all have a junior program as well as junior teams within every sport. We in the US have Little League, Pop Warner, Jr. Basketball, Jr. Soccer, Jr. Hockey, etc. From that point, most athletes go on to high school athletics, college, and then some type of Triple-A or Semi-Pro Sport before hitting the big time, if they ever make it that far.

It’s very different for us in the kettlebell community. Almost every competitor has their own “story”. Most of the time a kettlebell enthusiast introduced it to their friend or a personal trainer/KB instructor notices that his/her student seems to like doing KBs. That’s how we basically recruit new people.

I believe that is not an effective way to develop our sport. We have to approach this from a different angle. About 5 years ago I brainstormed with 2 other KB coaches and said that I really wanted to create a grassroots program, but the properly sized equipment didn’t exist. So, I decided to measure all the bells I had in my training facility and came up with specific dimensions to create my first model. Then I slightly modified it and decided to produce them in 2kg, 4kg, and 6kg weights.

Youth Kettlebells

 

2. What challenges did you face in the design and manufacture of Youth Kettlebells?

The most important part was developing a handle width that allowed kids to have the same exact experience as adults including all the nuances of gripping that we go through. I didn’t want any child having to grip a handle too thick and not learning how to really utilize the fingers like a hook. As soon as a kid learns how to properly insert their hand into the handle and learns proper rotation of the bell (or bell “turnover”), I knew that they would instinctively graduate correctly into the next bell weight. Believe me, if a young kid can snatch 100+ reps per hand with a light bell correctly, you know that in the future that kid won’t experience the grip issues we currently go through. They will be “machines” by then.

The real challenge is the fact that my 2kg and 4kg Youth Kettlebells are made from aluminum. I had no idea that aluminum is expensive. I always thought that it was cheap. WRONG. I couldn’t make 2kg and 4kg out of steel, because the walls would be way too thin and it would easily dent or crack. You have no idea how happy I am with how my bells turned out.

Currently, China produces the best quality kettlebells. I’d dearly love to manufacture them here in the USA, but I have a feeling that the cost will be insane. Right now, I’m the epitome of the struggling entrepreneur.

Kettlebell Sport for Kids

 

3. What are the top 3 benefits of teaching children the kettlebell sport movements, and why is it important?

The benefit of teaching children the kettlebell sport movements is that they master these top three keys at an early age: first, anatomical breathing; second, eye-hand coordination; third, discipline.

We teach kettlebell weight lifting using momentum and a more appropriate breathing method called anatomical breathing. Anatomical breathing is a way of breathing naturally as you go through movements, and practice an endurance activity. Another benefit of learning anatomical breathing is that it is very easy then to cross over to other sports because most sports are endurance sports. KB athletes have the strength to produce a lot of force and then keep it going and going and going.

Developing children’s eye-hand coordination, as well as their attention to detail on specific stabilizing/balance positions, is highly beneficial. The younger we are when we learn these things, the more they are second nature. Furthermore, a grip of steel and an “iron core” can be acquired at a young age which is of immeasurable value to the athlete.

Then we come to discipline. This is a sport with big-time discipline behind it. No kid will be able to just pick up kettlebells and keep them moving at a certain pace without really putting in the hours to develop their technique and endurance. This takes time, patience, and real body awareness. To me, there are many parallels to gymnastics, and I coach/instruct KBs in this fashion. With KB sport there is a performance component as well, and athletes who begin cultivating their skill at an early age will be more naturally successful.

Here is what I envision and keep hearing in my head when I think of junior KB athletes. In the near future this will be a conversation said from a KB coach to any other sport coach. “Hey Coach Hoover, I have a 12-year-old athlete that can pick up a 12 kg weight and keep it moving for 10 minutes and not stop. Do you want to know more about her?” “Hey Coach Johnson, I have a 15-year-old athlete that can pick up a 20 kg weight and keep it moving for 10 minutes and not stop. Do you want to know more about her?” “Hey Coach Smith, I have a 17-year-old student that can pick up (2) 24 kg weights (106 lbs) and can put them up over his head for 10 minutes and not stop. Do you want to know more about him?” Every coach’s answer will be, “What… What did you say?”

Kettlebell Competition for kids

 

4. How do you address safety when teaching children how to lift kettlebells?

Safety is ALWAYS the #1 topic discussed with children, and I make sure that every single child knows how to lift safely. Teaching them proper form is where I begin.

In all of my Youth KB Workshops, I begin by explaining the importance of starting from a solid foundation. I also demonstrate and properly define “leverage” and the importance of that. With those 2 main components, you’ll help the child learn how to properly stack their joints for appropriate support of the kettlebell(s).

The first position I teach is exactly where the kettlebell is supposed to finish–otherwise known as fixation. I pair the kids up so that they can practice identifying if they are in the correct position and if they have achieved fixation. It is highly important to teach children the proper fixation in order for them to be safe and excel in this sport.

 

5. You stated that you developed a kettlebell youth program structured like a martial art. Can you tell the readers about some of the main points of this program and the objectives?

I wanted to create a program that makes sense and properly prepares kids without forcing them to move up. It’s a progressive level system that is weight appropriate and most of all puts the kids in weight categories. Some people may not agree with my system, but I WILL NOT put an inordinate amount of weight on any kid. In my program, everybody starts at level 1 and has to properly move up through the levels. There is no skipping of levels.

My system introduces the kids to all 5 competitive lifts (snatch, 1 arm long cycle, 1 arm biathlon, long cycle, and traditional biathlon), however, the kids don’t have to learn all 5 lifts; they are encouraged to do whatever they choose.

The whole purpose of my 10 Level system is to prepare every kid for eventual competition. If any kid makes it to Level 10 with any lift, I believe they will experience a high level of success when they get to compete with the 12 kgs.

Dungca Kettlebells

 

6. What is your vision for the future of Youth Kettlebells, and where do you see yourself in 12 months?

Initially, my intent was to create Youth Kettlebells and develop a gigantic KB Little League – a junior sport so big that it would rival baseball and soccer. My dream was originally for the USA, however right after I created them I received inquiries from coaches in other countries. Apparently, they heard through the grapevine that some guy had produced kettlebells that are perfect for kids. I am a huge fan of any kid anywhere in the world that trains with kettlebells. I now have bells in the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Peru, Mexico, Canada, France, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. I’m in 12 different countries and I had never ever thought of going outside the US. Consequently, I began putting my family name on my bells. I wanted to honor my father by showing him how well-known our last name would become.

I believe in the next 12 months I’ll help to develop another 5 or 6 youth development teams in the US. Right now I want to be in a different city every weekend conducting Youth KB Workshops as well as helping to spread Kettlebell Sport for adults. Unfortunately, we’re currently going through this COVID-19 Crisis and that has put a damper on things. I’m a very “hands-on” type of person and I’m not very keen on doing KB instruction to the masses via the internet. I want desperately to be in a gym filled with people, kids, and adults, spreading the love of KB Sport.

 

What is your 5-year goal?

My 5-year goal is to have 100 junior KB lifters in every state; that’s 5,000 kids. That goal is very achievable. Ultimately, I want to produce 10,000 sets of Youth Kettlebells and Transition Kettlebells and get them into the young hands that need to lift them.

 

Conclusion-The Joy of Coaching

I was fortunate enough to receive a set of Dungca Youth Kettlebells and Dungca Transition Kettlebells. My assessment is that they are simply brilliant. I have found that when a child picks up a Dungca Kettlebell for the first time, coaching of proper kettlebell lifting mechanics can begin. Concepts such as hand insertion, hook grip, regrip, rack position, fixation, getting the hand in and out of the handle, and punching at the top can become subjects of conversation that enable refinement of movement. Similarly, these same conversations can be initiated with teenagers and small-framed individuals that pick up Dungca Transition Kettlebells. The ideal handle size and bell circumference of Dungca Kettlebells create opportunities and experiences for lifters of all ages and sizes that have not been readily available until now. Kettlebell coaches are now able to overcome barriers that have been innate to the design of the equipment. More importantly, we now have new avenues to draw individuals into the sport and develop the strong bonds and relationships that are forged through hard work, perseverance, and personal growth. There are few occasions in life more precious than witnessing the candescence of learning in the mind of a child. Moses Dungca bravely innovated the design of the youth and transition kettlebell and opened doors of opportunity for the masses to train with this implement that we all have grown to love.

For more information, please visit www.usaykbs.org

 

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