Kettlebell Sport is known as a strength endurance sport. Most non-athletes consider kettlebells to be "heavy" weights, whether they are thinking of amateurs who compete with the 24kg kettlebells or world-class athletes who use the 32kg bells. To be fair, most folks don't lift 53 lb or 70 lb objects every day, much less put two of them overhead for fifty or a hundred times in a row.
But from an athletics standpoint, the weights that kettlebell sport athletes use are very light. Olympic weightlifters of my weight class snatch over 400 lbs; they clean and jerk over 500 lbs. Powerlifters often squat over 1,000 lbs, deadlift over 900 lbs, and bench press over 900 lbs. These lifts are completed in just seconds, for only one repetition, as opposed to the kettlebell lifts, which are repeated continually over the course of 10 minutes.
I mention all of that to give context to a statement that should be obvious, yet comes across as controversial to many who discuss kettlebell sport on popular Internet discussion forums:
Kettlebell sport is an endurance sport.
Now, some may acknowledge the truth of that statement superficially. But when you start talking training regimens for kettlebell sport, many recommend heavy lifting of some kind. Squats, deadlifts, and even presses. Rarely do these same people recommend running, rowing, or jumping rope. But lifting truly heavy weights? All the time. Recently, a great American kettlebell sport trainer, Cate Imes, addressed this phenomenon in two excellent blog posts, the most recent of which can be found here. Obviously, the title of those pieces inspired the subject of this blog.
The questions and advice posited from many kettlebell lifters and fitness enthusiests reveals the common assumption that the development of maximal strength is a priority for kettlebell sport athletes. Yet, Sergey Rudnev and Eugene Lopatin disproved this common misconception in their article Strength or Endurance, development of strength and strength endurance in Kettlebell Sport. A very readable summary of the article and one lifter's impression of it appears here. Of note in the article is that Lopatin, a multiple world-record-holder in kettlebell sport, could not meet the minimum strength recommendations for athletes who wish to participate in kettlebell sport as set by a Voropaev, a highly respected sports scientist. Yes, the world record holder could not pass the recommended strength requirements for a beginner.
Again, to be fair, Voropaev's recommendations essentially reflected the priorities of many other sports scientists, and the prevailing wisdom of kettlebell sport throughout the years. So the assumption that the development of maximal strength is a priority for kettlebell sport athletes is neither new, nor isolated.
Both Rudnev and Lopatin teach in the department of physical training and sports of the Far Eastern Military Institute of Russia. They noted that the athletes with better results in kettlebell sport at their Institute were endurance athletes, and specifically noted the successes of former cross-country skiers, rowers, and distance runners.
Rudnev and Lopatin conlcuded that the development of maximal strength with a barbell had no bearing on the success of the kettlebell sport athlete. While some reading that sentence are still saying, "yeah, but..." let me take it a step further:
Strength endurance is not a determining factor in Kettlebell Sport lifting.
According to their article, strength endurance is the ability to perform an activity at a fast tempo for 1-3 minutes. One measure of strength endurance would be the two minute push up test that is often used as a part of the US Army's physical fitness test, in which a soldier completes as many push ups as he can in two minutes. However, per Rudnev and Lopatin, "...strength endurance is not a determining factor in Kettlebell Sport lifting. It [strength endurance] only allows you to perform at fast tempo for 1-3 minutes...Kettlebell Sport lifting [requires] endurance which allow(s) [you] to perform 10 minutes of competition time. Therefore, we should talk about the special endurance, which is necessary to work with pauses between repetitions sufficient for recovery to the next repetition..."
The authors go on to explain that, according to their studies, the development of general and special endurance are the top priorities for the kettlebell sport athlete.
This brings us to what I think should be the real question for all aspiring kettlebell sport athletes:
I am a 46-year-old married father of three, and a career prosecutor. My wife and I (and our kids) are very involved in our church.
My one real hobby is lifting kettlebells. I lift at home, in my garage, after we have put the kids in bed and made their school lunches for the next day.