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Girevoy Sport performance talk with Thierry Sanchez




With the growth in popularity of kettlebell training among the general fitness population, there has also been also been a steady growth of the Girevoy sport (GS) or the kettlebell sport, all around the globe. More and more people are either competing on a GS stage, or simply utilizing the techniques of GS into their own training.

And if you have searched for information about GS online, then you would have in most likelihood come across the name, Thierry Sanchez. A passionate Girevik himself, Thierry has been putting out some very high quality information on GS for more than 4 years now on his blog.  In fact, he even has a free ebook (in English), which in my opinion is the best ebook that you currently have on GS training. 

But, most importantly, he is genuinely passionate about promoting GS, and helping people from all over the world to improve their numbers. He has even helped me in improving my own numbers, and has pointed out many basic flaws in my own technique to help me get better. Besides his online work, he is also the man responsible for bringing GS to Denmark, and organizes the Kettlebell DM annually. So without any further delay, let’s hear more from the man himself, Thierry Sanchez:


Arnav Sarkar (AS): First of all, I would like to thank you so much for taking the time out from your busy schedule to do this interview. Why don’t you start by telling us about yourself, before you got involved with kettlebells?

Thierry Sanchez (TS): Hi everyone, and thanks for this opportunity! Basically I have always been active but never really touched a weight and kettlebell until 2007. I have worked in ski resorts and did both downhill and cross country skiing, plus some mountain biking when possible. Then I moved to Denmark,  mostly a flat country… I kept up with the “mountain” biking and a few bodyweight exercises (mainly chin ups, Hindu push ups, rope skipping and a few sprints). 

I should also say that growing up I tried many sports and feel it has benefited my coordination and ease to learn new skills. Skiing will always be my first love.


AS: How did you get into kettlebells? And did you initially use it for general fitness purposes, or train for GS?

TS: I kept bumping onto kettlebells on the net so that I thought I should give it a try. Going to a gym did not really appeal to me, the kettlebell looked fun and challenging. So like almost every body in 2007 I bought some of Pavel’s books, and used my kettlebell for strength and fitness.


AS: You certainly do have a ton of knowledge on GS, so it’s very clear that you must have done a lot of research and also travelled to learn. Could you elaborate on where and from whom did you learn your lifting techniques and training methods?

TS: Yes, so after practicing alone for a short while I took a private session with an RKC instructor. My plan was to go to London for a basic workshop with Vasily Ginko, since the RKC certification in Denmark was outrageously overpriced. In one hour I basically found out that a) I learned very well from a book b) GS was dangerous. Hmmm…

The course with Vasily provided me with a wide intro to kettlebells, but I had to put my kettlebell away for 6 months as I took a winter job in the Alps. I did lots of reading about fitness and strength training.

When I came back home, that Summer I went to Switzerland on the WKC certification. The focus was using the competition lifts for fitness and provided some intro about timed sets.

Then I started at Aalborg SportshĂžjskole, where I took a 1 year strength coach education, and started to use my kettlebells a lot. Focus was on snatch, the lift that came easiest to me. By the end of 2008, I went to Latvia to train again with Vasily Ginko, and took a 5 day course about GS, training methods and so on. From there my interest in the sport grew stronger. I started reading a lot of Russian sites using Google. English is my second tongue and I had heard Vasily talk Google English, so I could make sense of it ;-). For graduation in 2009, I decided to write my paper about GS, the same manual you mentioned above. Many hours of research went into it, and talking to some athletes.

In 2010 I had the chance to meet Steve Cotter on 3 occasions. Once at competition in Italy (Turbigo) with Oleh Ilika, once in Norway where he invited me for a CKT1 and once in Denmark where I helped him teach a CKT1. That same year I got a gold and Silver at the IGSF Veterans World Championship. That year I started forming ideas about training methods, and coached Denmark’s best female GS athlete so far, Lene Olsen.

2011 was a year off GS for me, but I still worked on my technique and style.
2012 started with 6 months of powerlifting where I set 2 Danish raw records for my age and weight.  And I returned to GS, snatch only, winning the overall Danish Championship, and got a silver at the IGSF Veteran World Championship. 

There I met Mark Stappleton and Eddie Sheehan once more, and they mentioned to me they were planning to go to Russia to train with Anton Anasenko. So I started saving money!
The trip to Omsk in March this year was fascinating, and I got some more insight into technique and training methods. I also had the chance to attend a workshop with Denis Vasiliev here in Denmark a couple of months ago.


AS: Which kettlebell lifters have inspired you the most?

TS: The 2 main inspirations are Ksenia Dedukhina and Anton Ansenko. I think they make it look so smooth and effortless, a true gift for the eyes! But every good performance is inspiring.


AS: What benefits do you think GS has to offer to someone who tries it?

TS: It will make you stubborn! Well, I think it is a well rounded training approach, a good combination of strength and endurance, body awareness, coordination...  Stuff I can use and that makes my body feel good.


AS: Ok, so let’s say someone has done some basic fitness training with kettlebells. And now he/she wants to try GS, and see how they do. In this case how would you suggest that they choose between the long cycle and the biathlon?

TS: I have switched to Long Cycle in December last year. To me 1 discipline makes training easier and less time intensive. I also believe Long Cycle is the best “bang for the buck” exercise because you have to overcome inertia more times than in jerk or snatch, and you get a pull and a push each rep.



AS: In your opinion, is it possible to train the biathlon and the long cycle alternately at the same time, for example 2-4 months of biathlon followed by 1-2 months of LC? Or do you think that it is best to spend a year doing only one of the two disciplines for best results?

TS: Totally. If you train for biathlon, transitioning to Long Cycle is easy enough, though the reverse is a bit less so. By easy, I am thinking preparation time.  By specializing in either discipline is where you’ll have the chance of obtaining the best results possible though.


AS: How would you set up a basic week’s training in the beginning stages for someone competing in the long cycle?

TS: 3 days of LC + strength assistance, 3 days of light cardio.


AS: How would you set up a basic week’s training in the beginning stages for someone competing in the biathlon?

TS: 2 days of jerk + strength assistance, 2 days of cardio + snatch, 2 days of light cardio


AS: What are the common mistakes that you observe with individuals when doing the following:

# Swings
TS: the classic is to be too aggressive and not maintaining alignment of the kettlebell. Every little mistake, every little movement that should not be there affects your grip, in a bad way.


#Cleans
TS: one of my problems. The chicken dance, you know, catching the kettlebells with elbows out to the side. Kettlebells should land in the rack position at the same time elbows make contact with the hip bones. Another mistake is “throwing” the kettlebells into a back swing. They should fall gently.

#Jerks
TS: A bad rack will lead to a poor jerk to start off with. The main problem is timing the second dip and catching the kettlebell in the overhead. If the arms are not straight at the time your heels hit the ground, they are most likely going to wobble as you straighten up into the lockout. A sure sign of a poor lockout and fixation is when the 2 kettlebells touch each other, so pay attention to the noise above your head!

# Snatches
TS: As for swings, being too aggressive on the way up or the way down. The idea is to have a perfect pendulum. The speed at which the kettlebell falls down should be the same for the way up. As for the drop, the kettlebell should “fall” gently, not be thrown down. (Watch Thierry demonstrate the snatch here)


AS: Let’s talk a bit about assistance work. What would you say are the best assistance drills for the following common problem areas:

#Maintaining the rack in the LC/jerks
TS: Hindu push ups and flexibility work, working at slow tempo, and in some instances rack holds with a slightly heavier weight than you use for your sets.

#Second knee dip in the jerks:
TS: There’s a little drill you can do under a door frame or in a smith machine for example. Start on your toes, chest, legs and hips in full extension. Your arms should be bent, your legs straight. Now push yourself back rapidly like you’re sitting down so that you end up with straight arms and bent legs. The heels should hit the floor at the same time your arms straighten up.

#Overhead lockout
TS: Shoulder dislocates with a band, overhead walk or hold.

# Grip fatigue during snatches
TS: Technique first. Make sure the drop is a drop. If the kettlebell ends up in the prolongation of your arm on the initiation of the drop, you just threw or flicked it forward. If it hangs under your wrist, pointing down, it is falling. Let it fall and as you grab it again your thumb should still point forward not backwards. Doing a back up set of 1-2 swings for every snatch or using cotton gloves to provide more of a challenge.


AS: You have often talked about trying to stay in the aerobic zone for as long as possible during a GS set. Could you elaborate a bit more on this for the readers, and why this is important in a GS set? Also, would the same concept apply for common kettlebell fitness complexes?

TS: To keep things simple, going into the anaerobic zone too early cannot be sustained for a long time. GS competition is 10 minute. You can’t sprint for 10 minutes. You should always start slow (a set tempo you can sustain) and finish strong. Pacing is the best way to train for GS.

Keep the same tempo through out every minute of your training sets, but the last minute of the last set, try to increase the tempo according to how much energy you have left. Maybe it’s 1 rpm (repetition per minute) maybe it’s 4.

Kettlebell fitness complexes are also aerobic. Anything over 12 sec is aerobic, it just happens there are lots of intensity variation in the aerobic zone. It can be light or hard aerobic training. I can go hard for a short time or go easy for a long time. What intensity you should use depends on many factors, and the training protocol. Personally I do not like to wear myself out just for fun.


AS: What advice would you give to athletes coming to GS from an extreme strength training background like powerlifting?

TS: Lift like a girl. By that I mean that women are not generally as strong as guys and make better use of their awareness, coordination and move the kettlebell with the whole body. They have to rely on technique to move heavier loads, and therefore can improve in a short time.


AS: What advice would you give to athletes coming to GS from an extreme endurance training background like marathon running?

TS: Those guys need strength. Their fitness levels are probably too high to actually be relevant to the weight they’ll be limited to lift. Forget the cardio, work on local muscle endurance instead and strength.


AS: For those that are primarily interested in general fitness goals like fat loss, muscle gain, getting stronger, etc, is there a way that they can throw in some GS into their weekly training programs, and how do you suggest that they do so?

TS: GS is a specialized sport, but the techniques are relevant that you compete or not. For non competing people though, I think the 1 arm Long Cycle would be the best lift. A 6-12 min set with a challenging weight, and switching sides every 30-60 sec would be a great whole body exercise to add to a routine.


AS: Any nutritional suggestions for GS athletes?

TS: The Russians I met at competitions ate like horses. Apart from that no, diet is too individual I feel. I am personally shifting towards a vegan approach after a couple of my online clients have mentioned it.


AS: Tell me about kettlebell DM. What were your goals when you started it, and how do you feel about its progress so far?

TS: DM stands for Danish Championship. I started promoting GS in Denmark and selling competition kettlebells in 2009. Back then most of the people using kettlebells thought I was a nutcase. But a few people came to the small competitions I organized and it grew from there. Last year we were 22 participants. Many people came to watch and are participating in minor competitions this year. 

I also ran a Summer festival with team relays, non traditional stuff and juggling and we were just over 30. So maybe we’ll be 40 this year? GS is spreading and you can’t help but notice it on the net compared to a few years ago.

My goals were to organize GS events and train athletes. I am doing that now!


AS: What are your views on the claim that GS training is only good for endurance, and does not make you stronger, or can even make you weak?

TS: I think then you’re doing it wrong! It’s always a question of balance and what is important to you. I manage to still get stronger (for example I am still making progress with squat, row and press), but of course everything is relative. Also the strength that I gain cannot come at the same speed it would were I to train only for strength, endurance is a big part of the sport. So find out your priorities.



AS: Which are your proudest performances on the GS stage so far, and what are your personal long term goals as a competitor?

TS: Turbigo in 2010. I had started training biathlon with 20kg, and decided to try LC with 24kg. I went from 30 reps to 55 reps in 10 min in about 4 weeks of training LC.

Long term goals, I do not know really. Let’s see what happens this year in Tyumen in November.


AS: Besides, kettlebells, what other training tools do you use?

TS: I mostly use Indian clubs, Bulgarian bags, and barbells. And bodyweight exercises of course. This Summer I am taking a break from KB for 2 weeks, and will use sandbags.


AS: Tell me about your outstanding free ebook on GS training. What made you create it, and how did you go about it?

TS: Thanks, glad to hear it still is valued! I mentioned before it was my academic paper at the end of the year in 2009. It was way thicker than allowed, but I told my teacher he was the one who wanted the tables, and the subject was so new that it deserved to be left as it was. I basically used hours on the net and common training books. Principles are principles. GS is not that different.

Looking at forums, I thought it would benefit many people and help spread the word about GS.


AS: Besides the free ebook, you have also authored some other highly informative ebooks on GS. I have gone through them, and love how simple they make it to plan your GS training. Could you share some information, about the two other ebooks with the readers?

TS: Sure. There’s a program about snatch and one about LongCycle. I tried to apply the best training principles for each discipline and put it all into a template that can be easily followed and adjusted if needed. It’s not perfect, but it gives structure to training and some people have been getting good results.


AS: Any final thoughts?

TS: I am glad to be able to help you reach and motivate people in your country. The subject is new and maybe confusing for people, so I hope the interview helped shed some light!


AS: Thank you so much Thierry, for sharing such high quality information with the readers. Where can they learn more about you, and how can they contact you?

TS: The blog has direct links to my website, but check out http://kettlebell-fitness.dk. There are some free basic programs to get started.

If anyone is contemplating online kettlebell coaching, I encourage you to check this page. You’ll see videos of 2 of my students that are getting great results.

All the best, keep it fun!


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