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Girevoy sport- Olympic lifting for the masses

I cannot exactly remember where I had heard or read this, but I do remember the statement that Girevoy sport (GS) or the kettlebell sport is like Olympic lifting for the masses. That got me thinking, and I realized that the claim did have some validity.

First of all for those that do not know, let me give you an idea about the two sports. Olympic lifting is a true power sport using a barbell, in which the athletes try to lift more than their competitors for a one repetition maximum. Each lifter is given three tries to lift the heaviest weight that he/she can lift. There are two lifts, namely, the clean and jerk, and the snatch. On the other hand Girevoy involves lifting one or two kettlebells for as many repetitions as possible in 10 minutes without putting the kettlebell(s) down. There are three lifts in which the competitors can compete, namely, the clean and jerks (or Long Cycle), jerks, and snatches. In the first two lifts, men use two kettlebells and women use one, and in the snatches both men and women use one kettlebell.

Now first of all I would like to clarify that this article is not meant to declare which of the two sports is superior. Both the sports in my opinion are tough, and have a ton of benefits to offer for those who practice it. They both require a lot of discipline and hard work to get good at, and being lazy is not going to get you anywhere in either of the two sports. Also, I would like to mention that getting to the topmost levels in either of the two sports will require you to be a full time athlete. Thus if anyone plans to be a world champion in either of the sports while doing an office job or running a full time business which requires 50-60 hours a week, then they can forget about it. You need to basically eat, sleep and train to be among the world's top lifters.

The question to choose comes up for those who train as a hobby, and are looking to take up a strength sport as a challenge and to compete in, and not just for fat loss/muscle building only. In such cases, ideally you should aim for something that you really want to do, provided your body is in a position to do it. In general, if you are after super explosive power, then you have got to go with Olympic lifting, and if you wish to work on power AND endurance at the same time, then you have got to go with GS.

So why not train for both at the same time? Well, for starters both are very demanding, and both work similar muscle groups, thus your muscles wont be able to recover because of insufficient rest between the two sports. Also, both the sports do the same movement with different technique, and thus your learning curve will get confused and all screwed up in the process. Yes, a barbell clean or a barbell snatch in Olympic lifting does not use the exact same technique that a kettlebell clean or a kettlebell snatch in Girevoy does.

Both sports primarily depend on the bigger muscles of the body like the leg, back, core muscles to complete the lifts. However, the way these muscles are challenged are quite different. Olympic lifting relies on power, whereas GS relies on a mix of power and endurance. And even though the lifts have the same name, the lifting techniques are quite different. In Olympic lifting, the lifter lifts the barbell off the ground from a dead position, and lifts it up in a straight line. In GS, the lifter first swings the kettlebells between his legs, and then lifts it upwards. The lifter continues to swing the bells between his legs with each rep (except in jerks) to use more momentum to make his lifts more efficient and easier, which allows him to lift for longer and get more reps.

While in an ideal world, one could just simply choose between the two sports and train hard, in reality there are some factors in my opinion which make GS a better option compared to Olympic lifting for the masses. Sure, for a 12 year old kid with great flexibility, the options are open in both the sports, but for someone who is 35, it is not the same. Lets look at some of the factors that make GS a better option for the masses:

1) Loading- since Olympic lifting is about lifting as much weight as possible for one rep, the lifter has to lift very heavy weights. Often the weight will be equal to his/her bodyweight or more. While I do not believe that heavy lifting is bad for you, I will have to say that often going for one rep maxes can be very hard on your joints, especially if you are past 30. Yes, you can lift a weight that is lighter than your 1 rep max for 1-3 reps, but still with proper Olympic lifting, you will be lifting pretty heavy loads, which everybody might not be able to take in high volume. And no, doing clean and jerks with 65 pounds forever, is not proper Olympic lifting. Olympic lifting as a sport is about lifting heavy weights, and much more than 65 pounds for sure. 

On the other hand in GS, the lifters usually lift sub-maximal loads, meaning less than bodyweight. For eg a male lifter might lift two 24 kg kettlebells which is a total of 48 kgs, and is less than the average adult male's bodyweight. Yes, there are some lighter lifters who lift more than bodyweight, when they work with two 32 kgs, but then again these are professional lifters, and for recreational lifters you can make a rank with lighter weights. For eg according to IKFF rankings, a male lifter weighing 80 kg can make rank 3 in Long Cycle by doing 33 reps with two 24 kg kettlebells. Similarly, a woman weighing 60 kgs can make rank 3 in LC by doing 62 reps with a single 16 kg kettlebell. Both these rankings are very attainable for the average recreational lifter, provided they put in some time and practice. And since you lift much lighter weights than bodyweight, it is a lot healthier for people with beat up joints. 

2) Required facilities- Olympic lifting is a specialized sport, that requires some minimum facility. Besides the standard Olympic bar and plates, you also need a proper lifting platform where you can drop the bar. Yes, in Olympic lifting you have to drop the bar from the overhead position to the ground. You cannot lower the bar under control and then put it down gently on the ground. Considering the heavy weights that you will be lifting, it is necessary to drop the bar to avoid injuries. Now unless your gym has a lifting platform, imagine if you dropped the bar from overhead in your gym, or even worse in your own home! Even an empty bar will do enough damage to the floor to get you thrown out of your gym or home, so you can only imagine the possibility of doing it with a loaded bar without a lifting platform.

With the kettlebell sport, the bells are not dropped to the ground, and the lifter has to keep it off the ground for the duration of his entire set. This makes it a lot more suitable for public or home gyms that do not have a lifting platform. Sure, some of the upmarket gyms might still not be happy since you will be using chalk, but atleast the flooring is not in any serious danger. 

3) Physical flexibility requirements- let me be honest, both sports require great flexibility levels to get good at. And if you are really tight, then you might pick up injuries often. But in Olympic lifting the flexibility requirements are even greater, especially since you will be lifting far heavier loads. Most of the adult population will need to spend a considerable amount of time initially in increasing their flexibility levels to be able to do Olympic lifting. And even then, many will still be too tight for lifting any serious weight at any decent level.

GS also requires a significant amount of flexibility to be really good at. And for some the events requiring you to rack the bells like long cycle and jerks will be hard due to their bodytype where their arms are short compared to the torso. However, since the weights are not that heavy, one can work for atleast some lower level ranking by relying a bit more on muscular strength. For eg a male weighing 80 kgs can get an IKFF rank 2 in GPP category in LC by doing 51 reps with two 16 kg bells. Sure, its not a high level rank, but considering the limitations, atleast there is something worthwhile to train for. 

In the end I would like to once again emphasize that if you love Olympic lifting and have the facility and physical requirements to do it, then by all means try this fabulous sport, but if not then Girevoy might be a better option for you. Its the closest that the majority of people over 25 and definitely over 30 will get to Olympic lifting type of movements, and thus I think that it is fair to call Girevoy, Olympic lifting for the masses.

I would also like to clarify that I am not against the recreational lifter wanting to get strong. I myself always suggest that everyone should try to gain atleast some decent levels of strength, but there are far less technically demanding exercises compared to Olympic lifting to get the job done. For eg exercises like the overhead press, squats, deadlifts, etc can make you very strong, without being as technical as the Oly lifts. So even if you do decide to try GS, and compete with lighter or moderate bells like 16's and 24's, be sure to include a minimum amount of heavy strength work in your weekly routine to be more well rounded.

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