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Meet the Girevik: Charlie Fornelli

As a lover of Girevoy sport, it is my pleasure to come across many great lifters from around the world on a regular basis. While the Russians are always inspirational to watch, I also love watching other lifters from around the world. Actually, any lifter who loves this sport is an inspiration for me. I always seem to learn something or the other by watching the different lifters. Thus to share more about the different approaches and methods of various lifters around the world, I have started this new section called- Meet the Girevik, where I will be interviewing fellow kettlebellers from around the world.

Charlie Fornelli is someone I came across very recently on Youtube, and it did not take me long to realize how good he is, and how impressive his numbers are. Within a week or two, I saw him making MS in Biathlon and CMS in Long Cycle in the same event, on the same day. His form, his technique, his approach, all clearly stated what an accomplished lifter he is! Then, in the online February competition that just concluded, he won gold in both long cycle and 1 arm snatch. Once again, he showed how well rounded he is GS. So without any further delay let's get to know more about Charlie, and how he got so good.

Arnav Sarkar (AS): Hi Charlie. First of all thank you so much for taking the time out to do this interview. Could you begin by telling us a bit about yourself and your training background?

Charlie Fornelli (CF): You are very welcome and thank you for having me and for helping connect kettlebell lifters.

I am a GS athlete from western Canada, Penticton BC to be more specific. I have a Bachelor’s degree majoring in Kinesiology and I work in chronic disease exercise rehab and personal training. I have always been active in sports and fitness and I played soccer at the college and university level. On top of training and competing in GS I also play competitive soccer and am a coach and official in roller derby.

AS: How did you get into kettlebells, and what attracted you most towards it?

CF: I was introduced to kettlebell lifting by my eldest brother. My dad welded him together a 16kg bell, which was just a round piece steel with a handle attached. He had some of the books and videos by Pavel and this was how I learned early on.

The thing that attracted me most was the efficiency of kettlebell training. I really like the focused strength/tension and mobilization of exercises like the Turkish Get Up and the dynamic effort and fluidity of the swing, clean, jerk and snatch. Early on one 16kg kettlebell was all I needed to get a great workout and while I have gradually added to that, I still have a gym that I can fit in the trunk of my car.

AS: When did you decide to try Girevoy Sport?

CF: The main reason I decided to get in to GS is because I had to find out why I was struggling to do more than 5 Jerks with two 24kg kettlebells and yet I watched videos of these guys competing with two 32kg bells and performing 100+ reps. There were clearly aspects of kettlebell lifting I needed to develop.

I finally decided to really try GS the summer of 2010 after taking part in a kettlebell certification with Valery Federenko and Catherine Imes. The first competition I competed in was the AKC/WKC Las Vegas Classic competition November of 2010. I trained with a pair of 16kgs and single 20kg and 24kg kettlebell and I competed with 20kg kettlebells finishing with 104 jerks and 199 snatches.

AS: Who is, or was your coach in GS?

CF: Outside of a couple certifications/camps I have attended I have been doing my own “coaching” and programming. I did enlist the coaching of Chris Duffey, from the Boston area, in the late summer of 2012 while aiming to finally make the rank Candidate for Master of Sport. I did successfully make the CMS rank that October. Since then I have been back on my own, though Chris, and a few others, are always there to lend an ear.

AS: Recently, you competed in both the biathlon (Jerk + Snatch), and the Long Cycle (Clean & Jerk) in the same day, earning an MS in biathlon and a CMS in long cycle. Have you always been training for both, or did you begin with one and then add the other in your training?

CF: At the start I focused on Biathlon but I really struggled with the rack position so this was where Long Cycle first came in to play for me but to assist my jerk training rather than to improve my LC numbers. This initial assistance work progressed towards me doing some really basic training in LC but that only lasted for a few months as I felt a desire to get back to focusing on Biathlon.

Right now and leading up to this most recent competition in February I have been focusing my training on Biathlon but will try to add a LC set every one or two weeks to keep my LC technique relatively sharp.

AS: What is your typical weekly training program like?

CF: Up to this most recent competition my typical week breaks down in to two days of training jerks (Mon/Thurs), two days of training snatches (Tues/Frid) and then usually two days (Wed/Sat) of general conditioning, either running or rowing. I really enjoy deadlifting so I will try get some heavier deadlifts in once per week usually on Tuesday or Wednesday.

As you mentioned, in February I competed in both events, so in the month leading up to that in order to prepare I was completing a mock competition once per week. This meant a longer set, usually 8-10 minutes, of jerks, snatches and long cycle most often with the 24kg and 28 kg bells.

I recently started using a modified program based off of some teaching from Anton Anasenko. In this program I have 3 main days where I train jerks and higher effort snatches and then 2 days of conditioning, running, rowing or cycling, and some lighter effort/glove snatches and then one more day which is a longer run typically.  

AS: How has your training approach changed over the years?

CF: Well the main change is just that I am performing regular long sets for jerks. Earlier on I would do a lot of short training sets, 1-2 minutes, to focus on conditioning but I just found the carryover was no longer working, especially after moving up to the 28’s and now 32’s, and I needed the mental and physical preparation that comes from longer sets. Now when I train in short intervals I use it as an attempt to train myself to get in to each position of the lift quickly and efficiently rather than for conditioning.

My snatch training hasn’t really changed much but I learned after two failed CMS attempts that I could no longer just rely on my conditioning to get me to my goal. I began to focus much harder on my technique, on each repetition, rather than trying to get in as much work as possible which has helped a great deal.

AS: What are your best numbers in training and in competition?

CF: My competition best came in February at the West Coast Classic Kettlebell Competition:

32kg -84 jerks and 124 snatches, 32kg – LC – 52 reps

Some training numbers I am happy about are:
28kg – Biathlon set -110 jerks/175 snatch, 24kg – Biathlon set - 140 jerks/ 210 snatches
32kg snatch -130, 28 kg snatch – 190
28kg – LC – 74 reps, 24kg - LC – 100 reps

AS: Have you had any setbacks over the years in your progress?

CF: I have had a few nagging type injuries over the years with regards to GS training but fortunately I have been able to deal with them without much downtime. My biggest setbacks have come from the fact that I also play competitive soccer where I broke a bone in my foot and have also had some back spasms up but again fortunately nothing chronic. I have learned to lift within my ability when training which I think has helped me avoid any major issues over the last few years.

AS: What are your thoughts on GPP training for aspiring Gireviks? How much do you think should be done, and what is essential and what is overrated in your opinion?

CF: I think GPP is important for all lifters and athletes in general, however I do think that what that actually means is going to be different for everyone.

One major consideration is, what are the lifter’s needs? If your GPP training is leaving you too fatigued or sore to perform your GS training or simply recover then are the benefits being outweighed? As I mentioned I enjoy deadlifting and feel I can do relatively heavy training in deadlifts without taking too much away from my GS training, whereas I know when I squat heavy or high volume my legs are dead for GS. Personally I feel like I would benefit a lot more from extra time on recovery and compensational training as opposed to more time strength training. I do squat, press and pull (etc) to maintain movement patterns and joint stability but as I say above, GPP while general by definition is still going to be specific to each lifter.

AS: In the competitions that you have participated in till now, you must have interacted with many of the world’s best lifters. What did you learn from some of them, and what impressed you most about them?

CF: I know I must sound like a broken record but the number one thing I have learned along the way is that the best way to progress is to always be diligent in technique development. After that, you have to put the work in

The thing that impressed me the most is how the best lifters look so strong through their entire sets. I see these as a testament to their technical proficiency and to their mental strength. 

AS: What are your future goals?

CF: Off the top I have a goal to make Master of Sport rank in LC. I feel like I am there, just need to put it together mentally and physically on the day which really is always the challenge.

I am enjoying the progression towards 90+ jerks and in the long term I have a goal of 100 jerks and I would like to consistently be making 150 snatches.

Competition wise I would really like to lift on a big stage event against the top lifters from around the world.

AS: Who do you look upto in GS?

CF: Well certainly many of the Russian lifters. I really took a lot away from watching Anton Anasenko lift. Not that I lift like he does but he really instilled in me the idea of getting to each position quickly and resetting between each repetition.

A few other guys that I have followed along on their paths in GS are Gregor Sobocan of Slovenia, and Eddie Sheehan of Ireland. I was able to follow along with them as they developed in to very high level lifters. We almost get this sense that the Russians were born lifting kettlebells so we don’t necessarily see them progress through the ranks.

AS: Do you also teach GS to others? If yes, who are some of your interesting students to look out for in the future?

CF: I have a small group of lifters I train with and help out as I can. Initially I would say I was their coach but they are very driven lifters and also very busy so we train together when it works and they train on their own a lot. Kathryn Golbeck made Candidate for Master of Sport in both Biathlon and LC events in February and is well on her way towards MS in both. Slava Petlitsa also made CMS in LC at the same competition in February. I have one other new lifter who I think has some great potential and he’ll hopefully be competing soon.

AS: What are some of the mistakes you see newcomers to the sport make?

CF: I think the big mistake is trying to move up in weights too fast/force progress. This can lead to greater risk of injury on top of typically slowed progress. I generally set a goal at each kettlebell weight before I move on to the next with a goal towards that next rank. For myself I set a general goal before I feel I am ready to move onto the next bell weight confidently and with a solid base of technical and physical ability. The same goes for not trying to force reps where there aren’t any. This will more often than not lead to poor technique, which again can slow progress and increase the risk of stress injury.

AS: What advice will you give to people wanting to try GS as a sport?

CF: Take your time and focus on developing quality movements and techniques before focusing on the reps made. When we develop from a technique focus we build a solid foundation to build repetitions upon. I think it is best for new lifters getting in to the sport to treat it as a form of strength and conditioning or athletic training with a goal to compete. If they start from that point they will hopefully focus on getting more flexible, stronger physically and mentally, more explosive and in better condition, all attributes which will aid the lifter as they progress.

Train to be a better athlete… not just a better GS lifter

AS: Any closing thoughts and where can the readers learn more about you?

CF: I have a facebook group, “Okanagan Valley Kettlebells” that I use to connect with people interested in general fitness, kettlebell lifting and GS training.

Thanks again for inviting me for this interview and as I mentioned at the start thank you for taking an active role in connecting lifters from all over and at various stages in their lifting experience.

AS: You are most welcome Charlie, and thank you once again for taking the time to share such great information with the readers. It has been my pleasure to know more about your training methods, and to learn from your experiences. I look forward to your next competition, and wish you the very best for the future.


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