Streamlining Kettlebell Competitions

Kettlebells - C. Knight / krider

And indeed, making them a bit more like competitions!

This is a topic that I have been pondering for a while, and discussed at length with a fellow KB Sport team member and friend. A blog post called Competitive Landscaping, written by Christopher Doenlen about the state of the sport in the USA prompted me to write this one. I do not know the guy but felt I wanted to respond here as I do have views based on my perspective of female lifting in the UK.

It turns out that the same problems plague both the US and the UK. And possibly other countries too. Many competitions, almost all with large ranges of competitor and bell weights which leads to a combinatorial explosion of categories. So there then is the situation where there are very few competitors in each category. This is itself is not a problem. But the awarding of medals to the first three places in each category tends to mean that almost all people at a competition end up with a medal.

I know that runs, triathlons, etc. all have finishers medals. And actually I have no issue with kettlebell competitions doing that. The entrance fee covers the cost in those events, why not kettlebell ones? But I think there does need to be something that marks out those who did well in terms of tonnage lifted with respect to their bodyweight (not necessarily co-efficient bodyweight divisor).

Another point I agree with Christopher on is that of titles. The number of people I see claiming “Champion of …” is really ludicrous. I sometimes do the same out of annoyance so I’m not claiming I’m perfect. But all this competing for England (at GSU competitions) for example (as an English person) is rubbish. You pay your money and you turn up. No qualification or anything.

I am less concerned about frequency of the events. It seems about right in the UK, with a good spread of locations. Any more frequent and it would be fit training cycles in! I think the size of the US, and with easy internal flights, they may have more to deal with to decide which events to target, and a possible spreading out of the competing pool.

Christopher put forward several proposed solutions which I’d like to comment on in turn, and perhaps add my thoughts to them. I certainly don’t have all the answers but will try to summarise my thoughts at the end.


Fewer Divisions

This could be fewer weight categories, fewer bell options, or not having all events at all competitions.

I like the mix of events at competitions as it allows the BBF guys to go as a team, even though some do Biathlon and some do Long Cycle. It also allows those doing different events to mix, and watch each other, and perhaps consider switching events.

I think that wider weight categories may have a place, though would prefer to see this used in conjunction with co-efficient scoring within the category (see below). I found over/under 68kg a bit of a challenge at one competition. I thought it was perhaps a bit too wide. Maybe 64 and under, 70 and under, over 72 would help in the women’s groupings? Rather than under 58, 58-63, 63-68, over 68. It may be only one less, but there are larger ranges.

Having less bell weight options may also be sensible. I find it hard going up 4kg each time, but know that sitting through even more lifts and then awards if the intermediate bells were offered would be unbearable. I’m also of the opinion that 8kg is too light for a competition. There is a world of difference with women starting at 8kg, and guys on 2 x 16kg bells (so 32kg). Working up to using a 12kg bell is an important part of learning to compete.

I also think that having a rep max would be interesting. Some lifters definitely just stay at a lower weight to crank out more reps and win medals. They don’t challenge themselves. That’s cool from a training and personal enjoyment perspective. Less so in a competitive environment.


Co-Efficient Scoring

Generally this means (KB weight x Reps) / Body Weight.

This is an interesting comparison, and sometimes I do it with my coach’s figures to see how far I have to go 😉 But I think using co-efficient in the case of competitions is flawed. It naturally means those on heavier bells of even a basic competence will win the competition. They clearly are excellent lifters but without some differential of kettlebell or body weight no-one else stands a chance. I feel there needs to be the motivation to compete at other levels, otherwise people may stop trying. A progression is important. Unless perhaps we make more of achieving rank. But since they areis awarded post competition there is never a fanfare over that.

If we applied this to all people of a given body weight range (regardless of bell), or to all bells regardless of body weight then it would be better for me than a complete application to all lifters. I’m not actually a fan of the WKC Pentathlon sole winners for men and women. If my coach enters I know I’m not going to win. Which makes me less likely to try, despite the different challenge and strategy involved, and that I enjoy hitting PBs in the mini pentathlons we sometimes run in training. PBs are good, but competing knowing I can’t even get close to winning doesn’t motivate me. I’m not sure why, given I’m more than happy to be mid-pack in races. Perhaps because I don’t consider myself a runner, but I do consider myself a Girevik?


Hierarchy of Kettlebell Competitions

I think, at the moment anyway, this is of less concern in the UK. We are not as large a country so don’t have the range of events. Thankfully! I think if we did it would dilute it so that local competitions were not enough of a competition. Should the sport explode in popularity of course, local, regional, and national competitions makes a lot of sense.


Judging Quality

This is something I have seen and suffered from. I love good judging. Reps not counting when they wouldn’t in a world championship (from qualified judges) is great feedback and has helped me to improve.

What I struggle to accept is the variability of judging. Where I get no counts and other lifters with worse form get the reps awarded. And this comes from events where I won medals (including gold), so it’s not sour grapes. I know that having professional judges is hard, but that was a major plus point of the IUKL Grand Prix for me.

While this is not a direct comment on restructuring competitions it is something is an important aspect of any competition. Open up judging courses in terms of availability, location, and cost, and then expect that standard from all judges in all competitions. I appreciate the efforts of volunteers, but it frustrates me quite a lot.



I know, from the fact that the only official lift for women at the world level is still just Snatch, that change in kettlebell competitions will not happen overnight. But that doesn’t stop those in the UK and US running competitions to start to make alterations for the better now. It will surely only help everyone develop better? And then lead to competitors with a better chance of succeeding at the international events!

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