We received great feedback on our November plus size athletes, that I’m sure you’ll love Decembers just as much. Meet Ali, a 36 year old kettlebell competitor in Naples, Florida. Ali began training with kettlebells and a RKC certified trainer in 2009 and started competing nationally, last year under coach Ken Blackburn. We talked with Ali to find how how she got into his sport, what her training regime is like and the benefits of this athletic lifestyle.
But before I introduce you to Ali, here is some competitive kettlebell information to be familiar with, as there are differences between the sport and using kettlebells as a fitness tool.
Kettlebell Competition 101
- Competitive kettlebells are steel weights (fitness kettlebells are made of iron), ranging from 8 kg to 24kg for women and 16 to 32kg for men. It’s shaped like a ball with a handle for easy gripping. The sport itself originated in Russia and has slowly been gaining popularity in the U.S. and Canada.
- Competitive kettlebell lifting is also called Giveroy Sport or GS. There are multiple American organizations within the sport, International Kettlebell Fitness Federation (IKFF), American Kettlebell Association (AKA), and WKC (World Kettlebell Club). They all have various rules and regulations regarding equipment and events.
- Lifts that are seen in competition are Snatch, Long Cycle (clean and jerk), Jerk and Chair Press.
- The length of time for an event is 10 minutes long. There are 5 minute events called sprints. You are allowed to switch hands one time when using a single kettlebell.
Now that you know a bit more about competitive kettlebell, I can tell you that Ali competes with 20kg in the Long Cycle (but trains with 24kg), she competes in 5 minute double kettlebell long cycle with 12kg kettlebells and 5 minute double jerk with 12kg kettle bells.
But she is planning to go up in weight to 16kg (35lb) kettlebells at her next 5 minute sprint competition. Now that’s what I call a power move.
How did you get involved in training with kettlebells and eventually competing at a National level?
In 2008, I started going to Transcendent Fitness, a holistic gym in Naples. I started because I was afraid about my health. I had problems with Fibromyalgia and had just been diagnosed with Hypertension. I was afraid that I would not be around for my kids if I didn’t make some serious changes. In 2009, the gym brought a certified RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) teacher. I immediately started taking his class as well as taking the boot camp the gym offered. In 2013, I decided that I would get certified to teach myself. I went through IKFF’s Certified Kettlebell Teacher course and met Ken Blackburn, noted to be one of the best kettlebell trainers in the world. Ken is the head trainer for IKFF and coach for the IKFF International Team. When he asked me to participate in the team, I was extremely excited. In the last year, I have competed in Michigan, New Jersey, Lousiana and on December 5, will be competing in Tampa, Florida. In November I competed in the IKFF World Competition and did extremely well, ranking in both events I participated in.
What is your athletic regime - how often do you train, do you cross train, how does your nutrition support your sport?
I train with kettlebells 3 days a week. I do Yoga once a week and I do a boot camp style cross-training 4 days a week. I do double up on workouts during the week. I do take rests when I feel like I need it, and after competitions I take a full week off from kettlebell training. Nutrition is extremely important. I am big on eating items that do not have commercials. In other words, I try to stay far away from processed foods. I also keep my distance from foods containing gluten. I limit foods that are known to cause inflammation, like tomatoes. I try to eat as many veggies as possible. Do I screw up, of course, I am human. But I also feel it after and am reminded why I eat the way I do. Proper fuel in, means my body runs better, I am stronger and healthier.
How has competing in kettlebell competition, positively changed your life?
Like other women my size we definitely deal with a lot from society. Our mental and emotional state can only take so much before we begin to hate ourselves because of our appearance. The number on the scale begins to mean more than how we truly feel about ourselves. I still walk in a strange gym and get sideways looks and stares. Then they see me lift and are very surprised that somebody my size can do what I do, whether it is with a kettlebell or a barbell. In kettlebell sport, I am usually the largest woman in the room. We are usually wearing shorts or compression shorts that clearly show the knees, shirts and tanks that clearly show elbows. I used to get pretty self-conscious about showing that much skin. But in this sport, a lifter is a lifter. We are all there competing against ourselves. The goal is to beat your last number and to make rank. They don’t care about your size, shape, color, gender, etc. I have never been around so many supportive, positive and helpful people. My self-esteem and self-confidence have dramatically improved. My scale is collecting dust because I realized I don’t need it, to be beautiful on the inside and outside. I chose to be strong over skinny. I know that in order for me to lift heavy, I am not going to be the size society perceives we should be. I am finally ok with that.
What advice do you have for someone interested in training and competing in this sport? (equipments, investment costs etc)
Competitive lifting is still not well known in most of the United States. But slowly, it is catching on. I would strongly suggest to find a certified kettlebell teacher and learn proper techniques before you try to swing a kettlebell. Injury is common simply because people are not educated on how to properly use the equipment. There are many videos that are put out, but the instructor is not certified in using kettlebells. IKFF.net is a good resource for certified kettlebell teachers. They also post where they will be holding certifications to teach. Proper gear is important as well. Shoes are a must during competition. Some people train barefoot or with sneakers similar to any minimalist shoe. Regular running shoes don’t offer much support for your ankles when lifting heavy weight and the instability can cause injury. Most competitors use weightlifting shoes. I also use wrist guards to protect myself from the constant banging of the kettlebells against my forearms. Other costs incurred are competition registration, airfare, hotel, rental car, food, etc. I do own my own set of kettlebells, but that cost can be cut if your gym carries competition style kettlebells.
Anything else you’d like to share for the readers?
I think the most important thing is to just do it. Find something you love to do and do it. Don’t torture yourself with a sport or workout regime that you will hate, because you will never continue it. It doesn’t even matter if you are good at whatever you choose. That comes with time, hard work and practice. Enjoy your passion and don’t ever give up.
Thank you Ali for sharing your story of how you got involved with kettlebells and how it’s taken you to the next level in competing and being healthy - physically, mentally and spiritually.
Ready to share your plus size athlete story? Email me at hello @ born to reign athletics dot com