Remember that scene from The Jerk? Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters are walking along the beach at night and he is playing the ukulele as they sing the sweetest melody? And then at the end, he delivers the cutest line about wanting to kiss her but explains why he didn’t by saying “I didn’t want to get spit on me.” Where am I going with this? Because the Jerk—as in, the kettlebell lift—is a lot like that trombone he was describing. Everything about it is a system and it all starts from the lips. Yeah. Lips. The lockout at the top comes from the undersquat, which is brought on first by the bump, but not without the first dip, which starts from the rack position, where we must first BREATHE.
After rebuilding my arm strength from an injury on the rock climbing wall back in the spring, I was ready to start seriously lifting weights again. I wasn’t at 100% yet, but I felt good about giving my shoulder a little more to do than resistance band work and light weight training. While getting back on the wall was a slow process, I also started working with traditional kettlebells again. I remember the first time picking it back up. The dust had collected on its smooth surface and the weight almost felt too heavy. My poor shoulder had forgotten what it was like to stabilize anything other than my own bodyweight. I gave a few Turkish Get Ups a whirl and felt pretty rusty. Not getting too caught up in my loss of strength I gave Swings a try. Not too bad. How about a snatch? NOPE.
Hello Old Friend, We Meet Again
On the other end of town, My old coach Nikolai was expanding his kettlebell sport club. He had moved out of the gym he was previously holding classes at and set up his own studio just for kettlebell sport. I would see pictures of my old classmates looking strong and remember how fun it was to lift together, so I reached out and said I would be coming back to class. My first class back was jam packed! There were so many new lifters along with the old! I felt like such a rookie standing in the back of the room, swinging the bell around like an awkward duck, completely forgetting how a jerk was performed, let alone the elusive snatch. There was even a glove set at the end of class and I feared my bell would slip from my grip and knock over at least 3 people with it in front of me. I remember getting soup for lunch afterwards and having half of it end up in my lap. Straight up JURASSIC PARK JELLO ARM.
After catching up with a few familiar faces after class, they all asked me if I were going to sign up for the competition that was coming up. They were all so enthusiastic and excited to see me that I couldn’t say no. In just a few minutes I was already committing to something I wasn’t entirely sure I could do. I was ready to lift a kettlebell again, but I was nowhere near ready to compete. The following week, I had a 1-on-1 session with my coach to get a feel for what I was ready to do.
Let the Training Begin
Coming back from an injury is something I have a lot of experience with in my time playing roller derby, and this was no different. The slow and steady race that has to be completed before you even get anywhere near the finish line takes a lot of patience and diligence. During our 1-on-1 session, Nikolai ran me through some baseline tests. My first Jerk and Snatch tests were pretty low rep counts. I had to accept and remember it was only just a few days ago that I had picked up a bell again and was only at the beginning of my training prep. There was still some instability in my shoulder, so we decided to play it safe and only have me prep for a 5 min. Jerk set with a 12kg. My coach said I could also train for the 5 min. Snatch set with a 8kg, but we could decide how I felt about when it came closer to signing up. As a first timer competitor, it was more than enough to just sign up for 1 event even though there is the option to sign up for 3.
How do these competitions work? There are men’s and women’s divisions—both are categorized by weight class, kettlebell weight and event. Once class and weight are determined, a competitor can rank in their event according to the reps completed in the time allotted. So in a sense, each competitor can rank and not necessarily compete against other lifters.
For my event, the 5 minute, Single Arm Jerk Only, I needed 65 reps to be Rank 1. That is 14 reps a minute. My weight class would be 65kg. For the first time in my life, I needed to actually pay attention to how much I weighed, down to the ounces. I generally fluctuate 2 to 5 pounds at any given time, but now I realized that I couldn’t go over my usual comfy day to day weight if I wanted to stay within my weight class. On top of that, I needed to fit in several months of training into under 4 weeks. Nikolai was confident I would be ready so I handed over the reins to him. With my work schedule always conflicting with his class schedule, it meant I would have to suck it up and hit the 7a classes.
For the record, I hate working out early in the morning. It pains me to wake up early and exercise like a responsible adult. I’d rather sleep, eat cereal and drink coffee, then go about my day and work out in the afternoon or at night with functioning cognitive abilities. It brought on flashbacks to getting up to go to speed skating practice at 5:30a on Saturday mornings. My teammate used to pick me up and I would sleepily nibble a Luna bar during the drive and stumble into the roller rink secretly hoping to find a pile of stuffed animals behind the prize counter to sleep on.
So with 3 days of kettlebell training, 1 day on the climbing wall (low intensity) , 1 day of cardio (mid-intensity) and 1 day of mixed cardio/weight training (high intensity) with my fellow trainer Steve, I was now fully decked out to prepare myself for the competition. The first few training sessions were pretty hard. I was still relearning the lifts and fixing major flaws in my technique. I often slowed my pace to focus on form. I often had to park the bell before time was up when my shoulder stability started to go. The first session of mixed training with Steve was 10 sets of 10 swings plus 1 hill sprint. I thought I was going to pass out. For the first time in a long time I was in dire need of my inhaler. For the first time in over a year, I went back to the always brutal stair workout at Howe St. I hadn’t had anything to train for since July, so it was exciting to have a training plan again. This was much different that training for endurance like I had for STP. This involved much more.
The Final Countdown
Let’s jump ahead to the last week before the competition. I managed to catch a cold. Of course I catch a cold. I have to skip a class, rest and drink Emergen-C for the next few days like its free Slurpee refill day at 7-11 (as in, my teeth were literally stained Super Orange). Saturday rolls around and we have our final test to see how we’ve done in the past few weeks. I was right around my rep goal for Jerk, but still under what I should have been aiming for with the Snatch. However, it was the first time in weeks I was feeling good about my form. Unfortunately it was the day after registration had ended, so it was already too late to change from 1 event to 2.
In terms of staying with my weight class, I weighed in on Friday night at 63kg for my 65kg class. There was a moment of panic before I stepped on the scale. I knew I was within range, and I had light meals earlier in the day. Looking back, my diet didn’t change a whole lot. I kept it fairly clean day to day, sticking to portion control for breakfast, lunch and snacks, while eating a little more for dinner, including a lot more protein. I also drank a ridiculous amount of water. Which, seems to be a bad idea before a weigh in, as the easiest way to weigh more is through water weight. Some of my teammates even went to the spa and sat for hours in the sauna to shed those last few ounces. But I didn’t want to risk being dehydrated before the competition. Having to fear the scale was not my favorite part of training at all.
Saturday morning. I wake up, make my coffee and eggs and sit in silence as I mentally prepare myself for the long day. There are 29 flights total, and my single event is flight 22. I would have to sit for hours before getting on the platform. After I get showered and dressed and kiss my sleeping bf goodbye, I walk up to the door where I had placed my kettlebell directly in front of so I wouldn’t forget it. I quietly say, “Hello Anatoli (yes, I named my bell). It is time.” In the elevator, an older gentleman looks over and quizzes me about the bright blue massive ball in my hand. When we step into the lobby he asks if he can hold it, and is surprised by how heavy it is. It is a nice little confidence booster before I head out the door and he wishes me luck.
Arriving at Northwest Strength and Performance, lifters of many ages and sizes funnel in as we greet each other all the while firmly clutching cups of coffee harder than we would kettlebells. We all gather for the rules meeting demonstrated by a few of the judges for the day and the first flight is off to a start. Our team, Seattle Kettlebell Club is represented by 14 lifters, so there would only be a handful of flights without a teammate on deck. It was so exciting to watch my teammates perform so beautifully, each hitting rank and some of them outlasting the other lifters in their events. My teammate Adrian, who was also coming back from injury after being in a motorcycle accident over the summer, outlasted the other lifters in more than one event!
It was finally getting close to my flight, so I warmed up and started going to the motions in my head. My teammates checked in with me and made sure to be there in case I had any last minute questions or thoughts. Just then, my bf walks in and is ready to cheer me on. My judges were Tricia Dong and Tom Corrigan, both from Canada. I had been watching them all day and they were very strict on good reps, so I prayed that I would perform as cleanly as possible. In my flight were 2 other teammates, so we definitely represented on the platform as a whole. As I placed Anatoli down. I looked over to my coach and there was nothing but a nod exchanged. I was ready to go.
A lot of my teammates had said that when they are on the platform, there is a loss of senses. Ranging from not remembering what music was playing, to not recognizing anyone in the crowd, to forgetting what they were even doing. The only two distinct things I remembered from that 5 minutes were A.) breathing. and B.) Tom tapping his foot a few times every time I performed a rep. After the switch my right arm had cramped up and I couldn’t really put it down. In the last minute my teammate Paul was standing by to tell me to go ahead and let ‘er rip. I needed 65 to get rank 1 and had surpassed it. At the end of my set I had 71 reps (and only 1 no count, not too shabby). After I was done, Tom came over and gave me a few tips on how to clean up my technique and it lit a huge lightbulb in my head. It was something I had been struggling with for weeks and it wasn’t until then that I got it. I was super grateful for the kind words and coaching tips both judges gave me.
So, When it the next one?
After all the flights were over, all 14 of us walked away with medals during the award ceremony. It had been a long time since I had been part of a team, along with being in a competitive environment. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. I used to pride myself on working hard and being an anchor, as well as being an example of discipline and good form. I look forward to sticking with it this time and getting back to those pillars of pride, while keeping myself healthy to compete again in the spring. A big thanks to my coach Nikolai and all my teammates at Seattle Kettlebell Club, for welcoming me back with open arms and getting me ready for competition is such little time.
And last but not least, here is my set.