Kettlebell Pentathlon Training Guide

The kettlebell pentathlon is a very strategic event in comparison to traditional Girevoy Sport. 5 lifts, performed for 6 minutes each over a 50 minute time frame with a choice of up to 5 different weights to keep you company on the platform. The scope for variation is what makes it interesting to me. There are lots of different permutations that can be tried. Factor in a maximum rep count for each exercise and the solution to finding what works for you can be even more daunting.

I always recommend that people should shoot for the higher rep count as opposed to going heavy and coming up short reps wise. Just to re-cap, maximums are as follows

  • Cleans 120 reps (20 RPM)
  • Long cycle press 60 reps (10 RPM
  • Jerks 120 reps (20 RPM)
  • Half snatch 108 reps (18 RPM)
  • Push press 120 reps (20 RPM)

These are deemed realistic numbers that may well be achievable with good form. They are by and large realistic providing a Fixometer is not used.

With so many variations, just how do you go about preparing for such an event?  I can only speak from my own personal experience here. I have competed in 10 pentathlons over the last 4 years and have a personal best score of 1620 points with a Fixometer and 1760 without. Both of these were scored at a competiton. I have also prepared other athletes for pentathlons, all of which have had success.

Heres a 4 week cycle of a program I have used for training towards a pentathlon.

As you can see, I rotate the 5 exercises round. Green is one cycle and orange is another. This way, the order is always mixed up and it keeps things interesting as well as benefitting overall strength development. Just cycle through the 5 exercises starting with cleans on day one and then start with LCP on day two and jerks on day 3 and so on.

Light to moderate cardio every other day with the option of a day off on Thursday and Sunday.

This of course needs to be progressive so on the second cycle (weeks 5-8) I will increase the minutes to 7, 6, 5 as opposed to 6, 5, 4 and then on the final 4 weeks I would do 8, 7, 6.

Weights wise, I wouldn’t deviate too much from my intended competition weight, probably keeping with one full weight of my comp weight (no more than 4 kg above)

I would test every month to see how I was progressing.Sometimes this test would be a two thirds pent so would be 4 minutes work and 3 minutes 20 seconds rest. This is a fairly good predictor of your overall performance if you were to calculate your reps for the remaining two minutes.

You should be aiming to get as near as possible to the max RPM limit for each lift. If you’re way short, then reduce your weight.

Like any program, you shouldn’t be a slave to it. Feeling tired, then ease up a little. Feeling strong, then go for a heavier session with fewer reps. It’s not an exact science and has way more variables than traditional GS.

Alongside this of course, you will need to add in some GPP (General Physical Preparation) This should only be about 20-30 minutes and you should be looking to get your training done within the hour (not including mobility and stretching) GPP could take the form of squats, jump squats, pulling and pushing motions in both the horizontal and vertical planes. Just mix it up and keep things interesting.

Always try and keep the reps even per side unless you have a weaker side that needs strengthening up. Do not favour your strong side, do the opposite!

Obviously, if you are hitting the maximum rep count per minute then you will need to up the weight. It is perfectly fine to increase in 2 kg increments especially on LCP.

If you follow some kind of structure, whether it be this or something else, you will definitely benefit on the day of the competition. Being prepared is everything, leave nothing to chance and you give yourself the best possible opportunity to put in a good performance.

 

The Kettlebell Pentathlon

The kettlebell Pentathlon

A new and exciting form of kettlebell sport is growing rapidly within the UK. It is the kettlebell pentathlon.

Devised by Valery Fedorenko of the World Kettlebell Club, (WKC) it has from the onset, been designed to be more accessible than other forms of kettlebellsport, such as the biathlon. This does not necessarily mean that it is easier!

Pentathlons are now supported by the IKFF in the UK These take place both in England and Scotland and are generally sold out events

There are still skills to master in order to become proficient at the pentathlon but unlike many other forms of kettlebell sport, you only ever use one

kettlebell and multiple hand changes are allowed. Also, the maximum working length of any one set is 6 minutes as opposed to 10 in regular GS

Here are the basic mechanics of it

There are 5 disciplines performed in a set order. The 5 disciplines are:

1.Clean

2.Long cycle press (clean and press)

3.Jerk

4.Half snatch

5.Push press

  • Each discipline is carried out for 6 minutes.
  • Multiple hand changes are allowed
  • There is a 5 minute break after each discipline
  • There is a maximum repetition (rep) count for each discipline. These are only maximums and a sub maximum number will not be penalised

The maximum rep counts are as follows. These are deemed as realistic numbers that can be achieved within the given time constraints and with good form. No additional points are scored for reps over the preset maximum.

  • Cleans 120 reps
  • Long cycle press 60 reps
  • Jerks 120 reps
  • Half snatch 108 reps
  • Push press 120 reps

The competitors are allowed to choose a maximum of 5 different weights for their kettlebells. Those bells can then be used for whatever discipline they choose. No changing of the weight is allowed once the athlete starts that particular discipline and no setting the weight down until the 6 minutes are up. If the weight is set down whilst there is still time left on the clock, the set is ended but all reps will count up to the point when the bell was placed down. Also, if the competitor hits maximum reps whilst still having time on the clock, the kettlebell will be put down and that competitor will gain additional rest. However, by and large, with correct form and proper judging, this is unlikely to happen.

A different points value is assigned to each kettlebell as follows:

  • 8 kg = 1 point
  • 12 kg = 1.5 points
  • 16 kg = 2 points
  • 20 kg = 2.5 points
  • 24 kg = 3 points
  • 28 kg = 3.5 points
  • 32 kg = 4 points
  • 36 kg = 4.5 points
  • 40 kg = 5 points

This continues right up to 72 kg! Intermittent weights such as the 10, 14 and 18 can also be included with the additional values of .25 so a 14 would be worth 1.75

If the competitor performs 100 reps with the 24 kg bell in the half snatch then this is worth 100 (reps) x 3 (points) = 300 points

All five scores are added up in this way to create a total score.

There are currently 3 weight classes each for men and women.

These are

Men

  • up to 79 kg
  • 79 kg to 85 kg
  • 85 kg and over

Women

  • Up to 60 kg
  • 60 kg to 67 kg
  • 67 kg and over

The disciplines

This article hasn’t the space to go into the detail of all the disciplines required but here is a brief description including details of what the official will be looking for in each lift.

The Clean

The kettlebell is cleaned to the rack position.

The judge will want to see

  • There has to be a moment of fixation in the rack position.

The clean and press

The kettlebell is cleaned to the rack position and then pressed overhead

.The judge will want to see

  • A clear separation of the clean and the press. There must be a moment of stillness once the rack is achieved.
  • There must be no knee bend prior to the press. This is a strict press only.
  • The kettlebell must fixate at the top of the movement with no wobble or sway
  • There must be good alignment

Jerk

From the racked position, the knees are dipped and then straightened to drive up the kettlebell before catching the kettlebell at the top of the movement with a second dip of the knees. You then straighten the legs to complete the rep.

The judge will want to see

  • There needs to be solid fixation at the top of the movement with good alignment
  • Fixation in the racked position.
  • No push press. The bell must be caught at the top position with a straight arm

Half snatch

Unlike the full snatch movement, the half snatch is lowered from the overhead position to the rack position before lowering for a back swing into another rep.

The judge will want to see

  • There needs to be a rack position on the way back down (a stop and go)
  • There is solid fixation at the top of each rep with good alignment
  • The bell is caught at the top position with a straight arm.

Push press

From the rack position, you dip your knees and drive the bell up to the overhead position. Your heels must stay in contact with the floor.

The judge will want to see

  • Good fixation and alignment.
  • Checking your heels stay flat on the floor.
  • That you don’t bounce out of rack straight into another rep

The IKFF pride themselves on fairness within their competitions and therefore these criteria are to be adhered otherwise you will be no stranger to the No Count board!

A trial run

Once you have got your technique down reasonably well on the 5 disciplines it’s time to put in a trial run.

Start off conservatively. Remember, you are working for 6 minutes at a time and over 5 different disciplines.

The key to a good score in the pentathlon is all in the choice of weight and pacing.

Aim to pace yourself accurately. It’s a 6 minute set so take 6 minutes to complete it. It’s a false economy to set off too fast for two reasons. One, you will no doubt end up with more no counts from your judge and two, you will burn out earlier. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the extra rest gained will benefit you very much. A better strategy is to pace yourself to start with and keep your breathing under control throughout.

At the start when you are fresh, it’s very tempting to choose a weight, which in isolation may seem quite manageable but you must consider the accumulated fatigue. Once the first discipline is over, you still have 4 more to go so it’s no good burning out on the first 1 or 2 events with over zealous weight choices. Once you start to get an idea of what it’s like to flow from one event to another and how the accumulated fatigue will affect your performance in the subsequent lifts, you will be able to make some fairly accurate predictions on your own performance.

This takes a few trial runs to achieve and some number crunching on the calculator but will ultimately lead to ever increasing personal bests. You will be able to determine if going lighter and hitting closer to maximum reps is a better strategy for a high score or maybe sacrificing a few reps in order to use a higher weight will work better. Or maybe if you go lighter on the half snatch, you will be so much stronger on the push press ultimately pushing your final score up. This is one of the aspects of the pentathlon that I really enjoy. Putting pen to paper and seeing what strategy stacks up best! One of the strategies I like to use is a mini pent. This is effectively a two thirds pentathlon, working for 4 minutes and resting for 3 minutes 20 seconds. This is clearly not as exhausting as a full pent and therefore can be tried more often. I find it’s a good predictor of performance in a full pentathlon set.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have some form of strategy before going for a full pentathlon test or competition. Plan out your hand changes and how many reps you hope to hit in each minute. These ongoing targets will help keep you focused in each discipline. Better scores will be achieved if you adhere to a preset plan rather than just mindlessly banging out random hand changes and reps.

The kettlebell pentathlon is an extremely challenging event but with the mix of 5 different lifts, it’s also a lot of fun and very satisfying to do.

Kettlebell Types And What To Avoid

There are many different types of kettlebell on the market and to the beginner, the apparent differences between them can be very confusing.
I advocate two specific types of bell for my program.
Cast iron and Competition
Lets look at the advantages and disadvantages of each before looking at what
to avoid.
Cast iron
As the name suggests, these are a solid one piece moulding. Not all cast bells are created equally though.
Unlike the competition kettlebells which are made by and large to a standard specification, cast bells vary enormously both in design and quality. I have seen some truly horrendous cast bells in my time and if you happen to choose one of these, you may limit your chances of ever becoming competent with a bell due to the discomfort.
Check the handle for thickness. This should be about 32-35mm.
Too much or too thickness in the handle will impede your grip. The handle should be smooth to the touch and not too rough. The bell itself should be
painted only and not be coated in any form of plastic. Plastic coating may look pretty but I find that it pulls on the skin when held in the rack position or pressed overhead. It’s also prone to perish in time, especially if you ever leave your bells out in the elements. Go for the standard round shape and not some oddball new age bell which is trying to stand out from the crowd by being a funky shape!
You will often see some big names in the fitness industry produce bells with plastic coating. Whilst these will be built well and look very nice, please don’t assume just because they are a
big brand name, that they know how to design a kettlebell. More often than not, these bells are designed to be aesthetically pleasing as opposed to being truly functional.
Advantages
  • Compact design so can be less intimidating to beginners
  • Generally more affordable
  • Quality can be very high
  • Easier to store
  • Easy availability
Disadvantages
  • Because they are a single piece moulding, they will get bigger as they get heavier. This may not seem like a big deal but you will find that in the rack, and in the overhead position, the bell will sit slightly differently on your forearm. This may take some getting used to
  • Quality can be very poor
  • They generally have smaller bases than competition bells so are not so well suited to floor based exercises such as renegade rows.
  • They have a smaller radius so you have a more acute contact point on your forearm when holding them in the rack position.
Competition kettlebells
These bells are also known as pro-grade kettlebells. They are my choice. This is to a degree dictated by my involvement in kettlebell sport as we exclusively use competition bells. However,
even before I competed, I found favor with this type of bell. When it comes to purchasing, the minefield is definitely easier to navigate!
There are some variations around handle thickness and design but the actual circumference of the bell itself remains constant. Some designs feature a hole in the bottom. This allows any residual material left inside as a result of the manufacturing process, to fall out. Some of my bells could literally double up as a giants rattle!
Crucially though, this particular design has a better weight distribution with more of the weight higher up in the bell. This is a bonus for those attempting big snatch numbers. But a standard competition bell is perfectly fine
Advantages
  • Better consistency in quality
  • Whether you have an 8 or a 48 kg bell, the external circumference remains the same. This is advantageous in that you don’t have to get used to something of a different physical dimension as you progress up through the weights hey have a bigger contact point on your forearm due to the wider circumference. This will increase comfort
  • They have larger bases and are therefore more stable for floor based exercises
Disadvantages
  • Generally more expensive
  • Can seem intimidating, especially if you’re quite small
  • Take up more space
What to avoid
There are many kettlebells out there on the market place that need to be avoided.
Lets not mess about, right from the off, never buy plastic!
There is a reason why kettlebell manufacturers in the know, never produce plastic bells. Sand is a common filling in order to get the weight.
This will eventually start to leak out especially with the cheaper bells.
They are usually a two piece moulding and guess where the seam usually is? Right underneath the handle where your hand will be! I am not going to go ahead and list a bunch of advantages and disadvantages because I would rather you avoid them altogether.
The chance are you will need to buy your kettlebells via mail order. In my experience, most shops tend to stock plastic kettlebells. There are many reputable mail order stockists. Here in the UK, I use Wolverson exclusively as the quality and price point is spot on.

Just Starting Out? Here’s some advice on choosing the correct starting weight

A common pattern generally occurs here. Women tend to underestimate their
own strength whilst guys will let their egos take over and opt for something too heavy! I was exactly the same when I started out. I was a well conditioned weight trained individual. But I wasn’t conditioned for the way in which kettlebells train the body! Surely, I thought, if I can happily shoulder press 28kg dumbbells, I could happily manage a 24kg kettlebell? Nope!
So, lets break this down. For the females amongst you, go with the following as a starting point
Women
Non weight trained.
In this category, even if you’re an aerobic diva, start with a 10kg or 12 kg bell for 2 handed swings and an 8kg for most other things. 10 really is a minimum for swings as you will need that much just to give yourself the necessary feedback to indicate correct form.
Weight trained
I’m going to state 12-16 here for 2 handed swings and let you decide what feels right. Caveat being that you aim to move to 16 just as soon as you can. 8-12 kg for everything
else. That’s quite a range but I have to make allowances for the different strength levels amongst you.
Men
Non weight trained
12-16 kg for swings with a move to the 16 as soon as possible. Most likely a 12 kg for everything else.
Weight trained
16-20kg for swings. For everything else a 12 to a 16kg.
This is just a guide of course. You may also be able to use the heavier weight for squats, deadlifts and other kettlebell exercises. But you need to be prepared to invest a little here. You will outgrow the bells pretty  quickly if you follow my advice on this website. There are other variables that you can employ to make the lighter weight feel more intense again but, ultimately as you gain strength and experience, you will need heavier bells.