I think one of the biggest obstacles to many of us truly achieving our goals is our own inflated sense of pride or ability. Basically we feel we are above the basics because we have already achieved some success in another form, thus we skip those early steps which give us the foundation to build upon and truly achieve the success we desire. I will qualify this in kettlebell sport lifting.
What I mean by this is that because we have been lifting kettlebells for a while, or have a high level of strength and conditioning we feel that we should be able to start half way through the process. I know I was definitely afflicted with this mindset when I first got in to sport lifting, and I see many others are the same. I could not figure out why I could bang through the RKC Secrect Service Snatch Test and Viking Warrior conditioning programs and yet could not even come close making a 10 minute single switch sport set with the a 24 kg bell. I could do 5 x 5 clean and press sets, with little to no rest breaks, till the cows come home but could not last more than a couple minutes of double jerks without turning in to a whining baby.
Only about 18 months ago I had almost quit kettlebell sport before I even started because of this. What I realized at that point was that while I had been lifting kettlebells for years and had a pretty high level of conditioning I had never truly developed my technique to be able to handle the grueling sets involved in kettlebell sport training. I had to start over from the beginning, which meant developing all the aspects of my technique. What you realize training this way is that you have to remove as many flaws as possible as these, usually only small details in a 30 second set become massive in a longer set. Back to lighter bells with a focus on proper positioning, breathing and good lockouts/fixation.
The second part of this follows with my last comment above. Lighter bells. I see so many people lifting bells well beyond their capabilities. I would say in genera,l men much more so than women have this need to lift the heavier bells, though this does seem to be changing to some extent with the inclusion of hard wrist-guards. Here is where pride has gotten in the way of success for many. I know that my working through the ranks slowly and progressively is what has allowed me to remain relatively injury free and also to truly develop my technique as needed for each heavier bell. At the end of March I received word from the WKC that I had officially made Rank 1 at Long Cycle with the 24 kg. kettlebells; I made 70+ reps. I then decided that I was going to do a baseline test with the 28 kg bells in Long Cycle. I proceeded to get the piss beat out of me before stopping at ~7.5 minutes and making I think 35 reps. What I learned from that set was I was not ready for the 28 kg bells. Not just that my fitness was not there but I was just not ready. I was not mentally or physically prepared to deal with those bells. I see this but to a much greater extent in many kettlebell lifters. They make some decent progress with the 16 kg and 20 kg bells and then they immediately decide to jump to the 24 kg bells. Almost all of these individuals proceed to struggle lifting these bells because they are not prepared for them. In sport competition this is plain to see because they are the ones who fail to last even close to the full timed set length. I have talked to or read blogs from these individuals and their take on why they chose to lift a heavier bell or why they did not make the reps they had hoped. In general the most frequent response or comment is to a desire to challenge themselves. I find this very interesting as a response because is it really a challenge if you are not even close to meeting the desired goal (10 minutes) or continually fail to meet their own goal (a certain rep count). In my honest opinion I would much rather see a lifter make 100+ reps LC with really high quality at 16 kg then 20-30 reps at less than 5 minutes at 24 kg. I follow kettlebell lifting and sport competition pretty closely and have seen lifters suffering from the same faults each time they lift and this leads to inconsistent results and in some cases their numbers/performance have remained the same or even decreased in spite of their training.
For women I think it is easier to progress towards the upper ranks, Rank 1 and up, without having ideal quality because it is more about speed than strength, as it is is more so for men. However, once they hit the 16 kg and above this seems to be where a lot of women struggle, though some for different reasons. Reason one is the load on the body. Often time the increased weight of the kettlebell resting on the wrist leads to inflammation and the increased load of the overhead lockout leads to increased stiffness and in some cases spasms. With the focus more on speed for women there is much more opportunity for issues to arise if the weight lifted is truly above their ability, technique(movement/positioning) and strength as they have to lift faster which limits their ability to focus on each lift. This will also increase the risk of injury in the lifter. For the stronger women they are able to progress even quicker but often times this leads to a decrease in the quality of the lift. Many of these women end up performing what is a glorified push press. The previous level of strength allows them to complete the lift without having to focus on the second dip, a requirement of the Jerk lift. This in general is merely a lack of focus on the quality of the lift, weak second dip and no fixation overhead. The weak second dip takes away from the explosiveness of the lift and decreases the overhead mobility and fixation aspect of the jerk. It is the fixation and full lockout of the lift which helps to develop joint strength and active(functional) flexibility.
Kettlebell sport takes patience, toughness and commitment. When we focus on solely on the ranks we often miss out on the true benefits of the kettlebell lifting; improved health, mental well being/self-efficacy, and physical performance.
*I wanted to make a quick note on how my comfort has changed lifting the various kettlebells. When I first started lifting I was not truly comfortable lifting any kettlebell but could tough my way through it. With time and consistent effort I improved to the point where I was truly comfortable lifting the 20 kg kettlebells. It felt great, I felt strong and explosive with these bells. The 24 kg bells wore me out. After only a few reps I would slow down and begin to feel like I was fighting the bells. About 3 months ago I was training and I realized that I had than strong and explosive feeling with the 24's. This really gave me confidence that I was making real progress and not just getting better at dealing with the suffering of a sport set. I have yet to feel that way about the 28 kg bells even though I have lifted them in competition making 81 and 77 reps (jerks not Long cycle) in 10 minutes. For this reason I know I am not ready to be lifting the 32 kg bells. I know that with time and continued focus on progressive improvement I will get to that point with them as well.
I know I did not mention much about injury prevention for men. There is definitely risk for injury for male lifters who have not properly developed the technique for kettlebell lifting. As the weights increase so increases the risk for injury when technique takes a back seat to expedited progress. This also arises when we look event's like strongsport. I have dealt with some issues as a result of this. I have the ability to lift the 48 kg bell but I have dealt with wrist/forearm inflammation and also back spasms as a result of poor positioning over head and an insufficient bump from the legs and weak/slow second dip.