Valery Fedorenko Interview
Maya: Describe some aspects of your childhood that led you to Kettlebells. Did you play any other sports or consider yourself athletic as a young man?
Fedorenko: I’m not sure I considered myself athletic when I was young. Actually I wanted to be strong and athletic, so I turned to kettlebells. I was an active kid but most of my friends were naturally stronger than I was, so it was some motivation to make this skin and bones into something. As for other sports, I did attempt acrobatics, doing flips, jumps and such until I broke my arm. I guess it wasn’t for me. I do remember having to work with a really weak left arm after the break, but even though it’s not my dominant arm, I made it equal or even better than my right with the kettlebell. It didn’t heal straight, but maybe it healed stronger, I don’t know. I also did some Martial Arts training and some Boxing. I just figured kettlebells were more healthy for the long term, and I’ve since realized it’s true. Recently I reconnected with some of those guys that used to be stronger than I was. It was a shock for me to see them, but unfortunately some of them can’t even safely exercise they are in such poor health. There are a lot of things that contribute to such conditions, but I remember when they stopped being physical and active, it was about the time I considered myself just starting.
Maya: At what age and from which organization did you first earn Master of Sport in the Biathlon? What were your numbers then? How many years did it take you to achieve that rank?
Fedorenko: I was 16 yrs old when I did the required number of repetitions 45 Jerk and 45/45 Snatch, but when I was 17 I got the official paperwork from the Ministry of Sport Department USSR/Moscow. Around that time my best was 68 reps Jerk and 55/55 Snatch, as well as 46 LongCycle at body weight of 68kg with 32kg kettlebells. I was a pale skin pink cheeked kid still [Valery laughs]. Actually from that point on I was practically doing Master of Sport numbers in the gym everyday because I began professional training then and had bigger goals, like Champion. This is when I started to get creative with my training. I felt like I knew nothing about kettlebells at that point, and I was right. I kind of “began” kettlebells when I was 12 years old, but it was not serious. Then I was more into juggling kettlebells and putting together routines with my friend for the girls in our building. It was like a show. I wasn’t thinking about Champion anything and didn’t even think about Master of Sport or understanding what it meant until 15 years old. So, I guess you could say it was a few years of training to get to Master of Sport, which I think with enough commitment and a good coach, anyone can do.
Maya: Many people do not know that you’re also ranked MS World Class in the Long Cycle. How did you make the time to train for both Biathlon and Long Cycle?
Fedorenko: Everyone on the team would spend four months out of the year on LongCycle and eight months training for the Biathlon. We competed together in the LongCycle one time per year between 1990 and 1996 so I trained for six years at the professional level.
Maya: I always thought you trained alone. Please tell us more about your team.
Fedorenko: Yes, well, at first I was invited to live at the Olympic Development Center by the Minister of Sport Department of my country [Kyrgyzstan]. The Minister was an Olympic gold medalist in 1980 and he helped me a lot actually because I was able to study, train, and live there for one year with the other weightlifters and national athletes from other sports. I took lots of classes and had to eat special food like them, but I was the only kettlebell lifter. By 17 years old, I went on my own living in an apartment because I was paid by the government to train with kettlebells professionally. The apartment was kind of like a special gift too. The Mayor of my city invited me to live there after I won a few important competitions. I wasn’t rich, but it was enough to get by. I trained as a member of the national team with six other kettlebell lifters twelve times per week because we trained twice each day. Three hours in the morning between 9 and 12 noon and then four hours in the evening from 5 to 9 o’clock, six days a week. That’s what was different about training at the professional level; we were always together as a team. It made training easier. At home alone is not easy.
Maya: So you were training seven hours a day / six days a week before the age of 20. How did you handle all of that responsibility as a young man?
Fedorenko: I clearly understood that I had to decide whether to go party, have fun OR go train. I decided that first I had to become somebody. I needed to get some titles and keep working hard. After that, maybe, I figured I could have more fun, but I never worried about that really. To get somewhere in life, to be Champion for example, I knew I had to pay the price. I didn’t have to go anywhere; I didn’t have to drink or go to the night club to find out what I wanted and needed to do. I had to have discipline with my schedule like 100% of the time. That’s THE secret. [Valery laughs] Training needs to be stable. It’s like 50% of your results actually. A lot of people don’t realize that a stable training schedule is that important.
When I first moved out on my own as a teenager, my mom tried to surprise me by knocking on my door at 8 o’clock in the morning one day. When she realized I wasn’t there, she got upset and went straight to the gym to give my coach a hard time, thinking I had not slept at home the night before. But then my coach, Filikidis, told her that I was already five miles into my morning run! [Valery laughs] You see, nobody controlled me. I already had the discipline. For sure, I was always in bed before 11 o’clock at night because I knew I had to train in the morning. Not everyone can handle that lifestyle. I think most World Champions are just not normal people. You may see them happy and smiling on TV, but you have no idea how hard they are working everyday. I’m thinking normal people naturally want to have more fun in life. [Valery laughs]
Maya: How does one earn an “Honored Master of Sport” rank? Are there many Honored MS ranks issued today? At what age did you earn the title?
Fedorenko: Well, several things are considered, such as level and multiple champion in your sport. For example, Olympic Champion, World Champion, European Champion, National Champion and so on. I think that me being the first 80kg World Champion and having had very high results and records at a young age contributed to that decision. There are not many Honored Masters of Sport in kettlebell lifting in the history. The USSR took this title seriously, and I assume Russia does today. In fact, many Distinguished Masters of Sport are given for special contributions to various sports, but an Honored Master of Sport must be eared on the platform. You don’t even have to be Master of Sport to get the Distinguished MS Title. So, if Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to WKC Worlds in Chicago, I would present him with Distinguished Master of Sport without him touching the kettlebells, but he would have to train really hard for Honored Master of Sport [Valery laughs]. I was 20 and under when I did these performances that allowed me to be considered for this title and send in the application for processing, but 21 when they finished it. Don’t get me started on bureaucracy in the USSR then…
Maya: Please describe your most significant achievement.
Fedorenko: My most important achievement was realizing my goal of coming to the USA in 1999 and bringing the kettlebells to this country. Now, I just keep living this and want to do more and more.
Maya: What Personal Record are you most proud of?
Fedorenko: Snatch 110/110 with a 32kg kettlebell, because it’s still a respectable number even for Super Heavyweights today. But I was just 75kg when I did this. I almost can’t believe this myself. At 36 I look at young guys now and think about what I did at their age. I was an intense young man. I think I just didn’t know how impossible it was supposed to be, what I was doing.
Maya: Will you ever compete or attempt a world record again?
Fedorenko: For my personal ego or ambition, no, I have no feelings to compete or win now. I’m not too old, but I have a different goal. I want to popularize this kettlebell as one of the greatest fitness tools someone can choose. I like to coach other athletes too, and I like to feel free to give all my secrets so that their win is also my win and our organizations win. If this country needed me, for example if kettlebells became an Olympic Sport, I would go compete for Team USA if asked. I think I would need 8-10 months of hard training to get back to my past level, or even higher. I have an advanced program that I never got a chance to try. So, if I didn’t make the team I’d for sure coach it!
Maya: Describe key areas that are unique to the WKC Rank System?
Fedorenko: Many people do not know that I was Vice President in the International Federation. So when it came to developing a rank system, I considered all the things of the old system, both positives and negatives. I used insight from my experience as athlete and board member to make a rank system that was safe, productive, and logical.
The USSR had, and Russia and other republics still do have, an abundance of 16, 24, and 32kg kettlebells. By way of system, they had to work with those kettlebell weights in their rank system. In the USA and now the rest of the world, we have produced in mass professional kettlebells in the same size and shape from 8kg up to 32kg, and actually up to 48kg. The WKC Rank System is actually more applicable to Kettlebell Sport. Our upper ranks are very similar to the standards of many Russian federations, but the lower ranks and the ranks of women are different. In the Russian federations relatively strong people who never touched a kettlebell before could have the strength for a pretty good rank. For example, they could have the strength to LongCycle 15 reps without any specific practice and get a mid level rank. This is not right. It doesn’t reflect much power-endurance or skill in kettlebell lifting. Actually, some of these same people could not perform a lower rank which requires many more reps but with 24kg kettlebells, so the system does not follow logic. Our rank system with World Kettlebell Club is easy to understand, has clear progression and is much safer. We basically have a target number of reps that is considered applicable to your weight-class, and you progress in rank by achieving those reps with the next kettlebell by 4kg increments. Men start with 12kg, and move to 16, 20, 24, 28 and 32, but target the same number of reps.
We also made some strides in Kettlebell Sport for women on several fronts. One is we added One Arm Jerk to the Snatch to make a Womens Biathlon. We also introduced One arm LongCycle so that women can choose a single, but complete exercise to contest. The Russian federations used just 16kg Snatch for women for the few years they allowed women to compete there. We saw right away when creating our rank system that 16kg was just not enough weight to hand out Master of Sport ranks, and it made judging practically impossible since women quickly surpassed the speed at which reps could be clearly fixated and counted. So, we moved the Master of Sport rank to 20kg. One of the Russian federations has moved the women to 24kg Snatch only, but this seems illogical and for sure premature. To make my point as to why is rather easy. Just take Snatch since we have the most data with that lift and Russians are only allowing women to do that lift in competition. To date, just a handful of men including myself, maybe 5 or 6 have done over 100/100 reps with a 32kg Kettlebell. Hundreds maybe have done 90/90 reps, and thousands upon thousands have done 80/80 or so reps. To date, no women have done 100 reps each hand with 24kg Snatch. Actually, we have no women who have shown us over 100/100 reps with even 20kg. The absolute record for a woman with 24kg in Snatch is not more than 80 reps each hand, and that’s just ONE woman. A few others are close to that, but it is so far from the comparable class of men that it is a dangerous and ill-conceived notion. Should the sport for women be more leaning towards strength than endurance than it is for men? For the growth of the sport, we feel not. It should be as equal as possible. I urge any organization to reconsider that direction and adopt the 20kg for high level women until they have several who can do over 100 reps each hand with that weight. Still, we do not feel our rank system is set in stone either. It will continue to be revised and updated based on records and statistics in the future.
Maya: Why do you believe in issuing a low-hand score?
Fedorenko: There are so many reasons why low-hand scoring has been chosen for WKC that it would be hard to explain all the intricacies here and now. Simply stated, I consider it more sophisticated, so therefore more rich. It’s healthier to balance the body. In bodybuilding, symmetry is valued for aesthetics. I believe for this Sport, balance should be valued just as highly but for fitness reasons. We consider this a Fitness Sport. That is, a sport that tests fitness on many levels and at many points, one of which is health. Basically, the more perfect the athlete is, the better they can perform. It’s good to train this way, and the rules you are required to contest by will dictate that training. It is my experience that it is possible to balance almost perfectly. If there is a problem with one arm then it reflects imperfection in your body and/or your training. For sport sake, it’s more tactical and more difficult to balance hands. You have to use your head to plan when to switch hands, and then have the mental fortitude to match that hand. If you do not have this responsibility, it takes away an element of the sport. Also, a more balanced athlete that has been competing with the low-hand score system can always go down to an unbalanced performance/meet, but an unbalanced athlete has a harder time coming up to a more challenging lowest-hand scoring system. In other words, it is lower level athletes or inexperienced decision-makers that could have a problem with low-hand scoring. It identifies weakness, and some don’t like that one does not have to look far in other sports that overuse or favor one arm like arm-wrestling or baseball where pitching creates a less than healthy situation sometimes. These sports do not claim or focus on health and fitness, which is fine, but we do. Besides, if someone wants to perform a feat of strength, they can show how strong their single arm is, and I’m ok with that. When organizing a sport to grow within the masses to have thousands and thousands compete for the same goal, one that has so many health benefits, it makes sense to me to have it in the rules to find and present the most healthy specimens.
Maya: What other lifters have matched or surpassed your total in the Biathlon?
Fedorenko: No one has beat my record under the same circumstances. The original Kettlebell Sport system required weigh-ins same day of the competition, just a few hours before sometimes. Now they have changed this and do it 24 hours or more before the performance. This allows otherwise heavier lifters to enter different categories. It’s equal for them now who are competing, but you can’t compare the records of old with these people in any category except Super Heavyweights. I was about 75kg most my professional career, but then we did not have a 75kg class for some reason. I competed with guys 10 pounds heavier than I was, and now they are comparing my record to guys that could be even 15 pounds heavier. Actually, then I surpassed even 90kg lifters, so that’s over 30 pounds difference. They also originally had the lowest-hand scoring on Snatch, so it was harder. I did 225 reps total (127 Jerk and 100/98 Snatch) which was only surpassed by Mishin who was over 100kg. I’m happy with my result and how it stands even with the looser rules of today in the Russian federations.
Maya: What contribution to Kettlebell Sport are you most proud of?
Fedorenko: I would say the creation of the American Kettlebell Club and World Kettlebell Club Systems. I’d love to coach more athletes, but what is more rewarding is having a system that allows us to instill good coaching and proper technique in others so they can go out and duplicate it in a geometrically progressive way. We take the many trainers who desperately need a safer and more productive way to use this so called “hot tool,” the kettlebell, and give them what they ask for. It further filters down to more heavy duty coaches who need to enhance professional athletes of other sports, and then moves into the Kettlebell Sport enthusiast that wants the most from the kettlebell for themselves or those they wish to coach themselves. It’s really beautiful how it’s turning out. We can give ultimate fitness, ultimate performance, and even ultimate Kettlebell Sport results, all from the same system. So basically I am happy that a new way to finance the sport has been created by fitness, and all of them can get along, understand and respect each other.
Maya: List five of the greatest kettlebell lifters of all time:
1. Ivan Denisov
2. Fedor Fuglev
3. Sergei Mishin
4. Roman Mikalchuk
5. Fedor Usanko
Maya: What attributes do great lifters have in common?
Fedorenko: Patience and focus are big ones. I think great lifters must be eager to do well, but have to be patient to wait for it, and focus hard to achieve it. Without stability, a kettlebell lifter will not get far. A chaotic life or mind will not work after a certain level. Sometime during the early steps of kettlebell sport lifting, a great athlete must become a fanatic for this sport. They cannot be in it for money because money can’t make you work this hard. I’m always happy to find that the greats are always humble. They talk about what they did, and they are proud of it, but they know that there is someone out there, many in fact, that have the same ambition, skill, capacity, reason etc. to do the same or better. When they meet their likes, they respect them because they know what kind of people they are. Arrogance has no place in this sport. I’m always aggravated by those who call out what they will do at some future date. When some inexperienced lifter calls out a feat that only 5 or 10 lifters have ever done, not even coming close in training, and then shows way less than what they “projected,” they disrespect those that did that level and themselves. I try to teach my students to keep ambition and dreams inside and in check until you achieve something. Make public announced estimates smaller than what you actually do on the platform. It’s a trait among all greats.