Catherine Imes Interview

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Catherine Imes is perhaps the most influential American born Kettlebell Lifter to date. She has not only earned her respect on the platform but also the admiration of men and women lifters alike from around the world.   Catherine is the 1st American Master of Sport, Record holder for the 16kg Biathlon, and Coach to many advanced lifters.  What’s more interesting is that even though she does not have the ideal build or the athletic background for kettlebell lifting, she continues to excel to the top, making her a true living legend in Kettlebell Sport!

32kg Jerk at the StrongSport contest.

32kg Jerk at the StrongSport contest.

Maya: What is Kettlebell Lifting in your opinion?

Catherine: Technically, it is high rep-usually ballistic Kettelbell lifts like the Jerk and Snatch. For me, it is a way to keep my conditioning at a decent level even though I don’t always have a lot of time to train. It has been a safe and effective way for me to maintain my strength, conditioning, flexibility, and mobility. I find that it has made me mentally resilient as well. Pushing myself in training is not near as difficult as it was prior to lifting KBs and I think that is because the protocols teach you how to relax even when you are uncomfortable. It is a good anti-dote to the pressures of a desk job.

Maya: Who is your coach?

Catherine: Valery Fedorenko

Maya: What are some of your notable achievements to date?

Catherine: Achieving MS in 2007. Winning the Absolute Division in Miami at the WKC Championships with a 423 total.

Maya: What would you consider your greatest contribution to Kettlebell Lifting?

Catherine: My greatest contribution to the lifting is probably the coaching/assistance that I’ve given to quite a few folks. I have felt that kind of service was necessary to facilitate the growth of the sport. A sport will not grow if there are only a couple of folks who have any success or achievement.

Maya:  As a judge, what are some things you wish you would see every lifter do?

1.  Come to the meet prepared.  Prepared means they know what is expected in terms of their repetitions and judging.  Now, I will get on a soap box.  I know some people don’t like our qualification and ranking system and they think it was enacted to show some sort of favoritism or something amongst our embedded base of lifters.  Essentially, the qualification system was put into place so that lifters would come to the meet prepared and so they would know what the judges would expect.  It also provides clear and safe progression guidelines.  This makes a judges job easier and it is still very difficult. Moreover, it has gone a long ways to improving the lifting quality at the meets.  Does it still need to be improved?  Yes and it will be.   This wasn’t a small undertaking.

With our rank and qualification system, we have room to raise the bar without lowering the standards.  In fact, the numbers in our rank system reflect judged, fixated reps, not just any reps overhead.  Once folks can come to meets and watch more lifters executing quality reps, the incentive will be there for them to practice so that they may achieve that same quality.  Folks need to look at qualification as almost free coaching.  Right now, the WKC doesn’t charge for qualifications or rank.  They are telling you at a very high level what needs work.  It’s actually expanded the demand for online coaching because until this qualification process came into existence, many folks didn’t realize they needed to address these technical issues.

2.  Have some semblance of pacing.  Athletes that walk onto the platform knowing how to pace themselves typically put forth better reps.  The athletes that sprint are often the novices and they can’t do technically good reps at the pace and would better their results by just slowing down a bit.  We are seeing less ill-paced sets.  Athletes come to the platform much more professional and disciplined than we did in the past. This is in no small part due to the fact that there are more experienced coaches now in place.

U.S. Record Holder in the 16kg Biathlon

U.S. Record Holder in the 16kg Biathlon

Maya: When is a woman ready to snatch heavier?

Catherine: I believe this is pretty universal for women as well as men….
1. She can hit at least 150 reps with her current bell.  You might say wait a minute, her rank only requires 60/60.  That’s true in some cases.  I’m not saying you can’t start to work heavier at the point you hit rank, but you aren’t ready to jump to the next weight at the exclusion of your current weight until you can do at least 75 per arm and for some lifters it may be even more.

2. I believe he or she should be comfortable with assistance exercises like swings and OAJ that are at least 4-8kg heavier than the working weight. So, if you are a woman who aspires to work with the 20kg, and you aren’t comfortable yet doing high rep swings and OAJ with 24kg, you probably aren’t ready yet.

Maya: What are the differences (or similarities) between coaching men and women?

Catherine: The main difference is the emphasis on double work for men.  But, the programs are very similar in terms of overall volume, intensity, and prescription for assistance exercises.  I find that men need more remedial work to build flexibility and in some cases have to work a bit harder to actually learn the techniques of the lifts.   Many women who’ve done well in the sport, did not have a heavy lifting background.  They may have been athletes and done some S&C work, but they weren’t bench pressers or deadlifters.  So, they develop speed and power because they don’t try to muscle the weight.

Going 20 minute with the 24kg

Going 20 minutes with the 24kg

Maya: Name lifters whom you admire and why.

Catherine: Well, I’m going to start with people I know.  Obviously, my Coach Valery Fedorenko.  Yes, he’s easy to admire for his achievements in lifting and his awesome displays of technique.

However, I admire him because he took a huge risk coming to this country and has worked very hard for a long time to grow the sport and to promote kettlebell lifting as he thinks it should be done.  He cares about the lifters and he is dedicated to raising the standards of lifting in this country.

My Students:  Emily Friedel and Kukka Laakso.  Both of them spend a lot of time and money to travel to compete and to learn.  They have both been online coached, and been able to improve their lifts immensely.  Emily traveled to the USA from Australia last fall to compete in Vegas and then to attend the coaches certification in Cincinnati.   Kukka has traveled to the USA from Finland 3 times  in the last year to compete and to learn.  She’s also attended our Coaches Certification in the USA.  Kukka also has traveled to various places in Europe to compete.   They are both doing an excellent job of promoting the sport by demonstrating quality lifting in their respective countries and they represent the WKC very well.  I’m proud of both of them.

While Lorraine Patten isn’t lifting competitively now, she like Kukka and Emily has done a great job of promoting the sport in the US and helping us gain an international presence.  She has volunteered a lot of time over the last 6-7 years. There were a few years were it had just about died, but Lorraine was always there to keep it going.

In terms of lifters that I’ve met or seen compete, Fedor Fuglev is one of my favorites.  Of course he is one of the greatest lifters of all time, and he is still going strong at the age of 47..  He has always been very friendly to the Americans when we’ve traveled to meets.   He is also very generous and helpful.  I’ve seen him on several occasions trying to help the more inexperienced lifters. Tatiana Potemkin.  She is now a Masters Age lifter.  I first saw her in Latvia.  While she didn’t win (The paces at that meet were unreal), she did display awesome technique.  I’ve also read that she has done things like 470 OAJ with the 28kg.  She did a snatch demonstration in Tallinn, Estonia (after her 24kg and 16kg set) with a 32kg bell..44 reps.

Maya: Please help us understand Valery’s use of the term “fixation.”  Please elaborate on why you think this is important, not only from a sporting perspective but also for health and fitness.

Catherine: Fixation means at a basic level stopping the bell from moving overhead with the hips and knees extended and the elbow locked.  While this is huge part of the skill of the lift, it is also mandatory for safe long term lifting.   If a lifter can’t demonstrate good fixation, then there is very likely an issue with their lift besides just the fixation.  It’s possible that they had an issue with the first bump of the jerk (maybe they didn’t finish it).  So, they finish out the jerk with the shoulders instead of getting the bell quickly positioned and stabilized so it is supported by the skeleton.   Therefore, they are relying more on the muscles to hold the weight overhead.  Usually your shoulders will burn out quickly in this case.  Here is a hint, if you feel jerks in your shoulders chances are you aren’t using your legs enough.  There might be other issues, but that is the main one I’ve seen as a coach. Fixation with snatches is really important from a safety standpoint. If you’ve not developed timing and coordination to stop the bell, the bell is likely to move on you overhead (twisting the shoulder) and over time it will create shoulder issues.
Athletes who develop the skill of fixation are demonstrating the ability to relax and to tense at the appropriate times.  They are fast in putting the bell overhead, but can stop it on a dime. As I’ve said elsewhere, great fixation is a defining symbol to a great rep.

Chalking is an art.

Chalking is an art.

Maya: What advice would you give novice lifters trying to get better?

Catherine: If you have the financial means, find a decent coach. Pay a great deal of attention to developing technique. Don’t change training protocols every time you read something new on the internet.

Maya:  What advice would you give advanced lifters trying to make rank?

Catherine: Consult with a Coach or a Mentor if you don’t already. Remain consistent in your practice and don’t let the pressure of hitting a rank on a certain date mentally stifle you. Consult with someone and see what you can do to get through a plateau.

Maya:  What are some of your goals in 2010?

Catherine: Primary goal is to get back to Consistent-Solid Training. I want a solid performance at the WKC Championships in Chicago 2010 in the Biathlon.

Maya:  What is your favorite T-Shirt?

Catherine: Ice Chamber T-Shirt Of Course.


  1. BorisT

    April 23, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Great interview!

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  3. Daniel Ng

    April 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Very informative and revealing. I find some people not very forthcoming with information and knowledge, but this is really great. Thanks Catherine for sharing. Thanks Maya & ICKBG for the interview.

  4. Matt Schinabeck

    April 24, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Another great interview. Catherine’s endless dedication to this sport and to my personal training has been wonderful to experience. However, I am pretty sure Catherine meant her favorite T-shirt was her Northcoast Kettelbells shirt!!!!!!!

  5. Janet

    April 25, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Great interview. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Steven

    April 25, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Thanks for taking the time to do this interview Cate. That’s a lot of great information for competitors and enthusiasts alike! Matt, I’m pretty sure the IC shirt is her favorite! ;-)

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  8. Boris Bachmann

    April 26, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Good stuff as always Cate & Maya!

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  10. C Imes

    April 29, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Thanks everyone for the comments. Matt, your shirt is nice. But, the IC Shirt is my Jerk Shirt :) LOL

    Thanks to Maya and Steven for a great opportunity to do this interview and all the hard work they put into these things.


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  12. Paul

    November 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Thanks for the very useful information I am a relative newcomer to kettlebells and now know why my shoulders ache so much in the jerk! doh! ;-)