Emily Friedel

Emily Friedel is Australia’s only Master of Sport in Girevoy, the sport of Kettlebell lifting. She placed first in her event at the WKC World Championships in 2010 and 2011 and also holds the official Australian women’s record for 24kg snatches. She is currently the president of the Australian Kettlebell Club and also happens to be my boss at Iron Edge, formerly known as ‘Australian Kettlebells’. Iron Edge is the number-one purveyor of high-quality training equipment, definitive of the modern athlete.

How did you get started with kettlebells? How old were you?

When I working at the Melbourne City Baths, about six or seven years ago. We were the first gym [in Australia] to get them. I started to just train with them; mainly hard-style stuff. I learned a bit from the internet, specifically from Pavel [Tsatsouline] and Mike Mahler. I really liked them, even when I wasn’t using them properly! I found out about Girevoy sport a year later, just before Steve Cotter came out to Australia for his first workshop in 2006. He had started to teach the Girevoy sport style. I started looking at youtube for information – there were about 5 videos on there at that point.

What was your experience of exercise before you were injured?

When I started with kettlebells,  I was suffering the effects of mismanaged whiplash from a car accident 5 years prior. I found that training with the bell, in particular overhead lifting, helped with the soft-tissue injury to my neck. I used to get killer migraines every day and working with the bells fixed that. I found that they work the body in balanced way. Your prime movers work as prime movers; assistors work as assistors. They develop you in a balanced way. I don’t really personal train anymore; I just coach for Girevoy sport.

What was your progress as a girevik?

Once I discovered the sport, I decided to find out what I could do with a 12kg bell. I got up to 200 snatches in 10 minutes with a shitty old 12kg classic. Then I got a pro grade* bell and started snatching with the 16 kilogram. In 2008, I wanted to compete in the IUKL championships. My goal was to become Australia’s first Master of Sport.

What’s a ‘Master of Sport’?

Kettlebell sport has a ranking system, something like belts in martial arts. It’s third from the top.

What are the events in Girevoy, or kettlebell sport?

The biathlon, which is jerk followed by snatches. You do a 10 minute jerk set, followed by a 10 minute snatch set, at least 30 minutes later.

The other is called ‘Long Cycle’, which is the clean and jerk for a 10 minute set. I got my Master of Sport for long cycle at a course, not the world championships; I only placed first in the world championships in biathlon. Technically, not in both.

What does the training involve?

I generally used [Valery] Fedorenko’s method; it’s like the Bulgarian Olympic lifting program. You do long, timed sets of your lifts, five days a week. Basically, you do in training something very similar to what you do in the comp. Eight minutes of jerks with your comp weight, followed by eight minutes of snatches, followed by heavy 1-arm jerk, and heavy 1-arm swing. Somewhere between forty and fifty reps of each. Training sessions last from one and a half hours up to three hours, depending on the rest needed. I often had a twenty minute run in there as well, close to the comp.

Can you tell us a bit about the evolution of your technique?

Over here it’s very difficult to get good coaching in kettlebell sport, and initially I was pretty much self-taught. As I’ve had access to better coaches, (I’ve been lucky enough to train with some of the best in the world) I have discovered, repeatedly, that my technique requires a serious overhaul to get to the next level. After what I considered ugly and deficient sets at the World Kettlebell Club World Championships last November I bit the bullet and went back to the drawing board – very light weights and making a consistent effort to be completely present for every single rep in order to correct a host of bad habits. It meant a sacrifice of strength and fitness, but after six months of (often frustrating) work I think I finally have technique that wouldn’t make the Russians laugh. The satisfaction gained from executing a technically proficient repetition far surpasses a win on the platform with sloppy reps, and that search for perfection will often separate those who are involved in the sport for a short time (maybe a year or two) then disappear, and those who stick around and go onto great things.

Who is training you now?

No official coach at the moment; I don’t plan to compete seriously this year. I was trained by Catherine Imes and Steven Khuong (the coach at ‘The Ice Chamber’ The US women’s kettlebell team).

What are your titles?

I’m a Master of Sport – the first and still the only in Australia. It’s a high level for women, but a lot different to what is being done in Eastern Europe.

Would you consider going to Eastern Europe?

I have to be able to snatch a 24kg [bell], and that’s a whole different ball game. I have the women’s snatch record in Australia with a 24kg bell and I’m ranked as Candidate for Master of Sport with the 24kg, which is the rank below. There’s one other woman, in the US, who has done it. The impact on the body is a big difference.


Because it’s heavy.  It [The 24kg bell] is 75% of the men’s comp weight; women can’t attain 75% of a man’s upper body strength. Hands are always the issue, as well. Women have it harder.

What was life before kettlebells like for you?

In terms of sports, I was never really competitive; I avoided school sport at all costs. Before kettlebell sport, I didn’t have an outlet for my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Practising the same two lifts every day is very demanding, both physically and psychologically. Heavy lifting is hard work, but we think in terms of between fifty and two-hundred reps, rather than one to five. If you train for competition, you only get one hand change. There’s a reason why the sport hasn’t taken off; it’s  extremely monotonous. We stand there for ten minutes doing the same shit over and over and over again.

How do you cope?

You get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You get to the point to teaching yourself strategies with being uncomfortable. You learn to count in different ways; you become very strict with your breathing.


There’s a few reasons. First, there’s that contrast; with great discomfort comes great fulfilment, because it isn’t easy. The more breakthroughs, the harder fought and won, the more rewarding it is. For me personally, I felt like I’d stuffed around with my life and hadn’t achieved anything tangible. [I was driven by] my need to do something and do it very, very well.

It’s a good life lesson. It teaches you that you have to work and have to be uncomfortable to succeed. It teaches you patience.

I envy you that it was good for you. 

Among elite lifters, the injury rate is very low. Good lifting is highly technical, with the emphasis on not being injured. Athletes in their 40s and 50s are still doing incredible things and there’s nothing physically wrong with them. As an individual sport which carries over into health, Girevoy is very attractive.

I expect you weren’t someone who necessarily grew up wanting to become a girevik/athlete. What did you want to do?

I didn’t know. That’s part of why I threw myself into it.

When did it consume your life?

From when I started training seriously for the US competition in March 2009, until the end of 2011. The World Championships were held in November of that year. People I dated wouldn’t like it because I didn’t want to go out on weekends; I wouldn’t want to drink, and I had to get up early!


*There are two shapes where kettlebells are concerned: classic and professional. The classic has a small bell and a large handle. The size of the bell increases as the bell increases in weight. The professional bell, on the other hand, is consistent in sphere size, regardless of mass; the shell of the bell is thicker as the weight becomes heavier. This is a more ergonomic design and kinder on the body when in contact with the arms, as well as allowing technique to remain consistent, regardless of the load being shifted.





One Response to “Emily Friedel”

  1. ilfiore66 Says:

    As Emily said it can be an extremely repetitive sport, but I find the notion that each and every lift/movement must be perfect is so disciplined and a challenge for even small fry like me. Something to consider and work on. Great interview.

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