Thursday, August 29, 2013

Kettlebell Accessories and My Brand

Kettlebell sport requires very little in specialized equipment. In fact, most kettlebell sport equipment is adopted from weightlifting, except for wrist protection. I've only become aware of armored wrist bands for kettlebell sport over the last 3 years; several brand names, two major designs. This summer's aggressive advertising in this unusual niche market prompted me to share why I came to Kettleguard as my gear of choice.

Team Kettleguard in Atlanta, 2013
DISCLAIMER: I am sponsored by Kettleguard and use and endorse their products, but this article does not speak for the company. All dates stated or implied are gleaned from public record and personal experience. All photos are publicly available on the internet, with due credit given to the fine artists who created them. Mine are labeled as such. All are included to imply "public knowledge" where applicable.

History and Design

I first became aware of Kettleguard in the winter of 2009-2010, and of other competing brands in the years following. Kettleguard was trademarked in 2009 and is popularly associated with the Ice Chamber Kettlebell Girls team, some of whom own the company. While there has been some new advertising by other brands since June of 2013, Kettleguard has long stood on its own merits and the testimonials of its satisfied customers. "The original and the best", so to speak.

The Kettleguard design (patent pending) uses removable, flexible plastic splints that flex to absorb the contour of the bell. The bell rests securely between the bones of the wrist and the parallel plastic splints. The splints are easily removable for a slimmer, sweatband-only fit if desired, and the entire assembly can be machine washed and air dried easily. Honestly, this could only really be improved with a beaded construction like one of those taxicab seat covers, but that would hardly be competition-legal.
IUKL-legal Compact Kettleguards with removable inserts

Some competing brands share a one-piece design with a rigid plastic half-pipe that surrounds the wrist. While arguably a harder protective surface (suitable for small-arms combat), this convex shape allows the bell to roll around and occupies more space in the handle insertion. One-piece construction has also proven brittle under normal use for a number of customers. If a Kettleguard splint breaks, you rotate the wristband an inch around your arm and keep lifting. You're likely to run out of cloth before you run out of splints.

Competition Support

Most international governing bodies define limits on protective and supportive gear like joint sleeves, belts, and wrist protection. In the broadest sense, this is considered a "raw" lifting sport; that is to say, it is expected that you can compete in a singlet and shoes. This excerpt from ISKFA regulations describes their requirements.
ISKFA Clothing Regulations:
Competitor must perform in clean, neat uniform. The uniform must meet the following requirements:
- Competitor outfit may consist of one or two parts, tight fitting shorts or weightlifting tights, T-shirt or weightlifting singlet;
- sleeves of the T-shirt must not cover elbows;
- it is allowable to use a standard weightlifting belt no wider than 12 cm and wraps no longer than 1.5 m. If a competitor uses wrist wraps, its width must be no more than 10 cm, for knees it must be no more than 25 cm. It is allowable to use knee braces.
Kettleguard athletes and customers compete under a number of major international governing bodies, including but not limited to IKSFA, IKFF, IUKL, and IUKL's US affiliate AKA. Kettleguard addressed the upcoming 2013 AKA US Nationals by releasing a 3.7-inch Compact Version, fully approved by the organization. Kettleguard is now a proud supporter of AKA, IUKL, and (just announced) the 2013 IKFF Northwest Kettlebell Championships.

Kettleguard Compact (mine)

 

Fitness vs. Sport

Whether you are a competitor or a fitness enthusiast, there are reasons to train with minimal or no wrist protection on a regular basis. Wrist protection is most needed for long-set training, common to sport instead of fitness. Traditionally, kettlebell sport governing bodies have permitted only ACE wraps of a certain length and 4 inches coverage. Most champions compete bare-handed. Even some stars of Team Kettleguard wear their gear in high-volume training but not in competion because wristbands change their handle insertion. Only bare hands will reveal imperfections in technique, rack, and alignment; and no supportive equipment should completely cover up the fact that you're doing it wrong. Kettleguards are designed to supplement good technique, not replace it.

The Larger Market

The accessories market for kettlebell sport in general reflects the infancy of kettlebell sport in the US. "Raw" sport or not, we Americans do love to accessorize. Some athletes use neoprene weightlifting knee sleeves by Rheband or Tommy Kono. Others use elastic therapeutic knee warmers available from most pharmacies. Every exercise shirt on the market today is slick, dry-weave blend, but kettlebell sport is best suited to the texture and friction of thick cotton. Most belts one sees at local meets would be disqualified at the national or world level.

What I would like to see is not just wristbands, but a line of legal, tradition-friendly KB sport accessories. I would like to see a ribbed or paneled t-shirt in heavy, almost terry cloth cotton, with a long tail for the belt. We don't need dry-weave polyesters for the jerk and long cycle; we spray ourselves down with water for traction. KB sport could use contoured lifting belts that sit low on the hips and meet international regulations. A simple colored logo would sell on headbands, dry-weave beanies, and single-layer sweatbands or athletic tape for bare-handed lifters. All these products offer support or protection befitting the name "-guard"; I haven't even gotten into fashion statements like hoodies and duffle bags and WOD socks.

I have always felt a personal reluctance for brand-name fanaticism, so it was a big deal for me to actually endorse Kettleguard. Simply put, the product speaks for itself. The advertising has always been positive and never disparaging of the competition. The team colors have graced the podium at numerous American world championships and the 2011 Open Cup of Europe, so the brand is well-represented. I'm eager to see what comes next, and I'm excited for the team's prospects at AKA US Nationals and IUKL Worlds.

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