Of Russian origin: Girya
A girya (plural - giri) is a Russian weight made of cast iron. In some traditional Russian stores and markets, giri are still used to help weigh a purchase when it’s heavy. In the gym, this weight looks like a cannonball with a handle. In the west, this weight is called a kettlebell. But unlike a kettlebell, a girya does not have adjustable weights.
The word comes from the Persian adjective “gerani”, which means “difficult”. In ancient Slavic languages, a similar word “gur” meant “bubble”, and later on, “tumor”.
Giri are as old as the ancient Greek Olympic Games. The athletes of that time used stones that looked like modern giri to demonstrate their strength in front of big crowds. Ancient Slavs used these stones and, later on, metal weights to get ready for battles and fistfights. Exercises with giri were always a part of Russian holidays and festivities – they became extremely popular in the 19th century. The strongest athletes got contracts with circus companies touring around Europe.
Giri were a sports tool that you could see at Soviet enterprises where huge physical force was required: lifting giri was both training, and a favorite pastime for many workers. Collective farms were no exception. The best girya-lifters took part in holiday festivities in Red Square in front of Joseph Stalin who loved this sporting event. And there are lots of stories with a little bit of exaggeration about such encounters. One girya-lifter is believed to have said: “I was in no mood to continue the competition, but when I saw Comrade Stalin looking at me I immediately snatched the record”.
In 1948, 20,000 athletes came to take part in the First Nationwide Festival of Strongmen. The winner, Black Sea Fleet sailor Alexei Protopopov managed to snatch a 32-kilo girya 1,002 times with short breaks. Another record-breaker of that time was Aleksandr Bolshakov, who clean-and-jerked a pair of 32-kilo giri 19 times in one go.
In the 1950s, the “best girya man” was Ivan Nemtsev; the peasant from Altai clinched the USSR championship title eleven times. He was called the “king of the snatch”. His record – the lifting of the 32 kilo-girya 370 times without a break, still remains unbeaten.
In 1993, Russian enthusiasts formed the International Federation of Girya Sports. The first World Cup was held in Moscow in 1993. The sport is getting more and more popular in Germany, Greece and the United States. In 2004, the first meet of Russian girya masters and American kettlebell pros took place in San Francisco.
The last three years however have seen a decline in the sport in Russia. The reason is that many new types of girya-lifting have been appearing, which leads to an unlimited number of world champions in every competition category. In 2009, there were 2,000 world champions – that’s according to the statistics of the International Federation. Many athletes have called to reduce the competition program to make the title of world champion more, well, weighty!
There are two ways to lift a girya. One is called a snatch – you hold the girya in between your legs. Then you sit down and try to lift it above your head. Clean-and-jerk lifting is done with two giri that you hold at chest level – the task is to lift them both above your head as many times as possible using hands only. All this makes this method of lifting more difficult from a technical point of view. Giri of 4 kg, 8 kg, 16 kg, 32kg, 36 kg , 40 kg, 48 kg and 56 kg exist. The ones used in competitions are the 16, 24 and 32-kg giri.
Giri-lifting is used by many trainers as a fitness exercise. To do it properly, the person has to practise the basic movements. The spinal chord should be straight at all times – otherwise the person may get seriously injured. Injury can also occur if the neck is stiff. One should pay attention to one’s shoulders and knees - especially if these joints bear weight. Trainers usually use a variety of stretching, mobilizing and stabilizing techniques and tools to bring the muscle/joint structure up to the necessary level. That is the key for staying injury-free.
Then comes the work on basic movements – these have to be developed before the person overloads the body. One has to learn how to make all the movements pain-free. When this is achieved, a person can enjoy the training process.
There are hundreds of recommendations on how to train with giri. Just type “girya” or “kettlebell” in your browser. There is now even a special service in the Russian town of Lipetsk - the guys ship genuine giri to all parts of the world.
So if you decide to try lifting giri, the main thing to remember is - listen to what both doctors and trainers say, at all times.
Written by Oleg Dmitriev, RT