Ring in the fitness

A goal of getting in shape has resulted in gold, silver and bronze medals for Mineral Ridge resident Mandy Iezzi.

Growing bored with various fitness regimens, a co-worker suggested that she try kettlebell workouts. That was almost four years ago.

“I almost quit at the beginning, but I like that there is no judging with kettlebells. You work at your own pace.”

Developed in Russia in the 18th century, a kettlebell is a cast-iron weight that looks like a cannonball with a handle on top. It is used with exercises to improve strength, flexibility, endurance and promote cardiovascular health.

As Iezzi became more comfortable working with the cast-iron balls, she started participating in competitions three years ago.

According to her coach, Michael Cricks, Iezzi has always placed first, second or third in every competition she has entered.

At her first contest, she didn’t set the bar too high for herself.

“I was so nervous,” Iezzi said. “I watched a couple of flights (other groups competing) to see what to expect. I was just happy to complete my 10-minute set. I didn’t hit the number of reps I wanted, but I was so happy that I finished without putting the bell down.”

She competes in the long cycle event. It consists of two parts: a clean, and as many reps as possible. If the kettlebell touches the ground, the contestant is eliminated.

It did not take Iezzi long to receive her first gold medal.

“My first competition, I used the 12 kilogram bell, but I didn’t hit my number of reps I wanted,” she said. “My goal for second competition was to use the same bell but to actually hit my number of reps I wanted. And I did. I was so excited. … and I won first place.

“The competition is intense,” Iezzi said. “Sometimes you are up against one other girl. The most I have been up against was five.”

Competitive kettlebell is still in its infancy in the United States, but Iezzi sees a time when the sport will greatly expand. Presently, she is training for a competition that will take place in Chicago in October. Most kettlebell competitions are international events. The sport is very big in Europe, especially in Russia where it originated.

“More people are getting into this sport, and so many more want to compete,” she said. “I love the idea of one day getting up on the platform and competing against at least 20 other women.”

Iezzi said learning the proper form is extremely important to preventing injuries and achieving the endurance to compete for 10 minutes.

“Training consists of a lot of repetition,” she said. “I lift the bells anywhere from three to five days a week. It does become brutal. Your hands start to burn, and blister. As I get closer to the actual competition, I train with a heavier bell for longer periods of time,” said Iezzi.

To change up her regimen, Iezzi will switch to lighter weights in order to build up her speed, number of reps and cardio.

“That also helps me keep my breathing in check,” she said. “I consistently do long cycle, but many days I will break down the moves and focus on just cleans, and just jerks. The closer to competition time, if I have the training in, and I know I can physically do it. It just becomes more of a mind game and the mental part starts to wear on you. This becomes more mental than physical.”

She does not train solely for competition, but she also enjoys the feeling of being strong, which she achieves from her workouts.

“I know this is a competition against others, but it’s also a test against yourself,” Iezzi said. “It’s my goal to keep going forward. I love the challenge of going up a bell division. As long as I do my best, I will be happy even if I come in last place.”

She has competed in long cycle events with bells from 12kg to 18 kg. Iezzi is presently working with a 20kg bell.

She has high expectations for herself.

“If I do hit my number of reps with the 20kg bell, then it’s onto the 22 kg bell which will then be going for CMS (candidate for master of sport),” she said. “I hope to try for that this summer. Then looking forward to Worlds in 2014. I am hoping for MS – Master of Sport with the 24kg bell. There is only a handful of Master of Sports in the United States. I hope to be one of them one day,” she said.