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October 18, 2019

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For whom the bell toils: Las Vegas gym dedicated to kettlebell training

Kettlebell Sanctuary

Steve Marcus

Coach Moses Dungca poses at Kettlebell Sanctuary, 6520 S. Buffalo Dr., Wednesday, April 12, 2017.

Kettlebell Sanctuary

Kettlebell medals and trophies like a shelf at Kettlebell Sanctuary, 6520 S. Buffalo Dr., Wednesday, April 12, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Kettlebell Weights for men

• Beginner- 16 kg (35 lbs.)

• Intermediate- 20 kg (44 lbs.)

• Amateur- 24 kg (52 lbs.)

• Professional - 34 kg (75 lbs)

Kettlebell Weights for men

• Beginner- 16 kg (35 lbs.)

• Intermediate- 20 kg (44 lbs.)

• Amateur- 24 kg (52 lbs.)

• Professional - 34 kg (75 lbs)

Kettlebell Weights for women

• Beginner- 12 kg (26 lbs.)

• Intermediate- 16 kg (35 lbs.)

• Amateur- 20 kg (44 lbs.)

• Professional- 24 kg (52 lbs.)

* Kettlebells remain the same size no matter their weight. The steel is simply thicker or thinner to make it heavier or lighter.

History of kettlebells

Kettlebells were invented in 18th-century Russia as a tool for weighing crops and goods. Farmers would put a kettlebell on one side of a scale to determine how much of a particular good they were selling.

Eventually, farmers who used kettlebells became much stronger and began using them to show off feats of strength at festivals. This transformed into circus strongmen, lifting them for show, and eventually even juggling kettlebells for entertainment.

They became a staple in most gyms, and competitive kettlebell lifting began in Russia and parts of Europe about 1940.

The writing on the glass door out front reads “Kettlebell Sanctuary.”

Behind it, 44-pound kettlebells cut through clouds of weightlifting chalk as they swing violently through the air. They are anchored only by the sweat-drenched hand gripping the weight’s metal handle.

Moses Dungca swings the bell through his legs, up past his hip and onto his shoulder, and then hoists it high above his head.

Over his shoulder, a clock hangs on the wall. When it reaches 10 minutes — and not a second before — Dungca releases the kettlebells to the gym floor.

Kettlebell Sanctuary, run by Dungca and Michelle Latour, is located off Buffalo Drive and Sunset Road, and is believed to be the only gym in the valley dedicated solely to competitive kettlebell training.

Most people have seen kettlebells — cannon balls with handles. They are the round, awkward-looking weights usually sitting next to the dumbbells at most gyms. What most people don’t know is there is a highly competitive sport based on lifting them.

The sport tests how many times a competitor can lift the kettlebell in 10 minutes. Athletes compete at different weight classes (12, 16, 20, 24 and 34-kilogram bells) and also in different lifts such as snatch, jerk and long cycle.

Dungca, 52, has been an athlete his entire life, starting out as a member of the Arizona State and U.S. Olympic gymnastic teams before performing in acts on the Strip in the 1990s.

Now, 12 years into competitive kettlebell lifting, he is head trainer for the Kettlebell Sanctuary and the Nevada Board Member of the American Kettlebell Alliance (AKA).

Latour, 47, discovered the sport about three years ago.

“I am way stronger than I ever imagined,” she said. “I look at the bells as possibilities. When I first started, I couldn’t even get the 16-kilogram bell over my head. I thought it was the heaviest thing ever, but now I’m snatching with that.”

The gym welcomes people of all athletic backgrounds and skills. Dungca and Latour preach technique to avoid injuries, especially early on.

“It’s all a lot more technical than it looks,” Latour said. “People are always figuring out a better way to hold the bells, or leaning back a little farther or open your shoulders. There are all of these little technical nuances. You want to make it easy.”

It is not a sport for those looking to glide through an easy workout.

“In the beginning stages, there can be some blisters and tearing of skin just because you have to actually learn to grip and re-grip without it rubbing your skin the wrong way,” Dungca said. “It usually takes most people a good 500 to 1,000 reps per hand to actually figure out how to grip it correctly.”

Dungca said they have had many accomplished athletes come into their gym from other sports, only to be floored by kettlebells.

“What we’ve seen is it’s the endurance factor,” Dungca said. “Most of the athletes that come in that train in strength training are used to benching and squatting hundreds and hundreds of pounds, but with kettlebell, they get two minutes in and they are toast.”

Dungca said it takes as long as five years for someone to become proficient enough in the sport to attempt professional competition. But even if you just want a good, full-body workout, the Kettlebell Sanctuary is open to all.

The gym has classes available four or five times a day, seven days a week.

“We welcome anyone who wants to come in and get a great workout both strength and cardio-wise,” Latour said.


Snatch: Competitors swing the kettlebell with one hand through their legs and up above their head. The arm must be fully extended, and the competitor must hold the kettlebell still for a second in order for the lift to count. The competition lasts 10 minutes and competitors can only switch hands once. The lifter who completes the most snatch repetitions in 10 minutes is declared the winner.

Clean and Jerk: Competitors swing the kettlebell with one hand through their legs, but only to their shoulder. The kettlebell is then lifted straight into the air (similarly to a shoulder press) until the arm locks out. Then the kettlebell is dropped back to the shoulder, and swung back through the legs.

Long Cycle: Competitors hold two kettlebells — one in each hand. The lift is the same as the clean and jerk, except with two kettlebells being swung and lifted simultaneously.

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