Judging by her strong and fit physique, you'd think that Lorna Kleidman was a lifelong athlete. As a kettlebell champion, Kleidman earned the title of International Master of Sport for the snatch in kettlebell lifting in 2007 at age 42. But the 53-year-old’s rise to fitness fame is far from the one she imagined decades ago.
Kleidman lived with chronic asthma since she was four years old, and she particularly suffered from exercise-induced asthma, so she had to carry an inhaler everywhere she went. "In grade school, I could hardly run around during recess or do a lot of sports, which was very difficult," Kleidman says.
While she stayed active throughout her teens, Kleidman was frustrated that she wasn’t able to take part in many sports and try new activities, where she didn’t have to stop every few minutes to catch her breath.
“When I was in my teens, I started taking dance classes, which were great for me because I would dance for a minute or two, and then stop to catch my breath as the instructor showed new choreography,” she explains.
Working out the asthma
Fast forward to her late 20s, Kleidman joined a gym and started taking high-impact aerobic classes. She wasn’t going to let her asthma get in the way of being fit. Kleidman enjoyed the high energy and the community of women in the classes.
"It's like a car that revs up to 60 miles an hour and then stops"
"Many of these women were 20 years older than me and moved with so much energy. Meanwhile, I had to stop every 45 seconds to catch my breath,” Kleidman recalls. "It's like a car that revs up to 100km an hour and then stops. I had my inhaler with me and had to pump throughout the class for some relief."
After maintaining a consistent workout routine and doing a variety of high-intensity exercises, such as boxing and jogging, that challenged her lung capacity, Kleidman’s asthma improved dramatically in her late 30s. “Today, I keep an inhaler with me, but rarely need it, ” she says.
Becoming a kettlebell queen
Since her asthma improved, Kleidman saw this as an opportunity to try different types of workouts and challenge herself. In 2005, she met kettlebell trainer Eve Cronin, who introduced her to the sport. As someone who was doing mostly HIIT and cardio workouts, Kleidman was a newbie to using weights, but it didn’t deter her from picking up a kettlebell.
"The snatch incorporates strength, power, and technique."
"Back when I started, I’d been working out two hours every day for eight years at the same gym, so I really wanted to try something new and I found that the bells were a lot of fun," Kleidman says.
To ease her into kettlebells, Cronin showed her basic exercises, including halos, bottoms up, and swings. "At this time kettlebell sport became popular in Russia, but only a couple of people locally knew about it, and there were some very fringe competitions. Fortunately, Eve had heard about the sport and suggested I meet with a Russian coach who lived nearby. If Eve hadn’t believed in me, I never would have gone on this life-changing journey," Kleidman says.
At age 42, Kleidman trained for her first kettlebell competition in 2007-and she came in first place in her age group and second in her weight class. Since then, Kleidman has competed in dozens of national and international meets and has set a couple of world records for the 16 kg (35 lb) and 24 kg (53 lb) snatch.
In this sport, a lifter can choose from a weight as light as an 8 kg (18 lb) kettlebell and build their way up to a 12 kg (26 lb), 16 kg (35 lb), 20 kg (44 lb), 24 kg (53 lb), and 32 kg (71 lb). With the snatch, women can use one bell with the opportunity to change hands one time in 10 minutes. The women's heaviest kettlebell is 24 kg in traditional 10-minute competitions.
"Today, I compete with the 24 kg on a lift called a snatch, which is based on momentum but also incorporates aerobic capacity, strength, power, technique, and endurance," Kleidman says.
Just last year, Kleidman competed in what’s known in kettlebell sport as an “extreme marathon,” which is essentially a two-hour competition. She did the snatch using a 12 kg kettlebell and finished in first place with a whopping 2,218 reps. "My set was the first time a woman did a snatch for two hours with a 12 kg kettlebell. It was very challenging!," she says.
Rising above setbacks
After years of doing dance, kickboxing, and other high-impact workouts, Kleidman's hips took a toll, and it affected her mobility and range of motion. At one point, Kleidman couldn't even tie her shoes."My hips were never very flexible, and I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at the age of 47 and had a hip replacement at age 50,” Kleidman says. "My left hip was so belabored and worn out that my range of motion diminished every year."
So Kleidman underwent surgery two and a half years ago to replace the ball in her socket. While you would have thought the surgery sidelined her from kettlebell training, Kleidman says the surgery only improved things.
"This surgery would have happened at some point and have nothing to do with weight lifting because my bones are set high in sockets, unlike most women," she says. "What's important to know is that even when I was limping as a result of the joint's reduced range of motion, I was never in pain. The reason I was never in pain was because my hips were strong from weight lifting," Kleidman explains.
Three weeks after surgery, Kleidman was back on her feet and at the gym snatching away. "Eight months later I competed and made a new personal record," she says. Kleidman is currently the best over-50 female snatch lifter in the world with the 24 kg kettlebell snatch. "Having made a world record in Latvia of 135 reps a few months ago. Next goal is 140," Kleidman says.
Kleidman’s workout advice for women over 50
Kleidman’s story is a testament that age is purely a number when it comes to fitness, and why you shouldn’t limit yourself to certain activities just because you don’t think you can do them. Kleidman tries to instill this open and positive mindset in her clients to help them reach their goals.
"Discover something new in yourself every day."
“It’s good to be curious, and I was ready to step up my game and be curious about something new. I think the main takeaway is to approach each workout and say, ‘let me see what I can do today,’ as opposed to ‘I can’t, I don’t want to, the last time I did this it was hard.’ Approach each challenge and discover something new in yourself every day, even if it's the same workout,” Kleidman says.
Kettlebell sport, like all types of fitness, isn’t only about building strength and losing weight, Kleidman says. Exercise can help you get your mind off daily stresses, build the mental stamina to get through life’s tough moments, and learn about your body’s incredible resilience. Kleidman says, “When I train, it gets me out of my head and my perception of myself into a zone that's meditative and I love that experience. This sport can be a lifelong endeavour, and the community of kettlebell lifters is incredible. I'm proud to be part of it.”