The majority of the fitness community assumes that a kettlebell is a kettlebell and all kettlebell training is the same. This statement couldn’t be further from truth! This ancient tool has evolved into multiple forms, shapes, sizes and manufacturing variations and has spawned countless schools and certifications for kettlebell training, each with their own philosophy and unique coaching techniques. The purpose of this blog post is share some insight into how each style or technique can benefit you and guide you toward the style and type of bell that will help you reach your fitness goals. The easiest way to accomplish this is to breakdown the two most popular styles and discuss the tools and techniques they use.
I was introduced to kettlebell training through a coach who taught the Girevoy Sport Style or Competition Style of kettlebell training. At the time that I was learning this style, there was a huge movement of functional trainers, who were influenced by Gray Cook and Brett Jones DVD’s, jumping into kettlebell training. Concurrently there was a hardcore Hard Style kettlebell movement, via Pavel Tsatsoulin and his former RKC certification courses, which he later defected from to create his current Strong First certification. Each style of training also developed or used a different style of bell. The Girevoy Style uses the Competiton KB and the Strong First uses the Standard Cast Iron KB. The main difference between these kettle bells is the Competiton bell has a consistent grip and bell size regardless of the weight where the standard KB will increase in both grip size and bell size as the weight increases.
After we dissect the differences between these styles I will share how my background influenced my personal style of kettlebell training.
The Competition Style of kettlebell training comes from the sport of kettlebell. The goal of the sport is to produce as many reps with a specific weight and lifting technique as possible in a set time frame. In the Biathlon Event, the girevic (athlete) will perform Double KB Jerk for 10 minutes followed by Single Arm KB Snatch for 10 minutes. Below is a video of Valery Fedorenko performing 132 jerks followed by 188 snatches with a 32kg (70lb) bell. These videos were the catalyst that made me fall in love with KB training. To perform these lifts for 10 minutes straight you need to be as efficient as possible and have a solid cardiovascular base paired with incredible strength and muscle endurance. This style of training uses the competition KB which has a consistent grip and bell size regardless of the weight of the bell. This standardizes the bells to make the competitive arena fair and repeatable.
The Hard Style of kettlebell training is more of a strength based style of training. The idea of creating maximal tension in the body to elicit muscle adaptation. Breathing and bracing techniques are used to maximize force production. The bell moves in a less flowing motion when compared to the competition style as you are not trying to conserve energy. Your focus is on applying force! Compression, intra-abdominal pressure, stiffening of the body and using the ground properly are some of the key techniques used in performing the hard style lifts. The Hard Style was made popular by Pavel Tsatsulin (Strong First) and Brett Jones (Master RKC Instructor) to name a few and continue to be the conventional style for the majority of KB users. This style of training uses the standard KB which increase in grip dynameter as the weight increases. The idea here is that a smaller athlete will have smaller hands and lift less weight so the bell is designed to fit the lifter.
I personally came into kettlebell training from a perspective gleaned from my degree in human kinetics and my CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). I had a baseline of proper lifting technique with a strong understanding of how to lift safely and produce strength and power adaptation through training. That is when I met my KB coach, who was raised in the Soviet Union, and classically trained in the Girevoy Style of Kettlebells. I couldn’t help but to wince when I saw my coach in a clean position with his hips out in front of him looking like a reverse “C”. I classify this position as a “hanging in the joints” position. The joint and the ligaments, tendons that surround the joint are taking the load while the muscles rest. Warning bells were going off while I am picturing my spine exploding from this position. He insisted that this was the most efficient rest position for my jerk presses. I reluctantly tried it, and low and behold, it worked! It felt great! He focused on easy rhythmical breathing like I was jogging. My background in strength training wanted to take a deep breathe, brace and release at the top of the lift. Three minutes into the 10 minute cycle I was gassed. So I tried his breathing technique and was surprised by my body’s ability to brace when needed and release tension when tension was’t necessary. Over the years I have evolved my style and would put myself somewhere between the competition and hard style methods. I use the competition or Girevoy style for technique while utilizing the footwork and bracing learned from the hard style methodology. Im sure that both camps would hate me for saying this, but I truly believe that it is our job to take systems and philosophies from multiple sources and mix them with our own experience to formulate a style of lifting that works for you. It is a journey of movement. A journey of force, tension and technique. Its a life long journey of discovery. I love training with kettlebells and will continue to train and teach my students the bastardized Coach Glass Style of Kettlebell Training. It is what makes sense to me!
To here more about this topic and an extended version of my introduction to kettle bells and my coach…listen to Ep208 Kettlebells on the Coach Glass Podcast: http://bit.ly/CGPEp208
If you want to get into kettlebells go to http://performbetter.com
and put “COACHGLASS” in the discount box at check out for 15% off. What weight should I buy?