You’ve heard it all before from someone or read it somewhere in the magazine, article or even on youtube that this is by far the most effective workouts anyone can do. It’s creeping up many of the gyms around the corner and popping up as fast as we blink. However, many of us who are not familiar with this tool or haven’t gotten proper training from a qualified coach still has this to ask….are they for real with all the latest inventions in the market? Can i really help people lose weight/fats from using just kettlebells? Can i increase my strength using kettlebells? Can i use it as a rehabilitation tool? Can i use this tool to help me get specific conditioning for MY sport?
I hope to shine some light into this topic and help people understand what is real and what is not about training with kettlebells.
First and very foremost, we should know that there is two main school of thoughts. Hardstyle and GS(*Girevoy Sport). The latter is a very specific to its sport which is GS also known as Kettlebell Sport, where athletes compete in the 10 mins frame. The events includes the Clean and jerks(also known as Long Cycle), Jerks and Snatches. The GS athletes have a very specific goal in mind which is to attain a certain amount of repetitions based on their bodyweight and the weight of the kettlebells that is being used during the gruelling ten mins. GS athletes as well has a ranking table to know who has done what in which category(ies). Sounds easy, but i can attain to it personally that IT.IS.HELL. At least for me. GS has a specific breathing techniques that optimizes the regulation of lactic acid and help increase the body’s workload through both breathing and moving VERY efficiently. Most of GS athletes carry very little body fats due to their high volume of training prior to the competition. Like most athlete in any discipline of sport, it takes patience, physical and mental resilience to be branded a GS athlete.
GS athletes are known to make it look effortless due to the controlled relaxation that they practice day in day out that they move like water flowing down the river, relaxed yet able to generate power using specific mechanics. The lesser you contract the muscles the better your chances of lasting a whole ten minutes while getting the repetitions going. That itself, takes plenty of practice! Watching them move for ten minutes can be quite a feat and for those who are not into GS you didn’t think it’d possible to watch someone do something repeatedly for that amount of time can you? Not until you actually know what they are doing exactly at different positions/ phases, then you become like a hawk to its prey, watching its every move, carefully analyzing from feet to head/ hands overhead with every rep they do. “One does not know its beauty if one doesn’t know its complexity right?” Like Rolex watches, nobody really appreciates it and think of it as just an expensive brand. However when you know how it is made, where it is made, what materials they are made of, what type of machines they use to produce them, how long it actually takes to make ONE Rolex watch(one year), you begin to look at it at a different angle of appreciation of value and processes it goes through and see the price being justified suddenly. I am not too sure how this came out to be my analogy for GS but i hope you get the picture, aaanyways moving on.
Second, Hardstyle(HS) which is coined by the godfather of kettlebell(Pavel T.) in most of the training we see people and coaches teach and do nowadays which includes me. Doing HS with kbs is very different from GS. Breathing and amount of tension used during the movements is what separates them apart. HS is mostly used in very short burst of time/ repetitions and the tension used is very high and failing to do every rep with quality is not the goal. HS is mostly about conscious tension, loading of the hips, conscious contraction of the trunk(lats, abs, glutes) and finally quality of movement(which includes speed/power). Since the nature of HS is very hip dominant and tension is used accordingly depending of the phases of the lifts, these are just the few things that you can take note of that will help in most of the daily and functional needs of a person which includes sport specific movement, as exercises can be managed and changed accordingly to suit a client per se. HS does not have specificity in tens of programming(tabatta, ladder, time/ repetition based, hypertrophy etc) unlike GS that requires you to practice the Snatches to of course, improve the Snatches for the competition.
HS can be used for rehabilitation as most of the drills are to improve CNS feedback/firing and can help promote better movement patterning using regression drills. Like i mentioned earlier, HS does not condone swing till you crawl/ puke but rather, stop before you tire the CNS to ensure safety and quality of every single rep as they are done in a very high tensioned manner. Much like the karate guys who breaks wood for a living. You just can’t break them if you just punch with a less than laser like focus without conscious tension and in the shortest time possible, produce max/submaximal power(that will be detrimental to your hands!). The main movements for HS would revolve around the Swing, Clean and Press, Press(standing) and Snatches and some “grinding” movements. Since this is the case for HS, this is one reason why you should never do HS training for too long, as you will be counterproductive toward the goal be it fat loss, sports performance or rehabilitation just to name a few.
With all the kettlebell bits done and read, lets try and ask those questions again shall we(and a few more extras)?
Q: Can i really lose weight/fats from using just kettlebells?
A: Yes you can, but using HS will yield results quicker due to the intensity during the short bouts and that increases your metabolic demands using both isometric and concentric contractions which will cause you to most probably go through something like HIIT. HIIT can be easily used with kbs coupled with HS concept which causes you to be in an oxygen deficit for faster fat loss- EPOC and even tabatta for finishers or when you really are short of time to workout!
Although using GS(Snatches) in the long run may elicit fat loss as well due to the aerobic capacity and improve VO2 max. Think marathon or long state cardio.
Q: Can i increase my strength using kettlebells?
A: Again, increasing strength means increasing tension, GS will not be optimal(if real strength is what you are after) but HS will be. This is mostly due to increased overall tension in the body allowing you to push more weight as you engage more firing of the CNS to contract the muscles(obviously this is a very brief version). Gs on the other hand is all about being relaxed and moving in the direction of least resistance.
Q: Can i use it as a rehabilitation tool?
A: If used correctly with HS concept and careful choice of exercise(s), you can progress someone who needs to do rehab as using kbs helps promote stabilizers be more engaged, help correct any wrong sequence of movement patterning. Using kbs helps with rehab as well due to the ergonomics of the kettlebell which makes it easier for every individual to suit their current body type and mobility condition.
Q: Can i use this tool to help me get specific conditioning for MY sport?
A: Sport specificity can be patterned out with HS concept application, from soccer, running, MMA, rugby, long distance cyclist etc as its a very hip dominant based so is most of the lifestyle to sporting activities. For GS, you will have to train using specificity from GS movements as they will get you moving towards that quicker.
Q: I still can’t seem to make the difference between these two, what now?
A: If you still can’t make out the differences between these two schools, try to picture this analogy as i personally feel that this provides an “image” to the by product of training in a specific adapted environment:
GS: Marathon runner(pic below)
Q: Ok, what’s the take away from this article, I’m confused which is better?
A: There’s really a no “better” for this. Just which is one will get you to your goals faster, better.
Q:Where can i learn more of these two school of thoughts?
A: There is plenty of workshops that teaches you proper techniques and regression drills, these are the top of the mind when it comes to kettlebell education you can trust(in no order):
*GIREVOY SPORT IS ALSO KNOW AS “WEIGHTLIFTING USING KETTLEBELLS” IN RUSSIAN.