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Monday, October 1, 2012

A word on the schools of kettlebell lifting

Much like the many types of Martial Art, no particular school of kettlebell lifting is "better." All uses for kettlebells have specific benefits when performed correctly. Because I am asked so often, I figure it's time to spell it out the different styles of kettlebell lifting to the best of my understanding.

Something to note upfront: Kettlebells are designed to be one-handed tools. Strong folks have complained that the handles are too small or the weights aren't heavy enough. Keep in mind the two-handed swing is a basic exercise that leads to one-handed momentum exercises, such as Clean and Snatch. Swinging with two kettlebells is a simple solution to the above mentioned problems. (It is not advised to Snatch with two kettlebells.)

Kettlebell assisted aerobics vs. "Hard Style" strength training
(more weight = more need for technique)

"Kettlebell assisted aerobics" includes lower amount of weight, ie. 2, 5 or 7 pounds, which are incorporated with mostly un-weighted routines. Aerobic workouts focus on high repetition, movements outside the normal routine and maintaining a target heart rate for a duration of time. A light weight kettlebell intensifies the core aspect of this workout. The kettlebell exercises are basic enough to be taught on-the-fly, and small sizes provide safety from injuries if form is not completely correct. Fast paced music is common to keep the focus on perpetual movement and elevated heart rate. Using kettlebells with aerobics is a great way to loose weight and get started with resistance training.

"Hard Style" (a term applied to a specific style of kettlebell lifting) strength training makes use of kettlebells as free-weights rather than dumbells, cable machines and a weighted bar. A major difference in this style is the off-set weight of a kettlebell. (A variety of sizes come into play, such as those pictured to the upper left and lower right. These kettlebells are solid cast iron, thus the diameter of the bell increases in proportion with the weight.) This requires the lifter to use deep core contraction, specific breathing and technical knowledge to accomplish a lift safely. Another characteristic of "Hard Style" is improved mobility and flexibility. "Hard Style" kettlebell lifting is a great way to take your physical fitness to a higher level and learn valuable skills for daily life.

Kettlebells to assist in a workout vs. Kettlebells as the workout
(more kettlebell exercises = more need for technique)
"Kettlebells to assist in a workout" is when a few exercises in the workout include kettlebells, ie. a circuit style workout with kettlebell exercises mixed in with exercises using other pieces of equipment such as a barbell, pull-up bar, tire and sledge hammer, etc. This style is typically a group workout with minimal emphasis on teaching technique, which slows the pace. Great for those who need a diversified workout, this style is characteristically intense and supports functional movement. Can be an excellent way to condition the cardiovascular system and gain strength.

"Kettlebells as the workout" is when the entire set of equipment for a workout is a variety of kettlebell sizes and open floor space for bodyweight exercises such as push-ups and burpies. Skills must be developed to complete an entire workout with kettlebells only. It is a good idea to get a series of private training sessions or attend a certification workshop (such as "Hard Style" or Girevoy Sport training) so the lifts become correctly ingrained. Great for those who like to workout on their own. Also excellent for at-home training and for athletes who want to improve their performance in a sport.

"Hard Style" vs. Girevoy Sport (more time with one lift = even more focus on technique)
"Hard Style" has a trademark of high intensity with fewer repetitions. Which is not to say that cardiovascular endurance is left out. In fact, many long-time weightlifters pick up kettlebells for the added cardiovascular conditioning of the momentum exercises, ie. Swing and Snatch. Great for breaking out of a training rut and gaining relative strength due to the high focus on core conditioning. Excellent for short workouts with a minimal amount of equipment.

Girevoy Sport (GS) takes the momentum exercises to a whole new level. The diameter of these hollow steel weights are standardized so a lifter can move from 8 to 12 to 20 kilogram weights without adjusting their form to fit the different dimension. (A 32 kg kettlebell is more solid than an 8 kg kettlebell.) This type of kettlebell (shown in the picture above) is useful for all types of kettlebell training. A characteristic of Girevoy Sport is the initial challenge of learning the "classic lifts" which make it a sport: Snatch, Jerk and Clean & Jerk ("Long Cycle" in GS talk). The duration of a competition set, 10 minutes, is the next challenge of GS. At a competition, the amount of correct repetitions completed in 10 minutes are counted as a lifters set. In the beginning, just keeping a kettlebell in motion or in one of the "rest positions" for 3 to 5 minutes is a major accomplishment. GS training is great for developing work capacity, strength endurance and flexibility in shoulder and hip joints. Also excellent for athletes who want to learn a new, highly competitive individual sport.

I hope this is helpful for those who've been wondering about the various uses for kettlebells. Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions:  See my website for information about classes or private training:

Best wishes for a great season!


  1. Much like the many types of Martial Art, no particular school of kettlebell lifting is "better." All uses for kettlebells have specific benefits when performed correctly. kettlebell set

  2. Indeed, good comment, Albina. It's all about lifting with a purpose.
    As a GS lifter I have become attuned to the efficient use of each movement, thus I over emphasize technique in this post. In my sport poor form is a recipe for injury : (

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