To hit any training goal with this versatile piece of kit, let Elite Trainer Tim Joseph expand your training arsenal

 

How do you like doing it? Hard, fast and intense? Or relaxed, rhythmical and longer lasting? Well, technically you don’t have to choose – both have their benefits. But when it comes to kettlebell training (what did you think we were talking about?) it pays to know which protocol is best suited to your goals.

Kettlebell training can be broken down into two distinctly different styles. But which is best, and which will best push forward your training progress, remains up for debate. Here we explain everything you need to know about this ultimate training tool and put you on a path to your best ever body.

Hardstyle (HS)

The name refers to the effort level and muscle tension required to complete each rep and set. If you’ve ever worked a kettlebell exercise into your workout or watched CrossFit on YouTube you are (knowingly or not) familiar with Hardstyle (HS).

Initially popularised by Pavel Tsatsouline in the USA back in 2001, there are now many courses and organisations who have evolved off the back of his teachings.

There are a wide variety of exercises, weights, tempos, reps and set ranges to help keep your training varied and help you to achieve the training effect you are looking for.

Sportstyle (GS)

The clue is in the name. Kettlebell lifting as an organised sport (Girevoy Sport) began in USSR in the 1970’s and has since developed into a worldwide competition.

Best described as ‘endurance weightlifting’, the competitions are broken down into three separate lifts: the Jerk, the Snatch and the Long Cycle – which is a variation of a KB Clean and Jerk.

The lifts are done with a manageable weight of your choice (16kg, 24kg, or 32kg kettlebells) and the aim of performing as many continuous reps as possible in 10mins.

 

What Are The Major Differences?

 

Intensity of the Repetition

HS training is all about maximal intensity, this means maximal acceleration in the dynamic lifts (thrusting your hips and contracting your glutes during a swing) and maximal tension in the slower lifts (setting your core and shoulder during a Turkish get-up).

The philosophy requires you to work at the highest intensity you can for each repetition, helping you to get the greatest training adaptation possible (body fat burnt, total-body muscle built) from the fewest reps.

This means that rep numbers are relatively low – a standard 3 sets of 10 will work – because the energy input to complete each movement.

GS lifting revolves around using the minimal intensity required to complete the repetition. The focus is, instead, on efficiency of movement, because the goal is to complete high numbers of reps rather than simply to get in a workout. Your philosophy is to exert less to achieve more – something you may not be used to in a gym setting.

However, these differences in intensity can be most easily summarised as the difference between sprinting (HS) and middle distance running (GS). It may be the same activity – kettlebell training – but the different methods and intensities support different fitness goals.

The Kettlebells themselves

GS KB’s are made to higher standard and have set dimensions they must conform to, so the size remains the same regardless of the weight. This ensures the precise handling techniques (and therefore the aforementioned economy of movement) don’t need to change as you progress up through the weights.

HS KB’s are solid cast, so light weights are small, and they grow in size as the weight increases. The shape (some are even cast in the shape of gorilla heads), handle dimensions, materials used and standard of these KB’s can vary massively.

Breathing patterns

HS uses valsalva breathing techniques of the martial arts world. It sounds complicated – it’s not. The technique involves short, sharp exhalations that are made during the effort phase (the hip thrust of your KB swing). Interestingly, this is to promote an increase in tension through your core and torso, which is a great way of generating force, and perfect for stabilising your joints, keeping them safe from the pulls that a fast-moving kettlebell can have on them.

GS uses mechanical breathing techniques, where intakes of breath are made as your arms and ribcage go up, which works in sync with the mechanics of your body. And if you time a sharp breath-in correctly, the expansion of your ribcage actually assists the lift. Expirations are therefore made as the arms and ribcage come down, which naturally pushes air out. It’s the epitome of economy.

 

So – which style is best?

To answer that, you need to be sure of what you mean by best. If best means, ‘has the greatest physical impact on you in the shortest possible time’, it would have to be Hardstyle, obviously. But if best means the most efficient method that enables you to do more reps with more weight to boost endurance, then it’s unquestionably Sportstyle. It really depends on your training goal.

HS is the best start point for someone who is new to Kettlebells. It will provide you with more variety, time-efficient workouts and the high levels of tension needed to enjoy fast progress.

But if you have built up some experience exercising with them, and are looking for a new challenge, then adopting GS methods and moving into Kettlebell sport will open a whole new level of understanding on how to lift Kettlebells. Plus, it will develop total-body endurance levels that can lead you to produce some sensational feats of stamina.

Kettlebells are an underused element in most gym-goers arsenal and, whichever style you think best suits your aspirations, you can contact Elite Trainer Tim Joseph and take your KB lifting to another level.