What is Hardstyle Kettlebell Training?

There are two main styles of kettlebell training:

  1. Kettlebell Hardstyle
  2. Kettlebell Sport Style (a.k.a. Girevoy Sport or Fluid Style)
Left: Girevoy/Sport kettlebell; Right: Hardstyle kettlebell

Kettlebell Hardstyle

Hardstyle is the style of Kettlebell training popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline, who brought Kettlebells originally to the US. It’s the way that is today taught in the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certification) school and in StrongFirst.

This style can be summarized by high intensity and few repetitions. Power optimization is the key rather than power conservation. Each rep should look just as powerful no matter if it is 12kg or 48kg. This style focuses on a balance between high tension and relaxation.

Tense the muscles. Because muscles produce force by tensing. Maximize the tension.

Tense the joints. Because a loose joint absorbs the force meant to go elsewhere; it “leaks” power and is easily injured.

Focus on breath and a strong core. Because pressure from the core increases strength.

Move from the ground. To maximize stability and to take advantage of the reactive forces.

Hardstyle Kettlebell training is the practice of the total compression skill. RKC teaches how to focus the scattered energies of the body into a directed all-out effort while minimizing the odds of injuries.

Originally, “hard style” referred to martial arts like Karate which concentrated total body muscle tension into one extraordinary effort—“one punch, one kill”. When Pavel Tsatsouline served in the Soviet Special Forces, his unit was among those who had adopted a Karate-based style of hand-to-hand combat. The hardstyle of kettlebell training was born to support this hard style of fighting.

Determined to take the skill of strength as far as possible, Pavel researched every possible venue that could be of help, ranging from reading obscure neuroscience papers and old Soviet bio-mechanics texts, to picking the brains of gymnastics, power-lifting, and arm-wrestling elite.

Power-lifting coach Louie Simmons has said it best: “Pavel has reverse engineered what the strongest athletes do naturally.” This is Hardstyle.

It boils down to reverse-engineering the techniques that the masters do unconsciously, then compiling and explaining those techniques in plain language. Such techniques include: compound movements, appropriate timing of body tension, power breathing, not training to failure or exhaustion, strength as practice, doing fewer things better, etc.

What will hardstyle kettlebells do for you?

If you have been around the block, the hardstyle techniques will noticeably and immediately improve your strength in pull-ups, pistol squats, kettlebell military presses, one-arm push-ups, handstand push-ups, and a variety of killer abdominal drills.

If you are new to strength, you will learn how to do these lifts right or, if you have a long way to go, get a clear set of individualized instructions for mastering them.

How to learn more

Any of Pavel’s books will introduce you to his hardstyle methods. Most notable in this regard are Power to the People and Naked Warrior.

Kettlebell Sport Style a.k.a Girevoy Style

Valery Fedorenko is one of the first people to popularize the kettlebell training in the United States. His style of training is Kettlebell Sports Style, taught today in the World Kettlebell Club. There are other kettlebell sport associations, such as Steve Cotter’s International Kettlebell & Fitness Federation.

The key feature of the sport style of kettlebell training is the focus on power efficiency over a long period of time. Most trainings are ten minutes long and the participant is not allowed to put the kettlebell down. Thus, the person is trying to conserve energy in the movements so that he or she can be efficient over time. In the below video, you can see how the athlete’s movement is fluid and how she is never out of breath over the allotted time period. (By the way, she is using a 22kg (48.5lb) kettlebell.)

Another key features is that only one hand is on the kettlebell at a time (i.e. there are no two-handed swings).

Another big difference is breathing. Breaths are taken efficiently and they flow with the movement. In hardstyle, the breath is forced and energetic like in a martial art.

What Style Does CrossFit Use?

CrossFit’s kettlebell training is inspired by hardstyle. Jeff Martone who leads CrossFit’s kettlebell training, was one of Pavel’s first students. CrossFit’s kettlebell training is often called CrossFit Hardstyle.

However, there are some controversial differences. One such difference is that the two-handed swing goes overhead rather than to shoulder height (so called “American swing”). Critics point out there are problems with mobility and the safety of this “American swing” movement.

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