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Hardstyle or GS style for kettlebell swings

Yesterday a friend of mine and a KTCC student asked me a very interesting question. The question went like this:


I was practicing snatch and swings today

I observed that snatch and cleans etc are all better done softstyle

but swings alone as a workout can only be effective Hardstyle

what do you think?"

If you are aware about kettlebell lifting, then you will probably know that there are two different styles of kettlebell lifting- hardstyle and softstyle. Most of us were made aware of kettlebells by the so called "hard"style group of lifters. However, when kettlebells were used only (or mostly) in Russia, there was no such thing as hardstyle of kettlebell lifting, or atleast it wasn't really popularly used by the majority. The style that is popularly used in Russia, and also used by world champion kettlebell lifters is the so called "soft"style of kettlebell lifting.

Before I get into the question I would like to mention that I do not like the term "soft"style of kettlebell lifting. The very term soft gives the impression that this style of lifting lacks any strength and power, and is maybe for the weak. Personally, I prefer the terms Girevoy (GS) style or simply competition style. It sounds far more professional and well developed compared to softstyle .

The idea with GS style is not about using zero tension or zero strength, its about using just the required amount of tension and no more. For eg a 16 kg bell is not a super heavy weight for me, and thus I do not need to use a lot of strength to do 10 reps with it. So why use all my strength to just do 10 reps? Yes, if I am to do a very high number of reps, then towards the end I will need to start using more tension when I am fatigued, but why use that much tension from rep one? And its not just me, even world champion lifters like Valery Fedorenko and Ivan Denisov have spoken and have proved that the so called "soft"style of lifting is not for the weak, and that it develops a great deal of strength too. Watch the video below to see what I mean:

Hopefully you are also as impressed with the above video as I am. It is my firm belief that at the end of the day it is how much you lift or how many reps you can do that decides your status as a kettlebell lifter, rather than which style you owe your allegiance to. For eg in martial arts there is often a labeling of "soft" arts and "hard" arts, but when it comes to a fight, it is simply a matter of who survives and wins the battle, and that's that! I think the same also applies to kettlebell lifting. If someone using hardstyle can outlift me, then he is a better lifter than me, period! And if I can outlift that person, then I am a better lifter, irrespective of our styles!

Phew! Now that I got that out of my system, lets get back to the question at hand about the swings only workout. If your overall goal is to just have general levels of fitness, and to be in better shape than your friends who do not workout, then frankly speaking you can use either hardstyle or GS style, it really does not matter. Both will make you work hard and give you a great workout. However if your goals are beyond just basic fitness maintenance, then we will need to take a few factors into consideration.

Generally when we do swings, we use it as a gateway to progress onto doing cleans and snatches in the future, or to improve our current snatch and clean numbers. Thus if your goal is to be able to do 100 non stop snatches, then your swing should be done the way you would swing the bell when you are snatching. And if you are going to use GS style when doing snatches, it is ideal that you use GS style even for swings so that it better transfers to your snatch performance. Using two different styles will be confusing for your muscles and is not the best way to go in this case.

However if you want to use kettlebells only for swings as a way to get really fit, and not do snatch and cleans for whatever reason, then would it be better to do it hardstyle? For eg, maybe you have torn your palm when doing snatches and cannot snatch for a week, then would it be better to do hardstyle swings while your palm recovers? To answer this question, let us first understand one important thing about GS kettlebell lifting.

When an average male gets decent at Girevoy style or "soft"style of lifting, they become so efficient that doing 50-100 swings with a 16 or 20 kg kb is not a serious challenge. On the other hand with hardstyle, a lifter focuses on generating far more tension than what is required to lift a 16/20 kg bell. This creates the belief that the person is burning more calories and building greater strength.

The fact is that a 16 or 20 kg is exactly that much. Trying to create excess tension, will only make you inefficient and make you feel that you are doing a lot, when in reality it isn't so. Just because you think you are doing a lot does not mean that you actually are! If that were the case, then I could just swing an 8 kg kettlebell imagining it to be 48 kgs and get great results.

With GS style, I would encourage the lifter when doing a swings only workout to preferably go heavier. Your efficiency will allow you to go much heavier and lift more, so don't stay stuck with a light bell unnecessarily. For a decently trained male in GS style, a 24 kg or even upto 32 kgs and more might be ideal for a swings only workout. And for a decently trained female GS lifter, 16-24 kgs might be ideal. Again, these are not weights for absolute beginners, but for those who have spent some time improving their technique to get efficient. By the way, I am suggesting these weights for one arm work, and not for sets of two arms swings for 10 reps and below.

In case a heavier bell is not available, then do more reps with the same weight. And if you do not fancy higher reps, then atleast do more reps before changing hands, meaning fewer hand changes. This way you will be able to do much more actual work, and get a better workout. Remember, you should judge your workout by how much you have actually done, either in terms of how heavy you went and/or the total tonnage you lifted. GS style swinging will allow you to do more reps, which will give you more volume, or you can use fewer hand changes, which makes the same number of reps more intense. Do not listen to those who say that lesser reps with the same weight will give far greater results if you use their style.

What I am trying to say is that even if you are to do just swings, then ask yourself what techniques will allow you to do the most actual work, that is lift heavier and/or do more reps, rather than go by just mere perception. And when it comes to actual work, GS style will allow you to do more overall work. This is why I would recommend GS style lifting for best results even if you are to just do swings in your workout.

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