All kettlebell swings are not created equal. Despite what most fitness athletes and gym goers may think, there is more to the kettlebell swing argument than just American vs. Russian swing.
When an athlete and/or coach programs a kettlebell swing (for this article I will be referring to the traditional “Russian” style swing, as the overhead swing can be quite controversial depending who you speak with), I doubt they knew there were two distinct versions to choose from, one meant to conserve power and create efficiency and the other meant to promote maximal power.
By having a deeper understanding of these two very distinct kettlebell swing variations, coaches and athletes can create the outcome the want effectively to fully maximize power and/or movement efficiency.
The Hardstyle Swing (Pavel Tsatsouline)
The Hardstyle swing was developed and popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline, chairman of StrongFirst. In the 1980’s Pavel was a physical-instructor for the elite Russian special forces units, also know as the Spetsnaz. In the early 2000’s, Pavel created the Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) with his then-publisher, Dragon Door, but then left in 2012 to form his current certification, StrongFirst.
This swing emphasized power production over conservation (see below), which was imperative for hand to hand combat training. This swing teaches maximal tension development, force application, and power production, all fundamental components of athletic performance.
The Girevoy Sport Swing (Valery Fedorenko)
Which Is Best For You?
Depending on the intended goal(s) of the swing within a program and/or session, coaches and athletes can shift between styles to elicit greater results.
Power Production = Hardstyle
The Hardstyle version focuses on maximal tension and recruitment of the nervous and muscular system to promote maximal power output, regardless of the load. Because power production is at the foundation of Pavel’s training programs, these explosive swings were performed using heavier loads and lower repetitions with varying tension. Breathing is used to increase pressure and power output, similar to that of weightlifting and other explosive movements, making the hardstyle swing a fundamental ballistic movement for nearly every athlete.
Aerobic Conditioning = Girevoy Sport
Juan Pellot, head coach and Co-Founder at Orion Strength Guild feels that nearly every functional fitness athlete can benefit from learning this style of swing to improve aerobic capacity and performance. Using the Girevoy Sport swing pattern can allow you to perform a more efficient WOD by not taxing your grip or hitting a heart rate peak to early in the workout, allowing you to have energy to utilize in the remainder of the WOD.
The specific nature of this fluid style of swinging is power endurance. By allowing for a double knee bend in the swing, the legs can create greater vertical power and momentum, conserving greater amounts of energy. additionally, breathing plays a large role in this style of swinging in which athletes must learn to breathe regulary througout the movement so they can continue to perform swings, cleans, snatches, jerks, and complexes for long periods of time in without stopping. Coaches and athletes can use this style of swing to promote aerobic and grip endurance, and even improve performance during functional fitness compeititions/WODs that require large volume of swings.
Overall Strength = Hardstyle
Maximal tension development, concentrated contractions and explosiveness, and powerful breathing techniques are innate to the hardstyle swing. Maximal strength endeavors challenge a lifter’s ability to contract and promote maximal total body tension, and to unleash force. Unlike the Girevoy sport swing, the hardstyle swing can help athletes learn to develop maximal tension and unleash total body pressure, strength, and power.
Both kettlebell versions can promote improvements in power, strength, and aerobic capacity, however one may better suit the needs of coaches and athetes depending on the intened outcomes. For general fitness and performance, the hardstyle swing may be more bang for one’s buck, however there is some merit for learning to perform the Girevoy sport version to diversify one’s fitness, improve efficiency during kettlebell workouts, and learn to breathe while performing intense aerobic work.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured Image: @dntraining_vienna on Instagram