I had never picked up a kettlebell before I ordered my first pair. The year was 2012 when these odd-looking cannonballs with a handle caught my attention when I searched for ways to keep fit while nursing a running injury.
I read many amazing things about those little pieces of iron, and since I was still too shy to join a gym, I thought they were just what I needed.
There was just one problem.
I didn’t know how to use them, and I didn’t know anyone who could teach me. So I did what most people do when trying to learn new exercises. I bought a book. Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Enter The Kettlebell” was a fun read, but I believed that pictures were not enough to teach me.
So, I asked Youtube.
Back then, I was unaware that 2 basic styles of kettlebell lifting existed. The kettlebell hardstyle – the way Pavel Tstatsouline teaches his students, and the kettlebell sport style –which is much older and originated in Russia.
My first introduction to the kettlebell sport was through Valerie Fedorenko. When I first watched his youtube videos, I was confused because his swings looked vastly different from the ones I saw in Pavel’s book.
The confusion continued over the following months as I tried to figure out the right way to swing.
In hindsight, the pursuit of the perfect swing was a futile one. Why? Because there is no ideal or one right way to swing a kettlebell. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or indoctrinated into believing that his coach’s style is the best.
The truth is that there are various ways to swing a kettlebell, and all of them are correct, as long as the style of swing you use is getting you closer to achieving your goals.
The two most commonly practiced styles are the already mentioned hardstyle and kettlebell sports swing.
Let’s look at each in turn.
The hardstyle kettlebell swing.
Hardstyle kettlebell training was invented and popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline. Pavel was a physical instructor for the elite Russian special forces units, and it’s in large parts to his books that kettlebell training became popular in the United States.
The hardstyle swing is taught as a hingeing movement and is powerful and explosive. When practicing the hardstyle swing, you aim to powerfully snap your hips when the bell moves before you and relax on the backward swing.
When done right, the hardstyle kettlebell swing teaches you to quickly switch between tension and relaxation.
Because this type of swing aims to develop power and strength, you usually perform it with a heavy weight and stick to a low rep range. More than ten repetitions per set are the exception.
Biomechanical breathing is used to bring more power to the movement. That means you powerfully exhale on the forward trajectory of the bell and inhale when you initiate the hip hinge and the bell moves behind you.
The hardstyle kettlebell community practices two-hand kettlebell swings just as much as one-hand kettlebell swings. Double swings are also done but are not a main staple.
The sport-style kettlebell swing.
Kettlebell sport originated in Russia and is much older than modern hardstyle kettlebell training.
That’s why I always find it quite amusing when uneducated or close-minded hardstyle practitioners critique every kettlebell swing that doesn’t look like the perfect hardstyle swing 😅.
Kettlebell sport athletes utilize the sport swing to improve their performance in the various kettlebell sport disciplines. The goal of the sport swing is to be as efficient as possible and to build endurance.
Hence the swing technique is different from that of a hardstyle swing.
The sport style swing is also called a pendulum swing because the kettlebell moves in a pendulum fashion. When performing the kettlebell sport swing, you use a double knee bend in the backswing, which helps to create vertical power and momentum. As opposed to the hardstyle swing, where the forward trajectory of the kettlebell is “out,” the forward trajectory of the sport style swing is more “up.”
As you might have guessed, the breathing in a sport swing also differs from that of a hardstyle kettlebell swing.
Since the goal is repeatedly lifting the bell for 10 minutes or more, your breathing needs to be relaxed and calm. Just think about the difference in breathing when you go for an all-out sprint versus when you go for a leisurely job. When you sprint, you take smaller powerful breaths. When you jog, you take in longer breaths and keep tension to a minimum.
The kettlebell sport swing is usually performed as a single arm swing only, as the main goal is to improve the lifter’s cleans and snatches. With that said, there is nothing “wrong” if you choose to practice your two-arm swings with a sport-style technique of double bending your knees and breathing in a more relaxed manner.
The type of swing you use depends on your goals.
So what is the best type of swing? The answer is, like often in life, “it depends.” You see, the best swing variation is the one that is appropriate for your goals.
If you want to train power and strength, use the hardstyle kettlebell swing.
If you focus on endurance and building aerobic capacity, use the kettlebell sport swing.
And let’s not forget the fun factor. I don’t like the many breaks I must take if I am training according to the principles of hardstyle kettlebell training. So, I often go into an endurance-style workout of swings, where I do single-arm swings for 10, 20, or even 30 minutes. The kettlebell sport swing is much better suited for this type of workout than the hardstyle swing.
Be wary of people claiming that there’s one best way to swing a kettlebell. Those people either don’t understand the other style, have never heard of it, or don’t like it.
As long as you’re executing the movement safely, keep learning and perfecting the art of kettlebell swinging, and enjoy your workouts, you’re swinging it right 😊.