Girevoy Sport or Hardstyle Kettlebell: Which Is Right for You?
Hardstyle and Girevoy Sport are the two main styles of training in the kettlebell world. The broadest way to categorize them is that Girevoy Sport focuses on endurance, while Hardstyle focuses on power. There is significant crossover between the two styles and choosing one does not mean forsaking the other. The important thing is to focus on the method that more closely aligns with your goals as a kettlebell lifter.
Girevoy Sport (GS) is also called Kettlebell Sport and Sport-style. GS is the evolution of the kettlebell competitions that originated in the Russian military. An athlete participating in GS uses a submaximal weight and performs repetitions of a single kettlebell exercise for a set time period, which is traditionally 10 minutes. Like competitors in a marathon, GS athletes must focus on staying relaxed by utilizing anatomical breathing and efficient movement technique. The number of repetitions completed in the 10-minute window is used to rank GS competitors within their respective divisions (based on bodyweight and kettlebell weight). Progression in Sport-style competitions is achieved by increasing weight and the number of repetitions completed in 10 minutes.
Kettlebell Sport competitions are based on three movements: Jerk, Snatch, and Long Cycle. Traditionally, there are two events in Sport-style competitions: Biathlon and Long Cycle. Biathlon is comprised of a 10-minute Jerk set with two kettlebells, followed several hours later by a 10-minute Snatch set with a single kettlebell. Long Cycle is one 10-minute set of clean & jerk with two kettlebells. For Snatch, which is a single bell event, the kettlebell may change hands once.
Kettlebell Long Cycle
Historically, men have always used two kettlebells (one in each hand) for Jerk and Long Cycle, while women used one bell. However, competitions have evolved over the years and today there are organizations that offer single and double bell variations of Jerk, Snatch, and Long Cycle for both men and women. Most competitions offer kettlebell weights in 4kg increments. For example, women can compete with 8kg, 12kg, 16kg, 20kg, and 24kg. Men can compete with 16kg, 20kg, 24kg, 28kg, and 32kg. A lifter can achieve ranking based on bodyweight, gender, age, and kettlebell weight used. Winners are determined within respective bodyweight and kettlebell weight classes.
The window of a competition kettlebell handle is smaller than that of a powder coat kettlebell, which allows the lifter to insert their hand fully through the handle in a way that prolongs grip strength and enhances relaxation in the rack position. There are no movements that use two-handed grips on one kettlebell in Sport-style.
The key to success in GS is perfecting technique for enhanced efficiency of lifting. The lifter must build muscle memory for the correct sequence of each movement. The sport requires a great deal of mental fortitude; imagine not being able to set down two extremely heavy weights for 10 whole minutes! There will come a moment during the 10-minute set when the nervous system signals the brain that the body has reached exhaustion, and it requires a tremendous amount of physical and mental energy to push past that point. The beauty of GS competitions is watching lifters struggle through an immense battle of body and mind to achieve their goals.
Contrary to what it looks like, GS is an endurance sport much more than a weightlifting sport. The lifter must put the weight over their head again and again throughout 10 minutes, so the weight they are lifting MUST be a submaximal load for their strength level. Only if the lifter has enough strength for the load to be submaximal can they train their endurance and develop the oxidative potential of their muscle fibers. While GS requires massive aerobic capability, Sport-style athletes must train for both endurance AND power. They must relax as much as possible while competing to give their muscles the ability to continue powerfully contracting for long periods of time.
Hardstyle kettlebell workouts are a more recent development in training theory, brought to the world by Pavel Tsatsouline. Hardstyle focuses on efficiency and power production and was designed to combine the best of GS and hardstyle martial arts. There are no 10-minute timers; the goal is to complete many repetitions while using breathing techniques to power through the movements with maximal body tension.
Ballistics and grinds are two terms used in the Hardstyle training world. Ballistics are explosive movements that create momentum to move the kettlebell against the force of gravity. The hip drive used in a kettlebell swing is a typical example of a ballistic movement. Proper execution of ballistics involves using almost every major muscle group in the body (full body tension). This enables a high workload and impressive results in a short amount of time. Grinds, on the other hand, use muscular control to work against gravity. Both concentric and eccentric movements are emphasized during grind movements. A kettlebell press, appropriately done, will be a slow and controlled movement in both directions. The goal is not to drop the kettlebell from the overhead position, but to apply resistance to guide it along its path.
Progression in Hardstyle is achieved by increasing the weight of the kettlebells used for ballistic and grind lifts. The goal is to maintain form no matter how heavy the weight. A light kettlebell is treated with the same contemplation, breath, and control as a heavy bell. The movement is smooth and fluid no matter the weight of the bell. Muscles not used during the movement should remain relaxed in preparation for the next powerful move. Like a sprinter, the Hardstyle lifter uses forceful exhalations to prompt forceful movement.
When deciding what method of kettlebell training is right for you, think about your fitness goals. Marathoners and sprinters are both runners, but with contradictory goals that require building different energy systems. If you want to build endurance and mental tenacity while learning how to relax under duress, consider the GS style of training. (If you’re a competitive person who likes to travel and needs a goal to train for, signing up for a kettlebell competition might be right up your alley!) On the other hand, Hardstyle is a great way to build speed and power that translates well to sports that utilize the same energy system. If quick, effective workouts for general fitness are your goal, Hardstyle is the best place to start. One thing is for sure: both styles of lifting are fantastic ways to get in shape!