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Can Hardstyle Even DO Soft?

Can Hardstyle Even DO Soft?

Before finding my way towards Pavel Tsatsouline, the RKC now SFG and hardstyle (HS) kettlebell training, I went to ‘YouTube School’ to learn what I later found out was a soft or more fluid style of lifting kettlebells. Let me be clear – I did NOT train for Kettlebell Sport or Girvoy Sport (GS). I merely used competition bells with relaxed style as I learned three standard GS lifts: Clean, Press and Push Press. Lucky for me I didn’t get to the Jerk or Snatch or I’d probably have a lot of bad habits to unlearn.

Damn, Those Are Some Big Balls Bells

After several months of practice (good or bad, I couldn’t tell), hand numbness persisted after training and I couldn’t build any tolerance to these large steel kettlebells resting on my forearms. Then I remembered — the terribly neglected, still bubble-wrapped 20lbs cast iron kettlebell that made the transatlantic trip from Canada in 2004, hiding in an unopened box labeled “Sweaters and Leather” (don’t ask). On my little forearm, the weight sat only a few centimeters higher, but that was enough. No numbness and within a few weeks, no discomfort. Weird because many people find that the larger surface of competition kettlebells to be easier on the forearm. Not for me.

Be Open to Being NEW: Kettlebell Sport

So this weekend, some 7 years later, I went back to the big bell, competition style kettlebell to learn the basics of Girvoy sport with an open heart and mind. Why? Because it’s kettlebell training with a different context — sport. Luckily, I’m smarter now. I didn’t consult YouTube. I attended the Flux101 Pentathlon training course delivered by expert coach Sean Temple, founder of Flux Fluid Motion, who himself studies with Valery Fedorenko. When you want to be the best…you study from the best.

Kettlebell Sport vs Hardstyle Kettlebell Training

Day one focused on developing solid Kettlebell Sport (GS) basics. Confession: this was NOT easy for me after so many years of Hardstyle (HS) kettlebell practice. Everything was different! Learning to lean back for the GS rack versus standing tall and tight for the HS rack. Using the LEAST amount of energy possible in GS versus HS’s production of maximum power. Anatomical breathing in GS versus biomechanical breathing in HS. Coaxing a softer or fluid lockout of legs and arms in GS (to get more repetitions) as opposed to forcefully locking out glutes, abs, and arms for spinal stability (and to obviously get a heavier weight up) in HS. Focusing on maximizing repetitions in GS versus shorter sets with higher weights in HS, i.e. endurance versus strength. Prioritizing repetitions in GS over strength in HS. But just like everything else in life, just because it’s different doesn’t make it good or bad. Just different! Both styles have very different purposes. Each style can benefit from training the other.

Brain and Body Speaking Different Languages?

At times, I felt like my body was betraying my brain…not giving me the movement I was demanding from it, firing way too many muscles, delivering more force than necessary or desired and hence, fatiguing prematurely. But at others, things seemed to all come together pretty well considering I’d only  had one day of real training. It’s a testament to Sean’s skill as a coach and, ahem, to the very solid endurance work that we do at KULT. Sean repeatedly apologized to StrongFirst and Pavel for mucking around with my tension.

Protocols and Pentathlon

Day 1 ended with “Protocols.” What are those? Try 9 sets of 2 minutes work + 2 minutes work + 2 minutes rest. Other than the last 3 sets, those first two 2-minute work sets were per arm, continuous, not putting the thing down. I’ll for sure be stealing some of those ideas for my own sessions.

Day 2 was all about review and our slightly modified Pentathlon. We modified to a 6-minute rest period so we’d have enough kettlebells and rep counters but nonetheless. Five 6-minute rounds (each with a different exercise) looking to reach a maximum repetition count without putting the kettlebell down. Unlimited hand switches, thank goodness. We had 6 minutes rest after each work round while our partner did their set. The exercises? Cleans. Long-Cycle Press. Jerk. Half Snatch. Push Press. Yup, my shoulders are toasted. I washed my hair that afternoon figuring that within 24 hours, I’d not be able to raise my arms overhead. Good move.

Am I Converted to the Soft Side?

So overall, what does a hardstyling chick like me think of Girvoy sport training? It was really fun and a fantastic arm workout! With a good musical beat, it’s even a little meditative (well perhaps not so much with a heavier weight). And from an overall fitness perspective? Great endurance builder, especially when working up to a heavier weight and excellent for building some mental grit. But two things I think it lacks are strong spinal stabilization through core engagement and gluteal work, so important to lower back health and performance in general. I’m also still on the fence with the whole rack position, especially for people with lack of thoracic mobility and a history of lower back issues. But remember that GS training for sport is just that – training to make you better AT THAT SPORT. And of course training for both sports and fitness should include corrective work to address those and other issues. No one says you can’t or shouldn’t add other elements that are missing for your particular purpose, especially if you don’t ever plan on competing.

My experience over the weekend has cemented a lot of things in my mind. First, am I giving up my hardstyle for GS? Not a chance. Next, will I invest time working on my GS technique? Absolutely. Will I ever compete in GS? Jury is still out on that one but it’s not an outright no. Did I enjoy being the NEW student? No because I do not like NOT being good at something. Yes because it keeps me real and able to relate to my own new students learning to swing or train the hardstyle way.

Snatch Test Anyone?

Finally, and with absolute certainty – I’d take a hardstyle 5-minute snatch test ANYDAY, twice a day over the evil 5-minute warm-up of continuous one hand GS swings (3 minutes with a light KB + 2 minutes with a heavier one). ON EACH HAND! I don’t care how fluid GS is supposed to be. That’s awful.

Thanks to my amazing friend, role model, inspiration and all around lovely person Nadine Du Toit, founder of GloryGirls Fitness and DubaiBells for bringing Sean and Flux101 to Dubai and for sharing a passion for kettlebell training. Between KULT, Dubai Bells and OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre, we are fueling the UAE Kettlebell Movement!

For anyone looking to learn hardstyle kettelbell training technique and how it can help you reshape your body and get strong in the process, KULT Fitness is Dubai’s only specialized kettlebell studio located in Business Bay. We offer new student individual training introduction packages as well as group training for those having completed their kettlebell fundamentals.