Sunday, May 06, 2007

I just don't get it.

I've been watching videos of elite and amateur GS competitors, reading GS training logs and forums and contemplating the discussions I read about how to train,specifically, to improve one's GS scores.
What I don't get is how anyone, much less an experienced and educated trainer, could say that training in GS style( sorry VF, to me that's exactly what it is, a specific style of using the kettlebell) would create ANY carryover to sports that require speed, power or strength. endurance and pacing yes but speed and power? No.

Any trainer that has an athlete, say a sprinter, weightlifter,powerlifter or football player come to them for supplemental training with kettlebells and who gives them a strict GS protocol program design is doing them a great disservice, imho. One could make the case for GS training for MMA or boxers perhaps but I would still argue against that as the sole method of using kbs.

It would be the same as if you had a sprinter come to you as a trainer and you gave them long slow distance runs as the gist of their program design. Great sprinters will balk if you ask them to run a mile continuously, much less five.Yes, both styles are still running but going long and slow will prepare you to go: you guessed it, long and slow.

And yes I know GS competitors aren't even supposed to think about using the 32kgs bells until they can comfortably press them for numerous reps, and yes that will make one stronger. But that is NOT the basis of GS training. Increasingly longer, paced timed sets designed to get one to being able to go the full ten minutes distance is the first key to GS as far as I can tell from what I've read. This makes TOTAL sense for GS athletes. It does not for power and strength athletes, not for the average person who most of the time desparately needs more strength as well as a higher VO2 max. High intensity interval training, as well as the high tension, linking the bodyparts techniques , the kind the RKC promotes, is much more applicable to these populations and I haven't heard the argument against that that is even close to convincing me.

Arguing that GS does not promote minimal energy output is disengenuous when all one has to do is watch the videos and see first hand the energy saving techniques that are the cornerstone of the sport. Again, I love the sport and if I had the shoulders and knees for it might give it a go and think it would make any who undertake it seriously tough ,as only hi rep endurance activities can but it is not good for strength and power athletes.Its perfect for masochistic minimalists like me and many will be drawn to the sheer simplicity of the athletic task.

And using the strength exploits of Mr Federenko as an example of how strong one can be and do GS makes as much sense as saying training like Ed Coan will make you as strong as he. Ed could squat 500 lbs at 150 pounds in his first meet.Federenko was a World Champ by 18 if I'm not mistaken and thats great genetics meeting the perfect opportunities.

But just as when I was a competitive powerlifter I did NOT make my clients squat and deadlift with barbells just because I liked to, the Gs style of KB training is probably not the best prescription for most of your clients. Strength based biomechanical positions, biomechanical breathing techniques, learning the keys to increased tension, force production and power ,progressively taught and increased will go much further for far more clients as well as give way more carryover. THe KB "what the hell" effect is real no matter what it's detractors want to fantasize.Just because you can't explain it does not mean it's not real.

Plus, like all sports , anatomy is destiny and our best US GS competitor, Marty Farrell, is built almost exactly like the top GS guys ones sees on youtube. Coincidence? I don't think so.ANd to those that say there is only one "right" way to lift a kettlebell they are correct. The way that gets you the results you are after. Which is to say there are many ways. If you want maximum strength, speed,power and incredible cardio results spend some time learning the methods of the Kettlebell School of Strength, the RKC.

Congrats to all who are competing in the NAKF GS Nationals held in Miami this weekend and may you all have many PRs! Just remember that just because you love a sport doesnt mean its the right training method for your students or your clients.


Tom Furman said...

Read Ken Black's current blog. He's right down the road from you.

Rob O'Brien said...

Right on Mark! I enjoyed VF's certification but I agree totally with your post.


Randy said...

I do distingish between GS as a sport and other kinds of kettlebell lifting. A strong argument can be made that traditionally, because they are fixed weights, the Russian/Eastern European tradition of competitions (which used to be many more lifts than just the snatch and C/J and the press) arose around "how many times can you lift it?"

At the lower rankings I would categorize GS the sport as a strength endurance sport. Strength and endurance are being built. At the MS and Elite it is a power endurance sport because speed does factor in at the elite levels: Fuglev's 270 24kg snatches in 10 minutes is generating some wattage and is far faster than most RKCs snatch, I'd wager, over any period of time or for any particular set of reps.

As far as utility of GS for athletes: we RKCs are always touting Robin McKenzie's observation that strength endurance is a more valuable strength characteristic for back/spine health than absolute there's an application right there for long sets of swings and snatches and long cycle clean and jerks.

I agree that KBs are useful for power...but strictly speaking explosive strength training beyond 2-3 reps isn't really power training anymore. And not many RKCs stick to 2-3 reps on anything but grinds. Is the SS snatch test Power Training? Nope. Should an explosive athlete train for it? Why not...besides back strength there are other variables GS style tests train: guts, determination, visualization, stick-to-it-iveness, concentration, pushing through discomfort.

For power training I think KBs occupy the same general niche as dumbells but I also think they are a far more elegant solution for many dumbell exercises, like cleans and snatches.

Mark Reifkind said...

Tom I did.I think Ken will be a great GS athlete. what does that have to do with my post?

Mark Reifkind said...

Thanks Rob, I'm glad you got it.I have nothing against GS as a sport; it's when people say that their system is the only legitimate way to use kbs that I have a problem.

Mark Reifkind said...


Of course an argument can be made for the traditional hi rep approach to kb lifting. and all the technical aspects that increase the scores.

But using the kb, as Pavel teaches, with more an explosive, hip snap, power and speed approach is just as valid, for different results, of course.a focus on maximizing total body involvement than mastery of one specific groove is a big difference.

and of course fugulev's watt output is huge, he is the world champion . that is not to say that that movement, done that way is the best method for anyone else to maximize force and power output.Especially if the athlete is a strength and power athlete.
Marc Bartley and Donnie Thompson both of 1100 pound squats beleive the explosive approach to kbs the RKC takes is helping them a lot.In terms of building muscle as well as absolute speed and rate of force development.

I doubt whether you could talk Marc into training with low enough intensity to go for 5 much less 10 minutes in a set.
and as far as lower back health and strength endurance goes, there is a definite overall strength endurance that accumulates from doing multiple lower rep sets. it doesnt have to be one long continuous set to get a solid increase in strength endurance as a "side effect".

Having blown out L4-L5 in 2000 and being rehabbed by the RKC approach I can testify to that myself.

as far as more than 2-3 reps not working power; for strength athletes like power lifters who have to exert maximum force for 3-7 seconds to make their competition lifts being able to turn on, and leave on white fiber from doing 5-30 seconds worth of explosive work is obviously going to be helpful.The key is you can tailor the workload and acceleration to the desired training effect with the more mechanically based RKC methods.

Louie talks about the accumulative muscle tension effect of doing multiple sets of 2 rep box squats on 'dynamic effort' day with short rest periods as another form of max effort training.IN fact he considers all three methods: max effort, submaximal dynamic and the repetition method all three forms of max effort training.

as far as the ssst since you can set the bell down and switch hands whenever I see it as more of a test of the overall strength endurance of the body rather than just one specific area; the grip.

thanks for your considered response randy, always appreciated :)
I hold gs in as high a regard as I do OL. yet none of my clients do any OL movements.

Christine Petty said...

I wouldn't say that GS has helped my powerlifting. I would actually propose that it interfered a little bit. (I had to stop benching for a little bit) But-- I enjoyed it, as many of us who like 'the pain' like things like this. It was a challenge, to see if I could make my body do something. Am I going to be internationally competitive at this? Absolutley not. :)

Cate Imes pointed out to me at nationals (we were in Salt Lake City, UT--- Miami is in November) that the "middleweight" competitors seem to do better. I am *much* bigger than the average GS competitor, so I'd agree with the genetics arguement. ;)

Ken Black said...


I am not sure I get it either but I do know there is a lot more to it than watching a few vids on youtube. My thinking of what GS is dramatically changed after Fedorenko's cert. I am willing and able to see if it works for me. JMO

Hope all is well with you.


Mark Reifkind said...

hey ken,
I think you will make a great gs athlete and I totally beleive there is TONS of technique to be learned in order to do gs right. ANd I'm sure VF is a great coach.never argued against that.
I just dont beleive that the basic mechanics of what is widely understood to be gs is the best way for the average person to use kettlebells. jmo.I never said GS was not a valid sport I just havent seen anything that would make me think its the ONLY correct way to use a KB.

plus there is virtually NO information on the web about it. Why? where is the basic technical info about the details of VFs methods? why not even a website?

glad to see you are rejuvenated in your training and I sincerely wish you the best and know you will shine in gs if you so desire.

Mark Reifkind said...


I hear you and totally get the 'challenge' aspect. I've done some pretty bizarre sports for the 'challenge'. but I do know that for powerlifters who are committed to maximizing their total doing explosive hard style short duration reps is going to help the powerlifts much more than long, low intensity, continuous hi rep sets.

Just ask anybody really strong and see how much they like the idea of lots of ten minute sets on a regular basis.

Catherine Imes said...

I'm not sure anyone has said that they are the best way to build explosiveness/speed for a sports like football. If someone came to me with those goals in mind, I would send them somewhere else.....

What we usually state is the GPP benefits of the training. I personally have never touted this as a preferred method of speed or maximal strength building and I'm one of the more vocal advocates of this training.

But, your focus in this discussion is on athletes. I'm more interested in every day folks who just want to move better. I would argue that this "softer" style is better for most of them. Would I make them do a 5 or 10 minute set..No. But the pacing and duration training is very effective imo for teaching the techniques. Having someone purposely go slower enables them to feel the movement. Having them launch out at 30rpm with no adherence to pace is a recipe for disaster (torn hands, hurt shoulders, ect).

You brought up Federenko and his strength. Marty Farrell can do a pullup with 100lbs strapped to him..He doesn't even do pullups regularly. I don't think he could have done this 2 years ago. These stories are not unique to Valery.

I can consistently pull 280lbs (hook grip) off the floor. I don't deadlift. Same thing with pressing the 32kg.

Doing something for many reps and "time" can make you stronger depending on your background or it can let you retain strength (as in my case) if you do it right!, it makes everything else easier by comparison..It's obviously not what I would recommend to someone with elite powerlifting aspirations. But it has merit even if you have no interest in the sport.

Kelly Moore had a kipping pullup PR recently...59 reps. She had backed off Crossfit and pullups while training for the NAKF nationals. There are a lot of factors that could have contributed to this PR. But, one of them might be this..(as I stated elsewhere and i will write about on my own blog). Training for this sport or training for time where you cannot set the bell down gives you staying power and resolve that even high intensity circuits cannot give. Ever tried just holding 2-32kg bells for time? That is one thing that seems to be overlooked in terms of benefits. I told Kelly that having to hold onto something for 10 minutes may have increased her mental ability to stay on that bar long enough to realize a pullup PR. She also had a PR on her mile time recently..without dedicated running 7:09. Not earth shattering....but not bad.

This training isn't for everyone..and they are finding that out. I've found that it causes me to dig deeper than anything else I've done to date. You want to put that bell down and you can't. I'm strong...I love-hate doing 10 minute snatch sets in a 90+ degree garage..That's me.


Mark Reifkind said...


first, congrats on you MS ranking, you should be very proud.
Now I'm sure you remember the posts that stated that GS is the only true way to use a kb; that the kb is designed to be used that way and all other methods are incorrect.That the traditional ways are valid and the 'new' way is illegitimate.

Anyone who swings snatches or cleans kettlebells will increase their gpp no matter which style they use.But to state that their is no style but only a correct method and an incorrect method is wrong and dissrespectful.

And I agree that the technique and form one uses with beginers and everyday people is much more important than with athletes. Athletes will always figure out what to do to win, the average person needs the help the most.

and thats why I like the RKC biomechanical style as it is safer imo and allows for more variance as to the qualities it develops. Strength and power for example.

Now that does not mean I am going to make my 60 year old female clients try to exert maximum force on each rep, but to get her the concept and ability of 'standing up as strongly as possible each rep' and learning how to root and compress the ground, and stabilize the body, etc. will go a LONG way in her world.

The average client can hike for hours but barely lift their own bodyweight. THey need strenght AND endurance.I think the RKC hard angle hip centric methods are safest and most productive. JMO of course :))
and as to strength as I said earlier, you really cant go wrong using a kettlebell, in whatever style you choose. Just picking it up and holding it will make you better

as far as holding for time you can see in my blog I do snatch holds for time twice weekly as well as rack walks and waiters walks. same idea.

it seems to be constantly missed by people who read my blog THAT I LOVE GS AS A SPORT AND HIGHLY RESPECT THE ATHLETES COACHES AND TRAINING METHODS.

Is that plain enough.For reasons I noted above I dont think it is useful ,or more useful than the RKC methods, for general fitness and the general populations.

Plus again, is anybody other than AKC cert coaches going to see ANY info on VFs system? No website at all?If this system is superior to RKC where is the information and data?

Catherine Imes said...


Thanks for your congratulatory post.

I realize you respect athletes in this sport. I've never missed that point. The techniques we're taught..I've had success in teaching to my older clients. They aren't that radically different, but I will say that the focus on time and pace is great methodology for drilling technique and getting good reps and that is something I have not seen in the RKC (I've been a RKC since 2004 and attended 5 workshops)

We work to stabilize the body just like the RKC. We're just really good at it and it looks effortless for some and not others. Look at Marty's Jerk video. He's repetitively Jerking nearly his bodyweight. IF everthing wasn't stablized, he couldn't do that. He doesn't make it look easy like VF. Everything from head to toe has to be stabilized or he won't lockout. If I didn't do this, I couldn't do the things I do. The 16kg is light for me, but I've done very high rep one arm jerks with the 24kg, and I can easily meet the RKC Req for a 90+kg man for snatches and then some. Everything is stabilizing. We're just good at it. I think the problem is that when people watch the elite athletes they make it look too easy. But, the stabilization is has to be. I don't teach my clients to be relaxed and loose at all points. I teach safety. There is a progression and prereqs before i'll teach a snatch or a jerk, e.g..

I've cleaned up snatch technique of clients right away by moving away from the hard style swing. The transition is too hard for people otherwise. Now..No where did I say the RKC Hard Style swing is bad, but it does not transition well to the snatch...I've been to 5 workshops and seen proof of this.

We won't even talk about Jerks because well..They are absent from the RKC system now at least until the level 2.

This training is more like a martial art to me. It's not going to appeal to everyone. But, here is the deal. I no longer have shoulder, elbow or any issues. My recovery has never been better and I'm snatching 4-5 times per week, doing high rep jerks, and very high rep swings. I also have suffered no strength loss and lost 35lbs since 1/06. Even if I weren't competing, I can't ignore that stuff.

I realize that the AKC is slow to get going. They've got a small group working on this stuff. I'm sure other businesses/orgs have the same startup issues.


ericc said...

Hi Rif,
First let me say that I admire you a Coach, an athlete and a person. I have learned much from your blog and your post. Thank you.

I think what most irks some kettlebell lifters is what seems a lack of regard towards "GS style" style kettlebell lifting towards anything other than GS. Keeping in mind that this style served and continues top serve others well inside and outside the sport (including Pavel, before the advent of "Hardstyle")it seems puzzleing. Especially coming from someone with such a mixed and far ranging list of athletic accomplishments. Please don't thing that I am accusing you of not being opened minded, because I know that you are. I'm a just trying to view this from the largest perspective as possible. Having said all this, I do think that this debate has been well served by you and pthers to opening up a great training dialoge and for this I am grateful to your insights.


Mark Reifkind said...


I totally get your point(s) and understand that there must be tons of minutaue to the system that just isnt being discussed. But the way things were presented:"rkc is bad( fake) kettlebell form and the only acceptable form is GS style" is what set things off wrong.

I am sure you are an excellent coach and trainer and your clients are lucky to have you.

Like I have said numerous times, if I had the orthopedic structures I would definitely give GS training a serious go, the minimalism and the focus on the absolute reality of the numbers appeals to me as well.
take care

Mark Reifkind said...


Thanks for the kind words and for coming over to talk. It is appreciated. I hold no rancor for GS and as you surely have read, admire the athletes and the sport greatly.
part of the problem might be the serious lack of information available to the general kb population as to what AKC or 'traditional' style kb lifting constitutes. All we have to go off of is the gs lifts and events.

as far as Pavel and his involvement with kb form prior to HS what he said at this last cert was about how HS developed in the army from the need for a combat equivilant conditioning form to balance the HS karate they were using.

the focus on " one punch, one kill" got translated into the same style of kb training, teaching the body to produce maxium force in minimal time.

as you know Pavel spoke and wrote about GS and its techniques in the cert manualand original rkc book, brought VF to the convention,had SC do GS style demos AT THE CERT for those interested in the sport and techniques.In general he was quite supportive of gs( at least that was my impression at the time) even though he was not interested in it personally.

It was those people that said RKC was invalid and a fake form of kb lifting and that the ONLY real way to lift a kb was GS style.
that got me going. So I dont think the anymosity started on this side.

and because I've had such a wide and divergent experience in sports that I feel I can comment of this "situation". As technical as GS might be let me assure you it does not hold a candle to Elite level gymnastics which I did and coached for years.The mechanics are not that complicated( nor are the RKC's.precisely the point) and the nuanced subtleties are not necessary for the average user anyway.

I hope the two camps can bridge the gap as they should be brothers in iron.
let us never forget however, if it werent for Pavel NONE of us would know what a KB is, have one available to use or have any exposure to the general public at large. Many people have forgotten that. They will ALWAYS owe Pavel a debt of gratitude for getting this thing going and for the huge amount of positive exposure he has gotten kbs.

I have a serious problem with dissrespect.thanks again for stopping by please do again.

Marko said...

AOS has a demo of a "classical" swing:

I think/hope Miami and San Diego events will help in getting more information out to the west. In later years, I hope to get also info from different coaches who might have unique teaching methods. It will be interesting to see how kb lifting evolves in ten years, for example.

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks Marko!

One thing is that we have not been exposed at all to anything other than gs techniques for gs sport. good luck to you!

Mark Reifkind said...


sorry but that is one ugly ass, low power looking swing. plus, he's wearing runing shoes?and since when did anthony become a gs expert?

Marko said...

I'm not qualified to judge Anthony's form, but it's cool that they try to introduce different stuff in their videos. I think best video online about GS tehcnique currently is this short one where Vasily Ginko teaches C&J:

I bet there will be more material in the future. I hope we can get more good quality stuff to youtube. It would be good to have HardStyle videos as well, so we could compare and discuss the differences and similarities.

Mark Reifkind said...


the best Hardstyle videos are pavels original RKC video,brett jones and michael castrogiovannis' kb basics for strength coaches and personal trainers,and the ETK dvd.

Christine Petty said...


ref: the GS swing video marko posted...

Judgements about footwear aside (I personally can't do KB work in anything but wrestling shoes) that is the swing I saw Cate Imes doing before nationals. Very movement economical, I'm thinking of doing it at the end of my PL workouts for time to keep up wind for GS-- should I lose my mind and decide I want to compete again.

Marko said...

Ok, thanks. I've seen Pavel's DVD, but not those others you mentioned. Is there some good examples on-line also?

Marko said...

It's a lot similar as the swing portrayed in the latest Hard Style catalog, with vintage pics.

Mark Reifkind said...

there are some good videos of mike castro at dogtown kettlebell online doing hs swings against a jump stretch band that are pretty indicitive of HS. Basically most hip hinging, flat back, hip snapping technique is considered HS.