Friday, February 20, 2009

GS kettlebelling First Impressions

If you've touched a kettlebell, you may be aware that there are a few approaches to KB practice. One has come to be known as "hard style" taught by Pavel Tsatsouline, and certified RKC's (like myself). The RKC approach also refers to itself as a "school of strength." It's this approach i've been using in the Perfect Rep Quest.

The other style is usually called GS (for Girevoy Sport) or Kettlebell Sport.

The main difference between the two styles seems to be technique and goal. In Hard Style, with its focus on strength, there is a consequent focus on generating tension for power and strength. The technique is to generate tension to move a heavy object a few times. Alternately, the GS approach seems to be (i stress seems as i am new to this GS country) to focus on endurance for performance over time. This is not to say that strength is not a part of it - men compete with shoving 2, 32kg bells up and down in the clean and jerk for numbers in time. But the sport is really to see how many times that weight bell can get pumped in that move in that time.

So the technique to manage this is about optimizing efficiency rather than tension - endurance strength rather than power strength. In this respect the style of the key moves is different to support these distinct goals.

This weekend, i had the opportunity to learn GS style from Steve Cotter under the auspices of the new IKFF CKT certification hosted by Simple Strength's Rannoch Donald, and using the newly demo'd London Kettlebells competition bells with most welcome highly indestructible paint job.

The main thing i take away from this right now that it's another way to think about applying these oh so versatile fitness tools. Pacing is a nice idea. Going for time is the way i was trained in x-country running: forget about speed at first and go for time. That means taking as much recovery *within* a set as needed to complete the set. Recovery is not doing nothing: it's active. In an overhead squat cycle, the rest may be at the bottom of the squat with the bell still locked out on top, or it may be while standing. In the jerk, it may be bell up top or bell in the rack. So you're holding/balancing/maintaining weight, but it's not in motion. You haven't put it down is the thing.

The practice of someone watching the clock for you gets to be a little meditative. Focus without boredom. "1 minute - great"...."2minutes...."

IT's very much a different head space than the more GRRR of hard style.

I've heard some argue on various fora that the GS approach is superior for health and well being and longevity. Ok. Show me the research that says this is so. That shows for instance long distance runners are healthier into old age than power lifters. It's not clear to me why we'd need to get into a this style is better than that style. I would be very keen though to see real data about how/why these different approaches may favour different types of health issues.

Without that evidence, well we're just whistling dixie.

In the interim of such claims being certified, it is clearly established that GS is a sport in a way that hard style is not (this point is not in contention, i think :)). As such, for hardstylers too it may be fun to think about translating that hard style grr attitude into a competitive realm. Double 32 C&J'ing for time/numbers, gentlemen? For women, i learned that in the US, it's snatching, jerking or "long cycle" clean and jerking with one arm, and a 16. Though it seems gals use 24's in Russia. Nothing wimpy about that.

Indeed, part of the rationale for going long (in time) with these weights is that really, how big a deal is it to press a big ol' kettlebell once next to a powerlift with a barbell? Ok, put that way, ya a single kettlebell lift ain't that big, relatively speaking (pressing a 24 is still a big deal to me, OK? but i get the point). So what else can you do with a "lighter" weight? Er, press it again? and again?

So to aid the Sport aspect of this repetition approach to kb's, like olympic bars and plates, they're all a standard size. Many folks have spoken about the rationale for this standardization: the only thing that changes is the weight. There's something appealing about working the groove of a move with the same shape, whether an 8 or a 28. It is interesting to train and groove with one weight, and go up to the next with exactly the same form. It's cool.

The form initially seems a little freaky - bending back and curling over the bell, resting on the hip etc. Hence the benefit of proper instruction to learn how to do this without herniating a disk.

BJ Bliffert, RKC, told me about GS over the summer - and that if you're thinking about it, start lighter than you're used to working with in RKC style. From my brief experience to date, he's right. Because of the time element, greasing the groove, getting the form is a big deal - it's a whole new muscle pattern to learn and become efficient with. And brain theory would say it's also a whole new bunch of neural maps to put down. So as always with the perfect rep, looks like high volume low(er) weight is the way to go.

Right now i'm not sure exactly where the GS approach will fit into my training practice life, but i do really like the idea of timed sets as a component of that. Cotter talks about these as a mental discispline practice, not only a physical discipline to stay in there. Getting the mix of weight to time is then important - and is certainly where i was at with the timed sets we did on the weekend: balancing challenge of effort with tenacity of focus to keep going wihtout burning out. It was enjoyable in a rough kinda way.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about this as flow
: being in the space of something that is sufficiently challenging to keep you engaged, but not pushing you beyond your skills; using them without overloading them and so going into stress/startle mode. This is not to say that GS has a lock on flow with kettlebells - just that you're likely to find it there if you have the time to learn the technique and the opportunity to connect with someone who can teach you - so you do get the tech- nique, and do hit the flow. Right now the practice - learning the skill is part of a flow, too.

Right now, it seems like the IKFF is reaching out to as many continents as it can find, and there are a growing host of IKFF certified CKT'ers (also like me) out there. That said, i'm gonna be practicing the form a whole lot more for the time being to get it. I got the sense there was way more technique happening than we were explicitly taught. so for the nonce, i'm just working the sweep, the repose, the sweep, the repose, checking my grip checking the handle in the hand and again.

Initial impression? i don't know martial arts, but i hear that most martial arts types learn many styles. In a similar vein, i'm really glad to have had the opportunity to learn a new style, and now have the opportunity to think about how to take this new learning into my own physical practice.

(thanks to ken blackburn for the source image)


BJ Bliffert said...

Very nice and thanks for the props!

Rannoch Donald said...

Hey MC. Great to hear your take and see the non-partisan attitude flourishing. Lookingforward to talking soon. Your input at the weekend was great and that little Jedi Mind trick with the leg certainly got folk thinking!


MKSchinabeck said...

Nice post. I too have jumped into the GS world, although a bit earlier than you. In November 2008, I started to suffer from minor injuries as I pushed my 32kg ROP workouts. I decided to look into GS and met with a local coach to learn the different techniques. I dropped to the 16kg bells and started working jerk and snatch progressions. I didn't increase my weight until I could do 100 jerks in 10 minutes and 200 snatches in 10 minutes with 1 hand switch. I have now moved through the 16kg and the 20kg bells and have almost accomplished these goals with the 24kg. My shoulder pains have disappeared. I still feel I am in top physical shape. I also agree that the meditative qualities of long timed sets are nice as well as the mental strength required to gut out a 10 minute set while sufferring.

As a student of the kettlebell, I agree that getting involved in the "which style is better" pissing match is useless. I think we owe it to ourselves to become familiar with all techniques.

Check out my blog: to see my GS journey over the past 4 months as I have trained for the upcoming Arnold Classic GS Competition - my first attempt at competing in kettlebell sport.


Alexander said...

Interesting reading, thanks!

kamal singh said...

I got into KBs, after injuring my back. While researching rehab for my disk bulge, I came across DD and the articles on the website, extolling KBs virtues in rehabbing bad backs. I also liked the whole idea of keeping the back straight and hinging at the hip. Needless to say, swinging a KB has helped greatly. I have seent he GS style on YouTube and most GSers seem to follow the bell, rounding their backs. Is this how Cotter teaches it or does GS maintain a neutral spine vis a vis the HS arched low back? GS seems a lot like a middle distance race in comparison to HS which seems like a sprint. I would also love to see some RHR comparisons of the two as well as other markers like VO2Max etc. Oh yes, also some info on the overuse injuries suffered by GS athletes - the holding of two KBs in the hyperextended lower back rack year after year can't be good.

Just some thoughts.


dr. m.c. said...

Folks, thanks. And if Ron is out there, i hope this sorta touches on some of your previous questions.

BJ, you really reached out to help, you know? above and beyond generously and with thought - i really really appreciate that. good careful teaching there.

Rannoch, glad to add you know - super to have the opportunity to share. that's amazing. i was amazed at THAT. you know? right there, like that.

Matt, please let me know how it goes at the Arnold. that's a great story and i'd like to hear how this part ends.

Alexander, nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by.


i know it looks like the back is rounding on following the bell, but you'll find that the lumbar spine stays neutral/naturally curved in, not extended. There may be some thoracic rounding. Likewise in holding the bells in the rack - from what i saw and what i learned, the lumbar spine is not hyperextended, but i had that question too: how does doing this not absolutely screw up your back? the main thing seems to be that you need to develop good thoracic mobility for the GS work. And so in good performers (like jason dolby) you have big thoracic movement which makes it seem like you're getting lumbar extension rather than actually thoracic flextion. i'm still unpacking this, but that's the story i'm sticking with for now. :)

On the other markers, after trying to do a 5 min jerk cycle with the 16 today, i can tell you my heart was pounding - i didn't use an HRM to see how that set comapes to five min's of kj's vo2max with the 16, but that's a good idea - just for fun.

Again, many thanks all. BJ, how goes your competetive prep? are you going to the arnold, too?


David K. Rioux said...

Great post. I'm excited that I will be my instructor's course with Steve in October. I myself have learned a hardstyle aproach to training. This comparison everyone refers to as one style is better than the other baffles me. Pavel himself says training for strength with high weight stay tight producing high amount muscular tension, and he also has written "Beyond Body Building"there is a place for loosening up enough to create efficient movement as in GS movement stlye. Learn both because there is a place for both. Its natural to keep tight when your trying to do a single at your limit, or loosen up after many reps and still have many left and you know you need to be efficient to finish. My experience is anyone who is well rehearsed is practicing both.


Cfnobrasil said...

You can help me to find the best course for coach's in Girevoy ?

I already have Hardstyle certification, but want enter in girevoy sport and maybe in the future open association in my coutry with a good and recognized international organization.
For training protocol , learning best is: IKSA , IKFF or WKC ?
And for association IUKL / IKSA , IGSF maybe IKFF too?
If you give me your opinion, what you think and why , is great for me.


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