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Plain Jane Vanilla Kettlebell Swings? Au Contraire, Mon Frere, In Fact This Rabbit Hole Is Getting TOO Deep.

Much ado has been made recently over the question of which kettlebell style is 'the best'. The list seems to keep growing. Leaving aside all the obvious marketing gimmicks you might find in a store like WalMart, let's look at the credible sources for both lifting technique, and equipment:

There is the organization formerly known as RKC, run by Dragon Door Publications, now branching off into a future of some uncertainty. Before that, the institution now known as IKFF split off when fitness purist Steve Cotter decided, in his words, that "Pavel is a fraud", [whatever that means in this industry]. Then there was the birth of RKC's red-headed, fugly, but tough-as-nails little sister, HKC. Before that, WKC/AKC appeared to teach westerners about the sport, with international kettlebell sport phenom Valery Fedorenko at the helm. Aaaand the IUKL, a governing body for kettlebell sport from the old country, watched from the sidelines, for a time, while everyone else was better marketed over here in the wild west, chiming in only to officiate at tourneys that they were invited to [ouch].

First off, much respect and admiration goes to Valery Fedorenko, by all accounts a true athlete, pioneer, and ambassador in the competitive world of kettlebell sport. The guy isn't just a badass, he is the badass incarnate. I want to relay to you something he said on Facebook that rattled some cages yesterday, including many of his admirers and former students! In essence, the champ said, "Stop doing two hand swings. Kettlebells are meant to be lifted with one hand. There is no American swing, Russian swing, hardstyle, softstyle, this-style, or that-style. There are just 'swings'." Let's just let that simmer for a minute.

In his best-selling book, The Four Hour Body, author Timothy Ferriss endorses, unabashedly, the two-hand, so-called "Hardstyle" swing over all others for guys trying to firm up their mid-section quickly. For the ladies, Ferriss extols the virtues of booty-popping fullness that these swings give the glutes as nothing short of a phenotype-altering miracle for women who don't naturally carry around much "junk in the trunk". [think of your Korean-American friend who has a backside that looks like something has been surgically removed]

Certified trainers and followers of the RKC method of two hand swings swear by it. In fact, they practically go out and get the darn thing tattooed on their arms, so they can show you how awesome it is. After all, everything is more hardcore as a tat, right? HKC followers are perhaps not as die-hard, but definitely sold on the idea of the two hand swing as a fast, effective way to increase general fitness and slim down [the entire marketing thrust of the so-called 'Hardstyle' Kettlebell certification via Dragon Door]. I mean, thousands of happy customers can't be wrong! Otherwise, why do it, or any other exercise for that matter? Certainly not for the sport- oops. Did I just write that? Yes. Yes I did.

Now, back to Valery's comment about swings being swings: he's right. Oops, did I just write that also?! Yes. Yes I did. You see, the power in the swing that Valery teaches is unparalleled... well, anecdotally at least: T-Nation recently ran an article detailing the scientific study of kettlebell training as an adequate supplement to explosive olympic lifts- a net positive for the inclusion of kettlebells into the mainstream of athletic training. Unfortunately, the only studies of any note haven't included the expertise of the IUKL, AKC, or any of Valery's colleagues, which is ridiculous but typical. Hopefully this will be remedied in the near future. That said, these lab-rat-guys are swinging kettlebells to increase the effectiveness of sport-specific training protocols. Otherwise, why do it, or any other exercise for that matter? Certainly not for the sake of general fitness- oops. There I go again.

So perhaps the folks at Dragon Door and IKFF are onto something after all? It could be, since most people walking into the local Globo gym [23 Hour, Bold's, Ballet's, etc] are not there to become competitive power lifters, or break a 4 minute mile: they just want to look good enough with their clothes on that others will wonder how good they look with, um, less clothing.

"But wait, by that logic, wouldn't competitive kettlebell lifters become as fit and sexy as competitive power lifters, thereby making the distinction of kettlebells for fitness and kettlebells for competition, well, kind of silly?"

Yes. Absolutely. Therein lies the rub. It makes it more difficult to know which technique is best, or whether you should be barking up the technique tree in the first place.

Now, not to trivialize the study and importance of good technique, which is essential to progress and injury prevention, as we saw from my mishap earlier this week, but I will say this: principle carries through what technique cannot do. If you've been on the fence, then study the principles and stop worrying so much about whether or not you're wasting time getting fit, or wasting time becoming more competitive. Either way, in someone's opinion, you're still just wasting time.

So Pigs is Pigs. Kettlebells is Kettlebells. And Swings is Swings. Know the difference between principles and technique, and start enjoying the way you've chosen to waste your time.

p.s. My workout today was 4 sets of 20 swings, done just the way I liked them, plus 3 sets of heavy front rows using a kettlebell instead of the cantered bar, just because I could.
Stay Strong, Friends.

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