The kettlebell world is fascinating to me. I’m still learning about it even after earning my level 1 RKC in 2011.
The RKC is based on Hardstyle principles of explosiveness during quick lifts and total body tension in slow lifts. Learning to be explosive while staying relaxed and creating tension are viewed as skills that need practice.
But Hardstyle is sometimes viewed as too rigid or dogmatic. Meaning, this is the only way to do it. When I was first certified, I didn’t realize that there were other styles of kettlebell training. I dove into Hardstyle and learned as much as I could and passed it on to my clients and anyone else interested.
It’s possible that in the early days of the RKC it did seem rigid. Certification workshops tested your physical and mental toughness over a long weekend. And it was somewhat militaristic, which worked for me because I’m a very regimented person. But I could see how it might be a turn-off to other people.
I can say that the RKC has evolved over the years. There’s more of an emphasis on teaching and developing great coaches. Instead of beating you down during a certification course. My philosophy has changed too. I now realize that there are many paths to the top of the mountain. And you need to choose the path that works for you.
Let’s talk about some differing viewpoints.
Some have said that Hardstyle Kettlebell Training doesn’t allow spinal rotation. Yes, this is true to a certain extent. During most hip-hinging movements, we aim to keep the spine neutral for more core activation. One of the objectives of the Deadlift and Swing is to keep the hips and shoulders square, which helps engage the core. This is a bit more challenging during the 1-Arm Swing, Clean, and Snatch because your body is loaded unevenly. But learning how to keep your spine neutral and avoid rotation will activate your core muscles.
Yet, there are several movements in the Hardstyle world where thoracic rotation is required. The Turkish Getup, Windmill, and Bent Press. You could sum it up by saying that most of the explosive exercises require a neutral spine while some of the slower exercises allow for thoracic rotation.
Let’s talk about two concepts that define Hardstyle – tension and breathing.
In Hardstyle, we use tension to produce power and strength in the slower lifts. Let’s focus on the Single Kettlebell Overhead Press. This is a great example of a concept called irradiation. When you contract a muscle, the tension from that muscle will carry over to neighboring muscles. When pressing one kettlebell overhead, not only do we focus on the pressing muscles, but we contract other muscle groups like the glutes, quads, and even make a fist of the freehand. So, the more tension you can generate, the more force you can apply.
Tension is also used in the faster lifts but is followed up with a moment of relaxation. In the Swing, Clean, and Snatch a forceful contraction of the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and abs will help move the bell to the end position. In the Swing, a forceful contraction of the muscles will make the bell seem like it’s ‘floating’ for a moment at the top. It’s this balance of tension and relaxation that promotes athleticism.
Tension is a skill that takes time to develop. But doing so will result in more strength and safer lifts.
Now, let’s focus on making funny breathing noises. If you’ve watched one of my educational videos or follow another Hardstyle instructor, then I’m sure you’ve heard the “tsssss”. Trust me there’s a reason for this. This is Hardstyle breathing or biomechanical breathing.
This type of breathing increases the pressure in your abs to help reduce the load on your spine. It’s like creating your own weight belt. It produces more explosive force in fast exercises like the Swing and Snatch by timing your exhale with a forceful muscular contraction.
When you get it right, you’ll feel your abs contracting as you exhale.
I hope this article gave you insight into the Hardstyle Kettlebell world. It’s a great style to apply to your training but not the only style. Choose the style that works best for you. Whatever style you use please make sure to get coaching or read a book on proper form and programming. Your body will thank you and you’ll reach your goals faster.
Ryan Jankowitz, RKC II