Choosing between hard- and softstyle kettlebell lifting techniques is like choosing between vacationing at Disneyworld or Disneyland -- it depends on your personal preference and what you are trying to accomplish. Regardless of the style you choose, you’ll work with bowling ball-shaped weights with handles on top. They come in weights of 5 to 100 pounds. By comparing hard and softstyle lifting on a few factors, you can make your decision about which style is right for you.
If fluid movements are more your style, consider a softstyle kettlebell workout. Kettlebell expert Steve Cotter explains that this style features fluid, graceful movements and a steady tempo. The fluid or softstyle technique dates back to the sport's Russian roots with lifters taking a relaxed but never overextended grip on the weights. Eye position always mirrors trunk alignment in this aesthetically pleasing approach to lifting. By contrast, hard-style kettlebell lifting is more rigid, jerky and fast in its movements, with the lifter purposefully overextending her limbs. Hardstyle lifting is intense but not as pretty to watch.
Weight and Repetitions
Softstyle kettlebell lifters use lighter weights for many repetitions while experienced hardstyle kettlebell lifters favor heavy weights for fewer repetitions. Softstyle lifters may in fact be able to achieve a greater training volume given their slower pacing. A hardstyle lifter, for example might complete 125 repetitions over about a four- or five-minute time frame while an experienced softstyle lifter’s repetitions will be around 200 over about a 10-minute period with the same load.
If you prefer the breathing approach used by traditional weightlifters -- exhaling when extending the weights and inhaling when you lower them -- then choose hardstyle kettlebell lifting. Be careful, though, because this method of breathing makes it harder to stabilize your spine if you are into hardcore heavy weights. The opposite approach is used by softstyle lifters,who tend to inhale when they are exerting themselves the hardest and exhale when they are returning the kettlebell to a resting position.
Body Sculpting Goals
If you want to look like the female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, choose a hardstyle kettle approach of using maximum exertion for a short-time interval. This approach burns more calories than softstyle lifting. If you want to look more svelte, like Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games,” choose a softstyle approach with its emphasis on lighter weights over longer time periods. While softstyle kettlebell lifting burns fewer calories, pace is extended for a longer time, which burns a lot of fat.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.