Matching methods to goals

To understand performance, we must first understand the goals.

An important question to be able to answer before selecting a particular tool or modality is "why?" Why would you select one tool over another, or one approach instead of another?

So, why use kettlebells? This is a relative question because what we are really asking is why we would select a kettlebell instead of something else (dumbbell, barbell, a can of soup, or something else).

The kettlebell is a tool that that is used specifically for the development of work capacity via ballistic repetition. That is its greatest gift. Sure, we can juggle and do tricks with kettlebells, but it is the combination of endurance and strength training that gives them a place among basic strength and conditioning tools.

If your goal is to lift a weight as heavy as possible one time, is the kettlebell the best implement to choose? Most likely not, in that you will be limited by how big the kettlebell can be and by its shape. Sure you can have a 200-pound kettlebell, but it becomes cumbersome beyond a certain size. Traditionally, 48 kg is the heaviest a KB will weigh, unless you move into kettlebells for circus stunts. Anything heavier than 48 kg requires the mold to be larger, and the leverage parameters will change and make the bell unwieldy for all but the most massive frames. A barbell, however, is quite conveniently designed to hold maximum weights, whether 200, 500, or 1,000 pounds. So, for the purpose of lifting a maximal weight one time, a barbell is the logical choice and will allow optimal lifting for that goal.

On the other hand, if the goal is to lift a sub-maximal weight many times, for the purpose of training muscular and systemic endurance, a kettlebell offers unique qualities that will facilitate this goal. The shape and length of the handle and its placement behind the mass of the bell favors high repetition lifting, because the hand can move within the handle and allow a relaxed grip (in a way that dumbbells and cans of soup do not).

A basic classification is useful here. There are three fundamental categories of kettlebell lifting. (They can be divided further, but this is the stripped-down version.)

1. Classical (also called "competitive.). These are the foundational lifts, the basics, the ones that are contested in kettlebell sport meets: clean and jerk and snatch. Simply put, if you're good at these, you're good at kettlebell lifting.

2. Fitness. This category consists of a wide array of movements used to build coordination and general conditioning; includes bodybuilding and feats of strength.

3. Juggling. Just like it sounds, this type involves throwing and catching kettlebells in any imaginable fashion.

Most people first start using kettlebells for basic fitness, in which they do a wide range of activities to learn techniques for working with KBs and start to develop strength and a solid base of conditioning. This is like gym class for kettlebells. Then the question usually becomes, what's next? What happens once you have a basic fitness level?

At this point, a lifter will typically use that basic training either to move into another activity, such as Olympic lifting, powerlifting, or another sport (or CrossFit), or to progress into serious kettlebell lifting.

This is when the study of the classical lifts becomes more important and the finer points of learning are needed most. It is in the precise study of the basic lifts that high achievement can be developed through repetition.

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