Hard-Style Vs. Soft-Style Kettlebells

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The kettlebell is thought to have originated in Russia, with the first known published mention of them appearing in a Russian dictionary in 1704. A member of Russia's special forces is credited with bringing the kettlebell to the United States, Ohio State University's Fit News reports, where its popularity has grown in recent decades. The kettlebell looks like a cannonball with a handle. Kettlebells are used for weight training and endurance exercises and traditionally come in weights of between 10 and 100 pounds.

The Overall Look

Hard-style kettlebell lifting is also known as the Russian Kettlebell Challenge; soft-style kettlebell workouts, kettlebell expert Steve Cotter explains, is also known as fluid style, which is the more traditional style. The hard-style lifter uses rigid, jerky and fast movements, overextending his limbs. By contrast, the soft-style lifter uses fluid, graceful movements at a constant but steady tempo. Hard-style lifters grip the kettlebells tightly, looking straight ahead regardless of their way their trunk is facing, while fluid-style lifters using a relaxed, somewhat extended but never overextended grip and their eye position matches their trunk alignment.

Energy Expended

Hard-style kettlebell lifters aim to lift as heavy a weight as they can — an approach similar to traditional weightlifting goals. Soft-style kettlebell lifting, meanwhile, aims to lift lighter weights for a longer period of time. A well-conditioned hard-style kettlebell lifter may be able, for example, to lift for 4 to 5 minutes and perform 125 repetitions in that time, while a well-conditioned soft-style lifter will perform just 100 repetitions in that same time frame but will continue at a steady pace for a longer period, completing up to 200 reps with the same weight.


Which style a kettlebell lifter follows will determine how he breathes during exercise. During hard-style kettlebell lifting, the lifter breathes in opposition to his movements: He exhales when his trunk is extended, at the moment of greatest exertion. When the load is greatest on the spine, the hard-style lifter is inhaling. In soft-style lifting, the lifter inhales while extending the trunk or when exerting the greatest effort. When the load is greatest on the spine, the soft-style lifter is exhaling. When using the hard-style breathing technique it becomes more difficult to stabilize the spine with heavier loads; the soft-style breathing method protects the spine better.

Popularity and Goals

Traditional soft-style kettlebell lifting remained popular in Russia as of 2011, while hard-style lifting was thought to be the first style practiced in the U.S., where the sport is much younger. Hard-style kettlebell lifters want to gain muscle by using maximum exertion for a short time. The concerted effort burns a lot of calories, but the total weight load can be less than that lifted by their soft-style counterparts, who burn fewer calories per minute but can sustain their pace for a longer time.