Workout: Every minute on the minute for Twenty minutes:
Odd: 3 Power Clean and Jerks, bodyweight
Even: 3 Muscle-ups
A Cold War: The Russian vs. American Kettlebell Swing”
Kettlebells have been around for a long time – at least in Russia, where the kettlebell as we know it today originated approximately 350 years ago -and so has kettlebell training.
There are two basic types of swings: Russian and American
So what’s the difference? Look no further than the arc of the swing. The Russian swing starts just below the groin and is swung to chest or at most, eye level. The movement is short, brisk and compact. The American swing by contrast begins at the knees and moves upward to full arm extension overhead. It’s motion is longer and smoother than its Russian counterpart.
So why even bother with creating an ‘American’ version of the kettlebell swing altogether when the Russian version seems to work fine on its own as it has for literally hundreds of years. Good question. However in order to better appreciate and understand the answer, we need to take a look at the March 2004 issue of the CrossFit Journal; authored by none other than CrossFit Founder and CEO Greg Glassman. Glassman stated the criteria for CrossFit’s (exercise) selection include, “range of joint motion, uniqueness of line of action, length of line of action, strength of line of action, commonness of motor pattern, demands on flexibility, irreducibility, utility, foundational value, measurable impact on adherents, and, frankly, potential for metabolically induced comfort.”
On first being introduced to the Russian kettlebell swing, Glassman’s immediate response was, “Why not go overhead?” Generally, CrossFit endeavors to lengthen the line of travel of any movement. Why? There are two reasons. The first is somewhat intuitive. We don’t do half rep pull-ups, we don’t do half rep squats, and we don’t do half rep push-ups. If there is a natural range of motion to any movement we like to complete it. To do otherwise seems unnatural. We would argue that partial reps are neurologically incomplete. The second reason deals with some fundamentals of physics and exercise physiology. From physics we know that the higher we lift something, and the more it weighs, the more “work” we are performing. Work is in fact equal to the weight lifted multiplied by the height we lift the object. Work performed divided by the time to completion is equal to the average “power” expressed in the effort.
Power is exactly identical to the exercise physiologist’s “intensity”. Intensity, more than any other measurable factor, correlates to physiological response. So more work in less time, or more weight moved farther in less time, is largely a measure of an exercise’s potency.
When we swing the kettlebell to overhead, the American swing, we nearly double the range of motion compared to the Russian swing and thereby double the work done each stroke. For any given time period, the power would be equivalent only if the Russian swing rate was twice the American swing rate.
So there you have it -twice the distance in half the time… And doing more work faster is how we improve our Work capacity, and thus increase our overall Fitness!