I came across this study last week and chalked it up as “interesting.” All research is useful, but often you have to simply file it away in it’s place until more research is conducted.
The study was published ahead of print in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showing that Olympic lifting and kettlebells are both effective at increasing vertical jump and squat strength, but the Olympic lifts are superior to kettlebell training.
Let me teach you why it’s important to read studies carefully and not just rely on abstracts.
- I really liked the exercises that the researchers chose as I felt that they are very comparable. The two groups performed 3 exercises each. The kb group performed swings, accelerated swings, and goblet squats, whereas the Oly group performed high pulls, power cleans, and back squats.
- The Oly group used 80% of 1RM loads for their exercises. But the kb group stuck to solely a 16 kg (35 lb) kettlebell for their exercises. This is a HUGE flaw as it gives the Oly group a distinct advantage! I ran the numbers and the Oly group’s pre-test squat numbers were 133 kg’s. This means that they were using an average of 106 kg’s for their back squats (around 235 lbs), whereas the kb group was using a meager 35 lbs for their goblet squats. Moreover, the Oly group’s pre-test average power clean numbers were 84 kg’s. The means that they were using 67 kg’s (around 148 lbs) for their power cleans, while the kb group stuck to 35 lbs for their accelerated swings. Using 235 lbs for back squats is not the same as using 35 lbs for goblet squats, though I will say that based on experience goblet squats seem comparable to back squats with around half of the loading (at least at the hip joint). But the kb group used around 15% of the load for squats that the Oly group used. If you’re gonna do a study, do it right and purchase ample kettlebells to accommodate the subject’s strength levels. I wonder how results would have panned out had the subjects been able to use heavier kb’s.
- The tests (squat, power clean and vertical jump) used are more similar with the Oly group compared to the kb group which gives the Oly group an advantage. I’d have like to have seen a broad jump, 5-horizontal jump, and/or 20-m sprint included in the mix.
- I also felt that the protocol was a bit wimpy; subjects had weight training experience but no extensive experience with Oly lifting or kb training. They trained only twice per week with 11-14 sets. Progressive overload was reached through a combination of improved form, increased volume, and increased tempo. I believe that since the subjects were new to the lifts they could have seen much better results had they performed more volume or even better more frequency as they weren’t performing plyos or sprints and had plenty time/energy to recover. This might explain why the vertical jumps increased less than a centimeter for both groups. If you’ve trained athletes then you know that this ain’t shit for newbies over a 6-week period.
- The researchers didn’t make any mention of exercise form. Many researchers aren’t well-versed in ideal kettlebell training form, so I doubt the form was performed like Neghar “Poetry in Motion” Fonooni.
What Future Research Should Test
I’d like to commend the researchers for taking the first step in examining the question of which is better for lower body strength and power – Oly lifting or KB lifting. However, as with all research, we must continue to examine and improve upon our study designs.
I have a strong suspicion that Oly lifting is indeed better at increasing squat, power clean, and vertical jump measures compared to kettlebell training even if comparable loading parameters are used. However, I’m curious as to whether KB training is superior to Oly training in horizontal jumps/bounds and short sprints. My guess would be that if comparable loading was used, the KB’s would be slightly better. I could provide very good rationale for this hypothesis but I don’t want to get too in-depth right now.
Until more research is conducted, we won’t know the answer to these questions. So chalk it up as “interesting,” file it away in your memory, and wait for more studies to emerge down the road.
Future research should:
- Conduct a very similar study but allow for heavier kettlebells (I should mention that it would be difficult to standardize the kb loads as you can’t really perform a 1RM kb swing and therefore can’t utilize 80% of 1RM loads, but you could indeed offer heavier kb’s and simply make sure that form stays good)
- Possibly program slightly higher volumes such as 6 x 4-6 reps for all 3 exercises or better yet conduct 3 training sessions per week for a total of 18 sessions
- Test more performance measures such as a horizontal jump, horizontal bounding, and/or sprint test, and
- Include a brief description regarding how the exercises were performed
Otto WH, Coburn JW, Brown LE, Spiering BA. Effects of weightlifting vs. kettlebell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition. 2012. J Strength Cond Res. Published ahead of print.