Kettlebell exercises can be segmented into two general categories: Ballistics and Grinds. The simplest distinction between the two is that Ballistic exercises are for the most part executed very fast, while grinds are slow. A more insightful and accurate distinction would be that ballistics train the practitioner to generate and absorb power in a dynamic fashion, while grinds train the practitioner to generate full-body power (and tension) in a contracted or sustained fashion.
Whichever way that you look at it there is a big distinction between the two types of techniques and the more you understand about the differences the more successful you will be when learning and perfecting them.
“Ballistics” refers to dynamic, explosive, multi-joint exercises such as the Clean, Snatch, Swing, Jerk, etc. These exercises are normally performed within a wide range of motion (or movement pattern) and incorporate a large number of muscles and muscular chains. Ballistic exercises tax not only the muscles but also the heart and lungs – think wind sprints as opposed to a slow comfortable jog. Ballistics challenge your ability to regulate your breathing, monitor your form, and master the “tight-loose-tight” method of body tension. A note about tension: it is not that Ballistics don’t as much tension as Grinds it is that they take a higher level of mastery of the manipulation and application of tension.
“Grinds” refer to slow, controlled pressing, pulling or squatting exercises such as the Military or Overhead Press, Squat, Deadlift, Side and Screw Press, etc. These exercises are distinguished by the need for constant tension on the muscles or muscular chain throughout the execution of the exercise. Grinds require particular attention to whole-body tension and the regulation of sustained power breathing.
Grinds will challenge your ability to maintain tension, smoothly transition from muscle group to muscle group, and point out inconsistencies and inadequacies in your structure and alignment. In particular Grinds will show any lacking in positional and transitional strength that you might have and help you learn how to manage the feedback from the movement.
A third possible category for Kettlebell techniques could be referred to as “Hybrids” or “Combinations”. They feel a bit like a Ballistic and a bit like a Grind – think Kettlebell Thrusters, Split or Squat Snatch, Split or Squat Jerk, and the Overhead Squat. These exercises accentuate the best and the worst of both the Ballistics and the Grinds.
They are performed within a wide range of motion (or movement pattern), require you to move between maximum tension and maximum relaxation, tax both aerobic and anaerobic thresholds, require smooth transitions from muscle group to muscle group, and develop the ability to transition from sustained strength to dynamic strength in the same exercise. Hybrids are a lot of fun to perform, but you need to be particularly careful that you don’t keep going after fatigue (and oxygen deprivation) has made mince-meat of your form.
The RKC Level I curriculum gives you a solid foundation in both Ballistics and Grinds with the Swing, Clean and Snatch comprising the Ballistics and the Squat, Deadlift, Military or Overhead Press and the Turkish Get-up rounding out the Grinds. With this knowledge in hand an experienced trainer can devise workouts that can take advantage of all three types of exercises. The only caveat is you need to be cautious when sequencing the exercises, paying particular attention to the number of sets or duration of each type that are performed.
A good rule of thumb is to Grind while you’re fresh and do Ballistics while you still have the breath to do them properly. Trying to perform effective grinds after a lung-searing session of ballistics or hybrids may be detrimental to your health. You might toss your lunch, or drop a kettlebell on your head!
Michael A. Krivka, Sr., RKC Team Leader is a Washington, DC native who has been involved in Kettlebell training for over a decade and is currently an RKC Team Leader and member of the RKC Board of Advisors under Dragon Door (where he has been listed as one of the top reviewed RKC’s in the world for the last five years… read more here.