Breaking Research News: Weightlifting Improves Your Weightlifting

Even science has issues sometimes. It can be a good idea to look at new research with an analytical eye – case in point, a recent study on building strength with kettlebells versus weightlifting.

Today’s article is an exercise in learning why you shouldn’t believe every headline you read. The recent study “Effects of Weightlifting vs. Kettlebell Training on Vertical Jump, Strength, and Body Composition” published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research is not quite what it seems. The study set out to determine whether weightlifting or kettlebell training is better at developing strength, power, and body composition. Hey, that’s a fair question worthy of study, so let’s dig in.

The study used two groups of healthy adult men. One group performed weightlifting exercises for six weeks: high pulls, power cleans, and back squats. The other group performed kettlebell exercises for six weeks: kettlebell swings, accelerated swings, and goblet squats. At the end of six weeks both groups were tested for strength, power, and body composition.1

So what did the study find? Well, both programs were successful in improving strength and power. But the weightlifting program produced better strength and power gains than the kettlebell program. The problem? Strength and power were tested by measuring one rep max back squat, one rep max power clean, and vertical jump. Let’s recall the exercises used to train the weightlifting group: the back squat and power clean. Seems like if you train back squat and power clean then you’ll test better at back squat and power clean than someone who swung kettlebells and did goblet squats with 35 pounds, right?

To be fair, proving anecdotal water cooler advice with actual empirical evidence is indeed useful. Any strength coach would tell you a back squat and power clean program will produce better results in the back squat and power clean than a kettlebell program. But until someone proves it, it’s just an opinion.

This is also absolutely not a criticism of kettlebell training. The kettlebell program did improve strength and power. Kettlebell training can be an incredibly effective part of a strength and conditioning program. It’s just not a substitute for back squat.

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