Soviet-Era Study On Kettlebells And Strength

While I spent a good bit of time looking at recent studies on strength, there was one that I wanted to find that I wasn’t having any luck on. You see, in Pavel Tsatouline’s books “Enter the Kettlebell” and “Return of the Kettlebell,” he makes reference to a soviet era study by a scientist named
Voropayev.

He uses the study a great deal to illustrate how kettlebells can be used to develop strength.

The question is, what does the study actually show? After all, Tsatouline doesn’t exactly quote it.

But it’s something that we kind of need to know, right?

 

While I’ve already looked at the kettlebell and strength and found, at least to my satisfaction, that the KB can be used to develop strength, others may disagree. More evidence is always welcome.

But I couldn’t find Voropayev’s study anywhere.

Luckily, someone transcribed it over at the StrongFirst forums. Now, bear in mind that this is someone’s translation. As I don’t speak Russian, this is the best I could get.

Here’s the relevant part for our discussion:


We studied (at the Voronezhsky Farming Institute) the influence of kettlebell lifting on the development of fundamental physical qualities over several years. Based on the results of the first control tests: 1,000 metre cross-country, 100 metre run, pull-ups, standing long-jump; three study groups were formed from the students who took part two experimental (19 men) and one control (21 men), of equivalent capabilities. We obtained the following data. The initial mean results in the 1000 metre cross-country, was 3 min 48 sec for the experimental groups and 3 min 45 sec for the control group. At the end of the first year of training the results were: experimental groups 3 min 11 sec; the control group 3 min 13 sec. After two years of training the results were: experimental groups 3 min 2 sec; the control group 3 min 9 sec.

The pull-up results changed in the following way. The initial mean result over a year (in the experimental groups — 6.3 times and 6.8 times in the control group) increased to 8.8 in the experimental groups and to 8.38 in the control group. By the end of the second year of study the experimental group’s results increased to 9.8 times and the control group to 9.25 times.

The standing long jump dynamics were as follows. The initial mean in the experimental groups was 204 cm and 203.7 cm in the control group. This increased to 211.2 cm after one year of sessions in the experimental groups and to 207.2 cm in the control group. At the end of the second year of training these figures increased to 213.3 cm and 210.3 cm respectively.

The results of the 100 metre tests were as follows. In the experimental groups the initial mean result was 14.4 sec; after the first year of training it improved to 13.62 sec and after the second to 13.44 sec. Improvement in the control group was somewhat slower. The initial result was 14.37 sec. After the first year of training the mean result was 13.69 sec and after the second year 13.48 sec.

The results of the experimental groups were higher than those of the control group in all of the tests. The absolute improvements in the tests were: 100 metre run– Kettlebell lifters, 0.96 sec; control group, 0.86 sec; in the cross-country –experimental groups, 0.46 sec and 0.36 sec in the control group; in the standing long jump 9.3 cm and 6.6 cm respectively; in pull-ups 3.59 times for the kettlebell lifters and 2.45 times for the control group.

So based on these findings, we can see that kettlebells do help people grow stronger.

But to what degree?

While we do have a sample size that appears to be typical for exercise-based studies, damned if I can find anything about what kind of training the control group engaged in.

That’s important because while the kettlebell group grew in strength, what if these gains are compared to a control group that did no training? It’s not nearly so impressive then, now is it?

Now, I don’t think that’s what happened. I’m pretty sure there was at least some kind of training. After all, not even stastical noise would show improvement in these metrics for a control group that engaged in no exercise at all.

Unfortunately, all we can take from this is that kettlebell training makes you stronger.

We just can’t use this as evidence of much of anything else, and that sucks. After all, I like kettlebells. I think they’re awesome.

But if we really want to prove anything, we need better information than we have here.

In fairness to Voropayev, this is a translated copy of a paper about kettlebell. I don’t know that it’s the actual study itself. I’m hopeful that it’s not, that there’s a real study with detailed information that we can use to understand more.

After all, if the kettlebell training went toe to toe with standard running and resistance training and kicked its butt, we need to not just know that but also what the protocol used was.

The truth is, more data is always better.

But at this point, we need actionable specifics rather just knowing that a piece of equipment will make us stronger. We need to learn how best to deploy that piece of equipment.

More on that later today, though. We’ll talk about what I want to see pop up in studies.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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