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July 2008

Understanding Ballistics, Grinds and Hybrids

Greg Kettlebell exercises can be segmented into three general categories: ballistics, grinds and hybrids. The simplest distinction between the first two is that ballistic exercises are fast and grinds are slow - and hybrids are just that: a combination of a ballistic and a grind.  A more insightful 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.  Hybrids are the best of both - they train the practitioner to dynamically switch between tension and relaxation, speed and strength, or contraction and expansion.

Ballistics” refers to compound, dynamic; explosive, multi-joint exercises i.e. the Snatch, Swing, Jerks, 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.

Grinds” refer to controlled pressing, pulling or squatting exercises i.e. the Military or Overhead Press, Squats, Deadlifts, etc. These exercises are designed to keep tension on the muscle or muscular chain throughout the execution of the exercise. Grinds require particular attention to whole-body tension and regulation of and sustained power breathing. Grinds will challenge your ability to maintain tension, smoothly transition from muscle group to muscle group, and will also point out inconsistencies and inadequacies in your structure and alignment.

A third possible category are “Hybrids” or “Combinations” and they feel a bit like a ballistic and a bit like a grind - think Thruster or Snatch and Overhead Squat. These exercises are designed to accentuate the best, and the worst, of both Ballistics and 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, smoothly transition from muscle group to muscle group, and develop the ability to transition from sustained strength to dynamic strength in the same exercise. Hybrids are lots of fun to perform but you need to be particularly careful that you don’t keep going after fatigue (and oxygen deprivation) has made mush of your form.

Workouts can be designed to incorporate all three types of exercises. The only caveat is that you need to be cautious with the sequencing of the exercises and the number of sets or duration of each type that are performed. Trying to perform effective Grinds after a lung-searing session of Ballistics or Hybrids may be detrimental to your health – as in tossing lunch or dropping a kettlebell on your head!