Could “Hard Styles” Kettlebell Exercise Be Causing Brain Damage?

Hard Style Kettlebell

The next time you hold your breath for exercising, please note that this may adversely affect your brain.

I took a class recently doing hard styles kettlebells, it seems to be all the rage nowadays, managing to make the move from hardcore strength training tool to mainstream butt builder! It wasn’t a bad class, it was full-body workout combining cardio, anaerobic activity and coordination. The different movements allow you to work muscles you wouldn’t normally use, which meant that I was sore for a few days following it.

The marketing term “Hard styles” doesn’t refer to the training difficulty or that it is advanced in any way, it refers solely to generating high tension throughout the body during the entire movement of exercise. This is accomplished by holding your breath, squeezing your butt and letting out little hisses while exercising. This is sometimes called the Valsalva Maneuver.

kettlebell snatch

They explain the reasoning for this as “Tension = force” but as a scientist, I can say that Tension = stress and holding your breath, combined with stress = trouble. I recently read a study conducted by researchers in Sweden that found that people who held their breath for too long had elevated levels of a protein that can signal brain damage!

The study says ”The results indicate that prolonged, voluntary apnea affects the integrity of the central nervous system, and may have cumulative effects,” The researchers said that holding one’s breath for a long time disrupts the blood-brain barrier. The concern being that repetitive exposures to severe hypoxia (lowered oxygen supply), such as that experienced by individuals training with hard styles kettlebell, could cause neurological damage over time.

Kettlebell head swings

I took this question to the IFLS experts, “does training with the kettlebells make you mentally retarded” Dr. Potkis and Michael Wizler, two of our resident experts, conducted brain scans of five people who had done at least 1,000 hard styles workouts over a three-year period. One kind of scan, the well-known M.R.I., revealed no abnormalities in the structure of their brains, Dr. Potkis reported. But another kind of brain scan, called S.P.E.C.T. (single photon emission computed tomography anatomy), revealed abnormalities in their metabolism of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, according to the study.

Dr. Potkis calls these abnormalities “troubling” and says that it is pretty clear that these people are brain damaged.

“This was a preliminary study and we did not have the benefit of pre-workout scans for comparison,” says Dr. Potkis. “The issue of long term brain damage is not yet settled and will require further investigation.”

Brain Injury

Dr. Potkis is still working to publish this study but further research suggests that approximately 35% of the hard styles kettlebell lifting population is basically mentally retarded.

35% of the hard styles kettlebell lifting population is basically mentally retarded.

Their IQ score ranges from 50-75, and they can often acquire academic skills up to the 6th grade level. They can become fairly self-sufficient and in some cases live independently, with community and social support.


If you are training hard styles, the Question is not whether it’s harmful — it almost certainly is. The real questions are:

1. Is the degree of harm measurable?
2. Is it clinically significant?
That is, is the size of the effect large enough to be meaningful for an individual, rather than a small effect that is statistically significant in the aggregate of thousands of research subjects.
3. Where does the harm rank among the almost infinite number of things that can be harmful?


What is even going on here?

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