Kettlebell Swings were once exclusively performed by athletes in the Soviet Union. Now you'd be hard pressed to walk through a gym and not see at least one person doing this incredibly versatile exercise.
You can use Kettlebell Swings to train toward a number of different goals. Increasing your vertical jump? Indeed. Getting faster? Absolutely. Burning fat? Check.
But the exercise is more complicated than simply swinging a kettlebell up and down. You need to master several Kettlebell Swing form tips to get the most out of this fantastic exercise.
The Many Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
It's a Full-Body Move
The primary muscles worked in the Kettlebell Swing are the glutes and the hamstrings. They explosively extend the hips and drive them forward, creating the power needed to swing the kettlebell.
Although it's considered a hip-dominant exercise, the Kettlebell Swing is really a full-body movement. Your quads extend your knees to provide an extra power boost. Your core and back muscles engage to keep your torso stable and your spine in a neutral position. Your shoulder stabilizers engage to control the movement of the kettlebell.
These muscles also help decelerate the kettlebell during the downswing, while maintaining control of your body.
It Trains the Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern that all athletes should perfect. It's important for athletic skills like jumping, and for exercises like the Deadlift and Squat. With a proper hip hinge, you're able to bend over with a neutral spine by pushing your hips back. This allows your strong and powerful glutes to maximally contribute to the movement, while keeping your lower back safe. The Kettlebell Swing strengthens and reinforces this exact movement.
It's a Great Swap for Olympic Lifts
Olympic lifts such as the Clean and Snatch can be intimidating. The moves require lots of practice and great coaching—heck, these lifts are sports on their own. If you get a program with an Olympic lift, your first inclination might be to cross it off your chart.
Fortunately, the Kettlebell Swing is a great alternative. It trains the same muscles with a similar movement, and it's much easier to learn. Is it an exact replica? No. You don't get a full triple extension—of the hips, knees and ankles—and you can't use as heavy a weight. But it's a great alternative anyway.
It's Good For Your Back
If you have lower-back pain, loading up on Deadlifts won't feel comfortable and may actually increase your pain. Kettlebell Swings, on the other hand, have been shown to actually reverse lower-back problems. In a study led by renowned spinal researcher Dr. Stuart McGill, it was found that the Kettlebell Swing puts forces on the spine in the opposite direction from Deadlifts and other similar exercises. We're not saying the Deadlift is a bad exercise—it's one of our favorite lifts—but if you're dealing with back pain, the Kettlebell Swing might be a smarter option.
It Improves Conditioning
Since the Kettlebell Swing is a full-body movement, it's a great option for conditioning and training muscular endurance. According to an ACE Fitness study, a Kettlebell Snatch workout, which is similar to the Swing, burns approximately 20 calories per minute. This is equivalent to running at a 6-minute per mile pace, with an average heart rate of 164.
RELATED: Kettlebell Workouts to Burn Fat
Where Do I Start?
It can be daunting to use a kettlebell for the first time. First barrier? They're often measured in kilograms, not pounds. For reference, 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds. So a 10 kg kettlebell weighs 22 pounds.
We often get asked, "How much weight should I start with on the Kettlebell Swing?"
Unfortunately, there's no single answer. The amount of weight an experienced lifter can use is significantly different from what a beginner can handle— like with any exercise. We always advise starting on the lighter side so you can focus on mastering technique and not on the difficulty of moving the weight. Once you perfect your form, gradually increase the weight so your muscles feel challenged in your set.
For a beginner, we recommend 3 sets of 10 reps. This is a happy medium that allows for familiarization with the movement. As you advance, you can specialize. For example, if you're building max power, you might do 5 sets of 4 reps with a heavy weight. If you're using Kettlebell Swing as a workout finisher, you might use a lighter weight for 30 seconds, or even a minute. It depends on your goal.
Kettlebell Swing Form Instructions
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a kettlebell about a foot in front on the ground. Bend at the waist and grasp the kettlebell handle with both hands. Your palms should be facing your body and your torso should be nearly parallel to the ground.
2. Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core before starting the exercise. Maintain these form cues throughout the entire set.
3. Lift the kettlebell off the ground and allow it to swing between your legs. Your knees should bend slightlyduring this movement. Keep your back flat and neck straight.
4. Forcefully drive your hips forward to propel the kettlebell into the air. Control the kettlebell with your arms, but don't pull it up. The kettlebell should travel no higher than your shoulders.
5. Allow the kettlebell to swing down and back through your legs. Control the descent by keeping your muscles engaged. As the kettlebell lowers, move immediately and fluidly into the next rep.
6. On your final rep, allow it to swing back through your legs, and then place it a foot in front of you on the ground.
Common Kettlebell Swing Mistakes
Mistake 1: Lowering into a Squat
The Kettlebell Swing is a hip-dominant exercise. Although your knees bend a bit, they're just along for the ride. As you perform the exercise, consciously think about bending your hips, not your knees.
Mistake 2: Using your arms
The Kettlebell Swing is a lower-body exercise, not a shoulder exercise. The momentum generated by your hips is enough to swing the kettlebell. Your arms help to control the kettlebell, but you shouldn't pull it up. If you want to work your shoulders, do a shoulder exercise.
Mistake 3: Ignoring the core
A loose core makes for a sloppy Kettlebell Swing and puts stress on your spine. Brace your core throughout the exercise as if bracing for a punch. Imagine that your upper body is in a plank position with your torso hinging on your hips. This keeps your spine in the proper position and makes your glutes, not your lower back, do the majority of work.
Mistake 4: Bringing the kettlebell overhead
You'll see some people raise the kettlebell overhead during the Swing. This is called the American Kettlebell Swing. We advise athletes to avoid this variation, as it places extra stress on the shoulders and spine. Remember, you're training your hips, not your shoulders.
Mistake 5: Failing to breathe along with the swing
The rhythmic nature of the Kettlebell Swing makes it a wonderful move for improving your breathing technique. Take a deep diaphragmatic breath (through your stomach) as the kettlebell lowers, and exhale fully during the swing.
The two-handed Kettlebell Swing is the basic version of the exercise. The most common variation is the Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing (shown below). You'll also see Double Kettlebell Swings where you swing two kettlebells. This is more difficult and allows you to use more weight. As a bonus, mastering the Kettlebell Swing means you have the fundamental form needed to perform other kettlebell exercises, such as the Kettlebell Clean and Kettlebell Snatch.