The ‘swing’ in kettlebell swing tells you much of what you need to know when it comes to this move: you’re swinging the kettlebell (not squatting it).
This means your movement has to match the movement you want the bell to take, for maximum efficiency. Note: This is a hip-hinge pattern. You will often see people squatting the kettlebell and then using their shoulders and lower back to pull the bell up. But when done correctly, your shoulders and lower-back have much less involvement in the move. In fact, if done correctly, you’ll be able to swing maybe even four times the weight you could swing if you were just using your arms and lower-back. Heck, maybe even more.
I do this as a demonstration with clients sometimes, where I grab a 16kg bell, try to front raise it, fail miserably, then swing it using the proper pattern and let them see it move with absolute ease. The trick here is to use your butt.
I have quite the reputation in the gym for always making everything about the glutes, but it’s not my fault that they are such an under-utilised powerhouse!
How to kettlebell swing, step-by-step
1: Start standing over the kettlebell, feet about a hip-width apart. Start with the bell in between your feet and then deadlift it from the ground, so your starting position is nice as tall, chest up, arms loose and shoulder-blades engaged. This is easier to get your head around than starting the swing from the floor, but once you’ve master how to move and brace, you’ll be able to skip the deadlift and go straight to the swinging. Start lighter than you need to until you have cracked the technique, to protect yourself from injury.
2: With soft knees you want to drive your butt backwards, hinging at the hips, letting your arms move down and the bell swing between your legs.
3: You then want to drive through your hips, squeezing your butt, keeping tension in your core through out. The goal here is to pop back up, propelling the weight forwards. Keep your arms relaxed and don’t worry if it doesn’t get all the way to chest/shoulder height – just don’t try pulling it up with your arms the extra height.
4: As soon as the bell reaches it’s height and you’ve braced at the top, it’s time to drive those hips straight back again. The idea is to maintain momentum throughout. Let the weight move back down and through your legs as you prepare to drive those hips forwards again to standing. You should feel your glutes and hamstrings load as you hinge through the hips.
You’ll see people swinging the weight all the way over their heads sometimes – this is known as the American swing. The one described above is the Russian version. I personally prefer the Russian version and wouldn’t recommend you worry about getting the bell all the way over your head. Once you’ve mastered this move, feel free to learn the American version and decide for yourself. But don’t try the American version until you are a master of this one.
Common kettlebell swing mistakes
I’ve had a few clients come to me in the past with lower back problems and slipped discs caused by swinging with poor technique with their old trainers or by themselves without any guidance at all. It seems to be surprisingly common. Injury can be avoided by avoiding these very common mistakes and by not rushing into a too-heavy weight before you’re ready.
1. Squatting your swing: Do not bend your knees too much; this is not a squat. If you’re body is going up and down instead of forwards and backwards, it will become infinitely harder to get the bell to move forwards and backwards.
2. Hyperextending at the top: Don’t lean back at the top of the move. If you’re back hurts doing KB swings, something isn’t right. Chances are you’re not bracing your abs or squeezing your butt. The move is all about that hip-hinge, and finishes when you’re upright, core braced, glutes engaged.
3. Over-swinging: You don’t have to throw your body all the way over. You don’t need to reach all the way through your legs like you’re trying to touch the floor behind you. Work on your hip-hinge pattern, so you can learn the angle to aim for. A good way to practice is to stand in front of a wall, about a foot away (your foot) and hinge at the hips until your butt touches the wall. Then squeeze to stand up.
4. Forgetting to brace: This one is real important. If you forget to brace there will be technical mis-matches all over the shop, which could result in pain anywhere up the chain. Keep your chest up, lats packed, and core tight throughout the move.
Who is the kettlebell swing for?
Everybody. This is a fantastic, multi-purpose move for basically all occasions. It’s super efficient, utilising pretty much your entire body, has a great cardio element as your movement is continuous and will build muscle and burn calories at a great rate.
This can be used by people trying to lose weight as part of a fat burn circuit. By people trying to build lower-body power as part of a strength and conditioning circuit. By runners or cyclists trying to improve their speed or endurance; athletes trying to up their game etc. I’m sure you get the idea. If you’re wondering if these are for you, the answer is yes. Whatever your focus, you want to include these in your routine.
Kettlebell swing workout
Why not give this simple workout a go, once you’ve cracked the technique, and feel the burn.
100 kettlebell swings
Every time you stop, complete: 20 second squishy plank (RKC), 10 press ups, 10 burpees
Simple. You just need a kettlebell and a bit of space. Unlikely to take you more than 20 minutes.