In recent years the kettlebell swing has become a phenomenon in mainstream fitness. With various public personalities, athletes and CrossFitters adopting this exercise as a staple in their workouts, it’s no wonder why these oddly shaped handled cannonballs are appearing in the corner of every gym.
What's All The Fuss?
Adding kettlebell swings into your training can help to increase fat loss, strength, stability and aerobic fitness, but most notably your power output.
When performed correctly, the kettlebell swing is an effective full-body exercise. It helps develop a strong posterior chain (muscles on the backside of your body), works the muscles in the glutes, hamstrings, hips, lats, and core; whilst also developing grip strength. It will fatigue your major muscle groups, strengthen your stabilisers and improve your body’s ability to co-ordinate and manipulate movement.
Who's It For?
All fitness enthusiasts’ can benefit from this exercise. The physical and metabolic demands of this exercise means it is a great weapon in your arsenal if you are looking for lung scorching cardio or torching that unwanted body-fat.
With a similar hinge and hip extension pattern to a deadlift, the kettlebell swing is essentially a ballistic deadlift. Ballistic exercises like these are great for building power! Many sporting movements are very dependant upon the power you can generate in the muscles of the posterior chain – Just look at the lower body of NFL running backs and 100m sprinters, no weak glutes or hamstrings there! Combining the swing with squat variations could be very beneficial if you are looking to develop your hamstrings for greater acceleration and speed.
It is a great alternative to Olympic lifting for power development, especially for those who cannot perform the lifts or cannot tolerate them due to back injuries. Your lower back is generally in a non-loaded position throughout the exercise as your hips are used to move the weight, not your back.
Swinging For Power
The hip dominant kettlebell swing is a great alternative for the more common hamstring exercises like the Romanian Deadlift, or Hamstring Curl as the dynamic movement of the kettlebell swing places much more emphasis on the rapid eccentric control of the hamstring. This utilises the stretch shortening cycle and ultimately increases the rate at which you can produce force. Although using a wide range of hamstring exercises will get the best overall muscle development!
I’m sure you are now itching to grab a kettlebell and start swinging frantically. It may look like a relatively simple movement, however it is deceptively complex. Much like when first learning to squat or deadlift, you need to make sure that all the moving parts involved are working in synchronisation otherwise imbalances and poor technique could leave you worse for wear.
1) Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
2) With your knees slightly bent, push your hips back keeping your shins almost vertical, hinge at the hips – don’t squat.
3) Keep your shoulders down and lock in your Lats – a good tip is to pretend that you have some paper under your armpits to keep the shoulders down.
4) Load your glutes and hamstrings before initiating the movement.
5) Keeping your elbows soft, swing the kettlebell back between your legs – as you would ‘hike’ an American football.
6) With a powerful ‘snap’ from your hips propel the kettlebell forward and up.
7) The height of the swing should be about shoulder/chest height– your arms just ‘float’ with the momentum.
8) Allow the kettlebell to swing back between your legs again, and repeat.
The goal is to achieve maximal glute contraction to drive the kettlebell to its peak height explosively whilst maintaining the correct technical form.
Kettlebell swings when done properly can be a safe and effective exercise that can improve many aspects of your physical fitness and sporting performance and should have a role in almost any fitness program. However, the kettlebell swing is not necessarily an easy exercise so make sure you are proficient with the movement before attempting to progress with this exercise; practice this movement with little to no load before attempting to swing at maximum resistance.
1 - Beardsley, C & Contreras, B. (2014) The role of kettlebells in strength and conditioning: a review of the literature. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, 36(3), 64-70.
2- McGill, Stuart M., and Leigh W. Marshall. "Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26.1 (2012): 16-27.