The Ultimate Whole Body Workout
The kettlebell swing is the ultimate power and strength exercise, which will help you build explosiveness, improve your natural jump and deadlift. It is good for your posture and balance. Besides, it is a great way to relieve the pains of daily life and household chores. The mastery of kettlebell swings will keep you from back injuries while endlessly picking up your toddler or simply sitting down at your desk for too long.
Are you looking for a simple exercise to work your whole body, without even having to move your feet? Well, here it is! You only need one humble kettlebell to do it. Here is a step by step guide to get you swinging safely. Watch our videos to see the progression exercises.
Whether you are new to strength and conditioning or are looking for ways to shake up your plateauing fitness routine, kettlebell swing workouts are a great place to start the discovery.
Muscles worked in a kettlebell swing: Look down, choose a muscle, yep, that one… and that one, and even that one! It’s almost all in play during a kettlebell swing! That’s right, muscles worked in a kettlebell swing include your hamstrings, glutes (your glorious toosh!), hips, core, stabilizing muscles of shoulders and back.
You might be looking at this heavy chunk of metal and wondering: can kettlebell swings also improve my cardiovascular fitness? Indeed, they demand dynamic, fast-paced movement, get your heart rate up and, apart from strengthening your whole body, provide you with a fat-burning, cardio workout.
Before you start with the kettlebell swing, you should have mastered the following exercises (check out our swing progressions video above):
1. Hip Hinge / Dowel Hinge
2. Kettlebell Deadlift
3. Kettlebell Hike
So, let’s start.
Two-handed Kettlebell Swing Form:
1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. The kettlebell should be placed slightly in front of you: about a foot away from the tip of your big toe. As you reach down for the bell, your hands have to go just slightly past your shoulders, and your torso should be nearly parallel to the ground – you should not need to reach too far.
2. Reach down for the kettlebell and squeeze its handle. As you do it, activate your shoulder blades: pull your shoulders down and back. To better understand the movement, imagine that you are trying to bend/snap the handle of the kettlebell. This will bring your shoulders into the correct position. (If you actually manage to bend it, then it’s probably time you move to a heavier weight.) Your core and shoulders must remain in this strong position throughout the entire set, with your back flat throughout the swing.
3. Pick up the bell and let it swing back between your legs.
Coming up – it’s all in the hips:
4. Now drive your hips forward and extend your knees – to propel the kettlebell up into the air. To do that, squeeze your glutes and abs – to get a solid platform throughout your core.
5. Let the kettlebell float up freely, using the momentum, up to the chest level. Keep the elbows soft or even slightly bent, do not overextend your arms. Remember: you swing the bell with your glutes and hips – not with your arms.
6. At the top of the swing, when the kettlebell is about your shoulder-level, your glutes need to be locked and your core needs to remain strong. Your body should be vertical, do not lean too far back, as it can cause back pain.
Top tip The power comes from your hips; you are not lifting with your arms or shoulders. – At the top of the swing, the base of the bell should be pointing above the horizontal. If you are pulling it up with your arms (as you shouldn’t), the handle will be above the globe of the bell, and the base will be tilted downwards.
The bell moves down:
7. Once the kettlebell has reached the shoulder level, gravity will start it’s job - pulling it down. Follow along with its downward movement while keeping your core engaged.
8. Once your arms have traveled all the way into your body, hinge back at your hips and bend your knees slightly.
9. Hinge the kettlebell between your legs. In the backswing, your shoulders should stop at, or slightly above, your hip level: do not round your lower back or let your shoulders drop below your hips.
10. Once the kettlebell has stopped, immediately drive your hips forward – to explode and bring the kettlebell up into the next swing.
Top Tip: A swing is not a squat, so you should not be squatting down during the downward motion. It is a hip hinge exercise, meaning that the rotation arc comes from the hips, not from bobbing up and down. Think about the motion you are driving and controlling as forwards and backwards rather than up and down.
10. When you have finished the set and want to return the bell to the ground. Let the bell go down into your hips as if you were about to do another swing, then lower it in front of you – into the starting position
Safety: People more often get hurt putting the kettlebell down, than picking it up. So keep strong until the end and set it down deliberately. Don't let go or drop it.
Frequent mistakes and how to avoid them:
1. Leaning back too much at the top of the swing. It may place unnecessary strain on your lower back and shoulders. To fix this, make sure that both your glutes and core (aka abs) are engaged and tight at the top of the swing.
2. Using your arms to swing the kettlebell up. To fix this, use your hips and glutes for the explosive portion of the movement. Make sure that your shoulders do not go up and your elbows remain soft. Think of your arms as of a flexible, muscular extension of the kettlebell handle rather than rigid wooden sticks popping out of your sides. If you keep your arms very straight at the top of the swing, the bell will travel too far from your body, putting stress on your lower back.
3. Squatting too much at the bottom. Remember: the hip hinge is not the same as squat. In a hinge, you bend your knees just slightly and allow your chest to come down much farther than in a squat. However, do not round your lower back – it’s a recipe for trauma. If you are struggling to get the feeling, go back through the kettlebell progressions video with a lighter weight.
How many kettlebell swings should I do a day?
It will largely depend on your fitness level and goals: whether you want to build explosive power, endurance, improve your deadlift or vertical jump. A good place to start is to incorporate kettlebell swings in your usual workout routine and perform 3–5 sets at 10–20 reps. Important: with swings (as with all weighted exercises), you should always seek to maintain a good form. Listen to your body; as soon as you feel the form slipping, it is probably time to take a break.
To Improve your vertical jump, choose a weight which you could swing explosively for about 5 repetitions. The weight should feel heavy enough for you to not want (or be able to) to swing it 10–20 times. Perform 3–5 sets at 5–6 reps.
To build explosive power, aim for a somewhat lighter weight: the one you could swing for 10–12 reps. Perform 3–5 sets at 10–12 reps.
If you only want to do swings and nothing else, there are several kettlebell swing challenges which will increase both your strength and your aerobic conditioning.
Kettlebell swings are an ultimate full-body workout, which, depending on the pace of swinging and the weight of the bell, can help you burn up to 200 calories in 10 minutes.
Kettlebell Swing Variations
Once you have mastered the two-handed kettlebell swing, here are a few swing variations to progress to:
Single-handed kettlebell swing.
As the name suggests, this variation invites you to pick the bell with one hand and swing it in pretty much the same manner as in the double-handed option. This variation, however, required additional cross stabilization, working your core double time. You will also feel your grip having to work harder. Start on your weaker side and once finished complete the same number on the other side.
Alternating kettlebell swing.
In this variation, you will swing your kettlebell up to the shoulder height, let it go in front of you, immediately swap it to your opposite hand while in mid-air and reverse the swing to the start position. Then you will repeat it with the other hand. This requires a degree of coordination and stability. Don’t try this until you’re ready. Practice in an open area and keep your feet out the way. This is a great exercise for getting into flow with your kettlebell and works your core like crazy.
American kettlebell swing.
In the true American tradition, Go Big or Go Home. Here, the kettlebell does not stop at the shoulder level, but travels all the way up: overhead, with the bottom of the bell facing the ceiling at the top of the rep. This variation is extremely popular in CrossFit. However, some coaches are wary about this – overhead – kettlebell movement for the fear of excessive stress on shoulders and lower back. So, weigh its visuals against its risks. In our opinion, the swing itself is already a pretty baller exercise, working a bulk of your body; so, if you’re looking for a challenge, better grab a larger bell, or try double kettlebell swings (2 kettlebells).
Your beautiful bell is always ready for a swing. Now you are too!
To swing or not to swing?
Some research shows that kettlebell swings can aggravate existing lower back injuries. So, if you have issues with your lower back, take care of it first. As always: consult a medical professional. Don’t worry, the swings will be here, waiting for you.
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