I believe Dan John described the Kettlebell Swing best when he said, “The Swing is a fat-burning athlete builder.” The Kettlebell Swing is the foundation of effective Russian Kettlebell (KB) training and provides the following benefits:
It develops your posterior chain; specifically your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and lats
Strengthens your core
Builds explosive power and helps to increase your overall power output
Supports metabolic conditioning; which can be specifically geared to facilitate fat loss or programmed to target a specific energy system component for athletic development
It addition to there physiological benefits Kettlebell Swing also require very little equipment to perform and can be done anywhere; which is one of the many reasons that they have become so popular.
One thing that I’d like to highlight about the Kettlebell Swing is technique. Despite the popularity of KB Swings, the unfortunate truth of the matter is that the movement is often done poorly; which can take away from the potential benefits and/or lead to injury.
Before you attempt Kettlebell Swings I highly recommend that you become proficient at KB Deadlifts first; to help establish your hinge pattern. To learn how to properly set-up for your Kettlebell Swing, check out the video below.
How to properly set-up and execute a Kettlebell Swing
To help summarize the points made in the video above, here are StrongFirst‘s guidelines of what a good Kettlebell Swing should include:
A neutral back. Your neck should be slightly extended or neutral on the bottom of your swing
Your heels, toes, and the balls of your feet should remain planted and your knees should track your toes
Your shoulders should be packed
The handle of your kettlebell should pass above your knees during your backswing
Your arms should be straight in the bottom position
There is no forward knee movement (increasing ankle dorsiflexion) on the upswing
Your body should form a straight line on the top of the swing; your hips and knees should extend full, and your spine should be neutral
Your bio-mechanical breathing matches. Meaning you inhale on the eccentric (when you go down) and exhale on the concentric (when you come up)
Your abs and glutes visibly contract at the top of your swing
Your kettlebell floats momentarily on the top of your swing
As with most exercises, there are a number of common compensations made when someone is performing the Kettlebell Swing incorrectly; most of which could lead to future injury if not rectified. If you’re not sure if you’re making any of the below listed compensations, consult your trainer. Together you can work to solve them.
1. Not engaging your lats prior to “hiking” your Kettlebell from the floor
To engage your lats grip the bell firmly and pull your shoulder blades back and down. The Kettlebell should drag towards you slightly, and you should keep your lats engages for the entirety of your swing.
2. Excessive lumbar extension at the top of your swing
In the example on the left, my shoulders are behind my hips; which is incorrect positioning because it causes excessive lumbar extension. Instead the top of your swing should look like example on the right. If you’re not sure if you’re over-extending your swing, consult your trainer.
There are several reasons why over lumbar extension occurs. A common one being, tight hip flexors. When your hip flexors are tight, they restrict your ability to achieve full hip extension. If you’re currently suffering from tight hip flexors (or think you might be) I highly recommend that you incorporate the hip flexor stretch below into your pre-Kettlebell Swing warm up to help solve the problem.
Another reason why over extension occurs is inadequate bracing of your core. If you’re not bracing your core strongly enough as you extend your hips you will end up flaring your ribs and/or overextending through your lumbar spine. A good corrective exercise for this is to stand against a wall with your arms straight out (as illustrated in the example below). When performing this corrective movement make sure that your shoulder blades are slightly protracted to ensure that your lats are engaged.
Completing this drill will give you the kinesthetic awareness of what the top of your swing should feel like. If you’re still having difficulty pair your swings with a hardstyle plank and focus on making the top of your swing feel just like a plank.
3. Your bell comes too high
It’s common for people to over utilize their arms when swinging to bring their bell up; despite the fact that the primary driving force should be your hip extension. If this is a problem for you you need to make sure that you’re actively engaging your lats at the start of your swing; keeping them engaged throughout the entirety of the movement, i.e. your whole swing. Next, try the drill explained in the video below. This drill will give you immediate feedback, and with enough practice and attention to detail you will successfully break the habit. I assure you. 🙂
If you still have questions about the Kettlebell Swing and/or think that you are making any of my highlighted compensations, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this post. Together we can ensure that you are performing the movement properly so that you can reap the benefits of the movement and avoid injury.