The Kettlebell Swing is one, if not, the most important of all the kettlebell exercises and the one that most people struggle to master. The kettlebell swing is based on the Deadlift Movement pattern and hits almost every muscle in the body. If you only had time to do one kettlebell exercise then Kettlebell Swings would get you the most “Bang for your Buck”
Watch the Kettlebell Swing Tutorial Video
Kettlebell Swing Benefits
The Kettlebell Swing should be thought of as a pulling movement. It targets the posterior chain and essentially you are loading and de-loading the back of the body as you accelerate and decelerate the kettlebell. Be warned the eccentric or deceleration part of the kettlebell swing is what causes muscle soreness so you could be walking like John Wayne for a few days following a good set of kettlebell swings.
The kettlebell swing is a dynamic movement. As the kettlebell descends from the top part of the movement gravity takes its toll and the overall weight of the bell increases, so a 16kg kettlebell will feel much heavier at the bottom of the kettlebell swing. Also at the bottom of the kettlebell swing you are decelerating its load and forcing the muscles to absorb and then reverse the swings momentum. It is for this reason that you can get some truly amazing results without having to use a really heavy kettlebell for the Swing.
The Double Handed Kettlebell Swing
The Double Handed swing should be the first proper kettlebell exercise that you should learn once you have mastered the Basic Hip Hinge and Single Handed Deadlift.
Get Your Feet In The Right Place
The feet should be placed at just a little wider than shoulder width apart. Toes should turn outwards at 510 degrees. The toes should track along the same line as the shin and knees preventing unnecessary torque on the knee joint during each swing.
Weight should remain predominantly on the outside and middle to heel of the feet. This will ensure that you activate the back of the body and buttocks correctly. At no point should your weight transfer to your toes. To ensure that your weight distribution is correct you can practice a few kettlebell swings with your toes curled back towards you.
Use Your Hips for Power
Your hips are the engine or powerhouse for the movement. You should crease at the hips with a flat back. Think about actively pushing your hips backwards and then driving them forwards. The hip movement is forwards and backwards not up and down.
As you push your hips forwards you should actively clench your backside. The harder you clench the more power you will generate. Think about standing tall and stop at the vertical position, you don’t want to learn backwards past vertical.
Keep Your Back Flat
It is crucial that during every single kettlebell swing you keep your lower back flat. There should be a straight line running from your tail right up to your shoulders. Keep your chest raised high as if being pulled up by your rib cage.
If you find that your back starts to bend at the bottom part of the kettlebell swing then push your hips further backwards and don’t lean so far forwards. The length of your hamstrings will determine naturally how far forwards you can go before arching your back.
Activate Those Abs
The core and abdominal muscles are worked hard during the kettlebell swing. Each time you drive your hips forwards your abs should contract to prevent the hips from going past the centre-line. The abdominal muscles also help to guide you on the downward part of the swing preventing the kettlebell from swinging too deep between your legs.
Don’t Use Your Shoulders
It is important to realise that during the swing the shoulders are used merely as a connection between arms and body. All the power should come from the hips. One of the biggest mistakes I see when teaching kettlebells is an over-activation of the shoulders.
Try to relax the shoulders while at the same time keeping the shoulders joints in their sockets. The kettlebell will try to pull the arms forwards, it is your job to control the kettlebell and ensure that the shoulders are pulled back. The kettlebell swing is particularly effective at rehabilitation shoulders because it strengthen connective tissue as the shoulder is constantly being pulled in and out of its socket. This is not only great for strengthening muscle tissue but it also creates a nutritious pumping mechanism at the shoulder joint.
What’s Your Head Doing?
The head needs to be positioned so that it creates a good alignment at the neck. I will often teach beginners just to focus on the horizon as a lifted chin at the downward part of the kettlebell swing will help to keep the back flat. However, swinging with a lifted chin consistently will create an over extension at the neck during the bottom part of the swing.
So once you are comfortable with keeping your back flat throughout the entire movement you should practice keeping your head and neck in alignment through the entire movement. This means that as the swing comes down you need to follow the movement with the head and end up looking just in front of your feet at the bottom part of the movement. So you begin with eyes looking straight ahead and finish with eyes looking about 2 feet in front of you.
Use The Correct Grip
During your kettlebell swing your grip should be relaxed and not too tight. Depending on the width of the kettlebell handle you are using you may be able to hold on with all fingers from both hands, this is the best option. If you are using a narrow handled kettlebell like the competition kettlebells then you may only be able to hold on with 3 fingers from each hand and have the little finger outside the handle.
The swing challenges the grip more than many people realise. During the swing the kettlebell is constantly trying to get away from you and so good grip is required just to keep holding on. If you use a fatter gripped handle then your grip will be challenged even more!
Get Your Swing Height & Depth Correct
Remember that the kettlebell swing comes from the hips and not the lower back or shoulders. The forward bending movement should come from a crease at the hips and not a dipping of the knees. A good way to monitor this is to take the kettlebell only to the mid forearm on the inner thigh. The shoulders should not move vertically forward of your toes.
The top of the kettlebell swing can vary and will be dictated by the strength and power of your hips. The harder and faster you drive your hips forwards the higher the kettlebell will want to go. I recommend aiming for chest height with the arms horizontal with the floor. When beginning you will want to focus more on the snap of your hips than the height of the kettlebell. So a good hip snap but only a height of 45 degrees is a better start than using your shoulders to pull the kettlebell up the rest of the way.
Use The Right Breathing Pattern
There are two different types of breathing that you can use with your swings depending on the kettlebell weight. When using a light kettlebell you should breathe out during the downward phase and in during the upward phase. This technique works inline with nature stimulating your extensor muscles as you straighten up and forces the air out as you fold forwards.
However, once the kettlebell gets heavier and more challenging you will find that your breathing changes. You will find that you brace your abs and hold your breath momentarily on the downward phase and breath out on the upward phase. The reason for this change is due to your diaphragm being used as a core stabiliser. As the weight increases your diaphragm steps in to help out your core muscles and stabilise your spine. As your diaphragm cannot both stabilise and breathe at the same time you hold your breath. You then need to breath out and then breath back in again all at the top of the kettlebell swing.
Starting the Kettlebell Swing
There are two schools of thought with regards to starting the swing. First you can pick up the kettlebell and then start the swing momentum by nudging it off your thigh or secondly you can start the swing directly off the floor in front of you. Both methods have their advantages.
Nudging the kettlebell off the thigh ensures that you are already upright and the lower back is not comprised however it does entail a few small kettlebell swings to really get the momentum going. Dragging the kettlebell off the floor, between your legs and into the swing feels more fluid but it can leave your back feeling a little more vulnerable during that first pulling movement as you are deeper than usual.
If you do opt for starting from the ground then start with the kettlebell 12 inches in front of your toes, load your hamstrings by putting your weight on your heels, brace your abs, pull back between your legs and then drive your hips forwards with everything you’ve got.
Finishing the Kettlebell Swing
So you have started correctly and used perfect form throughout your swings. The last thing you want to do now is hurt yourself by finishing the swing badly. The swing should finish with you returning the kettlebell to just in front of the line of your feet. Don’t attempt to twist your body and swing it to the side of your one foot. So during the last kettlebell swing, decelerate its momentum as it swings between your legs and come to a steady stop in front of you, keeping your back flat at all times.
Master Your Swing Timing
Timing is everything when swinging the kettlebell. If your timing is off you will not generate the correct power through your hips and also “muscle” the kettlebell up more with your shoulders. When the kettlebell is at its lowest point between your legs your hips should be the further back they can be. As you then drive your hips forwards to reverse the momentum your hips will fully lock out just before your arms reach their horizontal position with the floor. The final few inches of the swing will be generate by the momentum of the kettlebell.
Remember that the kettlebell swing is only 2 movements: backwards and forwards. It is very common to see a 3rd bounce or rock at the bottom of the swing but this should be avoided. You can practice to the count of 1 backwards, 2 forwards.
Generating More Power
As mentioned earlier, all the power for the kettlebell swing comes from the hips. If you want to generate the maximum amount of power then explode forwards with the hips and snap them to vertical. Stand tall at the end of the movement. You will generate a shudder through your body. Beginners should really practice this “snapping of the hips”. The harder you snap the more force you will generate and the more muscles and energy you will use.
14 Common Mistakes Made with the Kettlebell Swing
#1 – Rocking feet
Don’t get into a rocking routine when you swing, remember its 2 moves, backwards and forwards, nothing else.
#2 – Too Much Toe
Get back on those heels to effectively activate the back of your body. Train in bare feet or flat shoes and curl your toes back to ensure that your toes aren’t being overused.
#3 – Feet Too Wide
If your stance is too wide you will lack power and reduce the amount of leverage you have through your hips and knees. Stand should be just wider than shoulder width.
#4 – Lean Too Far Backwards
Your body should stop when you are standing vertical or you risk injuring your back and not using your hips correctly. Practice standing tall. Swinging the bell lower or reducing the weight may also help to master this technique.
#5 – Muscling The Kettlebell
More common with men. Ensure that the complete kettlebell swing comes from your hip snap and not your shoulders. Relax your arms and work those hips. Tired shoulders are a sign that you are using them too much during the exercise.
#6 – Hunching Shoulders
Keep your shoulders low and as far away from your ears as possible. If you are getting sore upper back or neck muscles you are probably using your arms and shoulders too much.
#7 – Rounding the Back
The back must stay flat no matter what. If you find that you are getting a very sore back then readdress your technique starting at the hip hinge and then the deadlift. The back muscles are used during the kettlebell swing but only as stabilisers and should not be the source of power.
#8 – Flicking the Bell
As the kettlebell reaches the transition period from the bottom to the top between your legs ensure that the bell does not flick. The wrists should be kept straight to ensure a nice fluid movement.
# 9 – Hands Above the Bell
At the top of the swing the wrists and kettlebell should be inline. The kettlebell should not hang below or rise above the wrists. If it does you are using your arms too much, use those hips.
#10 – Pulling Forwards
A common problem when weight is not kept on the middle and heels of the feet. The kettlebell will pull you forwards and onto your toes. Sink back onto your heels and load your buttocks.
#11 – Wide Knees
Often the knees will want to splay outwards to allow for the kettlebell to swing between the legs. Ensure that your feet and shins are always inline at 510 degrees and focus on push your hips back further rather than push the knees outwards.
#12 – Forward Lean
Do not lean further forward with your shoulders than the line of your toes. If you find this is happening sit further back on your heels and keep your chest up.
#13 – Neck Alignment
Keeping your head up at the bottom part of the kettlebell swing can cause a jarring of the neck if you go too low. Practice moving the head as if an extension to the back. Change your vision to just in front of your toes at the bottom of the swing.
#14 – Picking Up and Putting Down
Don’t be lazy starting and finishing your swings this is the worst time to take your eye off your technique. Keep your back flat and use your hips to pick up and put down the bell.