If you have pulled your back doing kettlebell swings or you experience lower back pain after your swings then this is the article for you.
Kettlebell swings should strengthen the lower back and not cause any type of back pain, if they do, something is wrong.
Just like many exercises you may experience muscle soreness after your workout but it is important to differentiate between pain and soreness. Muscles soreness should reduce workout after each workout whereas pain will increase.
Below I have detailed who should not be using the kettlebell swing, how to master the hip hinge before you start the swing and how to recover from a kettlebell back injury.
Ok, let’s get started..
Who Should Not Perform Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are not for everyone.
If you suffer with any of the following conditions then you should look for a different exercise:
- Herniated discs
- Post back surgery
- Can’t bend forwards without back pain
If you do suffer with any of the above conditions then poor technique can seriously aggravate your lower back and so it is not worth the risk for you.
Talk to your physiotherapist about a better exercise selection.
Master the Hip Hinge Before You Start Kettlebell Swings
I know the excitement of starting to swing a kettlebell can be too much to bare sometimes but mastering the basics first is important.
If you experience lower back pain while performing the basic hip hinge then you need to either work more on your technique or seek hands-on advice from a professional.
Here’s a tuition video that teaches you how to hip hinge correctly:
Where Should You Feel Kettlebell Swings?
Kettlebell swings are a full body exercise but focus predominantly on the posterior chain or the muscles running up the back of the body.
If you are performing the kettlebell swing correctly then you should feel your buttocks, hamstrings and core muscles working hard. The lower back does work but only to stabilise rather than generate any part of the movement.
7 Kettlebell Swing Mistakes that can Cause Back Pain
If you have mastered the hip hinge, are swinging the kettlebell, but experiencing back pain then here are 7 reasons things may be going wrong:
1 Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Controlling your pelvis is very important when performing any type of deadlift movement pattern including the kettlebell swing. Tight quads and weak inactive ab muscles can cause the pelvis to tilt forwards resulting in an arch at the lower back.
An excessive arch in the lower back (lordosis) can pinch the nerves in the lumbar spine and disturb the intricacies of the vertebrae.
How to fix it: stretch out your quads frequently by lying on your belly and pulling your heel to your buttocks, at the same time pushing your groin into the floor. Secondly, brace your abs tight to prevent your pelvis from tilting forwards, think about pulling your tall between your legs.
2 Excessive Back Extension
At the top of the kettlebell swing you should stand tall and drive your head upwards. Leaning back past the centreline and pushing your hips forwards will result in additional stress to the lower back.
A common problem with so many exercises is an excessive backwards lean often resulting from bad proprioception and weakness in the core muscles.
Many people lean backwards during the swing because they lack the explosive strength from the hip drive to raise the kettlebell. Excessive back extension is very common when performing the American kettlebell swing and one reason I do not recommend it.
How to fix it: contract your abs and buttocks tight at the top of the swing and bring your tail between your legs. Stop in the upright position as if a wall is behind you.
3 Tight Hamstrings
If you suffer from tight hamstrings then the movement at your pelvis will be restricted resulting with compensations at the lower back.
Freedom of movement at the pelvis is important to ensure that as you bend forwards your pelvis moves inline with your lower back. If your pelvis is prevented from rotating forwards then your lower back must provide the additional movement resulting in overwork and ultimately back injury.
How to fix it: you may suffer from lower crossed syndrome. Stretch out your quads and strengthen your abs. Keep your swings shallow, not leaning too far forwards.
4 Rounding the Back
Another common problem is not correctly mastering the hip hinge and swinging from the lower back rather than the hips. Please watch the hip hinge tuition video earlier in this article.
The lower back should stay flat by isometrically contracting the muscles to maintain a neutral spine position throughout the swing. All movement for the swing should come from a hinging at the hips not the lower back.
You may experience lower and middle back pain after your kettlebell swings if you are making this swing mistake.
How to fix it: go back and practice the single handed deadlift using your hips to generate the power rather than your lower back.
5 Squatting not Deadlifting
If you suffer from middle back pain after your kettlebell swings then you may be squatting rather than deadlifting the kettlebell.
Squat based exercises are classified as knee dominant, whereas deadlifting exercises are hip dominant. The kettlebell swing should involve a forwards and backwards movement from the hips rather than an up and down movement.
If you are trying to squat and swing at the same time then you will be overusing your arms and relying on your back muscles to maintain the kettlebell position out in front of you.
How to fix it: Drive the hips forwards and backwards using the hip hinge as shown in the tuition video earlier.
6 Overuse of Arms
If you experience upper back pain after your kettlebell swings then you are probably overusing your arms. Excessive use of the arms affects the mid and upper back as they do all the work with a weight that the arms alone cannot handle.
The arms do have a role to play when performing the kettlebell swing but only as a means of holding the kettlebell, all power for the swing is generated from the hips.
How to fix it: you are swinging with your arms and not your hips. Focus on the hip drive and relax the arms. Using a heavier kettlebell will force power from the hips because the arms cannot physically do all the work.
7 Hunching Shoulders
Another cause of upper back pain after kettlebell swings is a hunching of the shoulders towards the ears resulting in an overuse of the upper traps and neck.
When swinging correctly the power comes from the hips driving forwards and backwards and the arms merely control the kettlebell. If you suffer from a weakness in the mid and lower traps then your shoulders may have a tendency to gravitate upwards as opposed to back and down.
A poor technique of overusing your arms as mentioned in point 6 above will also compound this problem.
How to fix it: master the hip hinge, relax the arms and work on developing the scapula stabilisers with wall slides
How to Recover from a Kettlebell Back Injury
If you have suffered a kettlebell back injury then you need to rest and re-examine your technique.
A warm bath and massage can help stimulate blood flow and improve healing times but ultimately it will be a waiting game.
Don’t attempt any further kettlebell swings following a back injury. Wait until you are fully healed before regressing the movement to the single arm deadlift and taking note of the 7 points mentioned above.
Watch a video of the single handed kettlebell deadlift below:
The kettlebell swing is a highly beneficial exercise but it is very unforgiving and easy to get your technique wrong at first.
First make sure you have mastered the kettlebell hip hinge some will cross over with the 7 kettlebell swing mistakes listed above.
If you are recovering from a kettlebell back injury then wait until your back is fully healed before attempting the kettlebell swing again.
If you are still struggling with the swing then get in touch with a video of your technique and I’ll help you out.
Take care and happy swinging.
Have you made any of these kettlebell swing mistakes? Let me know more below….
Kettlebell swings are excellent for strengthening the lower back but they do need to be performed correctly using a good quality hip hinge movement. Those suffering from herniated discs or back issues should avoid kettlebell swings.
Kettlebell swings work the entire body but in particular the muscles on the back of the body namely the buttocks, hamstrings, and spinal erectors.