Those of you who have received instruction from an HKC or RKC instructor like those of us at Pittsburgh Kettlebells already know that we advise against swinging the kettlebell higher than shoulder height with two hands. In fact, chest height is really ideal. While there are other schools of thought that teach swinging a kettlebell overhead with two hands to be acceptable, we disagree for the following SAFETY reasons:
In order to get the kettlebell overhead with two hands, either one or both of the following will occur:
This movement uses the leverage of your upper trapezius, levators, and other upper back and neck muscles, creating lots of cervical spine compression. This could leave you with a sore neck after performing multiple swings. Most of us need to work on stretching and releasing those upper back and neck muscles since we spend so much time at our desks working at computers. Shrugging movements only emphasize a pre-existing muscular imbalance, or will create one.
2. Lumbar spine hyperextension
A second issue with two-handed overhead swings is the tendency to over extend (arch) your low back. Under repetitive load, this is a very dangerous movement and increases your risk of injury. Kettlebell swings are great for building low back stability, as long as the low back remains in a stable position. If you have ever done an exercise called a plank, you are familiar with the total body tension you generate horizontally, with hips and spine in a neutral position. The finish of your swing should look like a plank, only standing up.
Performing either one or both of the above-mentioned movements prevents you from adequately loading the structures that are mechanically able to handle the load imposed on your body by swings: hips, glutes (butt), and legs. Repeating these unsafe movement patterns will give you a workout that is inefficient and potentially dangerous.
In addition, swinging the kettlebell only to chest height ensures that you will maintain a properly packed shoulder girdle. The arms will remain connected to the body without reaching out of the shoulder socket. Your rotator cuff will thank you.
However, lifting one or two kettlebells overhead with each arm independently can be a safe move, but that’s another story for another article.