Are Kettlebell Swings Bad For Your Back

Ellen Grant
• Thursday, 15 October, 2020
• 12 min read

Statistically, back pain has a tendency to go into and come out of remission and though the symptoms can be relieved, often the problem remains unless we get to the cause. Muscular imbalance and a misfiring recruitment pattern of the posterior chain muscles are common prerequisites of low back pain, often as a result of bad posture from imbalanced or lack of muscular tone.

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If your glutes are weak, or ‘inactivated’ when lifting or extending your hip, your lower back is going to compensate for the larger, more powerful gluteal muscles. By educating your muscles how to hip hinge correctly before practicing the Kettle bell Swing will fire up your CNS to perform the exercise optimally and shorten time in getting results.

If you don’t have a pipe or dowel, achieve neutral spine by making points of contact while standing back against a wall, tuck your chin to lengthen your cervical spine all the way to the top, making contact with the back of your head against the wall. Aim to not bend much at your knees and return to start position by driving through your heels and activating your glutes and hamstrings to extend your hips.

“One small kettle bell hidden under a desk in the office can provide time-effective back and hamstring strengthening, along with hip-flexor stretching” If you have pulled your back doing kettlebellswings or you experience lower back pain after your swings then this is the article for you.

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. 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.

Controlling your pelvis is very important when performing any type of dead lift movement pattern including the kettle bell swing. Tight quads and weak inactive ab muscles can cause the pelvis to tilt forwards resulting in an arch at the lower back.

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An excessive arch in the lower back (Lords) 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. 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 kettle bell. Excessive back extension is very common when performing the American kettle bell 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. If you suffer from tight hamstrings then the movement at your pelvis will be restricted resulting with compensations at the lower back.

The lower back should stay flat by isometrically contracting the muscles to maintain a neutral spine position throughout the swing. You may experience lower and middle back pain after yourkettlebellswings if you are making this swing mistake.

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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 kettle bell position out in front of you. When swinging correctly the power comes from the hips driving forwards and backwards and the arms merely control the kettle bell.

A warm bath and massage can help stimulate blood flow and improve healing times but ultimately it will be a waiting game. Wait until you are fully healed before regressing the movement to the single arm dead lift and taking note of the 7 points mentioned above.

If you are recovering from a kettlebellback injury then wait until your back is fully healed before attempting the kettle bell swing again. Kettlebellswings are excellent for strengthening the lower back, but they do need to be performed correctly using a good quality hip hinge movement.

In addition, if you are not a fan of thirty-something-year-old men dishing out life wisdom there are also some statistics from 2011 on back pain which will put your mind to rest: In addition, you have to distinguish between delayed onset muscle soreness (Does) and whether you really have something a bit more substantial than that.

So even if you were to get back pain from kettle bell swings, guess what, it is most likely to go away, unless you are blatantly stupid. Last, but not least, when you just passed your driver's license it is probably wise to not enter the Indy 500 or formula 1.

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Technically you can drive, fortunately, because of lack of skill, you will be deselected in the process before you can hurt yourself entering professional racing. Even if you have progressed very far there still can be things which need to be fixed because of bad habits which have crept in overtime.

Here are the most common areas for which people make mistakes and hurt themselves in the process on the kettle bell swing. A lack of shoulder mobility will make it hard for you to swing the kettle bell freely and with ease.

Depending on what causes the limited range of motion in your shoulder there are different fixes. First, you have to analyze whether the mobility issues are caused by a muscle imbalance or shortened tendons.

Depending on what the cause is you either strengthen other areas to balance the entire system out or stretch accordingly to get more range of motion. Again you can either have imbalances in your hip in terms of strength or flexibility which cause you to perform sub par.

What often happens is that experienced athletes or gym rats only use the back squat to progress in their strength. Some variation every quarter to half a year can help to build a more balanced physique.

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To minimize mobility issues and maximize your output it helps to warm up slowly and stretch before you start your kettle bell routine. A1: Foam roll hip, T-spine extensionsB1: Partner mobility rolls with the Big Stick-upper traps, lats x50-70C1: T-spine mobility push/pulls and rib cage openers x 3-5 L/RD1: Wall Squats x 10|E1: Scorpion x 10F1: Goblet Squats (with 2 sec pause) x 10 x 1-3 setsG1: Arm Bar x 1-5 reps L/R, hold for 5-20 belly breathAlthough I would consider this more of a light workout in itself rather than just a warm-up.

When you teach yourself the kettle bell swing from videos on YouTube or others in the gym it is very likely that you learn it the wrong way. This is based on the reason that the program is run by Pavel Tsatsoulin, one man who probably has invested more time in the kettle bell than you have spent sleeping in your life.

The Hyper extension at the back is often seen as people do not swing from the hips in a hinge motion but do all kinds of other things to move the metal ball. You should stand ramrod straight when the kettle bell reaches the apex of the swing and not lean backward.

Leaning backward puts unnecessary pressure on the spine and can lead to injury long term. As you are not supposed to go to the extreme and look at the ceiling at the top you should also not look through your legs or get your ass down to the ground at the bottom of the swing.

Squatting the swing is a sign of poor technique or weakness as the tool becomes the master of the user. Imagine the wrecking ball in the Miley Cyrus video of the song with the same name.

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Keep it simple and stick to the Russian swing to focus on building ballistic power. The American swing makes the next phenomenon a lot more likely to happen which is chasing the bell.

This leads to more jerk movements, tension on your skeleton and muscles and finally, injury. Lack of tension is a general problem among layman who does not look into the theory of things.

You can pick up kettle bells without even paying attention to how to get your body as hard as a brick. This topic is often not debated and deserves its own chapter as more fitness enthusiasts need to know this concept in detail.

A crucial component of strength training is to acquire the skill of building tension in your body. Pavel Tsatsoulin describes the concept of tension as “hard style” if you want to read more about it.

The best professional weightlifters and powerlifters have perfected the art of building tension to minimize power leaks and gain maximum performance. Glute bridges are an excellent tool to train how to flex your butt in a way that it supports lifting.

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To achieve this practice the hike pass and locking your elbows in when you pick the kettle bell off the ground. Your trainer or gym buddy should be able to place a broomstick on your back and your spine should keep in line with it and not round.

This is achieved by locking the elbows in, pulling your shoulder blades towards each other and initiating the first swing. If you do not pay detailed attention to the opening swing, you usually find that the spine is all over the place during the set.

This ensures that the kettle bell is locked in while not pulling from the arms or upper back which is likely to happen if you apply too stiff a grip. Inevitably there will be back pain if you train hard and with the purpose to progress to get stronger and healthier.

When I hurt my back in 2016 on Gender 531 I immediately knew when I pulled the weight up that there was something bad going on. In the beginning, err on the side of caution and stop in time and get checked more often by a chiropractor, general practitioner or physician.

Ice packs are good to numb immediate pain and recover faster. Especially if you are very prone to experience pain because your skin and body makeup just seems to bruise easier than most people ice is a good go to.

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If it goes chronic go to the doctor rather than stacking your freezer with 24/7 ice pack supplies. Frozen vodka bottles also do the trick and usually end in disaster later in the evening.

A tip from granny here: hot water bottles do the same thing as heating pads and are reusable. You can also put them in funny costumes and look silly so that your wife/partner/husband loves you even more for being such a fool chastising yourself in the gym.

In my Judo times, we used Voltaren a lot for all kinds of muscle aches all over the body. If I have to apply any type of cream or take disdain/aspirin to relieve pain that stems from exercising my next hand movement is hitting the buttons on my smartphone to make an appointment.

Read up about how to do it in the books I mentioned, get one or two sessions with a Strong first instructor near you in, be humble with your progression and your kettle bell swings will make your more healthy and not worse. It’s an explosive and natural expression of hip extension, a key portion of your vertical leap and your sprinter’s stride, too.

You stand grasping a kettle bell with both hands, core tight, toes pointed ever-so-slightly outward, knees slightly bent. From there, you push your butt back slightly and hinge at the waist, letting momentum take the kettle bell behind your thighs.

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Momentum carries the kettle bell upwards and in front of you, and your arms drive forward, typically until they’re parallel to the ground, in the process. In practice, the American swing frequently takes the emphasis off your mammies and glutes, and average gym-goers over-involve muscles that aren't meant for the job, such as the shoulders and lower back.

In general, you always want to choose exercises that minimize risk and maximize the benefits that’ll push you to your goals. You should evaluate all exercises this way (and not be afraid to question your group fitness trainer either -- it’s their job to answer you).

American swing fans have two key arguments that fail to account for the way the general population actually moves. It’s a demonstration of true shoulder flexion at the top of each rep, that your mid- and upper- back muscles will fire.

In this way, it’s a total body exercise, and superior and more “complete” than the Russian kettle bell swing. So that means, by default, they’re destined to perform the American swing incorrectly (and I've seen “fit” folks wreck this move, too).

Targeting muscles is important, even if “all-workouts-should-be-total-body” nation doesn't understand that, because it's a key method of correcting weaknesses in both your mechanics and your physique. Quick test: Lie with your belly on the ground, arms and legs long in front of you.

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The basic swing lets you move a fairly heavy weight, since it relies on two of your body’s most powerful muscle groups, the legs and glutes, to generate the majority of the force. If those muscle groups can’t power the bell to the dumb American standard, the shoulders and lower back do the brunt of the extra work -- except they’re not meant to move the same load as the glutes and mammies.

So the shoulder muscles and smaller upper-body stabilizers take over that large load. The American swing crowd might contend that this isn’t all that different from a snatch anyway, hamstrings and glutes firing.

Thing is, both the barbell and single-arm snatch versions let you drive weights overhead while rotating and spreading your shoulders more freely to create joint space for your rotator cuff tendons. That can’t happen when both hands are grasping a kettle bell handle with a close grip.

Really think and focus on the American kettle bell swing, be super-controlled and mindful of your whole body, and you have your best shot. They rely on high rep loads, and, eventually, fatigue piles on.

Station-to-station randomness makes things worse: if the American swing’s your first move, your mind and your shoulder blades aren’t fatigued. You could go “lighter” on the weight with the American swing, both in a class setting and in your own workouts, focusing on form.

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Except then, your hamstrings and glutes, the targets of the classic swing, simply don’t get to move as much weight. Unless you compete in CrossFit (where the American swing sometimes shows up in competition), the wildest part about the stupidity of the American kettle bell swing is that there’s a much simpler way to achieve the super-aggressive hip extension and explosive glute contraction that it is supposed to bring.

There’s a smarter, less injury-inducing way to push your glutes and hamstrings to “pop” more than they do on your average Russian swing. Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men's Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. I've listened to many of your interviews and incorporated much of what you and Tim have recommended into my weekly workouts, specifically the kettle bell swing.

But just recently, Tim interviewed Charles Poliquin, and he highly recommended NOT doing kettlebellswings saying it was bad for the back. I think both of you seem very intelligent and knowledgeable, so I'm hoping there is a “right” way of doing the kettle bell swing since it has become a major part of my workout.

The most striking flaws coming to my mind is not to brace on the top (hyper extension), not to pull the shoulder blades back, not letting the bell coming back to your braced body (hinging far to early), to let the body twist in one hand swings, too much squatting. Studies need to be looked at individually as most would have to be conducted on inexperienced practitioners to get a decent sample size, plus the time frame parameters of an average study would also most likely not allow for one to meet an SF swing standard if not already familiar with it, again the study would need to be presented to be discussed rather than just referenced. As for the argument that “weightlifting must go vertical against gravity” (paraphrasing his original statement) the force plate studies conducted on KB ballistics show a very high output of force in this plane, after all the subjects were standing on a force plate.

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Just because the bell is moving more away from the center of mass does not change the force vector, it remains vertical. Given the scientific evidence presented by very credible researchers in this community, not to mention the vast amount of combined years of experience ALL producing similar results and conclusions I wouldn't give validity to his brief statements without analyzing the studies he's using to form his opinion.

Over 14 years of my kettle bell certifications we have received countless reports of improved back health and performance. “ Kettle bell Simple & Sinister” has been endorsed by #1 spine biomechanic in the world Prof. Stuart McGill and leading PT expert Gray Cook.

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1 www.verywellfit.com - https://www.verywellfit.com/dumbbells-vs-kettlebells-for-strength-exercising-3498571
2 greatist.com - https://greatist.com/move/kettlebells-versus-dumbbells
3 www.t3.com - https://www.t3.com/us/features/dumbbells-vs-kettlebell
4 www.wellandgood.com - https://www.wellandgood.com/kettlebell-vs-dumbbell/