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Are Kettlebell Swings Bad For Your Hips

author
Carole Stephens
• Sunday, 13 December, 2020
• 23 min read

“The kettle bell swing is an essential foundational movement that translates to just about every single activity a person does, from standing and walking to running and jumping. For the more advanced athlete, the swing develops power and explosiveness essential for speed, jumping, acceleration, and more,” says Matt Veil, head trainer at EverybodyFights in Lexington, Kentucky.

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(Source: www.robkingfitness.com)

Contents

“Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced athlete, it’s a tremendous tool to use to enhance performance and overall ability.” It’s an explosive movement, and if you’re not giving all the power to your lower body and mastering the hip hinge correctly, you could be doing more harm than good.

The further away from your body the kettle bell travels during this phase, the longer the lever (you arm) will be, which bleeds power and increases the risk of you using your back instead of your extensor muscles. Keep your core engaged and braced, chin tucked, and spine straight.

Driving from the hamstrings and glutes, the next part of the movement is a powerful thrust forward into full hip extension. While the hamstrings, glutes, and hips are the engine of the kettle bell swing, the brakes are just as important.

Your core is what stops the movement at the top and prevents hyper extension of the lumbar spine. 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 theory, you’re exploding from your hips that much more to power the kettle bell into the overhead position, strengthening your hip extension pattern and your glutes and hamstrings even more.

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.

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Quick test: Lie with your belly on the ground, arms and legs long in front of you. Driving the shoulders into true overhead position isn’t as natural as you may think.

When forced to hit a true arms-directly-overhead position, many people compensate with movement in other areas, often arching their upper or (worse!) 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. They rely on high rep loads, and, eventually, fatigue piles on.

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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.

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. Very few training methods are either inherently good or bad, but the quality of their execution can make them so.

Do it right and it's a highly effective training tool, whether you're a powerlifter, an athlete, or a figure competitor. If your lumbar spine is extended at lockout, then you're not going to get full hip extension at the same time.

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The quality of this movement pattern (the hip hinge) matters more than how many reps you're doing or how heavy the weight is. A squat is training simultaneous flexion and extension at your knees, ankles and hips at once.

In a hinge, most of the movement is isolated to the hips, with much less flexion-extension happening at the ankles and knees. Your shins stay close to vertical, your torso drops forward and closer to perpendicular to the ground, and your butt pushes further back behind you.

Stand tall, scoop your pelvis slightly under and exhale your ribs down. Keep your weight balanced between three points: The balls of each foot and your heels.

You'll feel your hamstrings load tension and stretch as you move into this position. Your knees will flex somewhat as you push your hips back, but not to the same degree that they would in a squat.

The exact amount of bend will depend on your individual skeletal structure and joint ratios. The forward swing comes from your hip snap and the active contraction of your glutes at the top.

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At this point, your abs should be braced, your pelvis scooped under, and your glutes locked out. Keep your knees slightly soft at the top to discourage spinal extension.

Right at the top you should be fully exhaled with a neutral spine, hard abs and your lower ribs pulled down. Keep your ribs pulled down with hard abs, and feel your mid-back expand as you inhale, without shrugging your shoulders upward.

Inhale through your nose with your teeth slightly apart and your tongue pressed to the roof of your mouth. As the kettle bell drops to about belly button level you'll start your back swing.

Think of two triangles formed by the lines from your shoulders to your hands, and from your knees to your groin. You're making the points of those triangles stay close to one another at the end of the back swing.

Maintain the rest of your checkpoints: heels rooted through the ground, shins vertical and abs braced. Rather than doing a full swing, you're practicing the initial lowering phase and then standing up straight like a dead lift.

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Weak Lock-Out Sometimes people will lack full hip extension with braced abs and locked-out glutes at the top of the movement. You can check for this by tapping the back of your fist into someone's abs and/or glutes right at the peak of the swing.

Viewed from the side, your body should look vertical, much the same as it does when you're setting up in your stance at the very beginning. When you see this flaw and know that the person is capable of moving well and getting a solid lockout, it's often the result of fatigue.

There's often a lot of lumbar compensation and weak abdominal bracing in this type of movement. This changes the outcome and shifts force away from the hips and into the quads and knees.

It also brings an increased risk of using your lower back to generate force, since it's harder to get the kettle bell to chest height when you're relying on your quads and a vertical movement of the weight. Hyper extended Lumbar Spine Most of us are predisposed to hold excessive tension and extension (arching) in our lower backs.

We often baseline with our pelvis extended (tipped forward), and the lower ribs on the front of our body flared outward. Extension in these areas makes it difficult for your oblique and transverse abs to function and fire effectively, and weak abs can't control your spine, pelvis and thorax.

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Train with a purpose, and if you start to lose a good movement pattern, stop what you're doing. Remember the dual triangle cue and touch the tips of the triangles with each rep. You can also stand over a short box (around 12 inches) and swing over the box to practice avoiding this.

To help counter this, pack your shoulders by putting them down into their sockets and slightly squeezing together. Sometimes just shifting eye position makes a big difference.

Has someone held a clipboard about a foot behind you and try to hit it with the kettle bell on the back swing. The solution is to isolate this component and practice it under lower complexity and stress.

Remember, you can't fully extend your hips with a hyper extended spine, so the first step in getting good hip movement is repositioning the spine, pelvis, and ribs. For the bridge, lie on your back and place something like a rolled up towel or empty water bottle between your knees.

Squeeze your glutes as you reach the top and make sure your abs are tense and your ribs stay down. You should feel tension in your glutes and hamstrings, but not in your lower back or quads.

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If you understand your purpose in doing swings, understand the criteria that allow you to meet that purpose, and then consciously practice with those criteria in mind, you'll build strong, safe, and resilient movement. They not only allow you to combine cardiovascular exercise with strength training, but also they can be used to work nearly every muscle in your body.

Stabilize your abdomen, slightly arch your back and use your hips and legs to swing the kettle bell from the floor to up in front of your body. As it reaches the end of the swing, push through your heels to extend your knees and hips and propel the kettle bell forward and up.

Contract your abdominal muscles, stiffen your back, look straight ahead then bend your hips and knees to lower into a squat. The kettle bell sumo dead lift requires a large range of motion in the hips while targeting the glutes, hamstrings and low back muscles.

With your abdominal muscles tight and torso erect, look straight ahead as you squat down to grasp the handle with both hands. Continue up until your hips and knees are fully extended then squat down to return the weight to the floor.

The kettle bell overhead split squat is a challenging exercise that works not only the hips but also the quads, hamstrings and the stabilizing muscles of the back and abdomen. Hold the weight overhead with your arm extended then take a split stance with your left leg forward and your feet far apart.

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In today’s world we spend the majority of our days doing things in front of us with terrible posture. Cubicles) for hours at a time not moving and making the front of our body even tighter.

If You’re Not Doing The Kettle bell Swing, You’re Destined To Stay Fat, Tight & Weak For The Rest Of Your Life! This overuse of the muscles on the front side of our bodies is called “anterior dominance” and it is plaguing our society.

FrequencyExercise TypeIntensityRepetitionsRest up to 7x per week strength training high intensity varies by workout varies by workout Once labelled “hard core”, kettle bells are now popping up in every gym, garage and backyard because of their portability and reputation for fast results. Go into any gym and you’ll see inexperienced exercisers turning a swing into a front squat and shoulder raise exercise further tightening our hips, quads, chest and shoulders and just adding to the anterior dominance issue that I told you about above.

Always making sure your shoulders stay above the level of your hips, “hike pass” the kettle bell through your knees by contracting your lats. When you push your hips back keeping your butt high and your shins vertical, you are hinging.

This is good because most people today are hip flexor and quad dominant (your anterior muscles), so learning how to load and use your posterior chain creates a natural balance between front and back that will help in preventing knee and hip issues. Imagine that you are growing roots through your feet and grab the ground with your entire foot.

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Getting proper instruction from an expert so that you can MASTER THE KETTLEBELL SWING is the best thing that you can do for your training regardless of your goal. If you want to build strength, kettlebellswings will forge a grip of steel and will add pounds to your dead lift & squat.

If you want to boost your athleticism, kettlebellswings will make you more powerful and add height to your jump and shave seconds off your sprints. If you want to pack on muscle, swinging a heavy kettle bell will build an intimidating upper back & set of shoulders.

And if you want to shed body fat, swings will incinerate blubber like butter melting in an iron pan. Grab a kettle bell in your first week of training and start doing snatches like you’ve seen other more seasoned kettle bell enthusiasts perform with ease, and you’re playing with fire, there is no doubt you’re going to get hurt.

The same applies to grabbing a barbell in your first week of training and start snatching it like you’re in the CrossFit Games, you’re going to get hurt. This fact doesn’t change whether you take a dumbbell, tax, sandbag, fit ball or anything else, you need to respect the tool, treat it with care and progress from step one.

*I throw the “Assisted single-arm clean” in very early, as I like my students to get familiar with the corkscrew motion, dealing with the proper weight distribution of the kettle bell to avoid pressure on the forearm, which is not dealt with early-on hinders progression at the stage of racking, cleaning and pressing. Yes if you start doing weird things that you should not be doing or your body is just not ready for, otherwise, no they’re not bad for your shoulders, they’re amazing for shaping your shoulders, creating better range of motion, making them stronger and resilient to injury.

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The people that ask these questions either have participated in a kettle bell class with a cowboy trainer teaching or heard their friend complain about their back who just started swinging the bell while watching the Julian Michael's version on YouTube. I would lie if I said I never seen anyone get injured during kettle bell training, I’ve never seen serious injury from a kettle bell, I have seen people out for a week because they did not listen to the weight suggested to them, they did not listen when the coach said, take a step back, regress and learn the hip hinge first.

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.

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.

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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.

If you suffer from middle back pain after yourkettlebellswings then you may be squatting rather than dead lifting the kettle bell. 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. 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.

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How to fix it: master the hip hinge, relax the arms and work on developing the scapula stabilizers with wall slides 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. The kettle bell swing is a highly beneficial exercise but it is very unforgiving and easy to get your technique wrong at first.

Kettlebellswings are excellent for strengthening the lower back, but they do need to be performed correctly using a good quality hip hinge movement. 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. Fortunately, time, energy and resources for rehab and prevention can be optimized by utilizing Kettle bell Swings as a practical solution when compared to other expensive, lengthy, and sometimes invasive methods of treatment for low back issues.

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.

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“When it comes to evaluating new clients, I would guess that around 60 percent of the adults we work with have less than optimal hip mobility,” says Mike Perry, a functional movement screen specialist and owner of Skill of Strength, a performance-based training facility in Massachusetts. That lack of mobility may not result in direct hip pain but could spill over into other parts of the body, causing discomfort elsewhere.

If you feel tightness in your hips, or if you're feeling less mobile in that joint than in the past, it may pay to see a qualified coach or physical therapist who can help you increase your mobility, comfort, and, if you're a runner, your performance. Except instead of bulging pecs from the bench, your chair is giving you shortened hip flexors, Brooks says.

“The muscles adapt to the positions which ultimately affect the function of the hips,” Brooks says. Take a walk at lunch, do conference calls on your feet and go talk to a coworker in person rather than via email.

And when you do sit back down, adjust your seat so that your hips are even with or higher than your knees. No, you probably can't work on your laptop while lying on your back, but besides getting out of your chair, Brooks also recommends performing a glute bridge with a resistance band before your gym workout.

This move can “help activate the lateral hip muscles and loosen the anterior hip muscles, which will help increase the range of motion for an exercise like a squat or lunge.” Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

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With squats specifically, “if you do not have adequate hip mobility and ideal technique, you can run into issues. The biggest issue we see is the pelvis moving into the posterior, or what people call a 'butt wink,' Perry says.

If your gym has a suspension trainer, like a Tax, try using it to perform the squat pattern safely, Perry suggests. To perform this move, stand with feet hip-width apart, the suspension trainer anchored and elevated in front of you.

Grab the handles so your arms are bent and the straps are not completely taut. As you squat, your arms will extend out in front of you, the straps tightening and offering support as you descend.

You can reduce the hip impingement from a normal squat with an inch-thick lift under your heels, Brooks says. If you're squatting at home, try using small books or a scrap piece of wood.

That includes Olympic lifts like the clean and snatch, as well as the kettle bell swing, a hip-dominant move that's become popular for conditioning and in CrossFit gyms. It's also a favorite in Perry's gym, Skill of Strength, but not until members have “earned” the move.

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Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, with your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Maintain this rigid body line and activate as described above, flexing your legs, drawing in your core and gripping the ground.

Add these smart exercise swaps to your next workout routine and you'll discover that pain-free is the way to be. The PT I worked with thinks swings are fine, but he didn't assess my form.

He didn't seem to know what a “hard style” swing was but did emphasis being a plank at the top. I'd really like to get back to training but the last time I was swinging, my hip, got so bad it hurt to sit in a chair and felt better to lay down. Mine were from being run over by cars on a pushbike. My right hip comes and goes and swings seem to be the worst thing for it.

When you have this type of injury you need to dedicate extra focus to muscular stability to support the joint. A heightened level of conscious control needs to exist at all times.

If it causes you pain that doesn't feel like normal muscle soreness in the days after doing this exercise, try the controlled tension I mentioned above and it that doesn't help, you will have to consider if the swing will be suitable for you long term. Years of trial and error have taught me to limit my swings to small sets of perfectly controlled reps or I pay the price in the days and weeks after I do them.

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I can still go heavy but I can't do a workout around high rep swings. You don't mention much about your training history and where the session that caused you pain fit in context.

It's been months since I've done swings while overcoming an unrelated shoulder injury. If you ever get to the level of fatigue where you are going through the motions you can start hammering the joint and doing damage.

Can't remember exactly what he was referencing, but he mentioned the difference as possibly a source of aggravation. Anna C I have been taking generic glucosamine supplements for my knees for years and found that it works.

Sometimes the pharmacy is out of stock and I can go a week before I notice any pain increase. I have found that “soft” or Greek sport style swings cause less discomfort. Experiment with one or two hands. If you continue to have pain, find something else to do--its not worth it in the long run.

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Sources
1 www.fab-ent.com - https://www.fab-ent.com/exercise/weights/cando-kettlebells/
2 en.wikipedia.org - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kettlebell