Do Kettlebell Swings Do Anything

Maria Johnson
• Friday, 04 December, 2020
• 8 min read

Thomas Edison once said, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine; instead he will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, nutrition and the cause and prevention of disease.” 1 This is important because for those with lower back issues traditional posterior chain exercises such as dead lifts, good mornings, etc.

swing kettlebell muscle swings muscles sweat wellandgood every body well work trainer build moves glutes workout way
(Source: www.wellandgood.com)


For those looking to strengthen the lower back and unable to use these traditional exercises the swing may be just the thing they’re looking for. Because of the dynamic nature of the swing the opportunity to overload or injure the body is quite low.

The rapid acceleration of the bell via the motion of the hips and knees is accompanied by substantial activation of muscles in both the posterior chain and the abdominal. They proposed the muscle flushing mechanism as an explanation for the reports of lower pain.

Now, sniff air into your belly through your nose and then exhale short and sharp like you’re trying to blow out a candle far away. But when you use forceful exhalation, known in ROC circles as power breathing, you are essentially creating a stiff wall around that flagpole to keep it stiffer.

Using the Cassava maneuver creates a dynamic internal pressure that I believe supercharges the cerebral-spinal fluid flow. The INTERCAL pressure is greatly increased when you add movement to the Cassava maneuver.

Cerebral-spinal fluid is pumped or controlled by respiration that causes movement in the sacrum and cranial bones. I believe that the spinal curves must be correctly maintained or the flow of information in the nervous system is compromised.

(Source: healthnews2me.com)

In order to do the Kettle bell swing correctly I really had to work on my form and this had an incredible influence on establishing the proper robotic and kyphotic curvatures of my spine. Set up as if you were doing a conventional two hand swing: hips back shoulders down, lats engaged, connected and linked to the bell.

The key principle of Hard style Kettle bell training is that, to quote Pavel, “We choose power over efficiency, choosing maximal acceleration in the quick lifts and maximum tension in the grinds.” If we’re looking to the swing to be our one size fits all solution to back care then we must recognize that, for many, swinging the bell overhead is impossible without hyper extending the lower back or jamming the neck or shoulders due to limitations in their thoracic mobility.

The swing is an expression of forward force projection such as found in boxing or martial arts, like a straight punch. If you’re an athlete with a vertical component to your sport such as in Olympic weightlifting, Highland Games, or even swimming, then try the snatch.

Picking the right tool for the job will go a long way to ensuring your back stays healthy and strong for years to come! I don’t like spending much time on single exercises unless they are awesome for helping athletes get better or get back to their sport after injury.

I wish I could summarize this article into “it helps” or “it’s a waste of time,” but the kettle bell swing is one of those exercises just good enough to talk about but not clear enough in practice and in research to show undisputed value. Unlike the squat or other movements, the kettle bell swing has very little research to show efficacy in training, mainly due to the fact it’s hard to load in a way that is truly progressive.

kettlebell lower swings hurt
(Source: mojostrength.com.au)

It’s likely this article will not persuade you to change your mind if you lean toward one side or the other, but if you are on the fence, you will likely step off and find a place for the exercise in some way. An athlete who has played sports for years decelerates their body and produces high outputs in games and in practices, so we can’t view them as a sedentary or low-fitness examples.

In this review, I cover the five needs of coaches: keeping athletes fit, big, strong, fast, and resilient to injury. Therefore, for the sake of this argument, I will say that the exercise is perfectly safe to perform under supervision, and I will only focus on the adaptations or possible benefits from acute experimentation.

However, I don’t think it will make such a huge difference that we can scoff at the results of the research and say the swing type is the reason it didn’t work if the outcome is poor. The most important study is sprinting performance, but there is very little available, likely due to smart researchers knowing that it’s unlikely that kettlebellswings are secret speed weapons.

Trust coaches to know from trial and error if a solution works, as they have been experimenting due to the force of competition for decades. The first study looking at potentiating did hint that the population may not have the ability to create enough of a stimulation due to loading, but with recreational athletes, those are the realities.

True, technique matters, but if it requires so much precision to do, then the results need to be impressive with a follow-up study showing motion capture and speed testing. In summary, I don’t think swings will ever show up as a speed tool no matter how heavy or how skillfully athletes do them in training.

kettlebell swing
(Source: www.youtube.com)

Finally, most of the studies I see compare controls or workouts that resemble exercise programs for “unfit” populations. You can say that both weightlifting movements and kettle bell exercises have no effect on jumping, but to me this simply shows that performance and fitness research belong in separate worlds.

I am not going to cover the risks of injuries with kettlebellswings, but I do know some coaches will make an argument that they are dangerous because there is always a chance of someone getting hurt. The current buzz with swings is that they are alternative forms of power development due to a number on a force plate or activity from an Egg electrode.

No article demonstrated exciting findings for hamstring and glute recruitment, but I liked that the Australian study evaluated three styles of swings and showed that a good hinge makes a difference. Based on the findings of the hamstring exercise comparison, it appears that kettlebellswings are better suited for the semitendinosus rather than the biceps memoirs.

The kettle bell swing appears to be a good recruiter of the posterior thigh, but it’s just not special to the point we need it in our training arsenals. I hate to sound pessimistic, but based on lack of intervention studies and the interpretation of the acute Egg data, there is not enough infrared evidence to demonstrate that kettle bells are potent choices to help soccer teams stay healthy.

Like explosive strength, we need to compare what is the baseline we expect to help athletes rather than elderly patients or general populations. In summary, kettle bells for hypertrophy are not great, as power exercises are less about mechanical overload and more about rapid expressions of strength.

kettlebell swing exercises low impact knee
(Source: alwaysliveactive.com)

So, if you do recreational fitness and want to swing for some general health benefits and get some incidental muscle cross-section, have fun, but you won’t win an Olympia title any time soon. Most people look at conditioning as endurance, so kettlebellswings helping an athlete run faster at the end of a long match isn’t the same as someone trying to be fit for metabolic health.

Thus, we don’t see much in the research outside low-grade evidence that kettle bells can be a great circuit solution, but not an aerobic capacity session outside Tabata-style intervals. Swings are demanding in terms of muscular fatigue, so endurance athletes will likely not benefit from adding them or replacing conventional training.

Specificity matters as well, so swinging may increase mitochondrial changes, but running or cycling faster isn’t proven. If you want general fitness, kettle bells are promising; if you want athletic performance conditioning, they’re not appropriate for team or field sports.

I will save you the time and burden of deciphering the research and say this: Nothing in the studies demonstrates that if you dokettlebellswings for the typical 15 minutes or less, you will become the next champion in sport, but you could burn enough calories to become significantly leaner. Feel free to decide what works for you, but after digging in the research more to fully give kettle bells a fighting chance, they seem to be a great fit for general preparation and teaching, not for max speed or hypertrophy of advanced athletes.

Kettle bells are part of training and add much-needed variety to a general fitness program, but don’t expect them to be the missing ingredient in elite sport. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes.

kettlebell swings
(Source: www.youtube.com)

While the specific muscle benefits are clutch, the best part is that this movement translates to a more fit and powerful body overall. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that kettle bell swing training increased both maximum and explosive strength in athletes, while a study conducted by the American Council on Exercise found that kettle bell training (in general) can increase aerobic capacity, improve dynamic balance, and dramatically increase core strength.

“Because you are only using one side of your body, you must keep tension in your core at the top of the swing to stay balanced,” says Carr. “The one-handed swing is slightly more difficult because you're being challenged to control the entire movement with one side.

As a result, it's best to start with a lighter weight and build up as you become more comfortable with the movement.” Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a kettle bell on the floor about a foot in front of toes.

Hinging at the hips and keeping a neutral spine (no rounding your back), bend down and grab the kettle bell handle with both hands. To initiate the swing, inhale and hike the kettle bell back and up between legs.

C. Powering through the hips, exhale and quickly stand up and swing the kettle bell forward up to eye level. When you're done, pause slightly at the bottom of the swing and place the kettle bell back on the ground in front of you.

kettlebell swings popsugar
(Source: www.popsugar.com)

(Alternate swings with heavy kettle bell exercises for a killer workout.) To help you do this, blow your breath out when the kettle bell reaches the top, which will create tension in your core.

Let Men's Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. Before you pick up a weight and start waving it around, take note that it's extremely important to pay attention the movement here.

If you do those things right (and because we increasingly sit so much, we occasionally do it wrong), you’re squeezing your glutes and your lower body is driving your ability to stand up. This action is crucial to moving and standing correctly, and critical to improving your athleticism (and your squat and dead lift movements).

This doesn’t just miss the point of a kettle bell swing (hip extension) but it’s dangerous for your shoulders, too. You end up trying to finish the swing with your shoulders, placing your rotator cuff tendons in a compromised position.

The height of the kettle bell is strictly a function of how aggressively you straighten your legs and squeeze your glutes. Problem two: if your shoulder mobility isn’t ideal; you'll compensate by arching through the lower back.

kettlebell swing
(Source: www.youtube.com)

You absolutely must maintain the stiffness through your torso over the life of your swing set. Ex says: This is a lower body move, and your arms shouldn’t be anything more than a lever for the bell.

If you explosively and powerfully stand up, and really exaggerate that glute squeeze, your torso will naturally pop up and the bell will translate forward. Ex says: Critical in the kettle bell swing is not letting your lower back drive the movement.

If you’re having trouble getting that response, think of actively squeezing your glutes to drive the bell. Brett Williams, NASA Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men's Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running.

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.

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