When performed correctly, kettle bell swings build total-body strength, power, and balance, while improving cardiovascular stamina, all with one piece of equipment. If that sounds too good to be true, maybe it’s because you’ve never swung a kettle bell with pinpoint precision.
With this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn to use your legs (and hips, glutes, and core) to perform the perfect kettlebellswing. As it turns out, dancing the salsa and swinging a kettle bell have a lot in common.
But they do share a coaching cue that makes every movement possible: It’s all in the hips. The swing begins to take shape when the kettle bell is added into the mix.
With loose arms and a light grip, the kettle bell is swung from inside the quads up to the chest, just before eye level—in the Russian version anyway (more on this later). To the untrained eye, the swing appears to be a feat of upper-body strength: Simply squat and then stand up while pulling with the arms.
Performing the perfect kettlebellswing places all the emphasis on the posterior chain—the major muscles on the backside of the body from the heels to the base of the neck, primarily the hamstrings, glutes, and low back. And unlike the little movers (calves, biceps, triceps, and deltoid), the big movers are capable of moving big weight and burning massive amounts of calories.
But the good news is its a piece of fitness equipment that actually lives up to the hype. Consider this: A study seeking to analyze the effectiveness of kettle bell exercise concluded that “kettle bells provide a much higher-intensity workout than standard weight-training routines and offer superior results in a short amount of time.”
The same study went on to say that the benefits of kettle bell training extend beyond strength and stamina by helping people “burn calories, lose weight, and enhance their functional performance capabilities.” Keep arms long and loose while squeezing shoulders blades together and engaging your core.
Soften knees, shift body weight into heels, and lower butt back and down toward the wall behind you. Driving through heels, explode through hips to send weight swinging upward from quads.
Achieving this finish position requires you to snap your hips through, contracting your core while squeezing glutes. As the kettle bell begins to descend, let the weight do the work as you ready your body for the next rep.
Shift weight back into heels while hinging at the hips and loading both the hamstrings and glutes. Receive the weight, allowing the kettle bell to ride back between legs.
As it makes the transition from backward to forward, drive through the heels and hips to repeat. There’s nothing like an arms race to create animosity among nations (or in this case, coaches and their respective exercise communities).
Instead of stopping at eye level, the American swing finishes with the arms and kettle bell overhead. Our expert Chris Finn, certified personal trainer at Life Time at Sky and Strongest level-two kettle bell instructor, never recommends the American swing due to the risk of injury to your shoulders.
That said, the decision on where to pledge your allegiance should be based on personal ability level and safety. Paying close attention to a proper swing will ensure a successful—not to mention injury-free—workout.
Start and finish the swing by loading, firing, and hinging at the hips. Kettle bell Swings were once exclusively performed by athletes in the Soviet Union.
Now you'd be hard-pressed to walk through a gym and not see at least one person doing this incredibly versatile exercise. You need to master several KettlebellSwing form tips to get the most out of this fantastic exercise.
Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a kettle bell about a foot in front of you on the ground. Step 2: Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core before starting the exercise.
Step 3: Lift the kettle bell off the ground and allow it to swing between your legs. Step 4: Forcefully drive your hips forward to propel the kettle bell into the air.
As the kettle bell lowers, move immediately and fluidly into the next rep. Step 6: On your final rep, allow it to swing back through your legs, and then place it a foot in front of you on the ground.
A loose core makes for a sloppy KettlebellSwing and puts stress on your spine. Imagine that your upper body is in a plank position with your torso hinging on your hips.
This keeps your spine in the proper position and makes your glutes, not your lower back, do the majority of work. We advise athletes to avoid this variation, as it places extra stress on the shoulders and spine.
The rhythmic nature of the KettlebellSwing makes it a wonderful move for improving your breathing technique. Take a deep diaphragmatic breath (through your stomach) as the kettle bell lowers, and exhale fully during the swing.
They explosively extend the hips and drive them forward, creating the power needed to swing the kettle bell. Your quads extend your knees to provide an extra power boost.
Your core and back muscles engage to keep your torso stable and your spine in a neutral position. These muscles also help decelerate the kettle bell during the downswing, while maintaining control of your body.
The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern that all athletes should perfect. It's important for athletic skills like jumping, and for exercises like the Dead lift and Squat.
This allows your strong and powerful glutes to maximally contribute to the movement, while keeping your lower back safe. The moves require lots of practice and great coaching—heck, these lifts are sports on their own.
You don't get a full triple extension—of the hips, knees and ankles—and you can't use as heavy of a weight. In a study led by renowned spinal researcher Dr. Stuart McGill, it was found that the KettlebellSwing puts forces on the spine in the opposite direction from Dead lifts and other similar exercises.
We're not saying the Dead lift is a bad exercise—it's one of our favorite lifts—but if you're dealing with back pain, the KettlebellSwing might be a smarter option. Since the KettlebellSwing is a full-body movement, it's a great option for conditioning and training muscular endurance.
According to an ACE Fitness study, a Kettle bell Snatch workout, which is similar to the Swing, burns approximately 20 calories per minute. However, the focus of the exercise is on the hip hinge, which is driven by the glutes and hamstrings.
You will use lighter weight than the traditional Swing, but the single-arm variation is more challenging for your core. The amount of weight an experienced lifter can use is significantly different from what a beginner can handle—as with any exercise.
We always advise starting on the lighter side so you can focus on mastering technique and not on the difficulty of moving the weight. Once you perfect your form, gradually increase the weight so your muscles feel challenged in your set.
The kettlebellswing is a core training staple that can help to build total body strength and power, but are you sure you're even doing the exercise correctly? For this explosive movement, you shouldn't settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it's such a simple, essential exercise that should serve as one of the centerpieces of your training plan.
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.
The way that you start your swing position is essential, as is your body's posture throughout—so let's break down everything you need to know. 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 kettlebellswing (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.
Ex says: The American kettlebellswing has you swinging to a wildly high target (overhead) and that’s problem one. Problem two: if your shoulder mobility isn’t ideal; you'll compensate by arching through the lower back.
Swing Cues Ex says: Your upper body isn’t the driver of the kettlebellswing ; it’s only a lever. 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 kettlebellswing is not letting your lower back drive the movement. 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.
Keep arms long and loose while squeezing shoulders blades together and engaging your core. The benefit: Imagine that your hamstrings are a bow and the kettle bell is an arrow. The farther you stretch your hamstrings, the more tension you create, and the more powerful your swing.
The KettlebellSwing The basics of the movement are simple: Place a kettle bell on the floor in front of you. From a sumo dead lift stance, “hike pass” the bell back between your legs until your forearms make contact with your inner thighs.
To set the weight up, make a triangle with the kettle bell and your feet, with your feet at the bottom of the triangle and the kettle bell about a foot in front of you at the top of the triangle. The kettlebellswing is a common movement — that’s commonly done wrong. Push your hips back keeping your butt high and bend your knees slightly.
Stand with your feet wider than. Make the movement at the hips get you to the point where your hands can grab the kettle bell handle. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and hold the kettle bell upside down by the handle with both hands positioned at chest level (so the flat part of the bell is facing up); pinch your glutes and abs, and drive your heels into the ground.
From Glute Lab: The Art and Science of Strength and Physique Training by Bret Contreras, Glen CordozaVictory Belt Publishing, 2019 Follow the top-down setup as demonstrated in the kettlebellswing (page 242). From Becoming a Supple Leopard 2nd Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance by Kelly Sterrett, Glen CordozaVictory Belt Publishing, 2015 Lift the arms up behind the head with the upper arms parallel to the mat.
From Sculpt and Shape: The Pilates Way by Yasmin Karachiwala, Deena DhallaRandom House Publishers India Pvt. Limited, 2015 Variations:: To add difficulty, deepen the squat, place a Swiss ball between the back and the wall or stand on a balance cushion.
From Respiratory Muscle Training E-Book: Theory and Practice by Alison McConnellElsevier Health Sciences, 2013 You can even pull it straight up, if you feel confident that you can reverse the movement before the kettle bell flicks over and hurts your wrists (the handle may not be wide enough for two hands in that position). From The Russian Kettle bell Challenge: Extreme Fitness for Hard Living Comrades by Pavel TsatsoulineDragon Door Publications, 2001 Hold the kettle bell straight up with the right arm and place your left arm directly overhead with the palm up facing the ceiling.
From Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple by Pete McCallum Kinetics, Incorporated, 2018 The kettlebellswing is a fundamental skill that is great for beginner to advanced athletes.
Part of this what the hell effect is related to reversing the momentum of the kettle bell. Athletes even note increases in pull-up strength as a proper swing engages back and shoulder muscles.
The Gregory Sport style swing is a great exercise that relies on efficiency of movement, so that one can perform it for long durations. The hard-style swing relies on putting maximum effort into each rep.
Hinge, don’t squat: The swing is a simple exercise that is done wrong in so many popular media sources. If you think of a bullet fired out of a gun, it receives all of its power initially and then relies on momentum to get to its destination.
The hips provide the explosive power throwing the kettle bell up in the air and the arms are there just for the ride. Location on the downswing is important: Ensure the kettle bell passes between your legs on your upper thighs.
As Dave Whitley says, it is like playing chicken with your man or lady parts. The first issue is that people tend to either squat too much or don’t bend the knees at all (like a bird drinking water).
It is simpler to teach than Olympic barbell movements and it provides overlapping benefits (strength, speed, and explosiveness). It also fits the middle ground of building strength and burning fat.
By adjusting the weight, we can train elite dead lifters or fitness models. Strong glutes have aesthetic properties, but also protect the low back from injury.
By doing a proper kettlebellswing, we reduce the chance of low back injuries. It utilizes the kettlebellswing to build power, strength, as well as burn fat.