When performed correctly, kettle bell swings build total-body strength, power, and balance, while improving cardiovascular stamina, all with one piece of equipment. Kettle bell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength.
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 kettle bell swing.
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.
When it comes to the kettle bell swing, the hip action we’re referring to is a hinging motion. 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 kettle bell swing 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.
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. To prove this, I am going to perform a kettle bell or in this case, a Legend Bell Front Flip.
Remember, you should not be trying to perform a front flip if you don’t have a solid 2-Hand Kettle bell Swing. Innit Academy is the most comprehensive database of information related to Unconventional Training, a unique new form of fitness methodology that focuses on functional strength, conditioning, and agility using the most efficient means and tools possible.
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If you have any questions or issues with the verification process, please don't hesitate to reach out to Customer Service. Although kettle bells have gained in popularity over the past decade, most people are unfamiliar with this particular style of training.
The kettle bell doesn't offer a unique benefit when you're doing a press or a squat, as compared to using a dumbbell or barbell. Part of the benefit a lot of people experience with kettle bells is simply because they start training with more whole-body exercises, rather than the isolation exercises commonly done in most commercial gyms.
As far as ballistic exercises go, kettle bell juggling is simply the next evolution. In fact, I've taught people who are beginners with kettle bells the basic juggling moves, and they've been able to get started right away.
But the truth is you can get started with the basic moves right away and by the end of this article you‘ll know how. Now, I will admit that it is more dangerous than the average kettle bell movements or other forms of exercise.
But part of this training is that you build faster reflexes and coordination so you're able to avoid the weight when it does come crashing down. Secondly, by working all the odd angles and awkward movements you're actually injury proofing your body.
By starting with a light weight and building up to more complex moves your body is able to handle forces that might make “normal” people scared. For a long time I was able to make the claim that I never hurt myself kettle bell juggling.
But then I finally did hurt myself when I tried a very complex trick (picture doing a cartwheel with a kettle bell in hand) with too heavy of a weight. A common idea is that juggling should be done with steel-toed shoes, but I’d rather have my feet be able to move quickly, so I like to be barefoot.
The last thing that stops many people am that kettle bell juggling pretty much has to be done outside. If you do it indoors, then you better have thick rubber mats to protect the floor (and then be careful of the resulting bounce).
The regular kettle bell ballistics are great in building hip extension and the posterior chain. A simple flip of the kettle bell can also be trained to the point of efficiency, but it will always take more effort than the swing itself.
And when you move into some of the more complex stunts, and definitely when using a heavier weight, you'll see just how quickly the endurance is jacked up. By working in all these different angles, including in places many trainers would have you believe you should never go, such as a rounded spine with rotation in it, you're strengthening your weak points.
By building up in this manner over time, which is done by progressing through the kettle bell juggling skills, all your weak links become much stronger. Sure, if you have a completely uncoordinated person who is just getting started with kettle bells they will build some coordination, but it's only up to a minor level.
With the swing you are absorbing force at the bottom and then redirecting it, reapplying it as you do the next rep. Kettle bell juggling takes us to a whole other level. There are few other things where you’ll find you want to continue your practice past the point of fatigue or even exhaustion, but it has been known to happen with kettle bell juggling.
But when I have the opportunity to build my skills in kettle bell juggling, I can have a blast doing it. There's even more benefits than this, but this list gives you a fairly well-rounded picture of what you can gain from doing kettle bell juggling.
Kettle bell juggling is extremely hard to teach through the written word. For those interested, I’ve created a whole progressive path of kettle bell juggling mastery.
The kettle bell swing 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. Even more than that it is a move that lets us explosively express what’s called “hip extension.”
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.
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.