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 perfectkettlebellswing. 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. 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 perfectkettlebellswing 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. Dropping to a squat turns it into an up-and-down movement rather than an explosive thrust.
Start and finish the swing by loading, firing, and hinging at the hips. Over the years, I’ve seen the Russian kettlebellswing improve the performance of a diverse group of athletes, including endurance legend Lance Armstrong and 1,000-pound dead lifter Andy Bolton.
The benefit : Feeling the ground and gripping it with your toes allows you to recruit the right muscles—your hamstrings and glutes. Moreover, cushy shoes make it easy to rock forward, which puts your back at risk.
Training barefoot on a firm surface is best for both safety and performance. Do it : Keep your back flat, your shins vertical, and your weight loaded mostly in your heels.
Do not attempt swings unless you can perform a quality dead lift. 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. Starting your swing with a “hike pass”—like a center snapping the ball between his legs to a quarterback—will optimally load your hamstrings. Hammering big, powerful muscles in your lower body can help you drop pounds—just like these other 61 Ways to Lose Weight.
Do it : Place a kettle bell on the floor in front of you and stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. The benefit : The kettle bell should feel weightless as it floats up in front of you.
It means that you used your hips to power your swing, rather than your arms and traps. The more powerful your swing, the longer the kettle bell will feel like it's floating.
The benefit : A bow string snaps into a straight line when you release it—and so should your body. It will help protect your back, give you a great abdominal workout, and teach you how to generate power for contact sports.
Do it : At the top of the swing, perform a “vertical plank.” Pull up your kneecaps, clench your glutes, and brace your abs as if you’re about to take a punch. Check out the 25 Best Abs Exercises for more awesome movements to strengthen your six-pack.
The benefit : Focusing on your breaths will help to strengthen your abs, enhance your explosive power, and protect your spine throughout the movement. As you snap your hips forward into the vertical plank position, make a loud sound by pushing air through your teeth.
The benefit : Not allowing space between your arms and torso as you pass the bell between your legs will maximize the explosiveness of your next rep. Do it : You have just done a powerful rep. You are planking at the top of your swing and the bell is momentarily hanging weightless. As soon as the kettle bell starts falling, guide it back between your legs—a less aggressive version of a hike pass.
The benefit : The handle of the bell should remain higher than your knees. One guy lost 18 pounds of fat in just 6 weeks.
Not only does this keep your elbows safe, but it also helps you transmit maximal power from your hips to the kettle bell. Do it : Lock your elbows and tense your triceps slightly.
Your elbows may flex a little at the top of the swing, but they must stay straight throughout the rest of the movement. At no point should they disconnect from your body, moving up or rounding forward.
Keeping your shoulders in this position is safer and allows greater power transmission from your hips to the kettle bell. Don’t rush and be careless for the sake of breaking a sweat.
Do sets of 10 reps on the minute for as long as you can maintain maximum power. On the surface it seems like the rest is very generous, but remember that we are after power, not “burn.”
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.