How To Program Kettlebell Swing

Maria Johnson
• Wednesday, 09 December, 2020
• 7 min read

If you’re looking to take your swing ability from OK to masterful while enjoying a plethora of accompanying performance improvements in other areas, this is for you. I’m happy to have this conversation over a beer or match latte if I’ve already insulted any religious beliefs.

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People who swing regularly (with proper technique) develop great strength in their low back, grip, torso and booty. A massive work volume can be accomplished in a short space of time making swings a go to for quick effective workouts.

Like good Napa red wine complements Welsh cheddar cheese. The kettle bell must be swung to anywhere between belt and lower sternum height and must be parked like a pro after every set.

In March 2015, I received a call from the head of this strength education school asking me to test the protocol to determine whether it was reasonable for any able-bodied person to pass given a few months of dedicated training. After just 10 minutes with the 32 kg, I was left in a sweaty heap on the floor and my glutes and abs were on fire.

More importantly, there was no way anyone with less-than-adequate swing technique could pass, so it served as a great requisite for students to become certified. I enjoyed the training process so much that after fulfilling my oath, I made another pledge to pass it with 48 kg in the next certification 12 months later (September 2016).

This program has helped numerous others of varied abilities make huge swing gains. The Hard style swing test was applied to hundreds of students in the U.S.A. and U.K. over the course of two years before the certifications morphed away from kettle bells and into general athleticism.

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Hats off to RIF for creating it because it’s a hell of a stand-alone workout and a great means of setting kettle bell ability benchmarks. Over the years I’ve applied this program to many others of different abilities and have seen amazing results.

As long as the shoulder remains packed (depressed and not protracted) it makes little difference. Some people prefer to keep it ruminated throughout because this helps them pack the shoulder at the bottom position, but it can also cause elbow pain from overextension.

Your posture should be tall with both shoulders depressed, a proud chest and a long neutral neck (chin tucked in). The kettle bell floated up to arrive here so there’s no reason for your body to be twisted into rotation or holding a lot of tension.

At this stage it’s important to maintain your upright position for as long as possible, which should be just as your forearm makes contact with the pelvis. This sends the kettle bell way too close to the floor and creates a very weak pattern that puts a great deal of undue stress on the low back.

Just as the forearm is about to make contact with the pelvis is when you shoot your butt back into an explosive eccentric hip hinge. During the back swing, inhale while moderately contracting your pelvic floor and transverse abdominal.

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This creates considerable intra-abdominal pressure in the bottom position, so you’re like a coiled spring ready to lift off. You have a continuous line of fascia from the top of your eyebrows to your toes via the back of your body (Thomas Myers’ Anatomy Chains).

Forty percent of the power generated in the swing comes from fascia not contracting muscles (Carla Stucco’s Functional Atlas of Human Facial System). Extending the neck at the bottom position by looking forward shortens your chain at one end while lengthening it further down, thus you’ve cheated yourself out of potential power.

That said, if you can swing your arm back while keeping your sternum pointing down to the floor with no rotation, crack on (most people can’t, though). The instance you reach the bottom position, explosively drive your feet through the floor.

Unlike the top position, which is relatively restful, the faster you can rebound from your back swing to your upswing the better. As you’re driving your feet through the floor, you’re also increasing your tension-o-meter in your lower abdomen from medium to near max.

The massive effort to create explosive movement ends when your hips and knees reach extension: tall posture, spine and neck long, proud chest, shoulders depressed and not protracted. If this applies to you, teaching yourself to engage your hamstrings as much as your quads and drive your heels down (not back) could be a game changer.

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From here it floats peacefully up to the 8 or 9 o’clock position (belt-to-lower sternum height) before falling back down again with no influence from your arm whatsoever. The relative rest is necessary for repeatedly producing the appropriate power in the bottom half of the movement.

A swinger may have nailed all the other components such as body position, kettle bell trajectory and breathing. However, most good swingers maintain a pretty constant speed throughout with approximately the same rate of deceleration and acceleration at the bottom and top.

Solid swing technique requires bare feet and a hard floor surface. The more cushioning present between skin and floor the more ground reaction force will be lost every time you drive your feet down.

I prefer bare feet to minimalist shoes where possible because this facilitates better feeling of the floor and better ability to spread the toes. Feeling the floor allows you to apply pressure through the three points of the feet, which is necessary for creating the most stability thus producing the most power.

All three points remain firmly planted through all parts of the swing and the front two are being drawn back to the heel creating an arch. Start every session with a good 15- to 20-minute mobility flow that fully lubricates your major joints, activates your stabilizers and addresses weak links in your movement ability.

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Your ability to perform 10 swings every 30 seconds, 20 times with any given load marks a graduation with that kettle bell (part a goal). It’s less overall volume if you do the math and feels easier due to the extra few seconds of rest per set.

Immediately drive your feet through the ground with thunderous effort while creating massive tension in the lower abdominal region. Then the kettle bell floats freely up to approximately lower sternum height offering a moment of slowness and peace before all hell breaks loose again.

Alternatively, if you’re not feeling on top form just cruise through the 15 minutes at moderate effort and you’ll have still accomplished a great little training session. The reduced friction helps develop an isometric hook grip like that of a vice.

However, if you have the time, energy or desire you could add another 10- or 20-minute segment doing anything that lives in another movement pattern (crawling, squats, push-ups, get-ups, bent press, etc. A: Yes, but your hip-hinge pattern is covered, so I wouldn’t advise doing anything else in that movement family with much intensity or volume (dead lifts, power cleans, hip thrusters, etc.).

If you added some get-ups, squats, crawling and/or push-ups onto the end of every swing session, your program would cover all the bases. I almost always did three sessions per week during swing phases because I’m impatient and wanted the fastest gains.

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If so, then you have everything you need for a full-body workout that'll burn plenty of calories and help you pile up glute, hamstring, and core strength, too. Get ready for a “cardio” workout that takes place far from the treadmill or the track and prep for KettlebellSwing Conditioning Hell, a fire-breathing workout that'll have your entire body gassed in less than 10 minutes from Men's Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

“But you can do it with any alternate load too, from a big water jug to a backpack filled with books, to a dumbbell.” Either way, over the course of 8 minutes, you'll pile up 160 total kettle bell swings.

That's enough to ramp up your heart rate, says Samuel, and by the final sequence, your body will be at its limits. Shift your right foot back slightly, lifting your heel off the ground.

Shift your left foot back, lifting your heel off the ground. Either way, you'll be smoking your entire posterior chain, building strength, challenging your lungs, and incinerating calories.

For more tips and routines from Samuel, check out our full slate of Ex and Sole workouts. If you want to try an even more dedicated routine, consider Ex's New Rules of Muscle program.

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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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