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 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.
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.
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.
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. Your shoulder stabilizers engage to control the movement of the kettle bell.
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. “Swings work almost every major muscle in the body,” says Jacquelyn Boston, CSS, owner of Triple Fit in Chicago.
Hold a kettle bell in front of your body with both hands, arms straight. Use that momentum to stand and swing the kettle bell out in front of your body, up to shoulder height.
Thrust your hips forward, and engage your glutes and core as you stand up straight. When the kettle bell hits shoulder height, your knees should be straight and glutes contracted in a full hip extension.
Form tips: The emphasis in this move is on a hip hinge, not a squat, so make sure you have that movement pattern down before you pick up a ‘bell, Boston says. “The glutes and leg muscles generate force while the core musculature, shoulder girdle, and pecs stabilize to control the movement,” Boston explains.
They’re fabulous for developing power, improving core stability, building endurance, and improving muscle imbalances (like shortened hamstrings and weak glutes). The latter is almost impossible to control without hyper extending your lower back, and many people lack the shoulder mobility to fully and safely extend a weight overhead in this manner, Boston says.
What’s more, the variation used here—Russian Kettle bell Swings—allows you to use more power from your hips and legs, taking some strain off your shoulders as well. “Because it engages so many muscles and is dynamic in nature, you need adequate recovery time to prevent injury,” Boston explains.
Plan to work kettle bell exercises in general, not just swings, into your routine up to two or three days per week. Use the move's intensity to your advantage by including it in a HIIT workout, ideally paired with push ups, planks, and squats (all body weight movements).
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. Kettle bell swings are based on the dead lift movement pattern and hit almost every muscle in the body especially those of the posterior chain resulting in a stronger back and hips.
If you only had time to do one kettle bell exercise then KB swings would be a fine choice. It targets the posterior chain and essentially you are loading and reloading the back of the body as you accelerate and decelerate the kettle bell.
Also, at the bottom of the kettlebellswing you are decelerating its load and forcing the muscles to absorb and then reverse the swings' momentum. “ Over the last decade or so, kettle bell exercise has enjoyed a successful reintroduction into the fitness industry.
If your main objective is fat loss then there are not many single exercises better than the kettlebellswing. Kettle bell swings targets over 600 muscles in one go creating huge demands on energy consumption which in turn means more calories burnt.
Huge amounts of oxygen are required to fund the kettlebellswing movement so it only takes between 30 – 60 seconds before your heart and lungs are really working hard. Based on these observations, the “man-maker” kettle bell drill provided a metabolic challenge of sufficient intensity to increase _V O2max.
Big strength and conditioning gains come from eccentric movements which involve lengthening muscles under load. Look out though, eccentric movements are what make your kettlebellswing muscles feel sore the next day!
If you suffer with bad knees then often the swing can be tolerated due to the lack of excessive bend at the knee meaning you can still strengthen the legs, hips and your cardio without needing to squat or lunge. Kettle bell swings develops lots of explosive power through the hips and legs which is vital for most sports.
Unlike lots of other exercises you hardly need any room to perform the KB swing. Your feet will not move and the kettle bell will only extend slightly further than your hands so you could work out anywhere within a 6-foot square space.
You will get some conditioning through the quads but not as much as with squats or lunges, great for women because it will not bulk up the legs. Kettlebellswing muscles worked lower back should act in an isometric manner meaning that it should maintain a flat or neutral spine throughout the movement, the core muscles will help to maintain this position.
However, this is not such a bad thing as the chest is often overworked by men resulting in rounded shoulders. In fact kettle bell swings can help improve a chests' appearance by producing a more upright posture and pulling the shoulders backwards.
As mentioned, the kettlebellswing is a dynamic movement so caution needs to be exercised when selecting the right weight. You need to start with a basic movement skill called the hip hinge:
There are various different types of kettlebellswing (more on these later) but to begin with it is important that you master the basic hip hinge movement. “ Briefly, the swing exercise is initiated by driving the (15), loading the hamstrings while maintaining correct alignment between the back of the head, and the C8 and sacral vertebrae, and “packing” the shoulder neutral shoulder girdle).
The motion is then powerfully reversed, with the aim of projecting the hip girdle, and, as such the kettle bell, forward. The kettle bell should be vertical displaced to between hip and shoulder height, depending on the mass of the kettle bell, and swing exercise should be continued until the perceived “crispness” of the movement begins to decline. ( Lake and Lauder 2012)
Watch the tutorial video below which explains the importance of the hip hinge: To ensure that your weight distribution is correct you can practice a few kettle bell swings with your toes curled back towards you.
There should be a straight line running from your tail right up to your shoulders, these are all the kettlebellswing muscles of the posterior chain. Keep your chest raised high as if being pulled up by your rib cage.
If you find that your back starts to bend at the bottom part of the kettlebellswing then push your hips further backwards and don’t lean so far forwards. McGill (13) has also shown that conscious bracing of the abdominal wall during the swing will further stabilize the spine adding training tolerance ( Jones et al.)
It is important to realize that during the swing the shoulders are used merely as a connection between arms and body. The head needs to be positioned so that it creates a good alignment at the neck.
I will often teach beginners just to focus on the horizon as a lifted chin at the downward part of the kettlebellswing will help to keep the back flat. Depending on the width of the kettle bell handle you are using you may be able to hold on with all fingers from both hands, this is the best option.
During the swing the kettle bell is constantly trying to get away from you and so good grip is required just to keep holding on. The forward bending movement should come from a crease at the hips and not a dipping of the knees.
A good way to monitor this is to take the kettle bell only to the mid forearm on the inner thigh. The top of the kettlebellswing can vary and will be dictated by the strength and power of your hips and posterior chain.
The harder and faster you drive your hips forwards the higher the kettle bell will want to go. So a good hip snap but only a height of 45 degrees is a better start than using your shoulders to pull the kettle bell up the rest of the way.
This technique works inline with nature stimulating your extensor muscles as you straighten up and forces the air out as you fold forwards. As the weight increases your diaphragm steps in to help out your core muscles and stabilize your spine.
If you do opt for starting from the ground then start with the kettle bell 12 inches in front of your toes, load your hamstrings and entire posterior chain by putting your weight on your heels, brace your abs, pull back between your legs and then drive your hips forwards with everything you’ve got. Don’t attempt to twist your upper body and swing it to the side of your one foot.
During the last kettlebellswing repetition, decelerate its momentum as it swings between your legs and come to a steady stop in front of you, keeping your lower and upper back flat at all times. If your timing is off you will not generate the correct power through your hips and also “muscle” the kettle bell up more with your shoulders.
When the kettle bell is at its lowest point between your legs your hips should be the furthest back they can be. As mentioned earlier, all the power for the kettlebellswing comes from the hips and posterior chain.
If you want to generate the maximum amount of power then explode forwards with the hips and snap them to vertical. Solution: Don’t get into a rocking routine when you swing, remember its 2 moves, backwards and forwards, nothing else.
Solution: If your stance is too wide you will lack power and reduce the amount of leverage you have through your hips and knees. Swinging the bell just to horizontal with the floor or reducing the weight may also help you to master this technique.
Solution: Ensure that the complete kettlebellswing comes from the hip snap and not the shoulders. If you are getting sore upper back or neck muscles you are probably using your arms and shoulders too much.
If you find that you are getting a very sore back then re-address your technique starting at the hip hinge. Solution: As the kettle bell reaches the transition period at the bottom between your legs ensure that the bell does not flick.
Solution: A common problem when your weight is not kept in the middle and heels of the feet. Solution: Often the knees will want to splay outwards to allow for the kettle bell to swing between the legs.
If you find this is happening sit further back on your heels and keep your chest up. Solution: Keeping your head up at the bottom part of the kettlebellswing can cause a jarring of the neck if you go too low.
Solution: Don’t be lazy starting and finishing your swings this is the worst time to take your eye off your technique. Keep your back flat and use your hips to pick up and put down the bell.
The kettle bell is held with both hands so the total body works in a symmetrical forwards and backwards movement. Swinging the kettle bell with one hand does two things: firstly it doubles the load on the one shoulder joint and secondly it pulls the upper body into rotation requiring more core stabilization.
“The study showed for the first time that 1-armed kettlebellswing induced greater activation of the contralateral side of the upper erector spinal than that of the ipsilateral side and greater than during 2-armed swing. The lower erector spinal or external oblique was similarly activated on both sides during both swing exercises.
With the alternating swing the brain has to start working a little harder, you need to focus or you can miss and drop the kettle bell. You will need lots of focus and a good swinging technique to perform this effectively and safely.
Progression : there are no specific requirements to move onto the walking swing because the movements are very different. Great for training outside and to add an addition element to the regular two handed swings.
Progression : once you reach this point you are very comfortable with the swing and the next two variations can be completed when you feel ready. Holding a kettle bell in each hand will double the load placed on your total body so be careful.
The kettle bell is taken across the upper body rather than between the legs so you also need to be careful not to hit the front knee. As you continue practicing and working on the kettlebellswing you will get to a point where you need to increase the kettle bell weight.
I have found the following system very effective for knowing when to increase the weight safely: It has taken years of teaching and training with kettle bells to discover all these finer points so please save yourself some time and learn from my experience.
Remember to first master the hip hinge before moving on to two handed KB swings. Go nice and steady and you’ll be falling in love with the results that short and simple kettlebellswing workouts can deliver.
The kettlebellswing targets 100’s of muscles in one movement creating huge demands on energy consumption which in turn means more calories burnt. Kettle bell swings are therefore a great way to improve physical endurance, muscle strength and conditioning, cardiovascular functions, and increase lung efficiency.
Yes, at the top position of the kettlebellswing the core has to work hard to control your pelvis and prevent you from overextending your hips.