Have you ever heard somebody say “don’t do X exercise because it’s bad for your back / knees /(insert body part). Generally speaking, people who say these things don’t have a clue. They are uneducated in bio-mechanics or exercise science and just like to hear themselves talk.
The truth is that very few exercises are either inherently good or bad. However, the quality of execution can make a huge difference in risk level. And the kettlebell swing, which is one of my all-time favorite exercises, is one of those training methods where execution counts.
The kettlebell swing is, at its core, a loaded hip-hinge ,which means that it is a basic, fundamental human movement. If you can do a swing well, then you are increasing your overall fundamental movement capability for doing a lot of things well and living and moving better in life.
The kettlebell swing gets dangerous when performed with lumbar spine extension at lockout, which is a fancy way of saying “rounding your back.” When you extend your lower back in an explosive, weighted movement, then you are asking for trouble. So, the quality of your hip hinge matters more than how many reps you’re doing or how heavy the weight is. Note, that I keep mentioning hip hinge as this is the key movement.
It’s NOT a squat and this actually seems to be the single largest issue with most people. They turn into either a full-fledged squat or a half hinge/half squat thing. So, the rest of this article is geared to fixing that. And it all starts with the set-up.
Setup for the Kettlebell Swing
- Start with the kettlebell on the ground between your legs.
- Before hinging, exhale your ribs down to get good and tight in the core. Think of breathing with “tight” abs.
- Keep your weight balanced between three points: The balls of each foot and your heels. Keep your heels rooted solidly to the ground throughout the movement. If you lose your heels, you lose your hips and your lower back takes over.
- As you lower to the kettlebell, push your hips back to the wall behind you while hinging at the hips. Your hamstrings will be loading so you should feel tension and a good stretch in them.
- Your spinal position shouldn’t change as your hips move. Your abs stay locked and loaded so that you don’t arch your lower back.
- Flex your knees slightly as you push your hips back. Remember, it’s NOT a squat, so do NOT bend your knees. Just a slight softening.
- As your hips push back, grab the kettlebell handle.
Hut, Hut, Hike
- Start the swing by hiking the kettlebell behind you, as if you were a center in the NFL..
- Focus your eyes a few feet in front of you and keep your neck neutral.
The Forward Swing – Snap through the Hips
- As the kettlebell swings back, your hamstrings engage and act as a brake. When it gets as far back as it’s going to go, reverse it by standing up forcefully while maintaining good spinal position and hard abs. Snap your hips forward
- Don’t lift the kettlebell with your arms. The forward swing comes from your hip snap and the active contraction of your glutes at the top.
- The kettlebell should never travel above shoulder height. Keep it to around chest-height.
- At peak height (chest level or thereabouts), there will be a moment of “weightless float”. Let the weight fall back down on its own.
- Reverse the entire movement while maintaining a neutral spine, neutral neck, very slight knee flex and tight core.
- Think “hike” once again. Once you get going, it should be a like a pendulum swinging.
The 2 most common and useful cues that I have used with clients follow:
- Hike and Snap (as written above)
- Chest to ground.This is another good cue to use if you are doing more of a squat than a good hip hinge.What I mean by this is that at the hinge positon, your chest should be facing the ground, not parallel but your torso shouldn’t be upright either.
Everybody who knows me knows how much I love squatting, but as mentioned above, the kettlebell swing is a hip hinge, not a squat. If your knees are bending a lot, then you are not hip hinging properly. This is typically characterized by the fact that your chest never faces the ground, as your just bending your knees and moving in an up/down fashion.
Programming Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings can be used for building strength, hypertrophy and conditioning. It’s a wonderful and very useful tool. I use it primarily for conditioning, doing HIIT style finishers in superset fashion. This will burn loads of fat, as it cranks your heart rate through the roof.
As mentioned, swings are also fantastic for building your booty. So, if you’re a woman who wants a sexier booty or if you’re a guy, who wants to build glute power and strength, I would definitely recommend kettlebell swings.
For women who want to build a better booty, what are the 3 most effective exercises for doing that? Most will answer run, Zumba class, and spin. And they are WRONG.
The right answer is Squat, barbell hip thrusts and kettlebell swings. There is much evidence to prove this out, some of which comes from University based studies, but also a lot that is simply anecdotal. Just look at elite female cross fitters and compare their butts against elite female marathoners. No comparison – the cross fitters look better every time.
If you want to learn how to do kettlebell swings properly, let me know. I’m here to help.