Kettlebell Swings - A Complete Guide and Workout
Since most of us are always looking for that "golden ticket," that cures all of our problems... Would you be mad if I told you the kettlebell swing is just that?
Before you make a snap judgment about kettlebell swings because you've seen a bunch of idiots in your gym doing them, let's go over why this exercise is a handy cure-all.
Anterior dominance is a term used to describe the hunched forward, shoulders rounded look that is plaguing humanity.
From sitting in your cubicle all day hunched over a keyboard to driving our cars home, our bodies are breaking down from a lack of exercise. Sitting down and your vocation can really impact your overall health and body.
Anterior dominance is when the anterior (front) part of your body is tighter than the posterior (rear) part of your body. This happens from sitting all day, slouching whenever you do anything, and not exercising.
Building a strong posterior chain helps us deadlift and squat more, it helps us maintain an erect posture, and it combats what sitting does to your body.
This position that we remain in most of the day causes muscle imbalances, tightness in the hips, and weakness. Our postures make us look lazy and socially unacceptable.
So what do we do?
We should start using an exercise touted as one of the most beneficial exercises to our overall health and fitness.
The kettlebell swing.
3 Tips to Perform a KETTLEBELL SWING Safely - With Joe Daniels
The Perfect Exercise?
Performing exercises with a kettlebell does a lot for our bodies. For instance, kettlebells provide:
- Muscle growth
- Explosive power
- Overall body strength
- Improved posture
- Improved mobility
While kettlebell swings are not super technical, they do take a little bit of practice to get the form down.
Kettlebell swings have been shown to aid in injury rehabilitation due to their functional pattern movements.
How to Perform the Kettlebell Exercise
If you're ready to jump into trying out some kettlebell swings, there's one more thing. Kettlebell exercises aren't really about moving weight - it's actually how you control your body to move around the weight.
If this is difficult to grasp so far, that's okay. I'm going to show you how to get started with kettlebell swings even if you don't have any. In fact, if you do have kettlebells, I'd invite you to try learning the form without using them yet.
There are two main parts to a kettlebell swing - the finishing position and the start position.
Starting with the finishing position first allows us to see where we should properly swing the kettlebell too. This also allows you to feel what bracing your body and maintaining overall tightness is - without the load.
So let's just jump right in.
Start in the Finished Position
Like I said earlier, there are two main positions to the kettlebell swing that you need to get acquainted with. Starting with the end is great because you can reverse engineer this movement.
1) Stand with your feet placed just outside of your shoulders. Your toes can point straight ahead or turned slightly out. This mostly depends on hip tightness and mobility - choose a position that is comfortable.
2) Make your hands into fists; similar to if you were actually holding onto a kettlebell. Hold your arms straight ahead of you so that they are parallel to the ground. Keep your elbows locked and your hands touching.
3) Maintaining tight shoulders, engage your lats so that you can actually feel tightness in your arm-pits. If you've never felt this sensation or don't really know how to engage your lats, have someone smack you on the back... Your lats will engage.
This is an essential part of the lift, so please learn how to maintain your shoulder tightness and keep that back tight.
4) Tighten your abs up like you're about to crap yourself... or about to be punched - whichever cue works for you. Don't bend forward, just tighten up like you just saw a cute girl and you don't have a shirt on.
5) Lastly, squeeze those glutes as tight as possible like you are pinching a penny in your cheeks.
Fun fact: This is literally why cheapskates are called tight-asses.
If you look in a side-profile mirror, you should now have an erect and straight body that you can draw a straight line from your shoulders down through your hips to your feet.
This is your finish position. The sensations you feel right now should be the same when under a load.
Practice this position for 5 to 10 seconds and relax. Repeat again as many times as you can. Practice makes perfect.
Even without a kettlebell in your hands, you will feel the tightness in your lats, abs, glutes, and your legs. Just think how much fat you will start burning when you are able to use weights.
Finish With the Start
Loading your kettlebell swing is how you get the explosive power from it.
The kettlebell goes from your finish position, passes between your legs, and builds tension in your posterior chain. It's similar to preparing for a huge vertical jump - you load your posterior chain up, you have a specific stance, and you explode.
1) Get your feet in the same stance you practiced the finished position.
2) Looking directly in front of you, keep your head up and your chest out while pushing your hips back. Imagine your hips as a hinge, so fold your hips back, not down.
Maintain weight over the middle of your foot as you start sitting back and loading your posterior chain. Slightly bent knees are okay, keeping them locked is not going to help give you the power or stability you're needing.
3) Thinking about jumping vertically up, take your hands and place them in between your legs with your arms locked straight. Maintain your tightness and angle of your body.
4) Feel your hamstrings stretch as you start shifting your weight to your posterior chain. Think of this like pulling a rubber band back - once you release, there's an equal but opposite reaction.
The more you can safely stretch and preload your posterior chain, the more force you will be able to produce.
5) Reset and find this position at least 5 to 10 seconds and as many times as you can. You'll know when you are doing it correctly.
One More Thing Before We Add Weights
Since the kettlebell swing has a start and finish, what happens in between is just as important. Before we grab our kettlebell since we've practiced for an hour, let's do one more thing.
Load up your swing (the start), hold it for a second and then stand up and find your finished position. Do this back and forth motion until you start feeling how it should be done.
Practice adding in hip explosion. Snapping your hips from the start position to the end position should make your hips and kettlebell swing outward. The more power you can produce, the more work and weight you will be able to move around.
Since we'll be professionals at this before we even pick up a weight, you know that we'll be burning a lot of calories.
Physical Cues During a Kettlebell Swing
With your whole body being involved in this move, it's hard to remember everything you need to be aware of. Here are a few cues to help you remember what body parts should do what.
Shoulders: Keep your shoulders relaxed, but maintain a lat tightness to keep them stable. KB swings aren't a shrug movement.
Head: Keep a neutral head position. This means you aren't kinking your neck and changing the gap size between your chin and chest. That gap should remain the same throughout the lift.
Glutes: Load and activate your glutes with the hip hinge motion. Squeeze your glutes tight once the kettlebell passes from between your legs. This will ensure you keep your upper back out of the equation.
Elbows: Keeping soft but straight elbows is important. The aim is to keep them safe, but let the kettlebell do the moving. Concentrate on gripping the kettlebell, but letting the momentum of the weight dictate how it swings.
Knees: Your knees shouldn't bend too much once you find the right position. This is a hip hinge motion, not a quad workout.
Kettlebell Swings Tips
This isn't a front lateral raise - Your kettlebell will swing up to your finish position due to the amount of power you've produced in your hips. Your arms, shoulders, and upper back should remain out of the equation (for the most part).
Take time to practice - Before I learned how to properly do KB swings I hated them and it hurt my shoulder. I couldn't understand how these people were able to do rep after rep and make it look easy.
Now I do.
Bonus: A Sample Kettlebell Workout
Since you know how to properly do a KB swing, how about we jump into our first workout?
This is just a sample of things you can do - this workout pushes your conditioning levels and will scorch some body fat when done consistently.
The Ten-Minute Torcher
This workout is straightforward and has a "jump right in" approach. Let's check it out.
1) Start by performing as many swings as possible in 60 seconds. Record the number of reps you complete.
2) Rest for 60 seconds (while you write down how many reps you did).
3) Perform another 60 seconds of swings and try to beat your reps from the previous set. It's going to be hard, but I know you can.
4) Rest again and complete this circuit for a total of 10 minutes. That means 5 work sets and 5 rest sets. This will throw in a lot of calories burned in just 10 minutes. Your body will feel tired and fatigued just like you spent 2 hours in a gym.