Perfect the Kettlebell Swing
If you’re running a little behind at the gym and only have time to do one exercise, the kettlebell swing is a great choice. This explosive movement builds muscle and cardiovascular endurance at the same time, making it excellent for general fitness and cross training for just about any sport. It works the muscles along the posterior chain (everything on your backside from your head to your heels) to help negate the effects of sitting at a desk all day. It’s almost the perfect full-body exercise.
While the kettlebell swing looks simple, it’s a deceptively technical exercise, and the benefits are only realized when it’s executed with perfect form. Focus on these tips to get it right and add this versatile movement to your toolbox. Mixing it into a Tabata workout is a great way to practice, or add it as a circuit to your next strength day.
Key Point #1: The Swing is a Hinge, Not a Squat
There are several variations of the Kettlebell Swing (the Girevoy Sport/Kettlebell Sport “efficient” variation is shown here), but the standard form of the exercise is a hinge at the hips, not a squat. If you aren’t feeling a stretch in your hamstrings as you perform each repetition, you are probably bending at the knees and squatting rather than hinging at the hips and activating your posterior chain. Keep a tight core, straight back, and get your hips behind your centerline.
Key Point #2: The Swing is Explosive, Not Passive
The primary benefit of the Kettlebell Swing is the ability to use a ballistic, explosive movement with your hips to build core strength and conditioning. The key to this is an explosive hip “snap” to drive the weight forward.
If your hips aren’t moving behind your centerline, you are likely swinging the kettlebell like a pendulum between your legs. This could conceivably build some grip strength, but there is no way you’re improving your core strength. Move those hips and explode forward!
Key Point #3: Do Not Lean Back At the Top Of The Swing
Leaning back can be dangerous. I cannot emphasize this enough: The Kettlebell Swing is an explosive core strengthening exercise.—you need to be activating your core during the drill! This is achieved at the top of each repetition as the kettlebell reaches the apex of the swing.
The hip snapping movement described in point #2 ends when the kettlebell reaches 45 degrees out from your body. What stops the hip motion is the flexing of your gluteus maximus and your abdominals. Doing this should force your body into a completely vertical position with good posture, fully engaging your core.
Key Point #4: Let the Kettlebell Drag You Down, Don’t Follow It
The kettlebell should end up between your legs directly below your butt at the beginning and ending with good form. Your arms should be locked out, hips behind your center line, knees slightly bent, and your spine should be neutral.
This position is impossible to achieve if you are falling with the kettlebell rather than letting the kettlebell fall by itself and allowing it to drag you down with it. If you start hinging at the hips the minute the kettlebell starts falling, the kettlebell will end up in between your knees, much lower than proper form dictates.
Key Point #5: The Kettlebell Gets as High as Your Hip Explosiveness
Some organizations have strict rules about how high the kettlebell should end up at the apex of the Swing exercise (many say it should be at a completely parallel position to the ground.) At Divine Fitness SF, we only have guidelines. Ideally the kettlebell and your arms end up parallel to the ground at the top of the swing, but the height is really determined by how explosive you are with your hip snap.
If that hip snap only gets the kettlebell part way to a parallel position with the ground, so be it. Remember, trying to muscle through the movement by engaging your deltoids and upper body (essentially performing a front raise) is not the point of the exercise. Focus on explosive hip/core action. Don’t sacrifice form to meet some “objective.”
There you have it! Watch some videos online and practice incorporating these key points to good form. They may seem strange at first, but you’ll feel the difference when performing reps correctly.
Nick Divine is a certified Functional Strength Coach, CrossFit Level 1 and TRX Suspension trainer, and the founder of Divine Fitness SF