If you want to learn how to do a kettlebell swing, the first thing to know is you probably shouldn’t copy the people you see doing it in the gym. Why? Because most people are doing it poorly and can injure themselves. “In every gym I’ve been to, the technique seems to vary, and you see some horrific demonstrations,” says Ashton Turner, co-founder of London’s Evolve 353 gym. “The most common mistake you see is excessive knee bend and no hip drive. You also see too much arm involvement so it becomes a front raise. Ideally, your forearm should stay connected to your body until you drive your hips.”
But you’re different. You’re going to use our guide to use that little weight properly, because the benefits of this fundamental kettlebell exercise are legion.
Benefits Of The Kettlebell Swing
Explosive training moves such as this are ideal if you’re looking to lose fat. The kettlebell swing is one of your best gym weapons for high-intensity intervals as a “finisher” at the end of a weights workout to improve cardiovascular fitness and torch fat. And they’re just as good at building strength and power, according to research from the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research.
Subjects were tested for their half-squat one-rep max and their best vertical jump, then assigned a training plan of twice-weekly 12-minute kettlebell swing sessions of 30 seconds’ work, 30 seconds’ rest, or the same amount of jump squat training, which has already been shown to increase power output. After six weeks the kettlebell group reported a 9.8% increase in maximum strength and a 19.8% improvement in vertical jump height, which was similar to the gains seen in the jump squat subjects.
The kettlebell swing will also encourage you to keep your shoulders in a healthier position rather than slump forward at a desk. Overall you’ll gain muscle endurance, solid glutes, more flexible hips and – if you work at it – a core of steel.
How To Do A Kettlebell Swing
The two-arm swing is the first kettlebell move you should master. It will get you used to moving the bell and develop hip power.
Start with the kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you and between your feet, which should be shoulder-width apart. Bending slightly at the knees but hingeing mainly at the hips, grasp the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs to create momentum. Drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to send the kettlebell up to shoulder height. Let the bell return back between your legs and repeat the move.
“Don’t make the common mistake of using the upper body too much to get the weight moving,” says kettlebell king Mike Mahler. “This limits what you can lift and how many reps you can do, and makes you far more likely to develop back issues. Instead, you want all the power to come from the posterior chain and in particular the hamstrings and glutes. Put your entire body into each rep and keep the bell close to your body until the hip drive begins, and then use the hip power to swing the bell to shoulder level.”
The version we’ve described here is often known as the Russian kettlebell swing. The American one differs in that you let the weight swing all the way above your head, not shoulder height. Master the Russian one before trying to cross the Atlantic.
Perfect The Kettlebell Swing
Shoulders: Keep your shoulders relaxed to avoid shrugging the kettlebell and ending up with your shoulders around your ears.
Glutes: Activate your glutes by driving your hips through to a neutral position (where you are upright). Aim to keep your forearms attached to your hips until you reach neutral then, as your arms come up, squeeze your glutes to prevent overextending your lower back.
Head: Your head position should be neutral. The gap between your chin and your chest shouldn’t change.
Elbows: Use “soft” elbows throughout the swing. Keep your arms relaxed to take the tension out of your arm muscles and, instead, use the momentum of the kettlebell.
Knees: Your knees shouldn’t bend excessively during the swing – it should be a hip hinge motion. This is a posterior chain movement (the muscles on the back of your body), not a quads exercise.
Kettlebell Swing Variations
Once you’ve nailed the two-arm swing, start using these variations.
Kettlebell one-hand swing
“Keep your form similar to the two-hand swing,” says Turner. “It’s a very similar movement so concentrate on your hip drive. It requires more oblique work to prevent your body from rotating.”
Kettlebell swing swap
“Change hands at the highest point of the swing, where the kettlebell is weightless. You can take one hand off the kettlebell before the other hand is on it – but beginners should swap over while still holding on to the kettlebell.”
Kettlebell swing spin
“At the top of the swing, let go, rotating the kettlebell back towards you and catch it. You could be forgiven for thinking that people just do it to look flashy but it’s a good test of your co-ordination, timing and control of the kettlebell.”
Kettlebell Swing Workouts
Perform as many swings as you can in 60 seconds, using the form pointers above, and record the number of reps you complete. Rest for 60 seconds, then perform another minute of swings. Complete five rounds in total. Aim to beat your total rep score every time you attempt the challenge. “I do this as a quick and easy fat-burning exercise,” says Turner.
Do the following moves in order without resting:
- 10 double-arm swings
- 10 left-arm swings
- 10 right-arm swings
- 10 swing swaps
Then do nine reps of the same four moves and continue that pattern until you do one rep of each move.
“This is a great test of your grip strength,” says Turner. “It’s a quick high-rep workout that involves doing 220 reps in just 15 minutes.”
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Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.
- Joe WarnerFormer editor of Men’s Fitness UK