Kettlebell swings, how to do them and when to use them

What’s a kettlebell swing ?

Over the last decade or so, kettlebell exercise has enjoyed a successful reintroduction into the fitness and health industry. This has been based around exercises that are relatively easy to perform, and tend to involve the whole body and one maybe two kettlebells.

One of the most common exercises and often the foundation exercise is the kettlebell swing

What are the benefits of kettlebell swings ?

It seems that the humble kettlebell swing packs a fair old punch in the benefits department. Below are listed the identified benefits of using swings:

What muscles are used with kettlebell swings ?

2 handed kettlebell swings have been shown to be very effective at increasing the activity of

  • The posterior back muscles : Erector spinae.
  • Abdominals
  • Obliques
  • Gluteal muscles
  • Thigh muscles

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Are kettlebell swings good for me if I have low back pain?

As with any exercise we need to think about if it is the right tool to use at the right time.

The kettlebell swing is a dynamic hip hinge movement and the hip hinge movement pattern is often used as an exercise in back pain and lower limb exercise programs.

As this is more dynamic its best to be guided by your physio about when and if to introduce this exercises. The dynamic component may aggravate someone if they have not mastered hip hinging and bracing or their condition is still quite irritable. However this does not mean it should not be used. Being able to perform dynamic movements with load may actually form part of how you bullet proof your low back.

As such its best to incorporate the kettlebell swing after time spent building up low back and hip strength with alternative hip hinge exercise.

Is there a difference between single handed and double handed kettlebell swings ?

The 2 arm kettlebell swing is easier  to learn and is the first variation to be taught. It teaches us how to hip hinge, how to maintain a neutral spine under load, and to develop strength and power in the legs.

The 1 arm kettlebell swing is more advanced because it increases the stability required to maintain the neutral spine in a dynamic loaded movement. You have to work harder with the core and trunk to prevent too much rotation as you swing.

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How do i get started with kettlebell swings ?

Start position

  • Maintain a flat back (neutral spine)
  • Keep chest up
  • Keep neck in a neutral line.
  • Sit on slightly flexed knees.
  • Brace your abdominals

Action

The movement comes from the hips, the arms stay relaxed and essentially just act as hooks.

  • Swing the kettlebell back bringing the wrist to inner thigh (don’t go further back)
  • Engage the hips to push the kettlebell forwards.
  • Relax arms and let kettlebell swing naturally upwards.
  • Snap the hips forward and squeeze glutes to lockout
  • Keep the arms straight
  • Swing to chest height

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Kettlebell swing references:

Beardsley, Chris MA (Hons)1; Contreras, Bret MA2 The Role of Kettlebells in Strength and Conditioning, Strength and Conditioning Journal: June 2014 – Volume 36 – Issue 3 – p 64-70

Hulsey, Caleb R.1; Soto, David T.1; Koch, Alexander J.2; Mayhew, Jerry L.1,3 Comparison of Kettlebell Swings and Treadmill Running at Equivalent Rating of Perceived Exertion Values, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2012 – Volume 26 – Issue 5 – p 1203-1207

Lake, Jason P.; Lauder, Mike A. Kettlebell Swing Training Improves Maximal and Explosive Strength, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2012 – Volume 26 – Issue 8 – p 2228-2233

Edinborough, Luke; P. Fisher, James; Steele, James A Comparison of the Effect of Kettlebell Swings and Isolated Lumbar Extension Training on Acute Torque Production of the Lumbar Extensors, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2016 – Volume 30 – Issue 5 – p 1189-1195

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