The Kettlebell Swing
The Kettlebell is an Ancient Russian Weapon Against Weakness” – Pavel. The father of everything kettlebells has shed a tremendous amount of light on such a great tool that can be used in multiple ways to help positively impact player performance.
The Russian Style Kettlebell Swing is one of the most commonly used exercises with a kettlebell. This exercise can be manipulated in many ways to achieve what we are looking for. Kettlebells can be used to develop hip power, grip strength, cardiovascular endurance, eccentric posterior chain strength and coordination between the hips and hands. Depending on the number of sets and reps performed and the work to rest ratio, the swing can achieve all of the above.
The swing is a maximal hip hinge with minimal knee bend. The body needs to be tight and rigid enough to hold together but loose enough to move. A few common mistakes when performing the KB swing include:
Below are some common mistakes and cues and solutions to fix them:
- Lowering into a squat
- KB swing is a hip-dominant exercise. Let the knees bend slightly but most of the movement involves bending at the hips, not the knees. Review hip hinge pattern.
- Using the arms
- KB swing is a lower body exercise, not a shoulder exercise. Arms control the KB they don’t pull it up. Keep arms relaxed, think about hip drive
- Ignoring the core
- A strong core provides a stable base from which the arms and hips can move. At the top of the swing brace your core like your about to be punched in the stomach
- Bringing the KB too high
- Don’t allow KB to rise higher than shoulder height. Work your hips, not your shoulders. Actively pull the KB into hips once at shoulder height.
- Inability to maintain a neutral spine
- Brace core, chin down and shoulders back and down.
- Excessive low back extension at the top of the swing
- Brace core and glutes at the top. Be as tall as possible (full extension).
- Knees shifting or sliding forward
- Drive hips and knees back avoiding a squat like pattern. Push the butt to the wall.
- KB below the knees during bottom of the swing (can cause low back pain)
- Keep hands close to the groin. Catch the kettlebell with your hips.
- Failing to breathe along with the swing
- Inhale as KB lowers and exhale on the upward swing.
Examples of a few ways to utilize the Kettlebell Swing
In each of the aforementioned KB swings, the set-up and swing are almost identical. The player sets-up with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width with the KB positioned approximately one-foot in front of the body. He bends over at the waist with his back flat and almost parallel to the floor and grabs the KB with both hands in the traditional, banded and partner assisted swings and with one hand in the single-hand KB swing. The palms are facing the body in each method and the core is tight and the chest and shoulders are square throughout the movement.
With his shoulders down, back and the core braced, the player hikes the KB off the ground and allows it to swing between his legs like a center in football. The knees should bend slightly during this movement and the back should be kept flat and the neck straight. From this position, the player forcefully drives his hips forward to propel the KB into the air up to shoulder-height and then lets it swing down and back between the legs. As the KB moves downward, the player moves immediately and fluidly into the next rep. On the final rep, the player lets the KB swing back through his legs and then places it on the ground approximately one foot in front of his body. The player inhales during the downward phase and exhales during the lifting(swing) phase.
In the one-hand KB swing, the player must constantly fight the tendency for the body to rotate to one side of the body by keeping his chest square throughout the movement. In the banded swing, the partner works against the resistance of a band on the upward phase and the band helps speed up the downward phase to increase eccentric force and increase powerful acceleration. In the partner assisted KB swing, the partner mimics the action of the band.
Jacob Bunce MS, RSCC, CSCS, EP-C, USAW