The Kettlebell Swing – Introduction
What are the benefits of kettlebell swings for you?
Kettlebells are not new.
Just like dumbbells and barbells, they’ve been around for hundreds of years.
But, in the last decade or so, they’ve seen a resurgence in popularity, not least because they are a part of so many CrossFit workouts.
There are hundreds of kettlebell exercises to choose from, and each one is uniquely beneficial.
Of all the exercises you can do with a kettlebell, the swing is arguably the most popular and may even be the most valuable.
Many fitness enthusiasts believe that squats and deadlifts are the kings of exercise.
But Tim Ferris says “the two armed kettlebell swing is the king and is all you need for dramatic body recomposition results”.
This post will reveal the main kettlebell swing benefits and how to do them correctly.
Kettlebell Swing Benefits
It takes time to master the kettlebell swing, but once you’ve got it nailed, this exercise has a wide range of benefits.
The Kettlebell Swing – Single Best Exercise EVER?
#1. A stronger posterior chain
The posterior chain is the collective term for the muscles that make up the back of your body, including the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and upper back.
These muscles are crucial for better posture, as well as improved sports performance.
Kettlebell swings are one of the best kettlebell exercises for developing the entire posterior chain.
#2. Fat loss and weight loss
Kettlebell swings use a lot of muscles, including those in the lower and the upper body.
That means they use a lot of energy when you do them.
Tim Ferriss writes glowingly about the fantastic benefits of the kettlebell swing for rapid fat loss and body recomposition in his New York Times Best Seller “The Four Hour Body.”
He brings as proof the example of 41-year old Tracy Reifkind, who weighed 245 pounds and succeeded in losing 100 pounds in 11 months, only doing exercises with a kettlebell!
And more dramatically, she lost 45 pounds in the first 12 weeks by doing the Russian kettlebell swing twice a week for 15 – 20 minutes.
Many fitness enthusiasts believe that squats and deadlifts are the kings of exercise.
But Tim Ferris says, “the two armed kettlebell swing is the king and is all you need for dramatic body recomposition results.”
#3. Increased cardiovascular fitness
Kettlebell swing training is excellent for your heart and lungs, as well as your muscles.
You can also do interval training with a kettlebell.
Because they are a full-body movement, kettlebell swings will drive your heart and breathing rate sky-high, which makes them a beneficial and challenging cardiovascular exercise.
#4. Better deadlift performance
Weighty kettlebell swings strengthen the same muscles used in deadlifts.
The main difference between swings and deadlifts is the speed of movement each one employs.
Kettlebell swings are fast and explosive, while deadlifts are much slower.
Kettlebell swings teach you to be quicker off the floor, which should help increase your deadlift performance.
#5. Better posture
Kettlebell swings are one of the best exercises for undoing the effects of prolonged sitting.
Swings work your posterior chain, which are the muscles responsible for holding you upright against the pull of gravity.
If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or driving, regular kettlebell swing workouts will help you sit down and stand taller.
In many instances, this will also eliminate the back pain often caused by poor posture.
Kettlebell Swing Muscles Worked
Kettlebell swings use a large number of muscles.
So many that they are very close to being a full-body exercise.
The main muscles used during kettlebell swings are:
Quadriceps – located on the front of your upper thighs, the quads as they are known, are responsible for knee extension.
Hamstrings – the muscles on the back of your thighs, the hamstrings are responsible for hip extension and knee flexion.
Gluteus maximus – known as the glutes for short, this is the most massive muscle in the human body and is responsible for hip extension.
Erector spinae – the erector spinae is the collective name for the muscles that make up your lower back.
Core – the muscles that make up your midsection, which is responsible for keeping your spine stable.
Deltoids – delts for short, these are the muscles in your shoulders and are responsible for shoulder flexion.
Latissimus dorsi – the side/upper back muscles, the lats are responsible for shoulder extension.
Forearm flexors – the muscles in your lower arms that are responsible for keeping a firm grip on the kettlebell.
Kettlebell Swing Form
While there are several ways to perform most exercises, there is usually only one best way.
That’s the one that produces the best possible results with the lowest risk of injury.
Because kettlebell swings involve so many muscles and joints working together and at the same time, there’s a lot that can go wrong with this exercise.
But, if you master a proper kettlebell swing, you can enjoy all the benefits this exercise has to offer while avoiding all of the risks.
How to Do Kettlebell Swings
1. Hold your kettlebell in front of your hips with an overhand grip.
2. Hold the handle tightly.
3. Standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your abs.
4. Bend your knees slightly, push your hips back, and perform a hip hinge, leaning forward and lowering the weight down between your knees.
5. Do not round your lower back.
6. Using your glutes and hamstrings, drive your hips forward and keep your arms straight, swing the weight forward and up to shoulder-height.
7. Focus on your hip drive to pop the kettlebell upwards, not your arms.
8. Do not use your shoulders to lift the weight, let your hip drive lift the weight, which is why the kettlebell swings are an excellent deadlift assistance exercise.
9. Use your lats and abs to stop the weight swinging upward and then let the kettlebell fall back down.
10. Lean forward as the weight comes down and repeat.
You can also do the kettlebell swing with a dumbbell.
Tim Ferriss Teaches You How To Do The Russian Kettlebell Swing
Russian kettlebell Swing VS American Kettlebell Swing
While there are several different types of kettlebell swings, the two main variations are the Russian kettlebell swing and the American kettlebell swing.
The main difference between these two exercises are:
Russian kettlebell swing – the kettlebell is swung forward and up to roughly shoulder-height.
American kettlebell swing – the kettlebell is swung up and overhead until the arms are vertical.
There are pros and cons for both variations.
Russian kettlebell swings generally allow you to lift more weight, and they are easier to learn.
They are also easier on the lower back and are less likely to cause injury.
However, it’s all too easy to inadvertently shorten your rep range by not swinging the weight high enough, i.e., below shoulder-height.
American kettlebell swings are popular with CrossFit.
They involve a more extensive range of motion, which could make them more demanding.
Swinging the weight up until the arms are vertical ensures that each rep is the same, making them easier to judge and quantify.
However, raising the weight so high will increase stress on the lower back, which could lead to injury.
The increased range of movement also means you won’t be able to lift as much weight.
Which one is best?
That’s an impossible question to answer because both variations have value.
But, unless you are training for CrossFit competitions, the Russian swing is potentially the safer one, which may mean it’s the best choice for most exercisers.
Kettlebell Swing Workout
You can use kettlebell swings as part of your usual lower body workout in the gym, or as part or as part of a circuit training or interval training workout.
Just slot it in wherever you think it fits best.
Alternatively, here is a kettlebell-only workout that you can do anywhere you have enough space to swing your kettlebell weight.
As recommended by the American Council on Exercise, ACE for short, this kettlebell workout is best done three times a week on non-consecutive days, e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
EMOM kettlebell workout
EMOM is short for every minute, on the minute.
With this workout, you do a set of kettlebell swings at the start of each minute, and whatever time is left over is for resting.
Then, when the next minute rolls around, you go again.
For example, if your set of swings takes you 35 seconds, you get 25 seconds of rest before you do your next swing set.
You can modify this workout according to your current level of fitness, the weight of your kettlebell, and how much time you have to work out, but the base workout is:
Ten sets of 20 swings to a total of 200 reps.
Do fewer reps per set, or fewer sets per workout.
Do more reps per set, or keep going to 12, 15, or 20 minutes.
You can also use any kettlebell swing alternative you prefer for this workout, including:
- Single-arm swings – just use one arm
- Alternating single-arm swings – swap arms rep by rep
- Walking swings – step forward rep by rep
- Sidestep swings – take one step to the side when the weight is at its apex
- Dead stop swings – start each swing with the weight resting on the floor
- Outside the leg single-arm swing – stand feet together and swing the weight to the side of your body
While you can do kettlebell swings with a dumbbell, they feel better when you use a kettlebell.
Here are some of the best kettlebells around.
*Note: kettlebells are popular home workout gear, and some items are not yet back in stock, so you might need to be preorder.
#1. AmazonBasics Vinyl Coated Cast Iron Kettlebell Weight
New to kettlebell training?
The AmazonBasics Vinyl Coated Kettlebell is the best kettlebell weight for beginners.
#2. NewMe Fitness Kettlebell Handle
Most kettlebells come in fixed weights.
With the NewMe Fitness Kettlebell Handle, you can add as many or as few standard weight plates as you like, making it both ideal for a range of users and also saving you from buying several different sets of kettlebells.
#3. Wenasi Heavy Fitness Power Sandbag
Say goodbye to metal kettlebells. The Wenasi Fitness Power Sandbag is perfect for swings but won’t damage your floor if you drop it.
Sold without filling, you can easily adjust the weight to suit your needs.
#4. Kettle Gryp Kettlebell Adjustable Portable Weight Grip
Do you have a dumbbell, but wish it was a kettlebell?
With this handy device, you can turn any dumbbell into a kettlebell in seconds, making it ideal for swings.
#5. Power Block adjustable kettlebell
Four kettlebells in one, the Power Block adjustable kettlebell saves you from having to buy and store four different kettlebells and makes progressing as you gain strength much easier.
Enter the Kettlebell and Kettlebell Training – Pavel Tsatsouline
Kettlebell Swing Benefits – Final Thoughts
If you only ever do one kettlebell exercise, swings should be it.
No other kettlebell exercise offers so many benefits and is so easy to learn.
Kettlebell cleans and snatches come close, but they are much trickier to master.
Swings are straightforward, and there isn’t much of a learning curve.
You’ll probably pick them up in just a few minutes.
Whether you want to burn fat, get fit, or boost your deadlift performance, kettlebell swings will help.
Remember, to get the most from this exercise; you need to do them correctly and give yourself time to recover between workouts.
There is such a thing as too many swings!
As you have learned, the kettlebell swing uses the same muscles as the deadlift.
As 1,000 pound deadlifter Andy Bolton says:
“The kettlebell swing is a great developer of the posterior chain and will teach you how to develop some awesome snap in your hips.
For lifters, this makes them a useful assistance movement for the squat and deadlift.” ¹
Therefore, it is also an excellent move for a beginner to prepare for a deadlift program.
Deadlifts are one of the best exercises on the planet to change your body dramatically, no matter what your age.
And there are not many exercises that can beat the remarkable benefits of deadlifts.
Try out this 12 Week Deadlift Program for Beginners in Fitness or Powerlifting once you are comfortable swinging a kettlebell.
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¹ Kettlebells and Deadlifts Go Together Like Vodka and Pickles – Pavel Tsatsouline – StrongFirst.com