The Kettlebell Swing
You’ve all heard of it by now. You’ve seen people doing it, and if you’ve been in a gym recently, there’s a good chance you done them, too. The KB swing has gained tremendous popularity over the last 5-10 years, and reasonably so. As far as posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, low back), there may not be a better exercise when done properly. The KB swing is a great combination of muscle strengthening and fat loss at the same time.
There are many variations in how the swing can be completed, each with their own unique movements and targeted muscle groups. The flexibility and “room for alteration” are, to me, the things that make the swing such a great movement. BUT, one of the major problems here, more so than in many other exercises, is technique. The swing is an exercise that MUST be done correctly in order to not only stay injury free, but reap the benefits, as well. Unfortunately, I see it done incorrectly quite often. Here are some images and tips on how to do this very effective exercise safely.
- STANCE – Feet should be just outside shoulder width, with your toes pointed slightly outward.
- GRIP and BRACE – Your grip on the KB should be relatively tight. You’re going to be moving the KB through a wide range of motion, so grip tight. This will also help out your grip strength. Also, before beginning the movement, brace your core tight. This will help to keep your spine in alignment throughout the movement.
- PUSH HIPS BACK – The initial movement here is to push the hips back. Many people think its simply bending over at the hips. When you do this two things tend to happen. First, and most important, your spine will tend to become out of alignment (see below). Also, if you rotate around your hips without pushing back, you will lose balance and throw the whole movement off. So, with knees bent (bend more for leg power, less bend for more hamstring/low back work), push your hips back to begin the movement. It is important here to keep your CHIN UP, pull your SHOULDERS BACK, and hold your CHEST OUT. These 3 factors play a major role in keeping proper alignment of the spine. TIP: FIND A SPOT IN FRONT OF YOU (WALL, MIRROR, ETC.) AND KEEP YOUR EYES LOCKED THERE THE WHOLE TIME. This will help you keep your back flat and low back in a safe position
- THRUST HIPS FORWARD – The next movement involves the hip thrust forward. Once you have reached the bottom of the movement, imagine you are trying to push the KB forward using your hips. Pushing your hips forward will return your body to the upright position, bringing the KB forward in a swinging motion, hence the name of the exercise.
- ARMS AS PENDULUM – I say this all the time: “More hips, less arms.” Your hips should be pushing the KB forward while your arms simply allow for the rotational movement here. You should be raising the KB with your hips as opposed to your arms. If you feel you are working arms too much, focus more on pushing with the hips as opposed to pulling with the arms.
- REPEAT – Once KB has reached eye level, drop under control and continue movement. It is very important during this phase to keep your CORE TIGHT and BACK FLAT. It is easy to round your back off during the transition phase and dropping the KB back down. Very important here for low back safety to control the KB and keep your chest out and shoulders back. Push hips back and go right back into your next rep.
This just hurts to watch. I don’t mean to single this guy out, but he is giving us a perfect example on how do to every thing wrong with the KB Swing. The primary issue here, obviously, is spine alignment. Hip and knee position aren’t too bad here. His problems are all north of the border. His back is arched over, which leads to pulling on the lower back and hamstring muscles. That, in turn, will throw the whole movement off. A few things that would undoubtedly help his form:
- Chin up, looking forward
- Push chest out, pull shoulders back
- Core tight, brace abdominal muscles
Like I’ve mentioned, the KB swing is a great exercise, with many variations that make it even more effective for the posterior chain and core muscle. As with many complex movements, however, form is absolutely vital in doing this exercise. If you have done the swing and notice some soreness or discomfort in the low back or hamstring, try following some of the tips above to help out with things. This is something that I think everybody can benefit greatly from, as long as its done correctly.
Now get out there and start swinging!!