Kettlebell Swings: How and Why You Should Do Them

by Evelyn Valdez

Kettlebells are the most underrated and underused free weights. Strength training with dumbbells and barbells is obviously ideal, but don't leave kettlebells behind! Kettlebell workouts and exercises aren't as common, many just don't know how to do them so they hit the dumbbells instead. But there's one particular kettlebell exercise that you have to start in including in your workout routine if you want to build power, strength, and stamina. We're talking about good ole' kettlebell swings.

You've probably seen lifters doing kettlebell swings and working up a sweat at the gym. So, what's holding you back? Don't know how to do them with proper form? Fortunately, we want to help you reap the benefits of kettlebell swings so we're going to tell you everything you need to know about how to do them with good form and technique!

Kettlebell swing benefits

Before we dive into the how we have to discuss why you should actually start implementing kettlebell swings into your training. Here are four benefits that will convince you to start swinging:

  • Get a total body workout: When you're short on time and only have time for a full-body workout consider including kettlebell swings in your exercise list! This exercise targets your hamstrings, hips, glutes, core, and the stabilizing muscles on your back and shoulders. Your quads and delts might reap some benefits, but the main target is your posterior chain. It also gets your heart rate up making it a great cardio workout!
  • Great for fat loss, strength muscle-building: Whether you're using a heavy or light kettlebell you can expect a great workout and results. Kettlebell swings work your lower and upper body muscles thus helping you build full-body strength. But they also require a good amount of power which gets your heart rate up giving you an excellent cardio workout. You can use it for a strength training routine or use it for a quick HIIT workout at home or at the gym! Either way, you'll be getting the best of both worlds!
  • Develop explosive power: The kettlebell swing movement requires more than just strength, it requires power. The movement largely requires your posterior chain, specifically the hips and legs. Those new to this exercise can start with a light kettlebell and practice consistently to begin developing power in their lower body.
  • It's low-impact: Not only can kettlebell swings significantly raise your heart rate up, they are also considered to be low-impact! Making it great for those who can't partake in high-impact exercise. Anyone with bad knees can benefit from this exercise because there isn't an excessive bend at the knee. This means you can still strengthen your lower body and get some cardio in without needing to lunge.

How to do a proper kettlebell swing

Now, let's get to nailing your kettlebell swing form! You want to make sure you're working as many muscles as possible in an effective and safe way. There are two ways you can kettlebell swing, you can do the Russian swing or the American swing. We'll be giving you a step-by-step guide on how to do a Russian kettlebell swing, but don't worry, there's a very small difference between the two... The Russian swings (as you'll see shortly) movement ends at eye level. The American kettlebell swing follows the entire movement but finishes with your arms and kettlebell overhead. This can be straining on your shoulders and can cause an injury. So, if you're just starting out start by nailing the Russian kettlebell swing, then you can consider moving up to the American swing.

Without further ado, here's how to do a Russian kettlebell swing with proper form:

  1. Start by placing your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with the kettlebell placed a few inches in front of you and toes facing it.
  2. Engage your core and begin to bend at the hinging your hips back and keeping your knees from going past your toes. Keep your back flat and chest up as you extend to grab the kettlebell handle with both arms. At this point, you should feel a stretch on your hamstrings and there should be tension from your upper to lower back.
  3. Pick up the kettlebell, and as you firmly grab the handle, roll your shoulders back and down, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings allowing the kettlebell to move back towards your hips. Then keeping your muscles engaged, fully extend your hips and rise to the upright starting position. Make sure that you keep the weight loaded towards the back, specifically your hamstrings, and that you're forcefully driving the kettlebell with your lower body, not your shoulders or arms.
  4. You want to stop at about eye level or shoulder to chest height. The first swing or two might not be all the way to shoulder height, but the moment will increase as you continue doing reps. At the top of the swing, your body should be in an upright position, and everything in alignment. This is the time to focus on flexing every single muscle, and remember to breathe!
  5. Allow the kettlebell to naturally swing back toward the floor. As it does, press your hips back into a hip hinge so that the kettlebell swings between your legs. Keep your neck aligned with your spine and exhale with every forward swing, inhale with every backward wing. 

If you're completely new to this exercise start with a light kettlebell and perform 3 sets of 5 reps and work your way up to the 10-15 rep range.

Common mistakes to avoid

Although the kettlebell swing seems like a simple full-body exercise to master, many tend to still get it wrong. To save you from a shoulder or back injury, here are common mistakes to avoid to ensure you perform kettlebell swings the right way:

  • Lifting with arms - This is the biggest mistake almost everyone makes! It may look like the kettlebell swing involves your shoulders and arms to lift the weight, but they don't. Your lower body should have the most control in the movement. Using your arms makes this move more of a front raise which causes the shoulders to do most of the work. To avoid this, fully extend the hips and "lock-in" your shoulders and upper back to prevent them from pulling forward the weight and to prevent your back from rounding. The movement is in the hips, so if you're having trouble with the exercise, make sure you master the hip hinge!
  • Squatting down with each swing - Again, it's a hip hinge movement, not a squat. Some people tend to squat down as the kettlebell moves its way down. This results in less power coming from the glutes and hamstrings and placing a greater emphasis on the quads. To avoid this, think of a Romanian deadlift! Press your hips back while keeping a slight bend at the knees. 
  • Losing tension at the top - Don't lose control at the top of the movement. Oftentimes, people lose tension at that point which results in less muscle activation, coordination, and an increased risk of injury. At the top remember to have your knees fully extended, glutes squeezed, core muscles flexed and engaged, slightly bent elbows, and shoulder blades should be down and back.
  • Overextending at the top - This is another mistake many make, but luckily, fixing the above mistakes will reduce the chances of this happening. Remember to keep your spine in a neutral position. Your torso should be rigid at the top of the swing, your back shouldn't be rounded nor overextended.

Need more of a challenge?

The kettlebell swing is already a great exercise in itself, but as you make progress, you may want to new ways to make it more challenging aside from increasing the weight. You can try different variations to help place a different challenge for your muscles to adapt to.

  • Single-arm kettlebell swing

This exercise is performed exactly the same, except you perform the movement one arm at a time. This places an extra load on the working shoulder joint and requires more coordination and core stabilization. So, you'll be getting a good sweat sesh while also improving stability, coordination, and core strength.

How to do it: Follow the directions for the Russian kettlebell swing above, except using one arm at a time. When performing the exercise, hold the non-working arm out to the side to help with balance. Perform as many reps as desired, and then repeat with the other arm.

  • Kettlebell swings with long resistance band

Increasing the weight is a good way to increase the resistance, but adding a long resistance band instead of doing that will unlock more power capabilities. That's because the bands provide progressive resistance, meaning you're working against that resistance throughout the entire exercise. So, if you add a long band to the exercise, the kettlebell is moving against the band's progressive resistance which means you'll have to provide more power to move it up.

So, when you're ready, grab your UPPPER Long Resistance Band and a kettlebell to get swinging!

How to do it: Place the kettlebell in front of you as you would. Wrap one end of the long band on the kettlebell handle and form a loose figure 8. Stretch the other loop to shoulder-width and place your feet inside the band that is stretched outside your feet. You should be standing on the band. Grab the kettlebell and follow the directions given above!

Now you know exactly how to kettlebell swing like a pro! Practice it consistently and you'll start reaping the muscle, strength, and power-building benefits.

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