Anyways. I know I keep promising a follow up to my thyroid/adrenal fatigue post and I promise I haven’t forgotten about it, but I’m still working through recovery, I keep having setbacks and I feel I should wait until I get a solid handle on things :)
In other news I’m officially registered for the Pillars of Power Push/Pull powerlifting meet at this year’s Beast of the East competition. I’m less than 2 months out and all sorts of terrified and excited at the same time.
More on that some other time though, today I want to talk about the beloved kettlebell swing.
When done correctly, kettlebell swings are a fantastic addition to any fitness program and are a very multifaceted movement. Not only are they a great tool for fat loss and conditioning but are superb for developing explosive power and strength as well. Swings will also help you build a superhuman posterior chain, which is both athletically and aesthetically in your favor and can help re-balance any anterior muscle dominance you may have. However, when done incorrectly, they are a recipe for disaster, can destroy your lower back and make any qualified trainer want to blow steam out of their ears.
Kettlebell swings are probably one of the most butchered and misunderstood exercises. They can be seen botched all over popular youtube videos, informericals, in magazine ads and commercial gyms.
(Imagine what horrible things Tracy Anderson would do to a kettlebell swing. Good lawd.)
I won’t get into Russian vs. American swings or how many degrees of knee flexion you should have and I’ll be very clear that I am not a kettlebell expert, nor am I certified in anything kettlebell related…but I do have a very good understanding of the mechanics of exercise and movement patterns.
Let’s get one thing straight: a swing is a swing. The bell should be kept above your knees. The farther the kettlebell gets from your body, the more stress on your spine and chances are you’re going into lumbar flexion. The swing is not a squat, it’s not a squat with a front raise or a deadlift with a front raise or any kind of slow, choppy movement. It is however, a hip hinge followed by a powerful, almost violent, hip snap used to develop power through the hips. Notice how many times I said hips.
The kettlebell swing is a hip dominant movement (think deadlifts and hip bridges), as opposed to a knee dominant movement (think squats and lunges). This means that the movement is initiated at your hips with minimal knee bend. There are several ways to teach the hip hinge and I’ve found that different methods “click” for different people. The hip hinge is hands down the most powerful and important movement pattern you can learn. It simply implies pushing your butt back, while keeping a neutral spine and bending at your hips rather than through your lumbar. Once you take the time to learn and groove it, the movement opens up a whole new world of powerhouse posterior chain exercises, improved posture, healthy joints, reduced pain and bombtastic glutes. Yeah, I said bombtastic.
But learning the hinge is a whole other post. So why should you even care about these hip hinges and kettlebell swings anyways? Because kettlebell swings pack a serious metabolic punch, are extremely diverse and can really take your performance and physique to a whole new level.
- It is a full body exercise – uses multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. It will get all of your muscles working and firing as unit.
- They’re very low impact and joint-friendly. Great to increase aerobic capacity without the risks and jarring effects of running, plyometrics, etc.
- Very time efficient (and fun!) way to improve your cardio-respiratory health and get in some conditioning.
- They help train and perfect the hip hinge, which can reduce back and knee pain and improve movement while having a great carryover to your other posterior chain lifts.
- Perfect to improve athleticism, explosive power, conditioning, strength and crank up fat loss. Seriously, just 15 swings with a heavy enough bell will have you gasping for air and your heart pounding.
I know you want to immediately run out, buy a huge kettlebell and swing until your grip gives, but there are few things you need to first understand. In order for you to reap the many benefits of the swing, the movement needs to be performed correctly. The kettlebell swing is a bit of a complex movement and isn’t best for beginners. Before picking up a bell, it’s critical that you have the hip hinge pattern ingrained into your brain. You also need to have adequate mobility, especially through the hips, good core stability and the ability to properly activate your glutes.
So here’s how the swing should go down:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. You shoulder blades should be pulled down and back, chest tall, with an overhand grip on your kettlebell.
- While holding the kettlebell between your thighs, initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and making a small thrust forward to get the bell going. Your knees should be soft and your back should stay nice and tight.
- Allow the bell to swing back naturally, making sure you remain in the “hinge” position with a neutral spine and forcefully snap your hips forward while squeezing your glutes like your life depends on it. Lock out your knees and hips at the top of the swing.
- The kettlebell should launch forward (using momentum) to about shoulder height, stay tight, brace your core and control the weight, not letting it pull you forward. Your shoulders should remain retracted through the full movement.
- For the downward portion, you want to think about pulling the kettlebell back down between your legs, basically towards your babymaker, while grooving back into that hip hinge and repeating.
My form could use some slight improvements, but you get the gist of it. You should also do them barefoot, it’s good for the soul ;). Chalk is also a great idea.
Key points: Your arms should not be working at all and the force should be coming from snapping your hips forward..get angry with the bell and use the power from your glutes and hamstrings to propel it! Also make sure your glutes are TIGHT at the top and you follow through, this will protect your lower back.
So how heavy should your kettlebell be for swings? Heavy.
Now granted, heavy is always a relative term, but if you can lift the bell up and do a “front raise” with it, it’s not nearly heavy enough. During your swing, you should be trying to counteract the force of the bell trying to pull you in all directions..that’s how heavy it should be. If it’s too light, your form will be extremely sloppy because the bell isn’t forcing you to stay tight.
My favorite way to break people into conditioning with kettlebells is the good ol’ 30/30. 30 seconds of swings followed by 30 seconds of rest. Try this for 5-10 minutes to start, let me know how it goes!
(I apologize for the condition of my blog, all of my content is pretty outdated, I need new recipes and goodies, I’ll be on it! Have a great weekend!)