If someone put a gun to my head and asked me, “What is the single best kettlebell exercise?” I would have to answer the kettlebell swing.
There are a lot of kettlebell exercises that are great and are fantastic for your body but none have as many health benefits as the kettlebell swing.
Read on below to first find out the benefits of the kettlebell swing and then an in depth guide on how to perform the swing correctly.
The Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing:
It Burns More Calories Than Running
Kettlebells swings are fantastic if you’re trying to lose body fat because they literally torch calories!
According to the American Council on Exercise a person performing this exercise is burning an average of 20 calories per a minute which is extreme. Only cross country skiing uphill can come close to this level of exertion.
This means that if you’re strapped for time and you’re trying to get in some quick cardio with a full body workout a better exercise truly doesn’t exist.
The main reason that the kettlebell swing can do this is because it walks a fine line between aerobic and anaerobic. Because of the extremely large number of muscles working together to complete the swing as well as the explosive power which is required to ballistically fire the kettlebell at the beginning of the movement you are getting some serious anaerobic work in.
However, using an appropriate weight one can still perform this exercise for an extended period of time as a high intensity workout which will both torch calories while strengthening your cardiovascular system and strengthening all of your posterior chain muscles.
Strengthens All of Your Posterior Chain Muscles
The kettlebell swing works a huge number of muscles in your body. It pretty much works out every muscle on the back half of your body from the base of your skull to your Achilles heel.
In particular it focuses on your glutes, back, and hamstrings similar to the deadlift.
This makes the kettlebell swing a very practical exercise as it works muscle groups which we rely on regularly throughout the day to perform many basic activities, such as picking up a bag of groceries or playing with our kids.
Performing exercises like this helps us stay healthy and strong throughout the day and reduces our chances of injury.
Fixes Lower Back Pain
I know this a bold statement to make but believe me, I can back it up.
There have now been multiple studies done which have shown that people who perform the kettlebell swing on a regular basis have been able to significantly improve or completely heal their lower back pain.
One such study performed by Dr. Stuart McGill showed how the kettlebell swing was able to strengthen the lower back and correct bad posture at the same time.
In fact, the swing exercise was shown to be safer than performing a standard deadlift for strengthening the back.
One of the major reasons for this is that a kettlebell swing is ballistic in nature as opposed to a grinding motion such as a squat, deadlift, or pretty much all other standard strengthening exercises.
By ballistic I mean that the weight is essentially fired like a cannonball during the beginning of the exercise and then is simply guided through the rest of its journey before falling back down again to be fired once more.
This is different than a normal lifting exercise where the muscles are engaged continuously throughout the movement from beginning to end.
This may sound dangerous at first because so much power and force is being generated at the beginning of the exercise but in reality it is actually safer for your muscles and even has some other benefits as well.
Builds Explosive Strength
Because of the explosive snap required at the beginning of the swing your muscles fire with some explosive strength in order to get the kettlebell to travel up into the air.
As I was saying earlier, the kettlebell swing is a ballistic exercise.
In order to propel the kettlebell you are basically performing an explosive burst; like setting off a stick of dynamite and then guiding the movement of the weight after the explosion.
Training your muscles to deliver this kind of powerful burst has many applications and benefits.
If you’re a boxer or martial artist it will help you to deliver more explosive power with your movements.
If you want to jump higher or learn how to do a back flip then the explosive hip hinge movement of the swing can help you.
Strengthens Your Core
Because of the explosive power generated in the beginning of this exercise your body has to work hard in order to safely guide the kettlebell through its arc safely and the muscles which are used most to do this are located in the core of your body.
Especially at the apex of the swing, when the kettlebell is at chest level, your abdominals should be hard as a rock in order to hold your body straight and arrest the forward movement of the weight.
That means that for every swing which you perform you are not only working out your posterior chain but your stomach muscles as well.
In fact, in order to perform a kettlebell swing safely and with maximum power it is essential that you contract your abdominal muscles.
Without a firm and stable core serving as the pillar throughout the exercise your nervous system will not have the confidence to tell your muscles to fire at full power because it will rightly be wary of damaging your back and spine.
However, once the abdominals are firm and providing stability you can let loose with full force and gain not only a firm stomach but also reap the full calorie torching benefits of the kettlebell swing.
How to do the Single Best Kettlebell Exercise
#1) Warm Up
Before starting any kind of exercise it’s important to first warm your body up to prepare it for strenuous work. You want to get your blood flowing first before you really start making your body work.
There are a lot of different ways to do this but it shouldn’t take you longer than a minute or two.
I usually start by wind milling my shoulders and pivoting my body at the waist in order to loosen up my muscles and shoulders.
Then I’ll start doing some jumping jacks followed by kicking my heels backwards and then jumping on my toes to raise my knees up to my stomach.
The whole point of all of this is to ensure that you’ve elevated your heart rate before you begin more strenuous exercise so that your body won’t have to change gears so quickly from being sedentary to going all-out.
#2) Pre-swing Exercises
You don’t have to do these but I would highly recommend them.
They only take a couple of minutes and they help to make sure that the specific muscles which the kettlebell swing targets are fully activated and ready to fire when you begin swinging.
The two exercises are hip bridges and a practice deadlift of the kettlebell before you begin swinging it.
Hip bridges are done by lying flat on your back and then moving your feet up so they are closer to your body but the soles of your feet are still flat on the floor.
You then thrust your hips upwards until there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Then lower your butt back down to the floor.
While doing this make sure to keep your knees relatively close. Don’t let them flare out to the sides.
The reason behind this is to target your glutes and get them warmed up and ready to swing.
The second exercise is a deadlift of the kettlebell before you begin.
It’s extremely important to get your form right while doing this as it is very similar to the movement involved in the kettlebell swing.
You want to stand over the kettlebell with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
You then want to move downwards and back as if you’re about to sit down in a chair behind you.
It’s important that you realize this is not a squatting motion. You’re primarily hinging at your hips with only a slight bend at the knees.
Make sure that your back is also straight and that the only bend is at the hips and slightly at your knees.
As you come down grip the kettlebell with both hands and draw your shoulders back and down so that you can feel your lats being engaged in your back.
When you look down you should make sure that your knees are not protruding beyond your toes and that your feet are planted firmly on the ground.
Now, go ahead and stand back up to hoist the kettlebell up.
Be sure that your tail does not go up at a faster pace than your torso as this will put a disproportionate amount of strain on your back.
Use your glutes and hamstrings as the primary drivers to unfold and stand back up straight while holding the weight between your legs.
Once you feel comfortable deadlifting the kettlebell you are ready to take it to the next level and begin swinging it!
#3) How to do the Kettlebell Swing
Here’s a video I put together about how to do the kettlebell swing properly:
To start you want to assume the same position you were in for the deadlift previously.
The only difference is that you want to have the kettlebell a little bit further back behind you so that when pull it up you are also swinging it forward as well.
You want to be exploding forward with your hips to push the kettlebell up and in front of you.
Unlike the deadlift you are not simply standing up while holding the weight. You are trying to swing the weight forward in front of you and then let it swing back behind you in between your legs before snapping it forward again.
The entire time you are doing this it’s important to remember that your back is perfectly straight and staying in a natural posture.
When you swing the kettlebell forward you also want to make sure that it doesn’t go above chest level. Your arms should be perpendicular to your body at the apex of the swing.
It’s true that in the crossfit circles they bring the kettlebell all the way up above their heads but this can be dangerous for your shoulders if you’re not properly flexible.
And honestly, I’ve met very few people who exercise frequently who can claim to have good shoulder mobility as it is something which does take some work…
The other important thing to remember is that your stomach should be firm and your abs fully engaged when you are at the peak of the swing.
Your body should be like a flagpole and standing straight as you arrest the momentum of the bell and prepare to let it swing back down between your legs.
Also make sure that the main driving force and momentum for the exercise is coming from your glutes and hamstrings.
Your arms are just controlling and guiding the force generated from the initial thrust and not providing any real power of their own.
#4) Common Mistakes
The two biggest mistakes that I see are:
- Squatting instead of hinging
- Not keeping your back straight
The first one I honestly had a lot of trouble with when I first got started.
I would keep lowering myself way too far down and then hurl the kettlebell upwards above my head which was completely missing the point of the exercise (not mention making my knees very sore as well).
The key is to hinge at your hips with only a slight bend at your knees so that the kettlebell alternates from swinging behind you to back in front of you.
When the kettlebell is behind you and between your legs you then fire your hips forward explosively to send the kettlebell flying back up.
The main force is an explosive forward motion from the hips; not an upward thrust from your legs.
The other mistake I see, which is much more dangerous, is not keeping your back straight throughout the entire movement.
Throughout the entire exercise your back should be in the same natural posture it would hold if you were just standing up straight.
The only bend should be in your hips; not your back.
It’s very important to remember this as the kettlebell swing is fantastic for strengthening and even healing the lower back if done properly but if you are not keeping your abs tight and back straight then you are just going to be sore and possibly hurt yourself.
However, don’t let this intimidate you.
I find the best way to see if I’m using proper from is to just videotape myself using my phone.
Just stick your phone a little ways away on some books or a shelf and hit record. When you’re done just go over and look at the recording.
By doing this it’s easy to see any mistakes you’re making and correct them.
The kettlebell swing puts the muscles in your back, glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings through a serious workout so it’s important to stretch them out afterwards.
There are two main exercises which I like to make sure I do every time after I finish my sets but you can also choose whichever ones work for you as long as they target these muscles groups.
Make sure, though, that you really stretch out your hip flexors after as they can get tight if you don’t.
The first stretch I do involves sitting on the floor with one leg stretched out straight with the other one crossed over it to stretch my glutes and hip flexors.
I do this for both sides.
I then switch to stretching out my lower back and hamstrings by sitting on the floor with my legs out straight and spread.
I then lean to the left (or right) and touch my toes to stretch out my lower back and legs, doing both sides.
It’s important when doing this exercise, though, to be leaning sideways, not leaning forward.
In this way you’ll get more of a stretch in your back muscles.
Ultimately, if you follow all of the steps I listed above you should feel confident to begin doing kettlebell swings yourself!
Some people may argue with me about it being the best kettlebell exercise but what other workout can:
- Burn more calories than running
- Work all of the muscles on the back half of your body
- Fix lower back pain
- Build explosive strength
- Strengthen and tone your core as well
I hope you’ve found this useful and that you can find a way to work kettlebell swings into your own fitness routine and gain all of the massive benefits listed above.
And if you haven’t picked up your own kettlebell yet, what are you waiting for!