The kettlebell swing is beneficial for practically every athlete. Also for bodybuilders and powerlifters. It improves your deadlift and when you do high reps it is an excellent way of aerobic conditioning. But you’re probably doing the exercise wrong.
In the kettlebell swing, you swing a kettlebell forward and upward with one or both hands, drawing a partial circle in the air. It is essential to initiate the movement from the hips and only slightly bend your knees. Concentrate on swinging the kettlebell forward rather than upward.
The kettlebell swing is a fairly specialized and dynamic exercise. By ‘specialist’ we mean that you have not mastered the exercise one-two-three. The learning curve is steep. Without resorting to physics jargon, by “dynamic” we mean the way the force is produced throughout the body and the continuous nature of the exercise, with the reps flowing smoothly into one. In fact, the kettlebell swing is a pull movement, but the black and white division into push and pull movements doesn’t really do justice to the unique movement that is swinging.
Because of that dynamic, the kettlebell swing is ideal for cardiovascular training. Plus the fact that it’s more or less a full body exercise. You can essentially turn any ‘strength’ exercise into an aerobic exercise, but a kettlebell makes it just that little bit better. Kettlebell training is originally intended to work on your strength and condition at the same time. It is a very handy and versatile tool. A dumbbell is not so easy to lie around.
The kettlebell swing is a multi-joint exercise, or an exercise that involves movement in multiple joints and therefore involves multiple (large) muscle groups. You mainly train your glutes and hamstrings with it. You will also feel the exercise slightly in your shoulders and back. The kettlebell swing has a significant carryover to the deadlift, due to the explosive extension of the hips, which is essential to the exercise.
For pure hypertrophy, the exercise, in our view, falls somewhat short.
As we said before, it’s important not to ‘squat’ the kettlebell swing — a common mistake. The movement is initiated by the hips and the degree of knee bending is minimal.
The exercise is certainly not a front raise (forward shoulder lift); your shoulders play a passive role in the exercise.
You perform the exercise with a slightly wider than shoulder-wide foot position. You hold the kettlebell – with one or two hands – with an overhand grip. Now start the movement by bending your hips (butt back considerably) and slightly bending your knees: the so-called hip hinge movement. Now forcefully extend your hips and knees, swinging the kettlebell forward and upward until your arms are slightly past parallel to the floor. (In the Russian version, swing until your arms are perpendicular to the floor/aligned with your body.)
Now lower the kettlebell with arms extended and absorb the impact by bending hips and knees, returning you to the starting position for the next rep.
Keep your back straight and arms extended throughout the exercise. Again, your shoulders do not play an active role in the exercise and your arms are best viewed as a pendulum.
As with any exercise, a weight that is too heavy can lead to incorrect execution. This is even more true with the kettlebell swing. If you choose a kettlebell that is too heavy, you will inevitably involve too much ‘knee’ and ‘shoulder’ in the exercise, causing you to miss your goal of training the hips. So choose a weight that does not stand in the way of an impeccable execution. For beginners, 16 kg for men and 12 kg for women is usually good advice.
You can do high numbers of reps and make the kettlebell swing your favorite aerobic conditioning exercise. But if you’re mainly doing the exercise as an auxiliary exercise for your deadlift, it’s best to limit the number of reps to a maximum of ten.