The kettlebell swing is a ballistic exercise performed with a cast-iron weight that builds strength, power and endurance. It works what's referred to as your "posterior chain," which include the muscles throughout the back of your hips, legs and back. The kettlebell swing is a staple in kettlebell regulars, but it's also one of the kettlebell exercises for beginners.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
Few exercises are able to pack as many training benefits into a single movement like the kettlebell swing. When done correctly, kettlebell swings effectively develop strength and power in muscles throughout the body while simultaneously improving balance and cardiovascular endurance. According to a study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise, kettlebell workouts are a higher intensity activity compared to traditional weight training sessions and they're effective at improving physical performance and burning calories to support fat loss.
Selecting the Proper Kettlebell
If you've never trained with a kettlebell, you'll likely be surprised at what is considered an appropriate weight. Because the kettlebell swing targets the largest muscles in your body, you'll be able to handle a relatively heavy weight. Once you're consistent with your training, you'll get a feel for what weight you should be using. While you're still learning the ropes, however, stick with a weight that is safe to use. The suggested starting weight for women is 12 kg (26 lbs.) and the recommended beginning weight for men is 16 kg (35 lbs.).
Training Frequency and Volume
Your musculoskeletal system needs some time to rest and recover between kettlebell swing workouts, so opt for two or three sessions per week with one or two days off in between. Start with two sets of 10 repetitions while you get more comfortable with technique. After a few workouts, go ahead and bump up your volume to three to five sets of 10 to 20 reps. Don't do more than 20 reps at a time. Anything more and fatigue could adversely affect your technique and increase your risk of injury.
From the Beginning: Starting with Kettlebell Swing Basics
Find a spot that's free of people or equipment. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with a kettlebell set on the floor directly in front of you. Keeping your back straight and head up, push your hips back and bend your knees slightly to bend forward at the waist as if you were doing a deadlift. With your arms loose, lightly grip the kettlebell's handle with both hands, palms facing you. Retract your shoulder blades and contract the muscles throughout your core. Shift your weight onto your heels and drop your hips slightly to get ready to go.
Drive your hips forward forcefully to swing the kettlebell upward. Your arms, staying loose but straight, should only work to guide the kettlebell as it swings up level to your chest. At the top position, which is referred to as lockout, snap your hips forward by tightening your glutes and contracting your abs. The kettlebell will begin to descend. As it does, drive your hips back again and return the weight onto your heels as your arms guide the kettlebell as it swings back between your thighs. As you feel the kettlebell begin to swing forward again, drive through your hips to keep the kettlebell going with continuous swings until you've finished all reps.
Tighten Your Technique: Tips for Mastering the Kettlebell Swing
Lead with the Hips
The kettlebell swing is all about developing power in the hips. A common mistake for beginners is to perform a squat and bend the knees too much. Your shins should remain vertical throughout the entire movement. If you start to over bend your knees, your shins will tilt forward. Both directions of the swing should be lead by the hips.
Maintain Natural Arch of the Back
Contracting your core is essential for keeping your spine in proper position. You don't want to over arch the back nor allow it to round forward. Maintain your back's natural arch by keeping your chest big throughout the swing.
Swing to Chest Height
Develop the right amount of power in your hips so that the kettlebell swings to chest height. Any higher and you'll likely hyperextend your back or place too much stress on your neck and shoulders. Know that it'll take you a few tries to get the feel for how explosively you need to drive your hips to propel the kettlebell up to that appropriate height.