How to swing with kettlebells

  • The kettlebell swing is a full-body exercise that strengthens your hamstrings, lats, and shoulders.
  • To get the most out of the movement, avoid common form mistakes like squatting instead of hinged.
  • Variations include the American Kettlebell swing, which has you swing the weight above your head.

With moves like the snatch, goblet squat, and farmer’s carry, there are a variety of exercises to do with a kettlebell. The most popular, however, is the kettlebell swing, an exercise that works the entire body.

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise for anyone, regardless of fitness level or strength. They can be made more challenging with heavier weights or reduced with lighter barbells for beginners or anyone working on their form.

They are especially good for working the posterior chain (i.e. glutes, hamstrings, calves, lats, and shoulders). This is especially important for people with low back pain, as a strong posterior chain helps protect the spine.

“Every time you activate your posterior chain muscles, you create a protective shell around your spine,” says strength and conditioning coach Reda Elmardi, founder of The Gym Goat. “Knowing how to engage these muscles when you move reduces your risk of injury.”

Here are some helpful tips on how to swing a kettlebell correctly, as well as common mistakes to avoid and some helpful insights from strength coaches.

How to swing with kettlebells

a woman performing a kettlebell swing exercise in a sunny warehouse gym space, wearing a sports bra and exercise leggings

It’s important to rotate your hips and keep your arms straight but loose while swinging a kettlebell.

jacoblund/Getty Images

When you first attempt a kettlebell swing, be sure to use a weight that you can comfortably lift. This will help you keep a firm grip on the kettlebell and prevent injury.

When choosing a kettlebell for the first time, it’s recommended that you visit a gym or sporting goods store to try out different weights, rather than just ordering what looks good online.

According to personal trainer, RJ Cincotta, “If you don’t already have a solid foundation of muscle mass or are inexperienced using kettlebells, aim for a weight of 20 to 25 pounds.” [12 kg] Kettlebell for a woman and a 30 to 35 pound [16 kg] bell for a male”.

She adds that “for those who are experienced with kettlebells and have already been using one 1-2 times a week, women might go with a 30- to 45-pound kettlebell.” [16 to 20 kg] bell and males from 40 to 50 pounds [20 to 24 kg] kettlebell”.

Strength coach Pete McCall says that for lower-body movements (like the kettlebell swing), “heavier is better” and that it forces you to use better form and technique.

But this doesn’t mean grabbing the heaviest kettlebell possible. If a 20- or 30-pound kettlebell seems too heavy, it’s okay to pick something light and move on.

Here’s how to do a kettlebell swing:

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

two. Move your hips back and with a slight bend in your knees, lift the weight off the ground with both hands, palms facing down and thumbs below the handle but above your fingers.

3. With your feet planted and your head straight and looking straight ahead, keep your arms straight, soften your knees and move your hips back.

Four. Rotate at the waist as you swing the kettlebell back and between your legs, keeping your arms straight but loose.

5. Next, drive your feet toward the ground and explode your hips forward to create momentum to bring the barbell back through your legs and up in front of your body.

6. Continue swinging the weight until it reaches at least shoulder height, keeping your arms extended in front of you.

7. End the rep by squeezing your glutes and engaging your core with the kettlebell at the top of the swing in front of you.

8. Keep your back straight and core engaged as you hinge at the hips and balance the kettlebell between your legs.

Common Kettlebell Swing Mistakes

Person swinging a kettlebell outside

Remember to keep your back straight and your hips hinged when you swing the kettlebell between your legs.

Getty/Emir Memedovsky

While kettlebell swings are an accessible exercise for people of all fitness levels and training ages, there are a few mistakes people tend to make with their technique and form, which can lead to injuries like wrist discomfort , bruises and back pain.

These are the most common errors:

1. You squat (instead of twisting)

If you remember anything about the kettlebell swing, do it like this: The kettlebell swing is a hinge, not a squat. Elmardi says that momentum is initiated when the hips roll back like you would during a hinge, not when the butt drops back like when you squat.

2. You initiate the movement with your arms (instead of your hips)

Your hips and glutes should be the ones generating the power that drives the kettlebell to swing back and forth. If you feel your shoulders fatigue before your hamstrings, you’re probably using your arms and upper body to balance the weight instead of your lower body.

Your arms should simply guide the weight as it floats overhead, says lead strength coach and owner of AIM Athletic Jake Harcoff.

3. You’re not fully engaging your core core muscles

If done correctly, your back shouldn’t hurt after doing kettlebell swings. If so, chances are you’re not strengthening your core for the entire duration. complete movement duration.

To keep your midline tight, think about inhaling when the weight is between your legs and exhaling when it’s on your shoulders or overhead while keeping your navel up and toward your spine.

Kettlebell Swing Variations

There are two main variations of the kettlebell swing that can be done by both beginners and experienced lifters, each of which works different muscles and offers slightly different results.

There’s the American kettlebell swing that builds endurance and the Russian kettlebell swing. The setup and basic movement patterns are similar, but what differs is how high you lift the weight before allowing it to swing back between your legs, says Harcoff.

This is how they vary:

  • Russian swing with kettlebell: When you perform a Russian swing with kettlebells, you use the strength of your shoulders and core to stop the bell at shoulder height.
  • American swing with kettlebell: When you do a kettlebell swing, you continue to swing the weight until it’s over your head, at which point you’ll immediately change direction to bring it back down in front of your body and between your legs. This variation relies on the strength and stability of the shoulders to change direction in the air.

While anyone can do either variation, Elmardi says the American kettlebell swing requires more stability in the shoulders than the Russian kettlebell swing, and therefore people typically need to use a lighter weight.

As such, the American kettlebell swing is generally better for building endurance, while the Russian kettlebell swing is better for building strength and muscles.

Insider Takeaway

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise for people of all fitness levels and ages, as long as you use a weight that you can lift comfortably. The movement works a number of muscles along the posterior chain, such as the glutes, hamstrings, lats, shoulders, and calves.

But it’s important to follow proper kettlebell swing technique to avoid injury and get the most out of the exercise. Always remember that this is a hinge movement, not a squat, and that you should initiate the movement with your hips rather than your arms.

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