The kettlebell swing is a versatile exercise that builds power, work capacity, and fitness. Kettlebell swings have a wide application to many athletes, and they can be done with minimal equipment and space. For such reasons, the kettlebell swing has been embraced by strength coaches, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts alike.
In this article we will discuss the kettlebell swing, specifically:
- Research Review – Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
- Who Can Benefit from Kettlebell Swings (and Why)
- How to Integrate Kettlebell Swings into Training Programs
What the Research Suggests…
In the below section, we will breakdown aspects of fitness and performance that have been seen to be positively impacted by the inclusion of kettlebell swings within a training program.
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Increase Aerobic Capacity (Comparable to Running)
In this article, we’ll highlight two studies that suggest continuous kettlebell swings can be useful for increasing an athlete’s aerobic capacity. The first study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at a kettlebell swing protocol with a 12-minute continuous set and analyzed an athlete’s oxygen cost and heart rate. Upon the conclusion of their study, authors suggested no significant difference in oxygen cost with kettlebell swings in comparison to continuous running (1).
In the second study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, authors compared rate of exertion and oxygen consumption between kettlebell swings and treadmill running. Rate of perceived exertion was controlled between the kettlebell swing and treadmill run (89% and 90% RPE, respectively). Authors suggest that kettlebell swings can be a viable alternative to running if the goal is to increase aerobic capacity, metabolic stress, and limit impact on the body (2).
Improve Power and Explosiveness
Kettlebell swings have been shown to increase the rate of force development and rapid muscle activation in the posterior chain. One study suggests that kettlebell swings demonstrated no significant difference in power outputs when compared to jump squat training. These findings suggest that kettlebell swings can be a viable alternative to jump squat training. Furthermore, athletes and coaches can perform kettlebell swings to improve work capacity, fitness, and power (3).
NOTE: Kettlebell swings are not a replacement for weightlifting movements!
Another study concluded that while kettlebell swings improve power output and explosiveness of the posterior chain as effectively as jump squats and more significantly than non-swinging or jumping groups; kettlebell swings are NOT as effective at increasing power and explosiveness as compared to weightlifting movements.
In this study, researchers compared the results between,
- Barbell power program: High pulls, power cleans, and squats
- Kettlebell power program: Kettlebell swings, accelerated swings, and goblet squats
Before diving into the findings below, it’s important to recognize that relative loading was a limitation in this study. This could suggest that kettlebells may have had a similar impact if loading was relative to that of 80% of 1-RM training protocols used in the barbell power program.
Nonetheless, loading the kettlebell with sufficient loads to train intermediate and higher level lifters/athletes can be challenging. This study demonstrates that kettlebells can be used acutely to increase power and strength, however, without a commitment to strength training using periodized programs long-term performance may be negatively impacted (4).
Decreased Injury and Improved Muscular Strength
It’s no secret that physical activity, strength training, and functional movement patterns improve injury resilience, muscle strength, coordination, balance, and overall fitness. Kettlebells are another tool that can be used, often allowing for a wide array of individualized movements due to its unique shape and loading (5).
Qualified and trained coaches and health professionals can implement kettlebell training exercise into beginner programs, rehabilitation training, and even general fitness workouts to enhance functional fitness, aerobic endurance and capacity, and improve strength.
Note, this research article is not suggesting kettlebells are better than other forms of resistance training.
However, when looking to jump start a beginner’s fitness, improve cardiovascular health, and build muscle; kettlebell training can be a valuable tool to do all three at once while minimizing impact injuries.
In another study authored Dr. Stuart McGill, the kettlebell swing was found to offer unique training benefits and opportunities. With that said, movements like the kettlebell swing have been shown to increase lumbar shear and compression during swinging movements when not performed properly (6).
If a lifter has issues maintaining core stability, cannot properly performing swinging movements, or has previous injuries to the lower back; it is suggested that the lifter reinforces core stability, proper hip function, and progresses safely into this ballistic exercise.
Who Can Benefit from Kettlebell Swings (and Why)
Below are a few groups of athletes that can benefit from the inclusion of kettlebell swings within their training programs.
Strength and Power Athletes
Strength and power athletes can integrate kettlebell swings within conditioning workouts and warm-ups to increase fitness and work capacity. It is important to note that performing weightlifting movements is still a necessity for Olympic weightlifters.
Kettlebell swings should not be substituted for Olympic weightlifting movements for power production unless certain injuries limit the usage of a barbell (shoulder or wrist injury).
Functional Fitness and CrossFit Athletes
Aside from the obvious sport specific requirements of kettlebell swings (Amerincan and Russian), performing aerobics pieces with a kettlebells can increase work capacity, grip strength, cardiovascular endurance, and kettlebell skill. All of these are attributes that can impact performance in WODs and kettlebell specific movements; such as snatches, cleans, and jerks.
Endurance Athletes and Runners
While running is a necessity for running athletes, many athletes may find themselves overtraining and becoming injured from doing too much of the same movements (repetition injury). Kettlebell swings can be a great way to improve work capacity and aerobic capacity while minimizing impact on the body AND increasing lean body mass and power.
General Fitness and Health
Improving general fitness and health can be done using kettlebell swings by incorporating them within programs for all the above reasons. Increased work capacity, muscle hypertrophy, and explosiveness can have a significant impact on overall fitness and health.
Furthermore, once a lifter has properly developed the skill and technique to perform kettlebell swings properly, they will be able to perform more advanced movements and training programs.
How to Integrate Kettlebell Swings into Your Training Programs
Integrating kettlebell swings into training programs can be done in a variety of ways. Below are three different methods for integrating kettlebell training into your training programs.
Kettlebell swings can be a great way to warm up (after a dynamic warm-up). The kettlebell swing can be done at various intensities to gradually prepare the battle for more explosive movements.
Post Activation Potential (PAP) Training
Like plyometrics, explosive and maximal force kettlebell swings can be done following strength movements (like squats) to increase rate for development via post activation potential training. The emphasis should be on explosive movements and done in smaller doses (rather than longer endurance sets).
Kettlebell swings can be built within accessory blocks to increase work capacity, increase muscular hypertrophy, and enhance overall fitness. These sets can be done in a circuit style accessory segment as well to start to integrate work capacity and aerobic fitness.
High Intensity Intervals and Cardiovascular Training
As the research suggests, kettlebell intervals and continuous swings can be a viable option for increasing aerobic endurance and work capacity. While other modalities like running, rowing, and sport-specific training are key, adding kettlebell swings to your conditioning settings can help diversify fitness, minimize overuse injury, and even preserve/increase lean body mass.
More Kettlebell Training Articles
Take a look below at some of our popular kettlebell training guide, exercises and workouts!
- Farrar, R. E., Mayhew, J. L., & Koch, A. J. (2010). Oxygen Cost of Kettlebell Swings. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1034-1036. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181d15516
- Hulsey, C. R., Soto, D. T., Koch, A. J., & Mayhew, J. L. (2012). Comparison of Kettlebell Swings and Treadmill Running at Equivalent Rating of Perceived Exertion Values. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(5), 1203-1207. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3182510629
- Lake, J. P., & Lauder, M. A. (2012). Kettlebell Swing Training Improves Maximal and Explosive Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2228-2233. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31825c2c9b
- Otto, W. H., Coburn, J. W., Brown, L. E., & Spiering, B. A. (2012). Effects of Weightlifting vs. Kettlebell Training on Vertical Jump, Strength, and Body Composition. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(5), 1199-1202. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31824f233e
- Jay, K. (2011). Kettlebell Training for Musculoskeletal and Cardiovascular Health. Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health, 37(3). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41151543
- Mcgill, S. M., & Marshall, L. W. (2012). Kettlebell Swing, Snatch, and Bottoms-Up Carry: Back and Hip Muscle Activation, Motion, and Low Back Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(1), 16-27. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31823a4063