Whether you want to get stronger, grow more muscle, or just generally get more fit, there’s a kettlebell exercise out there for you. Kettlebells are a dynamic piece of fitness equipment that are well-suited to kicking pretty much any goal you have in the glutes.
The kettlebell swing isn’t a spotlight in sports performance facilities, CrossFit boxes, fitness classes, and garage gyms worldwide for no reason. A refined kettlebell swing will unlock a slew of benefits to your power output, muscle hypertrophy, and work capacity. Pretty much no matter what you want to do with your training, you’ll probably be able to find a use for the kettbell swing.
It’s also an easy exercise to master once you have the basics of a hip hinge. After you’ve got into the swing of things, this lift can bring you closer to so many of your training goals. Here’s exactly how you perform the kettlebell swing and pretty much everything else you’ve ever wanted to know about it.
- How to Do the Kettlebell Swing
- Kettlebell Swing Sets and Reps
- Common Kettlebell Swing Mistakes
- Kettlebell Swing Variations
- Kettlebell Swing Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Kettlebell Swing
- Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
- Who Should Do the Kettlebell Swing
- Frequenctly Asked Questions
The kettlebell swing is, at its core, an explosive hip hinge. When properly executed, kettlebell swings train your body to generate a lot of lower body power. This will help ensure that your hinging patterns are sound enough to boost your deadlifting prowess. To make any of these improvements successfully, though, you’ll need to have a picture-perfect swing.
Step 1 — Set Up
Start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Keep your toes forward. Place the kettlebell on the floor 12 to 18 inches in front of you. Hinge down toward the bell. Keep your back flat. Grab the handle of the kettlebell with both hands. Ensure that your feet are flat and you’re balanced slightly towards your heels.
Coach’s Tip: In this position, pull your shoulder blades back and down to engage your lats.
Step 2 — Load the Swing
From the set up position, contract your lats and sweep the kettlebell back between your legs. Your knees can bend slightly. Keep the weight in your hips and load your hamstrings.
Coach’s Tip: This is a fluid movement that initiates the “pendulum” motion needed for repeated swings.
Step 3 — Drive Your Hips
Forcefully drive the kettlebell forwards with your hips and glutes. Simultaneously straighten your knees to bring yourself into a rigid, upright posture. Your shoulders and arms should be loose to allow the weight to swing freely upwards. When the kettlebell reaches its apex, your body should be vertically stacked with your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders all in alignment. Focus on bracing your core at the top.
Step 4 — Reload Your Swing
To reload and perform another rep, allow the kettlebell to fall naturally while sweeping it back between your legs with your lats. Keep your arms loose throughout. There should be just enough space between the kettlebell and your groin that it passes slightly behind your body without colliding with any essential anatomy. Widen your stance if you need more clearance between your thighs. When the kettlebell is at its furthest point, your body should closely resemble the loaded setup position from Steps 1 and 2, priming you to fire off another rep immediately.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your head neutral while reloading your swing — don’t attempt to look forward, as it may strain your neck. Let your eye line fall naturally with your torso.
Because kettlebell swings aren’t generally meant to be loaded up to max weights, you’ll rarely (if ever) want to challenge yourself to low rep sets. But rest assured — as long as you’re using a sufficient load, kettlebell swings will improve your overall strength without this lift for training for max strength specifically.
- For Technique: Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps with light to moderate weight to lock in your form.
- For Conditioning: Do a five to 15-minute EMOM (every minute, on the minute) of 15 to 20 reps with a moderately heavy weight.
- For Muscular Endurance: Using a moderate weight, perform as many reps as possible (AMRAP) with quality form in 10 minutes.
Despite — or perhaps because of — how frequently people integrate kettlebell swings into their program, many people make similar form mistakes throughout their swinging journeys. If you’re first starting out, get ahead of these errors by avoiding them to begin with. And if you’re already accustomed to swinging, do yourself a favor and address these mistakes if you’re making them.
Overextending Your Lower Back
If you don’t squeeze your glutes at the top of your swing (when you come back to standing), you risk letting your lower back take over. Whether you’re performing high reps or using heavier weights, you may increase your injury risk by ending your swing with your low back instead of your glutes. To avoid inappropriately hyperextending your low back, focus on squeezing your glutes at the top of your swing. Then, keep your lats engaged as you let the bell swing back down.
Swinging the Bell Too Low
If you’re not keeping your back neutral, you may scrape the bottom of the bell just above the ground at the bottom of your swing. This too-low-swing can hurt your low back, and also may be a result not adequately engaging your lats throughout the lift. Throughout the swing, keep your shoulders pulled back and down to maximize your lats’ ability to put the breaks on the swing at its height. That way, they’ll also keep the bell locked in place on the way down. Keep your elbows softly bent and push your butt back at the bottom of the lift. These techniques will help keep the bell tucked between your upper thighs instead of the low back-compromising floor scrape.
Yanking Through Your Arms
This happens when people don’t use sufficient hip drive to snap up to standing. To compensate, you might tug the weight upward with your arms. Before you begin high weight or high rep kettlebell swings, make sure you know how to properly engage your hips and glutes during an active hip hinge. That way, your hip snap to bring the swing upward won’t need extra help from your arms.
If you properly account for intensity, volume, and frequency, there are plenty of variables add to your kettlebell swing training. With an implement as versatile as a kettlebell, there are loads of kettlebell swing variations to incorporate into your routine. Once you’ve mastered the traditional two-handed swing, consider stepping up your game with these variations.
Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
By performing the kettlebell swing while holding the weight with only one arm, you increase the intensity of the exercise by making it unilateral.
Dead-Stop Kettlebell Swing
Instead of smoothly flowing from one repetition to the next, dead-stop kettlebell swings have you perform each swing with the bell starting at rest.
Because you have to break inertia for every rep, you’ll also have to generate more force to complete the movement each time.
Double Kettlebell Swing
Aside from some minor adjustments to the setup, double kettlebell swings are the same as traditional swings. You’ll notice the difference immediately, though — you’ll need a much more disciplined, stronger hip drive to get both weights up to chest level.
The double swing is fantastic for strength development (due to the increased load) and grip training.
Staggered-Stance Kettlebell Swing
In the staggered-stance swing, one foot is placed slightly ahead of the other in the setup. This variation will help identify any unilateral strength imbalances that you might not notice with a traditional set up.
No kettlebell? No problem. While the best way to improve your kettlebell swing is by swinging a kettlebell, it’s not the only way to reap similar benefits. There are plenty of ways to work on your hip hinge and explosiveness if you don’t have access to a kettlebell.
Perform a hip hinge, allowing the tension in the band to recede, and then forcefully thrust — the same way you would vault a kettlebell to chest level. You can also perform pull-throughs on a cable station for a more controlled, muscle-building stimulus.
Where banded pull-throughs provide the hip hinge of a kettlebell swing, broad jumps can sub in for the explosiveness. In the broad jump, you’ll sink into a quarter squat, pump your arms behind you, and explode forward out of your squat.
As a low-impact, full-body movement, the kettlebell swing works your entire body to some degree — even your feet will benefit since you’ll be gripping the floor hard during every set. However, it really shines when it comes to developing your posterior chain.
As a hip hinge movement, kettlebell swings predominantly work your hips. Your hip extensors will initiate the movement with an explosive drive, while your hip flexors help provide stability from start to finish.
Glutes and Hamstrings
Like any good hinge, kettlebell swings rely largely on your glutes and hamstrings. At the top of each swing, you should be squeezing your glutes to ensure that your lower back doesn’t hyperextend or take a majority of the load. This has the added benefit of giving your glutes some extra emphasis for growth.
While you certainly don’t want to drive the swing with your lower back, kettlebell swings stimulate the erector spinae. You’ll have to keep your back in a rigid, stable position against ballistic forces throughout the range of motion.
You won’t be pulling with your shoulders and arms during a good kettlebell swing, but that doesn’t mean that your back won’t fire up. Your lats will engage to protect your shoulders and guide the weight, particularly if you’re performing Russian kettlebell swings.
There are few movements with benefits as versatile as those offered by the kettlebell swing. Pretty much whatever you’re looking to do can be achieved with the kettlebell swing. That’s true whether you’re after power development, improved conditioning, or just general strength training.
When your entire body is involved in a single movement, you’re bound to get strong. The time under tension will challenge your grip strength. The hip-hinging pattern is going to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and low back.
Your core strength will thank you for keeping your torso rigid throughout. Kettlebell swings can even make your lats stronger since you’ll need them to guide the kettlebell’s path the whole way. The various stimuli should do wonders for your main lifts and full-body coordination.
If you’re looking to boost your aerobic capacity, kettlebell swings can do the job more conveniently than a treadmill. One of the greatest things about improving your conditioning with kettlebell swings is its low impact. It also doesn’t require hours of running if that’s not your thing. If you’re the type of athlete that hates monotony, swinging adds some dynamic metabolic work to your cardio training.
To have any success with your kettlebell swings, you’ll have to improve your rate of force development at the drop of a hat — or in this case, at the hinge of your hips. For your hip “snap” to effectively complete your swing, you have to activate your posterior chain muscles quickly. Practicing kettlebell swings regularly will help your body adapt to developing increased power in a short amount of time.
Strengthen Your Hip Hinge
Kettlebell swings can directly carry over to deadlifts or other lower-body compound movements, despite being lightly loaded by comparison. Because you’re lifting so much less weight, you can practice your hip hinge dozens or even hundreds of times per session, accumulating an awful lot of volume without causing undue stress to your joints or nervous system.
As long as an athlete can properly perform kettlebell deadlifts and their low back is in good health, they can probably do kettlebell swings. People with pretty much any fitness-related goal can benefit from this all-purpose exercise.
Functional Fitness Athletes
Whether you’re trying to improve your overall fitness or boost your work capacity to crush your next WOD, kettlebell swings are for you. They’ll build postural strength, grip strength, aid recovery, and improve both power and conditioning — all in one motion.
They can also be performed basically anytime and anywhere, making them the perfect match for functional fitness athletes who often need to get a good session in quickly.
Conditioning is often an overlooked aspect of powerlifting, and kettlebell swings are a great tool for getting your work capacity up without spending lots of time on an elliptical. Since powerlifters often prefer their cardio in short bursts, kettlebell swings can help pack in that conditioning work fast. Swings are also low impact and can be used on active recovery days without interfering with your primary routine.
Despite being lauded for their postural and cardiovascular benefits, kettlebell swings can build muscle, especially in beginners just starting. While targeted training is better for growth long-term, kettlebell swings are great tools for bodybuilders because they’re excellent at burning body fat without high joint impact. If programmed properly, swings can assist with rather than diminish recovery — while altering body composition at the same time.
Whether you’re an old pro or you’re just getting started with all things kettlebell, you know your training will look (and feel) a lot cooler with properly executed kettlebell swings. This versatile move is a worthwhile add-on to pretty much any training program. Whether you want to get more coordinated, boost your grip strength, or just plain improve your conditioning, get swinging today to be stronger and fitter tomorrow.
Whether you’re just starting out with kettlebell swings or you’re an old pro looking to refine your technique or boost your training volume, you might have some questions about this foundational kettlebell move. That’s alright — we’ve got answers.
Why do kettlebell swings hurt my low back?
If you’re experiencing pain while performing any exercise in the gym, it is best to seek the advice and care of a medical professional. That said, training should be restorative in nature — if you’re experiencing pain, look to your technique first and foremost. A proper hip hinge is critical for safely performing the kettlebell swing. If you’re not engaging your lats during the swing or not squeezing your glutes when you stand up, these might be technique-related reasons for low back pain.
How many kettlebell swings can I do at once?
It really depends on your goals, but technically, as many as you want. If you’re training to improve cardiovascular endurance, you might want to consider timing your swings to see how many you can get in a given period. But if you’re training for strength and explosive power, keep your rep levels lower (think eight to 15 reps per set) with heavier weights. If you find yourself banging out dozens — or even hundreds or more — of reps with ease, you may not be adequately challenging yourself.
Can I do kettlebell swings every day?
Figuring out if you can train with a kettlebell daily is about assessing your fitness level, experience with swings, and your goals. Unless your experience and fitness are both very high, you probably don’t want to use heavy swings as metabolic finishers every day. But if you have some experience in the gym, or are using lighter bells as part of your warm-up, you can probably swing daily. Just monitor your lifting progress and make sure that the amount of work you’re doing isn’t interfering with your recovery.
How much weight should I use for kettlebell swings?
A little bit of trial and error — as long as your trial doesn’t involve starting with the heaviest weight possible — never hurt anyone. When you’re first learning to swing, try for 10 percent of your one-rep max deadlift. So if your max deadlift is 300 pounds, start experimenting with a 30-pound bell. This may feel pretty easy at first, but you’ll want to learn the movement perfectly before cranking up the weight. Once you can do 15 reps with perfect form, consider moving up in load.
Featured Image: BarBend