The kettlebell swing is a widely popular exercise performed in sports performance facilities, CrossFit boxes, fitness classes, and garage gyms worldwide. A refined kettlebell swing will unlock a slew of benefits to your power output, muscle hypertrophy, and work capacity.
It’s also an easy exercise to master; once you do, you can program it into your training in various ways. This article will take you through everything you need to know about the kettlebell swing, including:
- How to Do the Kettlebell Swing
- Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
- Muscles Worked by the Kettlebell Swing
- Who Should Do the Kettlebell Swing
- Kettlebell Swing Programming Recommendations
- Kettlebell Swing Variations
- Kettlebell Swing Alternatives
- Kettlebell Swing FAQs
The kettlebell swing is a 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, toes forward, and the kettlebell placed on the floor 12-18 inches in front of you. Bend at the waist and load the hips without allowing the knees to pass in front of the toes such that your torso falls into a mostly horizontal position. Keep your back flat and grab the handle of the kettlebell with both hands. Ensure that your feet are flat and you’re balanced slightly towards the heels.
Coach’s Tip: In this position, you should feel a stretch on the hamstrings as well as tension across your entire back.
Step 2 — Load the Swing
From the set up position, aggressively sweep the kettlebell back between your legs by contracting the lats. Your knees can bend slightly during the movement. However, it is important to keep the weight in the hips and load the hamstrings.
Coach’s Tip: This is a fluid movement that initiates the “pendulum” motion needed for repeated swings.
Step 3 — Drive The Hips
Forcefully drive the kettlebell forwards with the hips and glutes while simultaneously straightening the knees to bring yourself into a rigid, upright posture. Your shoulders and arms should be loose to allow the weight to swing freely upwards.
Coach’s Tip: Be sure to use the quads, core, and upper back to counter the horizontal force of the hips to remain in balance and resist falling forward.
Step 4 — Stand Tall and Tight
When the kettlebell reaches its apex, your body should be vertically stacked with the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders all in alignment. Focus on bracing every single muscle in your torso at the top.
Coach’s Tip: You should be flexed yet fluid throughout this movement. Be sure to breathe at the tip of the swing as well.
Step 5 — Reload Your Swing
To reload and perform another rep, allow the kettlebell to fall naturally while sweeping it back between your legs with the lats — the arms should be 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. 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 the neck. Let your eye line fall naturally with your torso.
There are few movements with benefits as versatile as those offered by the kettlebell swing. Pretty much whatever you’re looking to do, whether it is power development, improved conditioning, or just general strength training, can be achieved with the kettlebell swing.
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 and doesn’t require hours of running. 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 comparatively lightly loaded. 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 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 the 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 the hip flexors help provide stability from start to finish.
Glutes & 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.
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 improving body composition at the same time.
So you’ve got your form down and want to start some real swinging. Incorporating kettlebell training into your existing program is almost always an option, as long as you aren’t peaking for a powerlifting meet or prepping for a physique competition. You can also integrate a day devoted to kettlebells into your training week, whether as the main element of a workout or as a warm-up or finisher. Like any exercise, determining the right dosage of sets and reps is crucial for getting the most out of it.
For General Fitness
Maybe you’re training at home with your kettlebell. Maybe you want to add the kettlebell swing to your pre-existing gym routine. Either way, if you want to improve your general fitness, kettlebell swings are a great way to go due to their broad training stimulus. Start with three sets of 10 to build up your tolerance, then see if you can start swinging on timed intervals. You can improve both strength and endurance with the kettlebell swing without taking yourself to the absolute limit.
For Physique Development
If you’re looking to alter your body composition, try supersetting your kettlebell swings with isolation movements. This will keep your heart rate revved up even during the “slower” parts of your training. You can also use swings as metabolic workout finishers. Perform a set of swings (15-20 reps) during the rest period between single-joint exercises for some metabolic work while also focusing on muscular development.
For Strength and Power
When implemented correctly, the kettlebell swing is going to help develop strength and power. But if you want these attributes to be your focus in the gym, you’ll want to use a heavier bell. As always, keep your form impeccable, and consider programming your swings toward the beginning of your workout while you’re fresh. Try four sets of five to 10 reps, focusing on applying as much force as possible, resting as needed.
Kettlebell Swing Sample Program
This workout is from strongman athlete Andy Bolton, the first man to ever deadlift 1,000 pounds. The purpose of this workout is to improve technique by progressively overloading volume. Start this program with a conservatively weighted kettlebell. The emphasis should be on powerful swings and crisp technique, not accumulating poor practice. Once you can perform 100 swings in a single session with perfect technique (10-minute EMOM), increase the weight of the kettlebell and restart.
- Week 1 – 5 sets of 5 swings (5-minute EMOM)
- Week 2 – 5 sets of 6 swings (5-minute EMOM)
- Week 3 – 5 sets of 7 swings (5-minute EMOM)
- Week 4 – 5 sets of 8 swings (5-minute EMOM)
- Week 5 – 5 sets of 9 swings (5-minute EMOM)
- Week 6 – 5 sets of 10 swings (5-minute EMOM)
- Week 7 – 10 sets of 5 swings (10-minute EMOM)
- Week 8 – 10 sets of 6 swings (10-minute EMOM)
- Week 9 – 10 sets of 7 swings (10-minute EMOM)
- Week 10 – 10 sets of 8 swings (10-minute EMOM)
- Week 11 – 10 sets of 9 swings (10-minute EMOM)
- Week 12 – 10 sets of 10 swings (10-minute EMOM)
If you properly account for intensity, volume, and frequency, 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 can increase the intensity of the exercise and add extra work to your anti-rotation muscles to the mix, challenging your core and boosting your swinging confidence at the same time.
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 hip extension 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. While not universally applicable to every athlete, this variation is great for identifying any unilateral strength imbalances that may go unseen with traditional repetitions. To avoid any strain to your hips or hamstrings, practice this version with very light weights, especially initially.
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.
Kettlebells aren’t the only swingable gym equipment in town. While the dumbbell and kettlebell are very different, that doesn’t mean you can’t perform adequate swings with one. All the same principles of technique apply, just be cautious about your grip and take time to adjust to the distinct feel of the movement.
To perform banded pull-throughs, secure a resistance band on a low anchor behind you. Grab hold of it between your legs and face away from the anchor. 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, hypertrophic 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. Try to jump as far as you can and land softly. You’ll challenge your body to generate force quickly and develop power without needing any resistance at all.
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.
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 8-15 reps per set) with heavier weights. If you find yourself banging out dozens — or even hundreds or more — of reps with ease, you’re probably not 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 warmup, 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% of your 1RM deadlift. So if your max deadlift is 300 pounds, start experimenting with a 30-pound bell. This will likely 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.