The kettlebell swing is a widely popular exercise seen in sports performance facilities, CrossFit boxes, fitness classes, and garage gyms around the world. Learning and refining kettlebell swing technique will unlock endless opportunities of power, muscle hypertrophy, cardiovascular fitness, and improve work capacity: without the fear of injury.
In this How-To Kettlebell Swing Guide we will discuss:
- Proper Kettlebell Swing Technique
- Common Kettlebell Swing Mistakes
- Sample Kettlebell Workout for Improved Technique and Fitness
How to Perform the Kettlebell Swing: Step-By-Step-Guide
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the kettlebell swing, especially the Russian kettlebell swing.
1.Get Set Up
Start with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart with the toes forward and the kettlebell placed 12-18 inches in front of you. Bend at the waist and load the hips back as you keep your knees from moving past the toes. This should bring your torso into a more horizontal position.
With the back flat and chest up, extend that arms out to grasp the kettlebell handle, making sure to stay balanced in the full foot, with slightly more pressure in the heels.
Coach’s Tip: In this setup position, you should feel a stretch on the hamstrings as well as tension across your lower, middle, and upper back.
2.Load the Swing
From the set up position, aggressively pull the shoulder blades down the back and allow the kettlebell to move backwards towards your hips.
Your knees can bend slightly during the movement, however it is important to keep the weight back and load the hamstrings.
Coach’s Tip: This is a fluid movement, one that initiates the pendulum motion needed for swing.
3.Drive the Bell
Forcefully drive the kettlebell upwards with the hips and knees, making sure to use the glutes to produce hip extension while simultaneously straightening the knees to bring yourself into a rigid, upright position.
The arms and back should remain flexed throughout this movement. There should be no lifting of the kettlebell with the front of the shoulders or arms.
Coach’s Tip: Be sure to unload the force of the glutes and hamstrings onto the bell, while using the quads (knee extension),core and upper back muscles to counter the horizontal force of the hips to remain in balance and resist overextending the body.
At the top of the swing, your body should be in a vertical line, with the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears all in alignment. The ribs should not be elevated.
Focus on flexing every single muscle in your body at the top of the swing, from the toes to the glutes to the lats to the hands.
Coach’s Tip: You should be flexed yet fluid throughout this movement. Be sure to breathe at the tip of the swing as well.
5.Reload the Swing
To reload the swing, guide the kettlebell downwards using your lat muscles to keep it in the pendulum motion. The kettlebell should be getting pulling into the space just below your groin.
There should be minimal space between the top of the kettlebell and your crotch. This will ensure proper reloading of the kettlebell in the position seen in step 2.
Repeat the movement for the prescribed repetitions. Once you are done, repeat the reload phase, but use less force in the drive phase to simply return the bell to the initial starting position in step 1.
Common Kettlebell Swing Mistakes
Believe it or not, this highly functional movement SHOULD be something many fitness enthusiasts can do correctly. Unfortunately, a great deal of fitness enthusiasts, trainers, and coaches still make some key mistakes when teaching and performing the kettlebell swing. Below are some key mistakes many people make at the beginner and advanced level, both athletes and coaches alike.
Mistake #1 – Not Keeping Your Knees Back
The kettlebell swing is a hip dominant movement, however many lifers will allow their knees to bend, making this movement more of a squat than a hinging pattern. Learning to keep the knees back in the setup, drive, and reload position are necessary to keep the kettlebell high into the hips, maintain rigidity in the back and hamstrings, and place load on the posterior chain.
Mistake #2 – Trying to Lift with the Arms and Shoulders
The kettlebell swing is a posterior chain dominant movement, which means it develops strength and power of the glutes, hamstrings, and back. Many individuals fail to utilize such muscles groups, opting instead to do something that resembles a slow motion shoulder front raise with a simultaneous lumbar hyperextension. To fix this, learn how to properly hinge, and then progress to more ballistic, yet fluid kettlebell swings.
Mistake #3 – Not Fully Extending the Hips
Failure to full extend the hips properly often results in lifting the kettlebell with the arms and lower back. From the side view the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears should be in a perfect vertical line.
Mistake #4 – Lack of Tension at the Top
Too often people perform kettlebell swings, launching the load upwards only to lose all tension and control at the top. Failure to not remain contracted results in lost coordination, muscle activation, and injury resilience.
At the top of the swing, your should have…
- Your knees fully extended, with flexed quadriceps
- Your glutes pinched together like you are cracking a peanut shell
- Your abs drawn in, with flexed core muscles
- Your elbows slightly bent to straight, with flexed arms
- Your shoulder blades should be slightly retracted and depressed down the back, similar to how they would be set in a proper plank position.
Mistake #5 – Letting the Kettlebell Drop Too Low
The kettlebell should be kept on a controlled path, where it ends slightly below the groin with minimal space between the top of the kettlebell and the crotch. Be sure to take your hands towards your glutes, not to the floor, as if you were hiking in NFL football to a quarterback (whose hands are high into your thighs).
Mistake #6 – Overextending at the Top
This mistake can be remedied by fixing most of the above mistakes, however an athlete often may not be aware they are doing this without being (1) shown proper extension, (2) being aware of what to do and what not to do, and (3) physically being taught the difference between overextension and rigidity at the top of the swing. It can be helpful for coaches to place their hands on the upper back of the lifter at the top of the swing, giving them feedback on their position and where to place themselves.
Mistake #7 – Lack of Aggression
The kettlebell swing is a movement that has repeatedly been shown to increase power output and explosiveness, yet so many athletes and coaches opt to do them with little emphasis on such traits. Performing swings with the intention to be forceful, much like the Olympic lifts, is necessary and vital aspect of kettlebell training.
Kettlebell Workout for Improved Technique and Fitness
The below workout is very straight-forward, and involves only the kettlebell swing and a clock. This workout was developed by renowned strongman, Andy Bolton.
10-Minute Kettlebell Swing EMOM
This workout is from strongman athlete, Andy Bolton, who was the first man to EVER DEADLIFT 1,000 POUNDS! The purpose of this workout is to improve technique through progressively overloading the swing movement through increased repetitions and load over time (in successive workouts).
Start by performing this workout with a kettlebell of moderate load. The emphasis should be on powerful swings (Russian, not Amerincan) and crisp technique.
This is NOT a workout that should be highly fatiguing the first time you do it!
- Every minute on the minute (EMOM), perform 5-10 swings
- Rest the remainder of every minute (approximately 45-50 seconds)
- Start with a moderate kettlebell weight (10-16kg)
- Once you can perform 100 swings in the workout perfectly (10 swings, every minute, for 10 minutes), increase the load of the kettlebell and repeat process
Think you are fit? Try mastering this with a 48kg bell!
Note, that the above workout is often a 12-week progression. You can follow this format below if you would like a longer kettlebell swing program.
- 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)
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