If you want to learn how to do a kettlebell swing, the first thing to know is you probably shouldn’t copy the people you see doing it in the gym. Why? Because most people are doing it poorly and can injure themselves. “In every gym I’ve been to, the technique seems to vary, and you see some horrific demonstrations,” says Ashton Turner, co-founder of London’s Evolve 353 gym. “The most common mistake you see is excessive knee bend and no hip drive. You also see too much arm involvement so it becomes a front raise. Ideally, your forearm should stay connected to your body until you drive your hips.”
But you’re different. You’re going to use that little weight properly because explosive training moves such as this are ideal if you’re looking to lose fat, especially if you contract the muscles in your core and glutes as hard as possible. It’ll also encourage you to keep your shoulders in a healthier position rather than slump forward at a desk. Overall you’ll gain muscle endurance, solid glutes, more flexible hips and – if you work at it – a core of steel.
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How to do a kettlebell swing
Find a kettlebell you’re confident you can swing and place it on the floor between your feet, which should be hip-width apart. Keep your shoulders back and chest up high – be proud. Now squat down to grab the handle in both hands with palms toward you. Then stand up with the kettlebell, keeping your shoulders back.
Now bend your knees a little, push your bottom out behind you and move your weight onto your heels as if you’re going to jump up. Then, in an explosive motion, swing the kettlebell up to chest height with arms extended using the power of your legs rather than trying to pull it up with your arms. When you reach that apex, tense your core and clench your behind.
Control the kettlebell as it descends. Put your weight back on the heels and hinge your hips as you allow it to swing between your legs. From here drive forward through heels and hips again for each rep. A set is comprised of 10-15 reps.
Don’t feel the need to show the gym how strong you are by picking up a heavy weight. Go light at first – perhaps a 16kg – to get the technique right.
The version we’ve described here is often known as the Russian kettlebell swing. The American one differs in that you let the weight swing all the way above your head, not shoulder height. Master the Russian one before trying to cross the Atlantic.
Perfect the Kettlebell Swing
Shoulders: Keep your shoulders relaxed to avoid shrugging the kettlebell and ending up with your shoulders around your ears.
Glutes: Activate your glutes by driving your hips through to a neutral position (where you are upright). Aim to keep your forearms attached to your hips until you reach neutral then, as your arms come up, squeeze your glutes to prevent overextending your lower back.
Head: Your head position should be neutral. The gap between your chin and your chest shouldn’t change.
Elbows: Use “soft” elbows throughout the swing. Keep your arms relaxed to take the tension out of your arm muscles and, instead, use the momentum of the kettlebell.
Knees: Your knees shouldn’t bend excessively during the swing – it should be a hip hinge motion. This is a posterior chain movement (the muscles on the back of your body), not a quads exercise.
Kettlebell Swing Variations
Once you’ve nailed the two-arm swing, start using these variations
Kettlebell one-hand swing
“Keep your form similar to the two-hand swing,” says Turner. “It’s a very similar movement so concentrate on your hip drive. It requires more oblique work to prevent your body from rotating.”
Kettlebell swing swap
“Change hands at the highest point of the swing, where the kettlebell is weightless. You can take one hand off the kettlebell before the other hand is on it – but beginners should swap over while still holding on to the kettlebell.”
Kettlebell swing spin
“At the top of the swing, let go, rotating the kettlebell back towards you and catch it. You could be forgiven for thinking that people just do it to look flashy but it’s a good test of your co-ordination, timing and control of the kettlebell.”
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Kettlebell Swing Workouts
Perform as many swings as you can in 60 seconds, using the form pointers above, and record the number of reps you complete. Rest for 60 seconds, then perform another minute of swings. Complete five rounds in total. Aim to beat your total rep score every time you attempt the challenge. “I do this as a quick and easy fat-burning exercise,” says Turner.
Do the following moves in order without resting:
- 10 double-arm swings
- 10 left-arm swings
- 10 right-arm swings
- 10 Swing swaps
Then do nine reps of the same four moves and continue that pattern until you do one rep of each move.
“This is a great test of your grip strength,” says Turner. “It’s a quick high rep workout that involves doing 220 reps in just 15 minutes.”