The Kettlebell Swing: A Foundational Exercise

Whether you’re looking to build strength, lose fat, or become a better conditioned athlete, the kettlebell swing is an excellent exercise to build your foundation upon.  This deceptively complex movement can be somewhat difficult to master, but once you do, and you start incorporating it into your programming you are going to reap the benefits.

The movement works the muscles of the posterior chain, mainly the glutes, hammies, and lower back. It’s considered foundational in the kettlebell community due to the number of the other movements that build off the swing as a basis (such as the clean or snatch). Build strength and endurance with a high volume of swings and I guarantee you’ll see progress in your other big lifts like squats, deadlifts, and cleans, too. I was able to deadlift over 250 pounds after having not picked up a barbell in over 15 years and I credit that to all the kettlebell swings I did last winter.

The deadlift and swing are essentially the same movement pattern: the hip hinge. This is where a lot of swingers get it wrong and why technique is absolutely crucial.  I cringe when I see the move being done as a squat with a pulling motion to bring the bell up, and I’m pretty sure that’s how I did when I “swung” my first kettlebell in my basement.  Since then I’ve been further refining my skills (and will continue to do so at the RKC in April) and know that generating power from the hips is absolutely crucial to this move, whereas the arms are there to simply guide the bell. That’s why this exercise can be beneficial to an entire host of athletic endeavors, where power generation from the hips plays such an important role.

Want a more powerful golf swing? Swing a kettlebell.

Want to run up a hill easier? Swing a kettlebell.

Want to throw a more forceful kick? Swing a kettlebell.

Want to learn how to swing a kettlebell? Check out the video below:

Once you’ve got the move down there’s a multitude of ways to incorporate it into your training. You can design full workout using just that move.  Set a timer for fifteen minutes and start swinging.  When you feel your form start to break down take a break for thirty seconds to a minute and then start swinging again and count your total reps for the fifteen minutes.

Or you can do a ladder style workout by setting a timer to go off every minute. Do ten swings and rest the remainder of the minute. Then do twelve swings and continue to add 2 swings every minute until you don’t finish them all.

Another option is to use it as a conditioning move in a circuit in combination with a more strength or power based movement. You could do five strict presses with each arm, and use twenty swings as an “interlude” between switching sides. I did something similar for an entire thirty minute workout last week where I alternated swings with a set of TGUs.

Then there is always the “I’m walking past my kettlebells so I might as well do thirty swings just for the heck of it” set. My favorite for breaking up long bouts of sitting and writing articles. Just one or two minutes of swings throughout the day can be highly beneficial. I credit my “swing every day” approach with a vast improvement in my snatch capability.

Not only is the swing improving conditioning, but it’s ingraining that hip hinge pattern – the same pattern that is the foundation of the kettlebell snatch – into my muscle memory. I am generating so much more power than I was a few weeks ago that I am getting a much higher “float” out of it that I really only need to use my arm to stabilize it at the top of the snatch. That make snatching so much easier.

Another side bonus of daily swinging: fat loss. I’ve made no dietary changes since I’ve integrated more kettlebell work into my training the last few weeks and I can see myself leaning out in the mirror.  The dynamic, ballistic movements and density style workouts seem to ignite my fat loss more so than more traditional strength training workouts do. So even though my workouts are shorter, I’m doing more work in that time period and I’m definitely seeing the benefits. A minute of all out swings can burn twenty calories; just another reason to add more of them into your programming.

One final note on the kettlebell swing. It’s just plain fun.

Grabbing that piece of iron, hiking it back between your legs, and thrusting it forward with conviction, there’s just something empowering about it, almost primal. For that split second while the bell is floating up you are completely in control. You’ve tamed that iron ball for that rep, and even though you know you have to tame it again the next rep you are up for the challenge. That’s the beauty of this foundational movement. There’s an ebb and flow, effort and reprieve, much like life. Challenge and relief. Embrace the challenge and reap the benefits.

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