BREAK IT DOWN: The Kettlebell Swing

Master this dynamic move to build full-body strength and power.

Kettlebell swing

The swing is the classic kettlebell exercise. It’s a ballistic move that builds full-body strength as well as explosive power, working the posterior chain — the muscles in your back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves — as well as the upper body, namely your lats, forearms, and hands.

At the same time, it’s a conditioning tool, improving cardiovascular capacity and burning fat.

Moreover, a well-executed swing enhances body awareness and improves core stability.

Despite its benefits, the dynamic movement can be intimidating for newcomers. Even for seasoned exercisers, it’s easy to succumb to common pitfalls that make the swing ineffective or even painful, particularly through the lower back.

The key is to remember that you — not the weight ­— are the master. You swing the kettlebell; the weight does not swing you.

These tips can help you swing more effectively.

1. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and a kettlebell 1 to 2 feet in front of you. Hinge at the hips to reach down and grasp the kettlebell.

2. Tip the kettlebell handle toward you. With your core engaged and lower back flat, quickly “hike” the kettlebell backward, high between your legs.

Tip: Engage your lats once the kettlebell reaches its apex to push it back between your legs. Repeat, then “park” the weight in front of you with control.

Tip: In the hike position, make sure the triangle shape formed by the kettlebell’s handle and horns is completely above knee height.

3. Reverse the movement by forcefully driving your hips forward. Contract your glutes to come to standing as the kettlebell swings out in front of you.

Tip: Open your hips completely, but don’t throw your shoulders back behind your hips. Imagine that the top position is a perfectly stable standing plank.

Tip: At its highest position, the kettlebell should feel weightless because of the power generated by your hips.

Tip: Make sure you can gaze over the kettlebell; do not try to swing it higher than your nose.

4. Engage your lats once the kettlebell reaches its apex to push it back between your legs. Repeat, then “park” the weight in front of you with control.

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Four Steps to Perfect-For-You Form

Use this checklist to ensure you’re actively using great form in your kettlebell swings:

  • Start the swing by hinging at the hips. This is different from bending over. To practice this, stand a couple of inches from a wall and attempt to tap your butt back against it. If you succeed, step a little farther away and tap again. Keep going until you get a good sense of how it feels to push your hips back versus simply bending forward at the waist.
  • Stand tall. Stack your shoulders, rib cage, and hips in a straight line. Keep them stacked. The swing is essentially a moving, upright plank — at the top position, with arms outstretched, you are in an upright version of a solid plank. A proper plank does not feature hunched shoulders, arched back, or flared ribs.
  • Focus on efficiency. A good-form swing is smooth. The kettlebell is hiked between the legs, collects momentum, and follows a gentle arc until your hands are face-height.
  • Finally, remember there is no pulling in kettlebell swings. Your hands do not pull the weight up to chest height; they guide the direction of the kettlebell as your hips propel it. Likewise, on the downswing, the kettlebell does not pull you down; you press the kettlebell down, high and back between your legs. Controlling the kettlebell will keep it from pulling you out of alignment, which can also strain your back.

is an Experience Life senior editor and Alpha Strong coach at Life Time.

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