The kettlebell swing stands out as an excellent exercise for enhancing power in the muscles in the posterior chain, a key asset for athletes striving to achieve greater speeds and higher jumps. However, they can be challenging to perform correctly.
Here, we delve into the intricacies of performing kettlebell swings. We offer key coaching cues and address common mistakes observed by strength and conditioning coaches.
How to Perform a Kettlebell Swing
Let’s delve into a comprehensive guide on how to perform this dynamic exercise effectively to develop power.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Performing a Kettlebell Swing
- Position the Kettlebell: Place a kettlebell on the ground in front of you.
- Stand Correctly: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart with a soft bend in your knees.
- Hinge and Grip: Bend at your hips, reaching to grip the kettlebell with both hands.
- Prepare to Swing: Lift the kettlebell off the ground slightly, preparing for the swing.
- Initiate the Swing: Swing the kettlebell back between your legs.
- Drive Upwards: Quickly stand up and thrust your hips forward, swinging the kettlebell up to chest height.
- Swing Down: Let the kettlebell fall back down, hinging at the hips as it swings between your legs.
- Repeat: Continue the motion, using your hips to drive the movement.
The Initial Setup
Start by placing the kettlebell on the ground between your feet, which should be a bit wider than hip-width apart. This stance provides a stable base for the exercise. Have a soft bend in your knees and hinge at your hips to reach the kettlebell, keeping your back flat and eyes forward. This initial position is crucial for a successful swing.
Grip the kettlebell handle with both hands, palms facing you. Tilt the kettlebell slightly towards you. This movement, known as the ‘hike’, is your starting position for the swing. Ensure your shoulders are relaxed and your back is in a neutral (flat) position.
Drive through your heels and use your hips to propel the kettlebell forward and upward. Your arms are not lifting the weight; they’re merely guiding the kettlebell as your hips do most of the work. Swing the kettlebell up to chest height, keeping your arms straight. At the top of the swing, your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
As the kettlebell reaches its peak, let it fall back down naturally. Guide it back between your legs while hinging at the hips and a soft bend in your knees. It’s important to control the descent and prepare your body for the next upward swing.
To complete your set, allow the kettlebell to swing back down one final time, slowing to a stop on the ground in front of you. Avoid abrupt stops; let the kettlebell’s momentum decrease gradually.
To support athletes in learning the kettlebell swing, we can direct their focus to key components of the swing, using internal and external cues.
- Feel the Hinge: Concentrate on the hip hinge, feeling a stretch in your hamstrings as the kettlebell swings down.
- Drive with the Hips: Focus on using your hips to drive the kettlebell up.
- Tight Core: Keep your core muscles engaged throughout the swing.
- Glute Squeeze: At the top of the swing, actively squeeze your glutes.
- Swing Through a Doorway: Imagine swinging the kettlebell through a narrow doorway to control its path.
- Pop the Hips: Visualize your hips breaking through a barrier as you drive the kettlebell upward.
- Pull the Kettlebell Back: Think about aggressively pulling the kettlebell back through your legs during the downswing.
- Stand Tall: At the top of the swing, imagine reaching your tallest height, fully extending your hips.
Remember, internal cues focus on what you feel in your body, while external cues involve visualizing movements or scenarios. As a beginner, you might find one type more helpful than the other. Experiment with both to see which works best for you.
Common Mistakes When Performing Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are a dynamic and effective exercise, but they are often performed incorrectly, especially by beginners and intermediates. Here are some common mistakes and ways to correct them:
Squatting Instead of Hinging
Many people mistakenly perform a squat motion instead of a hip hinge. This changes the focus of the exercise from the hips and hamstrings to the quadriceps.
Correction: To correct this, position a 12″ foam roller between your feet. Next, perform the kettlebell swing while consciously avoiding hitting the foam roller. If the hip hinge is executed correctly, you won’t hit the foam roller with the kettlebell. However, a squatting motion will hit the foam roller over, providing valuable external feedback.
Rounding the Back
Rounding the back during the swing, particularly in the downward phase, is a common error that can lead to lower back strain.
Correction: Encourage maintaining a neutral (flat) spine throughout the exercise. A helpful cue is to imagine keeping a straight line from your head to your tailbone. Practicing romanian deadlifts (RDL’s) with a focus on keeping the back straight can also be beneficial.
Using Arms to Lift the Kettlebell
Some beginners tend to lift the kettlebell with their arms rather than driving the movement with their hips, which diminishes the effectiveness of the exercise for the posterior chain.
Correction: Focus on using the hips to propel the kettlebell. A good cue is to think of the arms as ropes that are being swung by the motion of the hips. Practicing hip thrusts can help develop an understanding of generating power from the hips.
Overextending at the Top
Overextending or leaning back at the top of the swing can put unnecessary stress on the lower back.
Correction: Teach the importance of standing tall but not leaning back at the top of the swing. A useful cue is to imagine standing up straight against a wall. Practicing swings with a focus on stopping the movement when the body is in a straight line can help correct this.
Losing Control at the Bottom
Losing control of the kettlebell at the bottom of the swing is a frequent issue, which can lead to a loss of balance and reduced effectiveness.
Correction: Encourage control throughout the entire swing. Practicing the downswing slowly and focusing on controlling the descent with the hips and hamstrings can be very effective. Starting with a lighter kettlebell can also help in building proper technique.
Frequently asked questions
How to Do Kettlebell Swing Correctly?
To perform a kettlebell swing correctly, start by standing with your feet just wider than hip-width apart and the kettlebell in front of you. Bend at your hips and knees to grip the kettlebell with both hands. Lift it off the ground and allow it to swing back between your legs. Then, drive your hips forward, straightening your legs and swinging the kettlebell up to chest height. Ensure your arms are straight and your core is engaged throughout the movement.
The power should come from your hips, not your arms. Keep your back straight and avoid rounding your shoulders. At the top of the swing, your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
How Many Kettlebell Swings a Day for Beginners?
Beginners should start with a manageable number of kettlebell swings to ensure proper form and prevent injury. A good starting point is 2-3 sets of 10-15 swings, however, we caution against kettlebell swinging every day. As you become more comfortable with the technique and build endurance, you can gradually increase the number of swings per set, but we would encourage you to limit kettlebell swinging to 1-3 times per week, allowing your body time for recovery.
Check out this guide for a full guide on sets and reps for your kettlebell training goals.
What Weight Should a Beginner Kettlebell Swing Be?
For beginners, a kettlebell swing should be light enough to allow for learning proper form and technique without strain. Generally, a weight of 8-16 kg (18-35 lbs) is recommended for beginners. It’s important to start with a weight that feels manageable and does not compromise your form.
Do You Bend Your Knees on Kettlebell Swings?
Yes, you do bend your knees during kettlebell swings, but the bend is minimal compared to a squat. The primary movement in a kettlebell swing is the hip hinge, which involves bending at the hips with a soft bend in the knees. This movement allows you to drive the kettlebell upward using your hips and glutes. The knees should bend naturally as you hinge at the hips, but the focus should remain on the hip movement rather than a deep knee bend.
How Heavy Should My Kettlebell Be for Swings?
The ideal kettlebell weight for swings depends on your fitness level, experience, and goals. Beginners should start with a lighter weight to focus on form, typically around 8-16 kg. As you gain strength and proficiency, you can gradually increase the weight. For strength training, a heavier kettlebell, such as 16-32 kg. The weight should be challenging but manageable to maintain proper form.
The kettlebell swing is an excellent non-impact exercise for athletes aiming to improve power in their posterior chain. For success in performing the exercise, focus on hinging at the hips and driving the hips forwards.
If you would like to find variations of kettlebell exercises, check out this link.
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Will is a sport scientist and golf professional who specialises in motor control and motor learning. Will lecturers part-time in motor control and biomechanics, runs Golf Insider UK and consults elite athletes who are interested in optimising their training and performance.