Integrating Kettlebell Swings into Your Workout Routine

Kettlebell swings stand out as an effective low impact exercise for developing strength and power in the muscles of your posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings and lower back muscles.

This article will guide you through integrating kettlebell swings into your training programme, ensuring you reap maximum benefits while maintaining a balanced programme and prioritizing safety.

Assessing Your Current Level

Before incorporating kettlebell swings into your routine, it’s important to assess where your currently at.

If you’re new to kettlebell swings, start by mastering the hip hinge movement, which is the foundation of this exercise.

Once the hip hinge movement pattern has been mastered, you could complete plenty of sets and reps at a light to moderate weight to provide plenty of opportunities to practice and refine your technique.

Labelled diagram on the key coaching points of the kettlebell swing

For a well trained individual that consistently performs kettlebell swings with sound technique, you could shift your focus to tailoring your sets, reps, load and intent to align with your specific training goals. This could involve opting for a heavier weight for strength, a moderate weight for power, or trailing a different kettlebell variation to achieve your desired training outcome. 

Understanding your current level helps in choosing the right starting point for your training with kettlebell swings.

Creating a Balanced Workout Programme

Kettlebell swings should be part of a balanced workout programme if your focus is on general athletic development – while kettlebell swings are effective for the posterior chain, they do not engage most upper body muscles or those on the anterior side of the body, such as the quads.

For a well-rounded programme to work your full body, it’s worth incorporating other exercises such as squats, press ups or pull up variations into your programme. This approach ensures overall muscle development and reduces the risk of overloading one area. 

Practical Example & Rationale: 

I incorporate kettlebell swings strategically within a strength and conditioning general athletic development programme where I aim to develop multiple physical qualities for athletisism.

To do this, I may programme kettlebell swings aimed at developing power in the posterior chain muscles and superset them with RDLs or deadlifts to develop strength in those same muscles. This approach takes advantage of the concept of post-activation potentitation (PAP), where the muscles and nervous system are primed by the strength exercise ready to generate power more effectively during the explosive movement. 

Elsewhere in the programme, I may programme a unilateral quad based exercise to complement the bilateral hinge exercise, along with an upper body push/pull movement and an exercise focusing on core stability. This approach will ensure a well-rounded programme for athletes in the early stages of their general athletic development. As their training age progresses, the programme would evolve to align more closely with the specific demands of their sport and their individual requirements. 

General athletic development programme that involves kettlebell swings

Progression and Adaptation

As you become more comfortable with kettlebell swings, progressive overload will become important so that your body receives a continual stimulus to promote the training outcome you’re looking to develop. 

  • For those aiming to enhance muscular endurance, a lighter weight within a 8-16 kg range for 10-12 reps may be sitable. To progress, you could gradually increase the number of reps or sets. 
  • For those focusing power development, a moderate weight in the range of 10-20 kg for 5-6 reps can be used. Progression for this outcome involves maintaining the same weight or slightly increasing it while performing the movement with greater speed.
  • For individuals who have progressively advanced their strength levels, opting for a heavier weight in the range of 16-32 kg for 6-8 reps would be more suitable for targeting strength improvements. To continue progressing, you could continue to gradually increase the amount of weight you lift. 

This intentional and gradually progressive increase in weight, volume or intent is designed to provide a continual stimulus promoting strength, power or muscular endurance improvements over time. Regardless of this, the weight you use for your kettlebell swings should enable correct technique – a flat back, engaged core and the capacity to generate force from the hips.

Please be aware that the weights mentioned here serve as illustrative examples. The appropriate weight for your use should be determined by your individual context, encompassing factors such as training history and goals. It is essential to recognize that the appropriate weight varies from person to person.

Combining Cardio and Strength Training

Kettlebell swings can form part of a high-intensity workout that has the ability to provide strength and cardiovascular (anerobic) benefits. To maximize this, you can combine kettlebell swings with cardio intervals.

For example, you might do a short burst of high-intensity cardio exercises like a 300m bike sprint into a 50m ski erg sprint and then into 15 kettlebell swings. This combination is one approach you can take to physical conditioning that combines cardio and strength training.

Summary

Incorporating kettlebell swings into your workout programme can enhance your strength or power in the posterior chain. By assessing your current level, creating a balanced workout plan and focusing on progression, you can make the most of this dynamic exercise. 

Remember, the key to success with kettlebell swings, as with any exercise, is consistency and proper form.

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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.