Kettlebell swing stands out as an excellent exercise for enhancing strength and power in the muscles of the posterior chain, including the glutes and hamstrings. However, there are plenty of alternatives to the kettlebell swing, that offer similar benefits by targeting similar muscle groups or training outcomes.
Here, we’ll share 11 alternatives, and explain when and why you might choose them over kettlebell swings.
- Hip Thrust
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Box Jumps
- Trap Bar Jump
- Medicine Ball Slams
- Cable Pull Throughs
- Clean Pulls
- Glute Bridges
- Counter Movement Jumps
- Kettlebell Snatch
The conventional deadlift is the original deadlift that most people are referring to when they talk about a deadlift. It involves bending at the hips and the knees to lift a barbell from the ground to a standing position.
The conventional deadlift places a substantial demand on the posterior chain muscles, engaging the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. The controlled nature of the deadlift and the use of the barbell allows for heavier loading, making it a strength-focused exercise when compared to the dynamic nature of the kettlebell swing.
The conventional deadlift can often be considered highly technical under heavy loads, meaning learning and refining the deadlift technique can take time when compared to the relatively straightforward swing of the kettlebell swing.
Hip thrusts are a hip hinging movement pattern similar to that of the kettlebell swing. However, unlike the kettlebell swing, the hip thrust involves supporting the upper back on a bench and lifting the hips upward. This positioning, where the back is stabilized on a bench, can reduce the load on the spine and minimise stress on the lower back when compared to the kettlebell swing.
This exercise emphasizes the posterior chain muscles, particularly targeting the glutes, given the knees are in a more bent position compared to the kettlebell swing
The hip thrust, performed with a barbell, demands control throughout the entire range of motion, contrasting with the fast nature of the kettlebell swing. The controlled movement and the ability to load the barbell heavily contribute to its effectiveness in strengthening the posterior chain, with a specific focus on strengthening the glutes.
The Romanian deadlift, also known as an RDL or a stiff-legged deadlift, involves a hip-hinging stiff-legged movement similar to that of the kettlebell swing. However, it is different in that the movement is performed holding a barbell with far more control and at a much slower pace throughout the entire range of motion.
The Romanian deadlift places emphasis on engaging muscles throughout the length of the hamstrings, as well as the glutes and lower back muscles, similar to that of the kettlebell swing. The use of the barbell and the controlled eccentric movement lends itself to an effective approach to developing strength in the posterior chain.
Box jumps involve a dynamic movement pattern similar to that of the kettlebell swing. However, unlike the swing, box jumps require a level of stiffness in the calf and ankle to transmit and absorb force as you jump onto a box.
Both exercises emphasize rapid and powerful extension of the hips and knees, making them valuable for developing explosiveness and power in the lower body. It’s important to note that the plyometric (jumping) nature of the box jumps introduces additional stress on your joints, so attention to good jumping and landing mechanics is vital to minimise the risk of injury.
Trap Bar Jump
Trap bar jumps involve a dynamic and explosive movement pattern similar to that of the kettlebell swing. However, unlike the continuous and repetitive nature of the swing, trap bar jumps involve executing a single explosive vertical jump while holding onto a trap bar (also known as a hex bar).
Both exercises require you to produce a high amount of force in a short amount of time, facilitating the development of power through the posterior chain.
The trap bar jump introduces a unique element by incorporating a jump under added load, instilling a plyometric aspect that requires excellent landing and jumping mechanics. This is highly technical so would only be suitable for athletes that are highly trained and have a high training age.
Medicine Ball Slams
The med ball slam is an explosive exercise that serves as an alternative to the kettlebell swing. The med ball slam involves a dynamic overhead slam with a medicine ball, which requires rapid power generation throughout the entire body, engaging the core, shoulders and posterior chain muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings.
The med ball slam distinguishes itself from the kettlebell swing with the rapid vertical forces exerted during the slam, in contrast to the rhythmic horizontal forces of the kettlebell swing, making it an effective exercise for developing explosive power and forceful energy transfer throughout the body.
The med ball slams simplicity makes it easy to learn and execute even under high stress and fatigue, making it a valuable exercise.
Cable pull Throughs
Cable pull-throughs offer an effective alternative to kettlebell swings, targeting the posterior chain with a different approach. Cable pull-throughs, using a cable machine, involve a controlled stiff-legged hip hinge with continuous tension, allowing for targeted engagement of the glutes and hamstrings for effective strength development.
If looking to develop explosive power in the posterior chain, cable pull-throughs can be performed by lowering the weight and executing the movement fast.
Clean pulls are considered a progression from the kettlebell swing, as they involve lifting a barbell from the floor to the hips using an explosive triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles. Clean pulls emphasize power development in the posterior chain muscles, particularly targeting the glutes, hamstrings and erector spinae muscles with an additional requirement of the quads working.
The ability to load the barbell heavily during clean pulls contributes to rapid vertical force production but also makes it a complex exercise that is harder to learn compared to the kettlebell swing.
The glute bridge is a hip-hinging movement pattern similar to that of the kettlebell swing. It involves laying on the back, supporting the upper body on the ground, and lifting the hips upward. This position, with the back stabalized on the ground, can reduce stress on the spine and minimize lower back strain when compared to the kettlebell swing.
The glute bridge targets the posterior chain muscles, particularly emphaiszing the glutes, as the knees are in a more bent position compared to the kettlebell swing. While the glute bridge lacks the dynamic nature of the kettlebell swing, its controlled movement and the ability to progress with added resistance contributes to its effectiveness in developing robustness in the posterior chain, with a specific focus of the glutes.
Counter Movement Jumps
Counter movement jumps are a plyometric exercise, that demands a forceful jump, utilising the stretch-shortening cycle to generate explosive vertical force. This jump requires a rapid and powerful extension of the hips and knees while engaging the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
It’s important to note that the plyometric (jumping) nature of the box jumps introduces additional stress on your joints, so attention to good jumping and landing mechanics is vital to minimise the risk of injury.
The kettlebell snatch requires a rapid, forceful extension of the hips and knees to propel the kettlebell overhead in a single motion. This explosive movement emphasizes power generation through the entire body, whilst also requiring coordination, timing and shoulder stability in the overhead position.
The kettlebell snatch not only targets the posterior chain muscles like the kettlebell swing, it also places significant demand on the shoulders, traps and core muscles.
Summary of 11 Kettlebell Swing Alternatives
This article presents 11 kettlebell swing alternatives, each offering unique benefits for developing posterior chain strength or power.
- Deadlifts can develop maximal global strength.
- Hip thrusts can target maximal strength in the glutes.
- Romanian deadlifts can strengthen hamstrings throughout their length.
- Box jumps can enhance lower body explosiveness (speed-strength) and stiffness.
- Trap Bar Jumps can develop power (strength-speed) in the posterior chain.
- Medicine Ball Slams can increase full-body power (speed-strength) and is easy to learn.
- Cable Pull Throughs can strengthen the hamstring throughout their length.
- Clean Pulls can emphasize power (strength-speed) under load in the posterior chain and are complex.
- Glute Bridge can develop robustness in the glutes and are low stress on the back.
- Counter Movement Jump can build power (speed-strength) while utilizing the stretch-shortening cycle.
- Kettlebell Snatch emphasizes vertical power generation through the entire body.
This article provides a guide for athletes, coaches and students to choose alternatives to kettlebell swings based on their training history and goals. Let us know which alternative you prefer!
- Lake et al. (2012) – Kettlebell Swing Training Improves Maximal and Explosive Strength
- Lake et al. (2012) – Mechanical Demands of Kettlebell Swing Exercise
- Farrar et al. (2010) – Oxygen Cost of Kettlebell Swings
- McGill et al. (2012) – Kettlebell Swing, Snatch, and Bottoms-Up Carry: Back and Hip Muscle Activation, Motion, and Low Back Loads
- Garrett et al. (2017) – Kinematic and Kinetic Variables Differ Between Kettlebell Swing Styles
- Levine et al. (2022) – Effects of Kettlebell Mass on Lower-Body Joint Kinetics During a Kettlebell Swing Exercise
- Hussain, S. (2014) The Effects of Kettlebell Training on Strength, Power, and Endurance
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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.