5 Kettlebell Swing Variations To Mix Up Your Routine

The kettlebell swing is a classic exercise that can be used for improving strength and power in the muscles of the posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles – as a strength and conditioning coach, this would be my primary variation and reason for programming the kettlebell swing.

Yet, as the world of kettlebell swings has evolved, it has given rise to a range of variations which infuse diversity into a workout routine and can bias a specific muscle group and training goals for the broader fitness community. This article will explore the different variations of kettlebell swings and shed light on the reasons behind incorporating these variations.

Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing – Best for Unilateral Training

The single-arm kettlebell swing involves executing the traditional kettlebell swing movement while gripping the kettlebell with one hand, requiring one side of your body to exert more effort to maintain control. 

This exercise primarily targets the muscles of the posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes and lower back, similar to the traditional swing. However, the key difference lies in the unilateral nature of the single-arm variation. This places a greater demand on stabalizing muscles, such as the core, particularly the obliques and the muscles along the spine, as the body must work hard to counterbalance the uneven load. 

The single-arm kettlebell swings offer a number of benefits. Firstly, it helps correct muscle imbalances by addressing strength discrepancies between the left and right sides of the body. Secondly, the exercise challenges the core and stabalizing muscles more intensely due to the unilateral load. Lastly, you can develop strength and power similar to that of the traditional kettlebell swing.

American Kettlebell Swing – Best for Overhead Stability

The American kettlebell swing extends the movement of the traditional kettlebell swing to bring the kettlebell overhead, which involves the complete extension of the arms. 

This variation works the same muscles as the standard swing, but with an increased emphasis on the shoulder and upper back muscles. The overhead extension adds an element of overhead strength and shoulder stability, which is beneficial for those in CrossFit or those requiring frequent overhead movements. However, it should be approached with caution, especially by individuals with shoulder stability or mobility challenges.

Kettlebell Sumo High Pull – Best for Power Development and Adductor Strength

The kettlebell sump high pull starts with a wider-than-should-width stance, similar to a sumo squat, and involves powerfully pulling the kettlebell up to shoulder height with elbows flaring up. 

This variation recruits the muscles of the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings and lower back muscles. It also tends to engage the adductors (inner thigh muscles) more than other variations due to the wider foot stance.

The kettlebell sumo high pull can be used for power development and strengthening the adductors. But it is worth noting that if your main goal is specifically to enhance power in the posterior chain and strengthen the adductors, alternative exercises like the barbell high pull and Copenhagen holds offer more targeted approaches. Nevertheless, if you are seeking a kettlebell swing variation, the sumo high pull can provide that to an extent.

Banded Kettlebell Swing – Best for Power Development

The banded kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that combines the traditional kettlebell swing with the added challenge of a resistance band. In this variation, the resistance band is looped through the handle of the kettlebell and then you stand feet hip-width apart on the other end of the band, before performing the kettlebell swing.

The use of the band creates extra tension, requiring you to execute the movement with increased speed which lends itself to developing explosive hip extension and power through the posterior chain.

Double Kettlebell Swing – Best for Advanced Strength

The double kettlebell swing is performed by holding a kettlebell in each hand and performing the swing movement with both kettlebells at the same time. This variation targets the same muscle groups as the traditional swing, but the use of the two kettlebells increases the load on these muscles, lending itself to developing strength in these areas.

This advanced variation is best suited for individuals who have mastered the single kettlebell swing, have a high training age and are now looking to intensify the challenge to develop their strength under a dynamic load. It’s worth highlighting that if the primary objective is specifically to develop strength, opting for an alternative exercise such as the barbell deadlift offers a more specific approach. However, for those looking for a nuanced strength challenge and a touch of variety within their kettlebell swings, the double kettlebell swing remains a strategic choice.

Summary of Research on Kettlebell Exercises

  • Variability in Kettlebell Swing Styles: Different kettlebell swing styles (e.g., shoulder height swing, overhead swing) have distinct kinematic and kinetic demands, affecting how joints and muscles are engaged during the exercise.
  • Impact of Kettlebell Mass: The mass of the kettlebell significantly influences lower-body joint kinetics during swings. Heavier kettlebells can alter the biomechanical load on the lower body, affecting exercise intensity and potential muscle development.
  • Muscle Activation and Joint Load: Kettlebell exercises, particularly swings, involve rapid muscle activation-relaxation cycles. These exercises can create substantial muscle activation (up to 80% of maximal voluntary contraction for gluteal muscles) and significant spinal compression.
  • Therapeutic vs. Discomforting Effects: While some athletes find kettlebell swings therapeutic and beneficial for back health, others may experience discomfort, highlighting the importance of individualized exercise prescription.
  • Comparative Effectiveness: Kettlebell training can be as effective as traditional strength and power training methods in improving strength and power, with the added benefit of requiring minimal equipment.


Each kettlebell variation offers unique benefits and can be incorporated into training programs based on individual goals and skill levels. It’s important to choose the variation that aligns with your training objectives and to always prioritize form and safety in execution.

Check out this link if you would like to read more about the sets and reps you should use for your training goals.


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

+ posts

Emily, co-founder of Sport Science Insider, graduated from the University of Leeds in 2020 and went on to become an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA in 2022. A former athlete herself, Emily has since gone on to deliver S&C coaching for the Southern Academy of Sport, GB Rowing, GB Taekwondo and works currently as a full-time S&C coach at the University of Leeds.