Kettlebell Swings

The fundamental kettlebell swing is a whole posterior chain workout

This deceptively simple exercise is closely related to the Romanian deadlift; It will train your Posterior chain (lower back,glutes and hamstrings) in a functional,highly aerobic motion that is an excellent complement to squats.

If your still unconvinced that the posterior chain is a critical part of a truly athletic foundation, compare a video of Novac Djokovic preparing to return a serve with just about anyone else. See how he sits down into the crouch and preloads his hamstrings ? He's ready to go in any direction and so can you; Here's the how and why :

  1. Standing erect holding a KB with a double overhand grip and your arms straight,
  2. Like a pendulum, swing the KB forward and back ramping up each cycle - letting the KB swing between your legs by bending at the
    knees and leaning forward (your back should be straight like a deadlift posture)-

  • Like an archer, you are "loading the bow" of your posterior chain ( hams, glutes, lower back) which should all tighten up as the
    KB reaches it's farthest point behind you.
  • Now, as the KB starts swinging forward, snap (hard!) your hips forward and pull with straight arms. The KB should pop up
    without any shrugging or effort by your arms.
  • How much weight should you use ? How many reps ?
    Here's a few suggestions:
    • For the KB swings, light,medium, heavy would probably correspond to 10%,15%,20% of your max deadlift.
    • keep the reps between 15 and 25 to start
    • you want enough weight that you can focus on
      1. proper form
      2. sharp, aggressive hip snaps,
        and
      3. no worry about the KB flying over your head.

      Use enough weight that you can pop the KB to shoulder or even eye level; If you have don't have adjustable dumbbell or
      kettlebell, then choose a light to medium weight to learn the motion; A foot or two of height change can make a lighter KB
      feel heavier.

    A few fine points on technique.

    1. Keep your arms straight and your shoulders "down". Keep the emphasis on the hip snap; This is not a clean or a cheating shrug.
    2. Hams or Quads ?
      This is hard to describe but easy to experience.
      To get a feel for this, do a few KB swing reps and vary the knee bend and forward lean. At the "hamstring" extreme you are a
      stiff-legged and your body hinges almost entirely at the waist- your hamstrings acting like a spring that pulls your back upright.
      At the "quad" extreme, you bend your knees more.
      This unloads the hamstrings and as a result the back hinges
      farther forward. and the legs do more of the work.

      A hamstring dominant swing with a good,hard hip snap would uses 40% lower back, 40% hams and 20%quads. If you haven't been training your hamstrings you will likely fall back to a quad dominant hip snap which uses 25% lower back, 25% hams and 50% quads. Good form lies between these two extremes, and you get to choose the mix on every rep and figure out if our percentages hold in your own case.

    3. The timing to the hip snap can be tricky. It helps to visualize the hips snapping forward while you are pulling back and up
      with your shoulders. Not unlike the olympic lifts.
    4. If you are trying this motion with a dumbbell, your grip will be overlapped "thumbs-up" instead of an overhand grip and you will need a wider stance to prevent the wider DB from hitting your shins- That shifts the emphasis away from the lower back and hamstrings to the quads.

    Tired of being "face down" on a leg curl machine ?
    Snap your hips and pop your kettlebell up and like a real athlete!

    Try 3 sets of 25,20 and 15 reps with a medium weight KB swung to eye level. Mix in some pushups and situps between sets !