Kettlebell swings are a well-known full-body strength and conditioning exercise. Swings improve cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, endurance, and core stability and can even encourage fat loss when performed with high repetitions.
They have been shown to increase power output due to their ballistic nature. But there is also the risk of overuse injury from this movement if the technique is not adequately mastered before attempting it with heavier loads.
In this post, we take a look at eight science-based kettlebell swing benefits along with some practical application ideas for coaches or personal trainers interested in adding kettlebell training into their programs.
Kettlebell Swings | History
The kettlebell originated in Russia, where it was used as a weight for training and competing in the traditional sport of girevoy.
It is traditionally held with two hands but can also be swung one-handed. Its popularity has increased dramatically over the past decade thanks to its use by strength and conditioning coaches and Crossfit athletes who have realized its potential for training a variety of fitness goals.
How to do kettlebell swings for maximum benefits
Here’s how it’s done;
1. The first thing you do is stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
2. With a firm grip on the handle of the kettlebell, push your hips back and squat down until your forearms touch your inner thighs.
3. Immediately swing the kettlebell between your legs by forcefully contracting your glutes.
4. The momentum generated from this will help extend your hips and torso, propelling the kettlebell forward.
5. The arm holding the weight should only bend once the kettlebell has passed your waist to minimize the risk of injury.
6. On completion, allow gravity to swing the kettlebell between your legs, and it will return to a position at your inner thighs.
7. Once you have found a consistent rhythm with this movement, incorporate adding an explosive hip hinge at the top of the swing by pushing your hips into the air.
A video demonstration can be seen here.
To prevent injuries, keep these tips in mind:
- Keep your arms straight and only bend them once the kettlebell has passed your waist.
- Tilt your torso slightly forward but keep it as upright as possible – avoid rounding the lower back or leaning excessively backward.
- Do not swing the knee joint beyond 90 degrees at any point during the movement, as this increases stress on the front of your knees.
- Avoid fully locking out your knees, which can also damage the knee joint.
- Although you want to keep the glutes and legs engaged, do not tighten your muscles too much – relax them enough so that you can breathe.
- If you’re new to this movement, start with a lighter kettlebell and gradually progress by finding a new challenging weight about every two weeks.
8 Benefits Of Kettlebell Swings
1. Explosive Power Production
Kettlebell swings are unique in their ability to rapidly produce power due to the momentum created at the top of the swing. Studies show they can improve vertical jump height and sprint running time, likely by increasing muscular explosive power output.
The most effective way to increase explosive power is through plyometric exercises like kettlebell swings. Using high-intensity interval training with variations of swings can also help improve performance in intermittent sports like soccer.
2. Improved Cardio-respiratory Fitness
As a whole-body exercise that requires continuous repetitive effort, kettlebell swings provide an excellent training stimulus for cardio-respiratory fitness. The swings activate all the major muscle groups and increase heart rate substantially more than exercises that don’t use such large muscle mass. They can also improve VO2max, an essential measure of cardiorespiratory fitness.
3. Improved Anaerobic Threshold
The high-intensity interval training protocol used with kettlebells has been shown to improve anaerobic threshold during a Wingate test significantly.
Anaerobic threshold is related to cardiovascular conditioning as it reflects lactate production in active skeletal muscles and blood flow to those muscles.
4. Strength and Hypertrophy Development
Kettlebell training is a full-body, compound exercise that involves multiple muscle groups. In addition to improving power production, studies show it can improve maximal strength in the leg press movement.
There is also a big focus on technique when performing kettlebell exercises. This provides an excellent opportunity for coaches to give their athletes some extra corrective exercises during their workouts’ warm-up or cool-down sessions.
In just six weeks, one study showed that kettlebell swings added 10 pounds of lean tissue mass.
5. Improved Flexibility and Range Of Motion
Performing dynamic movements like kettlebell swings increases joint flexibility and range of motion. Studies show that the swing exercise was more effective than static stretching in improving vertical jump performance and hamstring flexibility.
It may be due to the momentum generated by performing a ballistic movement, which removes excess tension from muscles and tendons.
Unfortunately, it has been shown that long-term use of high load swings is not advisable for athletes with a pre-existing history of lower back injury.
Or dysfunction since it can worsen pain symptoms in these individuals without resolving them under load.
6. Increased Work Capacity
One of the most significant benefits of kettlebell training is that it can be integrated into existing protocols that are already effective.
Studies have shown that following a high-intensity interval training protocol using kettlebell swings can increase work capacity for athletes or clients who need to improve their aerobic or anaerobic energy system.
7. Increased Stamina
In addition to improving conditioning, kettlebell training can help increase stamina by increasing lactic acid tolerance, the ability of the body to buffer and delay lactic acid build-up inactive muscles during high-intensity exercise.
8. Improved Joint Health and Longevity
Kettlebell training is a great way to build strength without subjecting joints to large shear forces, familiar with heavy back squatting, deadlifts, bench pressing, or Olympic lifting.
Using kettlebells has even been shown to improve bone mineral density, which can help prevent injury and osteoporosis.
How to take kettlebells for a swing
- Pick up the kettlebell with both hands, between your legs, or in front of your body (whichever is more comfortable). Grip it tightly and hold the weight close to your body.
The following movements should be performed using a “double-push” action; move the bell forwards first by driving through your heels, followed immediately by a powerful hip extension movement.
- Swing the weight through your legs and thrust your hips forward to help propel the kettlebell forwards, keeping your arms straight and close to your body as you swing it up towards chest height.
- Rotating at the waist, continue bringing the bell up and over until it is behind you, leaning slightly back as you do so.
- Remember: You should be trying to drive the movement with your hips rather than using your arms to swing it, and keeping the bell close to you at all times means your forearms will brush against your inner thighs as the weight comes through.
- As the kettlebell reaches chest height, forcefully contract your glutes and abdominals to bring it up and overhead, leaning back slightly as you do so. Pause and tighten the muscles at the top of the movement to lock out your elbow.
- Slowly reverse this motion by leading with your hips, not your arms, back through your legs until the kettlebell hangs between them again.
- Your lower back should be doing most of the work, with your arms guiding but not pulling—lower the weight under control to the back of your legs and repeat.
To maximize potential kettlebell training benefits, it is best to initially perform no more than 10-12 reps per set at a time. You should also aim for 3-6 sets each time you train.
It is also advisable to use kettlebells of different weights so that you can gradually increase the load as your strength and conditioning improve. You should initially train with a lighter bell before progressing to the heavier weight for more advanced athletes or clients.
Kettlebell Swing Benefits For Men
As stated earlier, kettlebell training is excellent for improving conditioning and stamina. Unlike dumbbells or barbells (lifted from one point to another), kettlebell exercises force you to move your entire body over a greater distance.
Achieving optimal fitness is never easy, but incorporating kettlebell training into your workouts can provide many benefits. Whether you want to lose weight, increase strength, or endurance, adding some of these exercises into your program can go a long way.
And you don’t have to be an athlete or powerlifter to reap the benefits of using kettlebells; anyone from weekend warriors to recreational athletes and even pro-athletes such as MMA fighters, runners, and boxers swear by these exercise tools.