THE ART OF THE KETTLEBELL SWING

Part of what I do is teach people how to build strength, flexibility and work-capacity with kettlebells. Often I’ll have a prospective student who seeks to take a 30-minute to 1-hour private session and expects me to teach them how to perform about a dozen techniques and then send them on their merry way.  I’ve got news for them, it doesn’t work that way.

Kettlebell training and resistance training in general is very much like martial art training in the sense that it doesn’t matter how many techniques you know, what matters is understanding the principles that allow success, how wisely you choose the tools, techniques and tactics for the job, then how expertly you can put them to use. 

The results achieved by someone with all kinds of cool equipment and  hundreds of “techniques” learned at a cursory level will never come close to the results achieved by someone who can perform one, two or three  powerful moves devastatingly well.

SamuraiReady

Be Like A Samurai
I’m a fan of martial art films, especially the old black and white kind with subtitles such as “Seven Samurai”

In that film one of the main characters has a “friendly” duel with wooden swords.  The hero clearly out-matches his showy opponent. The masterful warrior makes very few movements, wastes no energy and uses simple but masterful technique, technique he has obviously performed with great precision for thousands upon thousands of reps. His opponent on the other hand has obviously spent the majority of his training time learning menacing postures and yelling. After losing the initial duel with wooden swords, the noisy amateur insists on a rematch with live blades. It doesn’t end well for the noisy one.

Simplicity wins out over showmanship.

Like the victorious samurai’s technique, the swing isn’t fancy… it just works.

THE PROCESS
Here are a few steps I recommend toward mastering the kettlebell swing:

  1. Get your Doctor’s clearance
    1. Kettlebell training is no joke.
  2. FMS Movement Screening
    1. This includes the Active Straight Leg Raise, Trunk Stability Push-up, Spinal Flexion and Spinal Extension clearance tests.
  3. Don’t Be a Hero / Get Professional Instruction
    1. I once raised my heart rate to 220+ bpm during an exceptionally hard kettlebell training session, it was scary and unwise.  The only reason this happened is because at that point I had not yet received professional instruction, didn’t take time building my training load gradually and thought I was special. Don’t make that mistake.
  4. Build Strength in the Plank and the Deadlift
    • 2-minute plank (if you can’t hold a plank for 2-minutes, you’ve got work to do. )
    • A deadlift for 5 to 10 reps a weight that is at least 2x the weight of the bell you intend to swing
      • Note: Learn the deadlift from an expert coach, especially if you think you already know how.
  5. The Power Swing (a.k.a Dead-Stop Swing)
    • Develop the ability to perform at least 5 to 10 powerful dead-stop swings to standard (neutral spine, bell floats to chest height) with a given bell before you advance to continuous swings.
      • Note: Learn the swing from a SFG or preferably an SFGII Certified instructor with several years of teaching experience. Especially if you’ve never had certified instruction and think you already know how.
  6. The Continuous Swing
    • Start with sets of five or ten reps, then build up to sets of 20.
  7. Increasing Volume
    • Build up to performing 100 or more swings in a workout in sets of 10 to 20 reps with a 1 to 1 work-to-rest ratio.
  8. Increasing Intensity
    • When you reach the point that performing 200+ swings in a session is easy, it’s time to make things more difficult. Some ways to do this include increasing the weight of the bell or advancing to one-handed swings.
  9. Practice with the goal of mastery in mind. Continue refining your skill by focusing on one-aspect of the swing per training session, continually get stronger, and find ways to keep it challenging.

Pro Tip: There are times to swing heavy bells and times to swing light bells, something can be learned from using bells of various sizes, but most of the time I recommend swinging the bell that makes your swing feel the most powerful and look the best. For a skilled individual with excellent technique this usually equates to a bell around weighing around 1/3 to 1/2 of your bodyweight.  For me, as a 180lb male, I find swinging a bell between 28kg and 40kg seems about right.

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