When it comes to general fitness on a tight schedule the Kettlebell swing (specifically the Hardstyle swing) is one of the simplest, most beneficial and accessible movements for the general population . It’s a one-stop shop for fat-loss, power production, strength, endurance, improved posture, a strong healthy back and more.
If you’re not familiar with the hardstyle swing it involves setting up behind a kettlebell as if preparing for deadlift, hiking the bell behind you, standing up, hiking again and repeating until strong. The entire movement is driven by the hips while maintaining a braced midsection and neutral spine. Performed properly, the swing is beautiful, graceful and powerful thing to behold.
Benefits of the kettlebell swing include
- The ability to burn insane amounts of calories (I once measured myself as high as 26 calories per minute)
- Safely accomplish tremendous workloads (just this morning Sarah performed 9,856lbs of kettlebell swings in 14-minutes)
- Practically Zero-Impact Training that is extremely friendly to high mileage knees
- Improved posture and athletic performance by strengthening of all the postural muscles that most people ignore including the butt, the hamstrings, the hip flexors, the lats and upper back.
- Improved athletic performance by high-repetition practice of generating tremendous rapid force production with the hips, legs, glutes, lats and abs.
Here are some tips essential to unlocking the transformational potential of the Kettlebell swing
Before swinging it is essential for safety to achieve the following fundamentals:
- A straight legged toe touch with your heels together, before swinging.
- Learn to perform a safe deadlift with a neutral spine.
- Build up to deadlifting a barbell equal to 2x to 3x the weight of the bell you want to swing for the same amount of reps. E.g. a complete novice who can deadlift 100lbs for 10 reps is generally safe swinging a 25lb kettlebell for 10 reps.
- Understand how to properly breathe and brace your midsection during both the standing and hike phases of the swing.
- If possible invest in learning from a StrongFirst certified instructor – StrongFirst is THE source of Hardstyle Swing. Also consider attending or hosting a StrongFirst SFG User Course , the quintessential one-day, 8-hour kettlebell workshop.
Maximizing The Swing
- Stretch your hips before. If your hips are tight you’ll be using a limited range of motion, generating less power, and likely using your back or reinforcing poor posture.
- Stretch your glutes after in order to restore flexibility to the muscles that swing tightens.
- Combine your swings with some sort of active rest between sets to speed recovery and keep performance high. You’ll recover faster, improve faster and stay safer.
- Keep your eyes forward & never look around while swinging.
- Swing no higher than chest height or parallel to the ground. The focus of the swing is producing power with hips forward. The upward trajectory is just a by product of the fact that your arms are connected to your shoulders.
- Never go to failure. In the swing there’s no such thing as a 1 rep max and there are no spotters, if your technique goes out the window you are risking injury.
- For maximum force production swing a kettlebell equal to approximately 1/3rd your bodyweight. This comes from some awesome research by Brandon Hetzler
- Strive for power production, not energy conservation. By doing so you guarantee more result for less swings.
- Synchronize your breathing with each and every rep.
- Keep the kettlebell high when hiking the bell back between the legs. The lower you swing the bell, the more load you take off your hips and shift to your spine.
- At the top of each swing be sure to reinforce the posture you want to leave the gym with (stand tall, proud chest, do not slouch, tight glutes, etc.). We become what we do repeatedly.
- Always focus on quality over quantity. Simply chasing reps for some twisted concept of glory is recipe for injury. Treat your training sessions as the practice of perfection, not an attempt to destroy yourself.
- Stay Fresh: Find the combination of the right weight and work to rest ratio that allow to accomplish as much work as possible with as much power as possible while maintaining the best form possible.
- Finish your workouts when you can no longer maintain pace, breath control or form.
- Set the bell down safely as if preparing for another rep, a.k.a. “like a professional”
- From experience individuals new to the swing are safest swinging a bell that weighs up to 1/3rd of their best deadlift, while more experienced students can swing much heavier relative to their deadlift as their skill improves.
- When beginning a program it’s generally a good idea to start with 1/2 the total amount of reps you could do per set when fresh.
- Build your daily, weekly and monthly volume gradually.
- An average daily workload of 200 swings seems about right for a well trained individual. Periods of extreme volume must be balanced with extreme rest.
- Over time vary your weights and techniques.
- Before adding reps per set focus on increasing the number of sets you can do or decreasing the duration of your rest periods.
- Never slouch or bend over between sets.
- Never swing facing downhill or wearing shoes with a cushy elevated heel.
- Never swing a kettlebell in an area where people or pets are likely to run in front of your bell’s trajectory.
- Preferably train on a surface where it’s ok to drop your bell.
Here’s a little cheat sheet on the how to perform the swing properly.
A Sample Swing Program
Determine how many swings you can perform in 5-minutes with a given bell, then from this determine how many reps you average per minute. Divide your avg reps per minute by half. This is how many swings you will perform per minute. Your “goal pace”. Note: if you can easily perform more than 100 reps in 5-minutes, consider a harder variation such as one hand swings or a heavier bell.
Goal 1: Build up to keeping your goal pace for an average of 10-minutes of swings per day. Some days more, some less. Example Monday 8 minutes, Wednesday 12 minutes, Friday 10 minutes. Each week yet to increase the average minutes per day by 2.
Goal 2: When you can perform an average of 20 minutes or 200+ reps per day, start over at week one with more reps per minute at an average of 10 minutes per day, and build back up to 20-minutes or approximately 200 total reps.
Goal 3: Perform another swing test with the same bell to test improvement or a heavier bell, or one-handed swings then repeat the same steps.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Improve your kettlebell swing with the following “Same-but-different” variations.
Note: Whatever you do, don’t call it “muscle-confusion”, it’s muscle education… after all nobody wants a confused muscle. ;]
Common Swing variations
- Two Hand Swings: Both hands on the same bell
- The power-swing: park the bell between each rep
- Continuous swings: 2 or more continuous reps at a time.
- Towel Swings
- Side Stepping Swings
- Walking Swings
- “Look Ma No-Hands” Swings ( Swing with the bell attached to a weight belt)
- One-Hand Swings: one hand on the bell
- Double Kettlebell Swings: a kettlebell in each hand
- Hand to Hand Swings: One-Handed swings switching hands at the top of each rep
- Partner Spiked Swings: Your partner accelerates the bell downward.
- Banded Swings: The band accelerate the bell downward
Want to swing like a pro? We can help