Swinging a kettlebell is a foundational exercise that actually dates back to ancient Greece. In fact, there’s a 143-pound kettlebell on display in the Museum of Olympia in Athens! In the 1700s, kettlebells emerged in Russia as a weighing tool for grains and goods. But as curious humans do, they decided to pick them up and start throwing them around for entertainment and exercise!
Why Kettlebell Training?
Unlike a dumbbell, a kettlebell’s center of mass extends beyond the hand. Kettlebells can be swung, thrown, juggled, pressed, held, moved, and manipulated in so many ways. They are small and portable and can be incorporated into all aspects of athletic and fitness training, making them a really valuable piece of equipment. Ultimately, kettlebells are a highly efficient tool to lose weight, increase your cardiovascular fitness and strength, and maintain joint health, mobility, and flexibility. Score!
Getting Started with Kettlebell Swings
I teach my clients the Russian swing first because it’s safe and effective for most people. In a well-performed swing, hips come to full extension at the same time the upper arms come away from the rib cage. If you swing correctly, there’s no need to go up overhead. Here’s how you work the swing from the ground up. Remember, the power of your swing is driven from your hips!
- Stand about armpit-width, placing your thumbs tip to tip, making “moose horns” between your knees.
- Work your hip hinge by placing your hands at the hip flexor crease, and fold, pushing your hips back, making a “hand sandwich.”
- When you’re ready, place the kettlebell 10-12 inches out in front of you.
- Tip the kettlebell slightly back.
- Hike those hips! Your wrists should stay high on your inner thighs. At the top of the swing:
- Hips & knees fully extended
- Elbows soft
- Bottom of kettlebell points forward
Remember, it’s all in your hips. On a tension scale of 1 to 10, you should be at a 9 at the top of the swing and relaxed to a 1 at the bottom. If you think you’re still lifting with your arms, use “t-rex” arms. Keep your elbows tucked in; you’ll have no choice but to use your hips.
Note: Don’t crank on your back! The kettlebell needs to stay high up in the hips. If you think you’re going too low, place a med ball under you and stay clear of hitting it. Here’s how it all comes together.
Two-Handed Swing in Action
How to Amplify Your Swing
Once you’ve mastered the two-handed swing, try the next progression—the single arm swing! Loading the body unilaterally increases the body’s ability to fire its core in a really interesting way. Think of how often we carry things on one side of the body (groceries, a child, etc.), and our core is challenged to keep us balanced and upright. It’s the same with this single arm swing.
Single Arm Kettlebell Swing
- Set up the same.
- Start with the kettlebell 10-12 inches out in front of you.
- Keep the non-working arm extended back.
- Grip options: point your thumb forward or backward (thumbs down is used in the below video). Whatever thumb position you choose, it will remain that way on the upswing. This creates more rotation in the shoulder. You can come out of rotation, which happens naturally on the upswing.
- Your elbow and forearm will remain in contact with your pelvis during the hike back.
- The non-working arm travels with the body, just like it would if you jumped or ran. (You gain 20-30% more hip extension when your non-working arm travels with you.)
- Don’t get wild with your form! Retract your shoulder and square up. Don’t let the weight pull you forward into a compromising position.
One-Arm Swing in Action
Helpful Tips for Using Kettlebells
- Kettlebells are a sneaky form of cardio! Add 10 swings into each circuit of your workout.
- The swing and deadlift are the best movements to learn first.
- The more you use kettlebells, the more natural the movements will feel.