If there was a lower body exercise Mount Rushmore (which would definitely be erected in Columbus, Ohio, NOT South Dakota), squats and deadlifts would be the Washington and Lincoln. And I’d argue that kettlebell swings, in all their hip-thrusting glory, would represent the progressive Teddy Roosevelt.
Kettlebell swings can do it all. Strength, power, insane conditioning (they’re an essential part of my Big 3 of Fat Loss), beard growth… you name it, swings can do it.
But swings can be tricky. As simple as they look, there’s a solid learning curve that must be conquered before you can put swings to work for you. And while I’m admittedly not a kettlebell expert (i.e. I’m not certified by the likes of RKC or any of the other kettlebell organizations), I’ve learned a few tricks to help my clients learn to swing safer, better and faster.
Here are five quick tips to help you improve your kettlebell swing technique.
1. LEARN TO HIP HINGE
First and foremost, if you can’t perform a perfect unloaded hip hinge pattern, you certainly can’t swing explosively or safely.
Read my article on Stack.com for several tips to master the hip hinge:
MASTER THE HIP HINGE, EXERCISE’S MOST IMPORTANT MOTION <<< CLICK HERE!
2. BAND RESISTED KETTLEBELL SWINGS
At the gym where I train, our heaviest kettlebell is only 16 kg, which isn’t that heavy. So I’ll often wrap a band around the handle of a kettlebell to make swings harder. This little trick not only makes the ‘bell feel heavier, but it also forces the lifter (swinger?) to snap the hips harder and use their glutes more at the top.
Watch this video to see how to set up for band resisted swings.
3. KEEP YOUR EYES UP
Head position during the kettlebell swing has always been a topic of debate. Should your head be up? Down? Somewhere in between?
I’m usually inclined to coach someone to keep their neck “packed” or make a double-chin to keep their head in a neutral position. But Pavel Tsatsouline, a true kettlebell master, just published an interesting article about why you should actually keep your head UP during swings.
It’s a solid article with some great points. But I think we can get the best of both worlds by keeping a packed neck with our EYES up.
The vestibular system, which helps your body stay balanced based on what your eyes see and ears hear, tends to project the body in the direction of where the eyes are looking. Anyone who’s looked down during a squat or deadlift may have experienced this phenomena in the form of falling forward (or at least having a hard time keeping your weight back on your heels). To prevent unwanted forward weight shift while keeping a neutral head position, look up into the top of your eye sockets at the bottom of the swing. Then, at the top of the swing, look straight ahead.
Simply, the head follows the hips but the eyes stay in the same place.
4. THROW IT AT YOUR ZIPPER
One of the most common swing mistakes is letting the kettlebell drop too far below your knees. This is a fast track to a tweaked lower back. This technique flaw is best illustrated by Jillian Michael’s (in)famous swing:
To prevent this lumbar massacre, throw the kettlebell at your zipper. I picked up this cue from Jason Ferruggia and it works like magic. Imagine throwing the kettlebell at your privates and swiftly dodge out of the way at the last second. This will keep your back straight and the kettlebell from travelling too low or too far backward.
5. GO HEAVIER!
Sometimes to clean up your swing technique, you have to use a heavier kettlebell.
This sounds crazy or counter-intuitive because you almost always use less weight when learning to do an exercise properly. But when it comes to crisp, explosive movements like the swing, sometimes heavier is better.
Imagine trying to learn to throw a baseball by throwing a whiffle ball. Impossible, right? The whiffle ball is too light. No matter how hard you throw it, it doesn’t fly like a baseball. Similarly, if using a very light kettlebell, it may be difficult to dial in technique.
If the ‘bell is too light, many times people just muscle it up with their arms and skimp on the hip hinge. Others will squat too much on the back swing because the weight isn’t heavy enough to “pull” backward.
This certainly isn’t a cure-all, but I’ve seen it enough times to know that giving someone a heavier kettlebell (i.e. moderate weight instead of light weight) will clean up their technique.
As my parting gift for reading this article, here’s a sample kettlebell workout (swings included!) that can fit into any program as a finisher and burn some serious fat. Have fun!
Evens and Odds
Grab a kettlebell that’s about a quarter your body weight (so if you weigh 200 pounds, use a 50-pounder). Perform each exercise for 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2 reps (e.g. 10 deadlifts, 10 squat cleans, 10 swings, then 8 deadlifts, etc.), then rest 2 minutes. Then, perform each exercise for 9, 7, 5, 3 and 1 rep. Record your time and let me know how you did!