The Kettlebell Swing is a Jack-of-all-trades exercise. You can build amazing looking hamstrings and glutes with the Swing. You can unlock your power potential and unleash speed with the Swing. You can improve your cardiovascular endurance. The list goes on. In terms of bang for your buck, the Kettlebell Swing is near the top of the list of high value exercises.
There's only one problem: It's kind of tough to learn. Actually, it's not exactly the easiest thing to teach either. Until now.
Below is an easy four-step progression for making sure you (or your clients) swing the most optimal way to yield big-time results. Follow these four steps to eliminate the squat-and-front-raise Swings we commonly see and replace them with viciously aggressive Swings that mean business.
Step 1: Kettlebell Deadlift
Step 1 lays the foundation not only for the Swing, but also pretty much all things athletic. The loaded hip hinge is vital for honing your inner athlete. Whether it's in the weight room or on the field, this movement is essential for quality movement and leads to a plethora of benefits.
In five easy steps, here is the simplest way to achieve this.
- Stand above the KB with the handle in line with your midfoot.
- Hip hinge – shoot the hips and butt back, loading the hamstrings with tension. Keep soft knees and a flat back. No overextension or flexion at the lumbar spine.
- Grab the KB tightly, creating tension in your entire body. Your shoulders should be above the KB and your chin should be tucked.
- Push away from the ground with your feet as you pull the KB straight up on a vertical path.
- Extend the hips, stand upright and squeeze your butt, then follow the exact same movement pattern in reverse as you return the KB to exactly where you pulled it from.
Boom. Repeat the final two steps until your set is complete. Then do another set. Then probably do 3 more.
This is the groundwork we need for a good swing, because when you master the Kettlebell Deadlift, you're instilling very important features of the Swing into your technique. Some of those are:
- Lat Tension
- Hamstring Tension
- Glute Activation
- Hip Flexion/Extension
- Loaded Hip Hinge
- Neutral Spine
Now you're ready for Step 2.
Step 2: Band-Resisted Hip Extension
Now that you have the feel for the KB Deadlift, we're going to put the spotlight on the hips. The hips, not the arms, propel the KB forward in the Swing. You have to produce a sufficient amount of force at the hip to make the KB actually swing.
To set this up, just anchor a mini-band to an immovable object and step through the loop so you're wearing it like a belt. Step out until the band has enough tension to pull you backwards. Grab a light KB and simulate a slow motion swing. This can also be performed without a KB, as shown above.
The sole purpose of this drill is create snap in the hips. Step 1 shows you how to hinge your hips. Step 2 shows you how to use that hinge to create energy that eventually transfers to the Swing.
Step 3: Kettlebell Hike
Oddly enough, the third step is the first one of the actual Kettlebell Swing. Seems counterintuitive, but let me explain.
Although this is the first thing you do when you start the Swing, you cannot perform the Swing without mastering the first two steps. Those progressive movements drive home the importance of mastering your hip hinge pattern and using it to create force concentrically. Without those two things, you're just flailing around with a heavy toy in your hands.
Once all of that becomes comfortable and effective, then you add the final touch—the KB Hike.
To start the hike, you want the KB within arm's reach about a foot in front of you. The goal is to tilt the KB over on a 45-degree angle and have it in position so that you're reaching forward while still keeping some tension in your lats in a hinged position.
From this position, you simply hike the kettlebell as if you were a center playing football. Snap the ball to the quarterback.
It's important to hike the KB back and up so the end range of the hike is behind you and about even with your butt. At the very least, you want the KB to stay above your knees at its end range of the hike.
Also important: try to remain in the same hinge position throughout the entire set of hikes. There will naturally be a small amount of movement as you hike—your chest may raise 2-3 inches, which is fine—but tension in the core and posterior chain is vital. Never lose that.
The entire purpose of this drill is to teach you how to begin your Swing with force-creating tension in your lower body so you can turn the hike into your first Swing and make it a powerful one. If you lose tension or get too out of position on the hike, that habit will stay with you on the Swing.
Step 4: Kettlebell Swings
Put it all together now! You have crushed the three preceding drills, so the only thing left is to swing—and it should come pretty easily.
Take the overall hip hinge motion from the Deadlift, add force production form the Banded Reach Through, start it off with the hike action and you've got yourself a pretty sexy swing.
To steal a page out of Brian Clarke's notebook, here are some cues and corrosives for the Kettlebell Swing.
- Reach back with your hips.
- Pretend your feet are bolted to the floor and someone tied a rope to your waist, stood behind you and yanked the rope. (That's a mouthful).
- Keep the KB above your knees.
- Pop your hips.
- Tuck your shoulder blades down and back.
- Kettlebell Squat + Front Delt Raise is NOT a KB Swing
- Lumbar Flexion
- Letting the kettlebell drift away from your control
- Legs completely straight during eccentric action
- Holding your breath
- Cervical hyper-extension during the entire movement
- Loss of foot stance or balance
Whether you're a coach or an athlete, I hope this 4-step progression can assist you. Don't rush through it. Each step can be made difficult for anyone and provide a great training effect. Build the movement, own the movement and enjoy the process.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock