This powerful move can improve your hamstring and glute strength.
By Jordan Smith Jan 19, 2021 Cycling
Adding weights into your strength-training routine can be intimidating. You might be interested in kettlebells but feel unsure about picking one up for yourself, which is understandable as they are frequently used incorrectly. But learning how to do a kettlebell swing properly can be beneficial to your strength routine.
Swings help to improve the strength, power, and endurance of your glutes and hamstrings, which greatly helps cyclists’ ability to sprint and power up hills, says Gerren Liles, NASM-certified trainer and Muscle Milk partner. “Plus, any type of resistance training strengthens your muscles and makes you more resistant to fatigue or injury.”
Even though you might be more comfortable working out at home due to coronavirus concerns, having a kettlebell on hand can help you get a great workout in. as it’s a versatile piece of equipment that doesn’t take up much space. But before you pick up a bell and start swinging, it’s important to understand the move.
Russian vs. American Kettlebell Swings
There are two main types of kettlebell swings—Russian and American. The Russian swing stops between chest and eye level, while the American swing finishes overhead. Both require a hip hinge and force created from the lower body. The American swing utilizes the shoulders (mobility) and scapula and traps (stability) at the end to bring the bell overhead. It is also recommended to use a lighter weight when doing an American kettlebell swing than when doing a Russian kettlebell swing, explains certified strength and kettlebell coach and creator of Flow into Strong Alex Silver-Fagan. Most trainers and experts recommend the Russian kettlebell swing for most people as to avoid injury swinging the weight overhead.
Common Kettlebell Mistakes
As mentioned, KB swings are one of the most common exercises done incorrectly, so it’s important to master the proper form. Poor form can lead to injury and will make the move ineffective—doing it wrong means you won’t activate your posterior chain and improve your explosivity. Common mistakes Liles sees include:
- Squatting down rather than hinging at the hips
- Using arms instead of power from the glutes and hips to swing the bell higher
- Allowing your knees to cave in
- Rounding the back or not engaging your core
- Performing a squat with a front raise instead of a true kettlebell swing
To avoid these mistakes, here’s everything you need to know to do a proper kettlebell swing, plus how to work up to one if you’re just starting out.
How to Do a Proper Kettlebell Swing
It’s important to choose the proper weight. Most kettlebells are labeled in kilograms, so being aware of the conversion to pounds is important (1 kg = 2.2 pounds). Liles would first test movement quality with a range of 6 to 12kg for beginners and 12 to 20kg for advanced athletes. After working with a weight for at least two weeks and once it begins to feel light, you can slowly increase by 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds), says Silver-Fagan.
Going into the move, remember that a swing is nothing more than a hip thrust in a vertical position, you can think of it as almost a more explosive deadlift, Liles says.
Start standing about an arms-length distance away from the kettlebell with your feet a bit wider than hips-width distance apart. Push your hips back, hinging, and reach your arms for the bell. Grip the bell and tip it toward your body as you engage your lats, says Silver-Fagan.
Hinge forward with a flat back, and hold the kettlebell using a two-handed, overhand grip on the horns (or handles), arms extended straight out in front of you. Keeping a neutral back, exhale as you draw the bell back until it is between and behind your legs (simulating a player hiking a football to the quarterback).
Squeeze glutes to thrust hips forward and swing the bell up to chest level. Let the momentum of your lower body guide the bell up between your chest and eyes. Throughout the move, keep your arms relaxed and your gaze fixed on a point about six feet in front of you. The top position of the swing should look like a plank, says Silver-Fagan. Let gravity bring the bell back down in-between your legs as you inhale and repeat.
Keeping a neutral spine is key to protecting your lower back, Liles says. Make sure you’re keeping your back flat and core engaged throughout. The weight should float through the movement guided by your arms; the shoulders do not play a role in getting the bell higher (unless you are attempting American swings). So keep your arms relaxed through the swing. And the bell, specifically the handles, should never get below your knees at the bottom of the swing, nor should your head ever drop lower than hip level.
How do you make it easier?
Both Silver-Fagan and Liles recommend first perfecting a deadlift using a kettlebell. (Learn how here.) It is a similar movement pattern, and if you can build that muscle memory, you’re on your way to doing a correct swing, Liles says. Once you’re ready to start swings, start with a lighter bell and work your way up.
What are the benefits of kettlebell swings?
Doing kettlebell swings work your glutes, hamstrings, calves, core, and lower back. Strengthening these parts of your body will also help improve your form on the bike. Plus, having stronger glutes and hamstrings will help build endurance, charge uphills, and power your finishing kick at the end of your races.
How often should you do kettlebell swings?
If you are passionate about bells, train with them two to three times a week, Liles says.
“They are such a great tool to develop strength, endurance, and solid movement patterns,” he says. How many sets and reps depend on whether your goal is strength (heavier bells, fewer reps) or endurance (lighter bells, more reps) You can also use them as part of circuit training or WODs (workout of the day), found in many gym and boutique classes (once it’s safe to attend in-person again).
If you’re unsure, consult with a trainer. And, if you plan to add a lot of kettlebell work into your routine, Silver-Fagan suggests hiring a certified kettlebell coach. “Kettlebell swings are effective but only if done correctly. They are very difficult, and it is easy to get injured without proper instruction,” she says.
What’s a kettlebell variation you can do?
Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out, and knees slightly bent. Hinge forward with a flat back, and hold kettlebell using a one-handed, overhand grip on the horns (or handles), arm extended straight down in front of you. Keeping a neutral back, send hips back and draw the bell back until it is between and behind your legs (simulating a player hiking a football to the quarterback). Squeeze glutes to thrust hips forward and swing the weight up to chest level. You can bend the opposite arm and keep a closed fist close to chest for balance. Allow the weight to swing back between your legs as you extend opposite arm, sending hips back and allowing knees to bend slightly. Complete the reps then repeat with the other arm.
Jordan Smith Digital Editor - Her love of all things outdoors came from growing up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and her passion for running was sparked by local elementary school cross-country meets.