Technique Thursday – Kettlebell swing

When properly performed, the kettlebell swing is a masterful total body muscle exercise that offers benefits including:

  • fat loss
  • lean muscle building
  • cardiovascular enhancement
  • and many other fitness goals you can imagine

The exercise is that good.

But, the key words here are “when performed properly.”

As movement expert and Master kettlebell instructor Brett Jones puts it, there is a major difference between “swinging a kettlebell” and “performing a kettlebell swing.”

Perform the swing to get the best results and also to exercise safely, period.

MISTAKE #1

Squatting during the swing.

If you take one thing away from this article, please remember this as it’s very important.

The swing is NOT a squat.

Again, the swing is NOT a squat.

The kettlebell swing is a “hip hinge” pattern.  This is very important because the hip hinging is where the power comes from with this exercise (more about this in mistake #2).

And a proper hip hinge will save your back.  A proper hip hinge doesn’t stress your back because your spine should maintain a neutral position position throughout the swing.

The squat is a squat – and the swing is NOT a squat (despite all the poor instructional YouTube videos you’ll see out there).

The Fix:  

Don’t squat, instead learn how to “hip hinge” through the movement.

MISTAKE #2

Not using the power of your glutes.

GlutesThe gluteus maximus is the largest, most powerful muscle in your body.  Use it, especially during the kettlebell swing which is made effective by using the power of your glutes.

The swing is highly effectively when exploding through the movement with a powerful hip drive.

Most people have to “re-learn” how to use their hips again when learning how to swing. This can be called “gluteal amnesia” meaning they have forgotten how to use their glutes.

The Fix:

Every time you swing through and finish the hip drive, make sure your glutes are squeezed tight. Imagine you have a coin pinched between your butt cheeks (glutes).

 

MISTAKE #3

Using the deltoids to elevate the kettlebell.

In the Russian kettlebell swing, the kettlebell doesn’t go overhead.  If you want to take the kettlebell overhead, do the kettlebell snatch instead. In the Russsian swing, the kettlebell is propelled forward by the explosive hip drive and power breathing (more on that later). The arms are simply “along for the ride” here.

The deltoids aren’t elevating the kettlebell, however, the rotator cuff muscles (deep shoulder muscles) are firing the entire time during the swing to ‘hold” the ball in the socket (the humoral head in the glenoid).

You don’t need to activate the deltoids in the Russian style swing.

There are other kettlebelll exercises to address the deltoids and other deep shoulder muscles.

The Fix:

Just let the kettlebell “float” forward by the powerful hip drive and glute activation.  Don’t use the shoulders to elevate the kettlebell.

MISTAKE #4

Moving too slowly through the movement.

One of the mistakes I made when learning how to perform the kettlebell swing was that I was not swinging explosively through the movement.

Again, it goes back to mistake #2 and not using your powerful hip extensors, primarily your gluteus maximus.

As you learn how to use these hip muscles, the swing will be a faster, smoother, and a much more powerful exercise for you.

It’s not a slow, controlled movement but a quick, efficient, well executed hip hinge with explosive hip drive.

The Fix:

When you’ve corrected the other things above, this mistake should take care of itself.

One thing to remember is that faster does not mean sloppy by any means.  No matter what, the swing has to be a safe and efficient movement.

It’s a faster type of movement (a”ballistic”) but it’s safe when performed properly.

MISTAKE #5

Not breathing properly.

This is actually quite a big topic.

Sometimes breathing is not emphasized enough but it really makes a huge difference.  It’s not just a regular breathing pattern, but a systematic and patterned breathing approach.

Proper breathing is absolutely critical to performing this exercise correctly.

Power breathing or biomechanical match breathing (as it’s appropriately called) provides you more power, efficiency, and safety to maximize the benefits of the exercise.

Proper breathing is very important for safety and for spinal stability during the movement. There’s a compression and stabilization of your midsection that should occur as you swing the bell through, which should feel natural and powerful. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons that make the kettlebell swing one of the best exercises for back “health” and injury prevention – when this is done correctly.

Power breathing is a forceful exhalation when the bell is propelled forward. The breathing matches the force production.

-Exhale as the bell goes forward.
-Inhale as the bell comes back between your legs.

Power breathing is powerful.

The Fix:

Practice diaphragmatic breathing by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

You want to make sure that you can see or feel your stomach move in and out and expand with the inhalation.  You shouldn’t see your chest rise.

The stomach movement in and out is your diaphragm functioning properly and breathing appropriately as opposed to using the accessory muscles in your chest and rib cage.

When you have this down, practice the kettlebell swing the same way. Breath in through your nose as you’re hiking the kettlebell back and exhale out in a controlled, forceful breath as you swing the ketttlebell forward.

Practicing proper breathing technique will pay off big time in your performance and efficiency with this exercise and that’s a guarantee.

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