How to Do a Kettlebell Swing: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

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In general, endurance training exercises should be performed without relying on momentum to lift and lower weights. But there are exceptions to this rule and the dumbbell swing is one. This exercise is a great addition to upper body training.

Also known as: Russian style barbell swing

Target: glutes, hamstrings, hips, core, shoulders and back

Necessary equipment: Kettlebell

Level: Intermediary

How to do a warm dumbbell swing

Paige Waehner

Give yourself some space to do the swing – four or five feet in front and a few feet in the back. You may also want to make sure there’s nothing breakable (like a mirror or TV screen) right in front of you. While it’s unusual for you to lose your grip on a warm dumbbell and send it flying, it’s not unheard of.

Place the dumbbells on the ground in front of your feet, slightly wider than hip-distance apart, with your toes slightly apart. Bend your knees slightly and, keeping your shoulders back with your abs, pull your navel toward your spine.

  1. Press your hips back, leaning your torso forward as you reach your hands toward the dumbbell’s handle. Keep your back completely straight and do not squat. If your knees start to bend significantly, you will lose hip hinge. If you notice this happening, reset and press your hips back.
  2. Inhale as you firmly grasp the handle of the kettlebell with both hands. Roll the shoulders back slightly to help control the momentum of the swing while preventing the spine from arching forward. Your core is still engaged.
  3. Exhale and, with a strong movement, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as much as you can to maintain an upright position. During this part of the exercise, make sure your hips don’t go over your shoulders and let the dumbbells swing forward as naturally as possible, usually at shoulder height.
  4. Inhale and rotate the dumbbell back toward the floor (which it automatically wants to do) while pressing your hips back. Let the weight swing between your legs while keeping your neck in line with your spine.
  5. Continue swinging the dumbbells, remembering to keep your torso straight and power the movement with your hips and butt. Don’t come out of a sudden movement by dropping warm weights or forcing your momentum to stop. Instead, reduce the power you use with each swing until you can comfortably and safely return the weight to the floor.
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The main thing to remember when doing barbell swings is that you’re not using your arms to lift the weight in front of you, and you’re not using the dumbbells to squat. Instead, you’re rotating your hips back, then forcefully using your hamstrings, glutes, and hips to return to an upright position.

This hip hinge motion causes the weight to swing forward and backward naturally as a result of the strength of your glutes and hips. Your arms keep control of the swinging motion but they are not actively involved in lifting or lowering the weight.

During your first swing or two, the kettlebell may not reach shoulder height. As you build momentum, allow it to sway to the point where it feels weightless for a split second—usually when it’s almost parallel to the ground.

Benefits of Kettlebell Swing

The barbell swing targets the glutes, hamstrings, hips, core, and stabilizing muscles of your shoulders and back. While you may get a small benefit on your club count and slide, the swing is designed to target your rear chain (the back of your body).

We use the posterior chain muscles in everyday movements such as bending over to pick something off the floor or to stabilize the body when we lift a child. These muscles also support proper movement during lower body physical activities, such as running and kicking.

Many people focus on working the muscles in the front of the body — including the chest, abs, and quads. Using exercises that hit the back of the body can help correct potential muscle imbalances.

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Swinging a dumbbell is a great way to build strength and power. It can also cause your heart rate to go up. The result is a movement that is highly effective for the practitioner, which is great for those who want to maximize the effectiveness of their workout.

You can enjoy a heart-healthy cardio boost with swings while building strength, stability, and coordination that can translate to everyday activities.

Other variations of the kettlebell swing

You can modify your kettlebell swing to better suit your fitness level and goals.

Hip hinge with broom

If you need to get used to doing hip rotation correctly, grab a broom handle or pole to help you master the movement.

  • Stand up straight and pose the same way you’ve set up for the swing – feet slightly wider than shoulder distance, toes slightly out, knees slightly bent, pulled in, and shoulders pulled back .
  • Hold the broom handle perpendicular to the ground against the spine, one hand above the head and the other just below the tailbone. The broom handle should touch the tailbone, the upper back between the shoulders, and the back of the head.
  • From here, perform hip hinge by pressing your hips back as you lean forward from your hips, keeping your center of gravity engaged and your torso completely straight. The broom handle should maintain contact with your body at the same points throughout the movement. If you bend forward or bend your knees too much, the position will change.

Do this movement in front of a mirror and note how your body feels as you turn. When you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings, pull your glutes and hamstrings and squeeze them to “pull” your torso back to standing, maintaining contact with the broom handle as you rise.

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Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Swing warm dumbbells with one hand

This exercise is done exactly like the two-arm swing, but you only use one arm at a time. This helps develop lateral shoulder stability and anti-rotation core strength, both of which can improve coordination and reduce the likelihood of injury from muscle imbalances.

As you perform the one-arm swing, keep the inactive arm to the side to help with stability. Choose a dumbbell that’s lighter than you’d normally use with both hands and do a single set with one hand before switching sides.

Paige Waehner

American style kettlebell swing

Once you’ve mastered the traditional swing, also known as the Russian swing, you can move on to the American version. The American swing involves swinging the weight from above versus stopping at shoulder height.

Because this variation requires a greater range of shoulder range of motion, it should only be performed by advanced exercisers and requires the use of lighter weights. Avoid swinging American weights if you have a shoulder injury or limited range of motion in this joint.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Common mistake

Due to the complexity of this move, there are many ways to perform the swing incorrectly.

Do not maintain control

Using momentum to lift and lower weights increases the risk of injury. Therefore, the swing must be performed with proper form and control.

This exercise uses a large number of muscle groups simultaneously. If your sequence is out of order or you’re moving in a push-up, power-up exercise with your upper body instead of your lower body, you’re setting yourself up for muscle strains or other problems. can happen.

Lift by arm

One of the most common mistakes when swinging a kettlebell is letting your shoulders and arms take charge of the forward swing — just like with the forward lift, where your shoulders help lift the weight. up front. Really, your shoulders and arms are completely unrelated to lifting weights.

Instead, the shoulders and upper back should be locked to control the shot and prevent you from being pulled forward as the weight rotates up. This also helps keep your upper back from rounding toward the floor as the barbell swings down.

If you notice the muscles in your shoulders – especially the front of your shoulders – start to fatigue, chances are you’re lifting with your arms. Reset and tighten your glutes and hamstrings to power the movement while extending your hips.

Try to actively prevent your shoulders from lifting the weight upwards, relying on the momentum of hip extension instead.

Turn back

To help prevent low back pain or muscle tension when rotating weights, it is imperative that you keep your spine straight throughout the exercise. Round or slack shoulders and upper back is a sign that your stabilizers, upper back, and shoulders are not working properly.

As the dumbbell swings downwards, this sloping forward move can put more strain on your lower back while reducing your ability to swing forward correctly from the hips. Ultimately, this also reduces the strength you can generate with your glutes and hamstrings.

If you notice your upper back or shoulders are round, reset and refocus your shoulders, upper back, and core. Focus on keeping your torso perfectly straight as you swing back from the hips.

Squat with each swing

The barbell uses hip hinges for momentum, not a squat. This means that you have to press your hips back without bending your knees as much as your torso leans forward toward the floor. This move is similar to the Romanian deadlift.

However, many people aren’t used to the hip hinge move, so they squat down after each downward swing, bending their knees before bouncing up to stand while swinging the weights forward. This reduces the power output of the glutes and hamstrings and focuses more on the quadriceps.

It also prevents the desired momentum that can be generated by the rear chain of the body, making you more likely to have to use your shoulders and arms to lift weights.

Aside from the initial slight bend in the knee that you use to start the exercise, your knee shouldn’t really bend as much as you rotate. Instead, leaning forward and reaching up when standing should be the result of hip hinges, powered almost entirely by your glutes, hamstrings, and hips — not your quads. friend.

Safety and Precautions

If you’ve been participating in regular strength training exercises and have the muscle and shoulder strength needed to hold the plank for 60 seconds, chances are you’re ready to give swingbell a try.

Using the correct form is essential to prevent injury, especially if you already have low back or shoulder pain. Performing the dumbbell swing incorrectly can put unnecessary stress on these joints, leading to more pain or injury.

If at any point you feel a sharp or stabbing pain in any of your joints, stop the exercise and consider replacing it with exercises of similar benefit, such as bouncing a pill ball or swinging. wire.

You can do the swing for the desired amount of time or a certain number of repetitions. Either way, start slowly. Do only a few moves until you feel more comfortable with the movement and develop enough strength to increase reps or duration.

Having a good baseline in core strength is important before doing a swing. You should work with a trainer to ensure that you are performing the exercise correctly.


Incorporate this and similar moves into one of these popular exercises:

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