Kettlebell swings. The one movement when working in corporate gyms for over a decade that would make MY back hurt just watching them or give the athlete a nice nod of respect.
Because kettlebells are the real deal. In fact I believe in kettlebells so much for beginners before moving to a barbell. I have many reasons for this and I’ll break down in this blog post along with:
- Benefits of kettlebell swings
- Understanding the proper form & technique
- Choosing the right kettlebell weight
- Common mistakes to avoid
- Variations & Progressions
- How to incorporate kettlebells into your workout
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Benefits Of Kettlebell Swings
We really like to teach our athletes the basics first:
Amongst several other things as well but those are the basics. Kettlebell swings fall under the “hinge” movement pattern. Which are great for hamstrings, glutes, lats, and your lower back.
We like to teach the athlete to master the kettlebell deadlift and THEN progress to kettlebell swings because with kettlebell swings we can:
- engage a ton of muscles
- teach the athlete how to utilize their hips for power (which will carry over big time later)
- kettlebell swings also elevate your heart rate giving us a cardiovascular response
Understanding Proper Form & Technique
We talk about this all the time…
…your movements should carry over from one to the other. Take a look at the photo of me doing a kettlebell swing.
You see how my hands are in front of my shoulders, my legs are fully extended and my glutes are tight?
If you rotated this image to the side, it would look like I’m doing a hand plank. Check out the video below to see how to do a kettlebell swing and the full breakdown.
Choosing The Right Kettlebell Weight
This is really up to you and what you are trying to accomplish. But let me give you some general guidelines.
…what do we want to be able to accomplish?
For our squat patterns you can do goblet squats (one kettlebell) or you can do double kettlebell front squats, like in the image below.
Beginner recommendation kettlebell weights:
- Men – A pair of 26 lb kettlebells
- Women – A pair of 18 lb kettlebells
- Men – a pair of 35 lb kettlebells
- Women – a pair of 26 lb kettlebells
- Men – a pair of 53 lb kettlebells
- Women – a pair of 35 lb kettlebells
We recommend our athletes to have a light to moderate weight because we want to use kettlebells in a metabolic way (one that allows us to get a lot of reps).
Common Mistakes To Avoid
There are some common mistakes that I see often when learning how to do the kettlebell swing:
- lack of hip extension (pushing your hips through)
- using your arms too much (this will cause you to feel in your back)
- having the kettlebell go too low on the swing part (also bad for your back)
- extending too far (pinching your back)
So common denominator… if you don’t use proper mechanics you can see from the mistakes above your back is going to be blown up.
Variations & Progressions For Crossfit Athletes
Like anything variation is what’s best. However mastering the fundamentals is always your first steps before mastering things movements like Turkish get ups.
Here is an example of a nice progression:
- single leg rdl (mastering solid hinging patterns)
- progressing to a single arm kettlebell swing
- then the single arm kettlebell snatch
- then the double kettlebell snatch
But like anything, if your form and technique is off its going to lead to poor movement patterns and potential injuries. For example with the kb snatch a lot of athletes SMACK the kettlebell down on their wrist.
Below I have listed a few of my “staple” kettlebell variations that I believe everyone needs to have in their toolbox.
I actually LOVE teaching athletes to get REALLY strong with goblet squats BEFORE moving to the barbell.
What’s my point?
Master the goblet squat.
Turkish Get Ups
These are great for full body strength, core stability, joint mobility, balance and coordination.
I love teaching the Turkish get up to help get athletes to improve their stability and get them to move through some mobility under load.
Start light, then build in weight as you get more confidence. And hey…
…do these more.
Like with the Turkish get up I love the windmill because the exercise challenges your shoulder stability and challenges your t spine rotation.
Doing isometric exercises are one of the BEST ways to improve your strength. Strengthening your overhead position will have a direct correlation to handstand push ups, a better split jerk, stronger in your receiving position in the snatch.
A few things to note when programming for yourself or choosing a weight:
- Double overhead holds you can’t do quite as much weight because two hands is more challenging.
- However single arm overhead holds you can really load up your weight
And that goes for most exercises, in most cases you can do more weight when the exercise is “unilaterally loaded” meaning one arm or leg.
In the photo above I’m working on a challenging single arm overhead hold at 88lbs on one side.
There is no way I could do that with both arms. The reason this is because I have a lack of open shoulders. The more you and I improve our shoulder mobility the more weight you can handle because then your joints are “stacked” on top of one another.
How To Incorporate Kettlebells Into Your Workout Routine
I believe in everyones program should actually start with mastering how to move and exercise with kettlebell effectively.
So much so that I don’t think you should be barbell back squatting until you have a very strong goblet squat, double kb front squat, really strong bulgarian split squat, and can really handle a good amount of time under tension with a weighted plank.
Check out this plank variation below.
Why do I feel this way about kettlebells? Because I’m a firm believer in mastering the basics first, improving your stability and learning how to move your body.
Kettlebells demand that of you.
We are huge fans of kettlebells and mastering the kettlebell swing will "unlock" your ability to do so many other things.
Because it's mastering a hinge pattern and that's one of the four big movers:
If you can master the hinge mechanics you will and can easily progress safely to other exercises that demand more out of you in both strength and metabolically.
Of course, K Squared Fitness! Here's the revised call to action with the correct term "plan" instead of "plank":
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