At F5, we utilize the kettlebell swing in Kettlebell and Fighter Fit conditioning classes, not for lack of creativity, but because it is one of the most useful movement patterns the body can learn. The swing not only engages nearly every muscle of the body—especially the abdominals, glutes, and back muscles—it also teaches you to explode with the hips, a lesson that will directly benefits Muay Thai students. The swing burns energy, lots of it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the time and effort to master. The following tips and cues should sound familiar to most F5 members and clients, but it’s always good to review! These tips are not meant to be the only cues necessary for a good kettlebell swing, but in my opinion they are the most important. For visual learners, we’ve included Tyler’s ridiculously thorough three-part video series on the swing at the bottom of this post.
At F5 we teach Russian Style Kettlebells, Tyler Schaeffer is an SFG II and Roxy Richardson is an SFG I. They have both completed rigorous technical training and you are in goods hands with their expert instruction. I myself love training kettlebells and having been training with them for over 4 years and have competed the SFG day course.
- Hinge at the hip: The swing is not a squat. When we squat, we get a deep hinge on the knees and hips. When we swing, almost all hinging is at the hip. Hip hinge movements emphasize the use of our posterior chain, a broad system of muscle that includes the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae.
- Chest higher than hips, hips higher than knees: Everyone’s kettlebell swing will look a tiny bit different due to variance in limb length and stature. But as long as you follow the general guideline of keeping your chest higher than your hip and your hip higher than your knee on your back swing, the movement should be sound.
- Make it hardstyle: The hardstyle of kettlebells refers to a training philosophy where the point of kettlebell training is not to make the movements easier, but to reap maximum benefit from every rep. At the top of the swing, exhale forcefully to engage your diaphragm, engage your abdominals, squeeze your glutes as tightly as possible (pinch a coin, crack a walnut, etc.), pull your kneecaps up, and engage your lats by imagining that you are pulling your shoulder blades down towards your butt. It sounds like a lot to do because it is. No one claimed the swing was easy. But proper engagement of the body at the top of the swing is necessary for safety and maximum benefit.
- Your arms are ropes: Do not lift the kettlebell with your arms. Your hips and legs are producing all the energy necessary to swing the bell; your arms merely guide the kettlebell along its path. Lifting with the bell during a swing is not safe and it is definitely not effective.
This is a lot to think about with a heavy chunk of iron swinging in front of you (and these aren’t the only cues, either!) but for the kettlebell swing to be safe and effective it must be perfected. We always recommend students master the swing technique before moving onto to a heavier bell. Don’t be ashamed to grab a light bell in Kettlebell Class or Fighter Fit if you’re still not comfortable with the technique.
-Daniel Davis-Williams, CSCS