THE KETTLEBELL SWING
In our last blog (read here) we learned why the kettlebell is the single best exercise to lose fat. Here now we present the essential technique points for swinging as safely and as powerfully as possible!
The Kettlebell Swing:
-Utilizes the muscle fibers we want to target, those built by strength training.
-Works the ENTIRE body simultaneously! Your legs, back and arms are all contributing here, full body lifting equals greatest physique changes through energy needs.
-Working the entire body also increases the lean muscle mass when you recover optimally after full body training.
-The swing movement is arguably the most powerful possible. ALL major leg and glute (your butt) muscles are working as hard as they can.
-The Range of motion is less than a squat so it’s easier for a beginner to learn. If things go awry when fatigued a swinging kettlebell can be let go of easier than when in a squat.
So grab a kettlebell and start swinging YES! Not so fast! While all the above points are true it doesn’t mean anyone should simply start doing kettlebell swings right away. During the following I will refer to the trainee as “student.” This is a crucial element for anyone I coach. My role is to teach/coach which includes giving solutions for problems that arise. YOUR role is the student, to follow instructions as best as you can. I no longer use the word client as I cannot do any of the work for you as one would expect if a client of someone else. I will show you the safest, fastest route towards your goals, you have to show up and do the work.
Every day our modern lifestyle includes WAY too much sitting and far too little movement. Sitting too much creates an unhealthy posture (text neck enhances this problem now!). We lose the ability to create tension in our trunk, aka the “core” that most trainers rave about. Consciously moving the hips without changing our spine curves also becomes more difficult. Without proper trunk tension and spine posture the question is not IF but WHEN an injury will occur when exercising. Sounds scary for you If you’re beginning this journey, but fear not!
The Kettlebell Swing Solutions
In our Vigor Revolution kettlebell classes in Reno, NV we build each and every student up properly. They re-learn how to control their hips and create trunk tension on demand. EVERY single student learns this through a progression of exercises that begin on the floor, which provides stability and thus safety to the back and rest of the body. We call these “strength appetizers.” It is not our goal to perform endless reps of unloaded movements chasing “perfect movement.” It does NOT exist. The goal with our strength appetizers (movement optimization drills) is to be ready to do our best possible set of swings/deadlift.
Stability is trained in conjunction with mobility (aka flexibility as most think about it). The result is the body is put into greater ranges of motion, THEN proper exercises are done so it can relearn to hold and move through these greater ranges of motion. Here’s a sample of exercises and how they are sequenced following our approach. These are interspersed when learning the loaded lifts. Combining the two properly leads the body to have an optimal window in which to learn the new movement under an appropriate load:
One way of mobilizing the hamstrings/ calves:
Next we add in stability work to learn how to hold and move in new ranges of motion from easiest to more complex:
A swing is a deadlift in which the student moves faster. The swing is a deadlift. This means our focus is on driving the ground away from us as hard as possible once our legs and butt are fully loaded, aka Loadilocks (loaded-Goldilocks, FYI). Hips not too high, hips not to low, loaded “just right.”
“Loadilocks” posture w/ optimal spine alignment:
At the top the trunk is rigid, shoulders are down and back (I tell my students to show me their superhero chest) while imagining to crush a ball in the armpit, legs and butt are tight.
Two common errors in the finish from a combination of mobility and/or stability issues in the shoulders, hips and spine:
Kettlebell Swing Workout
Beginners start with the deadlift. A swing is a deadlift. The deadlift is the foundation of the swing.
Without optimal personal deadlift technique a swing becomes unnecessarily dangerous. The risks skyrocket and the possible benefits plummet. I know everyone wants to reshape their entire body in 3 weeks, been there myself. Impatience WILL lead to injury, and perpetuate the cycle of dissatisfaction we are wanting to change. I do not begin teaching a swing until my students can deadlift more than 2x the weight they will swing. This means a woman starting in my class builds up to a 50 lbs.+ deadlift before done one swing with a 20 lbs. kettlebell.
When ready to swing the reps/sets are determined in the beginning by the student’s body. We aim for the last rep to represent roughly an 70-80% effort. This means that if one could lift a weight 10 times, the tenth being an all out effort, we would be stopping the set at 7-8 reps.
Between reps the kettlebell/barbell/weight could be set down and then let go of, allowing the student to stand back up and reset before the next rep. If all alignment is kept reps can be performed repeatedly. This ensures that the student can keep the trunk tight with the above written hip and shoulder position. Given most will struggle to do this all at once each set is over when any element of the posture cannot be maintained.
At this point you’re asking, “how many reps and sets?” or “how long?” Those answers can only be answered by your body. The workout stops before your lose your optimal posture. If in the middle of a set you feel your trunk becoming loose the set is over. If your brain asks if you should stop at any point the answer is YES! Any and all extra reps you believe you may need at the time are insignificant compared to being able to do another session a day or two later. Consistency each and every week creates change, so until you’re cleared by someone who is certified you’re risking ending each and every set one rep too early rather than one rep too late.