Does regular cardio leave you feeling beat up? With your knees, hips, ankles, feet or back complaining the next day?
Good news! I have a great exercise for you.
It’s the kettlebell swing – the Russian version in particular, that has you stop the swing at shoulder-height, which allows you to use a heavier weight more safely. (The American kettlebell swing, meanwhile, has you swing the kettlebell up overhead, putting shoulders at more risk.)
Why do we love the Russian kettlebell swing? Because – when you’re conditioned enough to work at the appropriate intensity – a standard kettlebell workout can burn upwards of 20 calories a minute. That’s a lot.
And you can do it without having to run, lunge, or jump, which is good news for achey knees and ankles.
Mastering the Kettlebell Swing
While the kettlebell swing might look pretty simple, it’s actually kind of tricky to master. First of all, it requires you to have a strong core to be able to do a hip hinge correctly.
A hip hinge involves keeping your back straight as you bend over, and then come into full hip extension as you stand back up, driving through your hips. No worries: I’ve got a couple videos below that give you some tips on mastering the hip hinge.
The kettlebell swing uses pretty much all the muscles in your body, either as prime movers or as assisters/stabilizers: your entire posterior chain (the muscles along the back of your body, which give you power), along with your adductors, quads, calves, core, and even your biceps and triceps.
Heck, even your forearms get a great workout from gripping the kettlebell handle.
With all those muscles working, it’s no wonder you can get such a calorie burn, right?
And not only are you burning calories and strengthening/building muscle, you’re also improving your aerobic efficiency, as well as naturally elevating hormones that promote muscle growth, like human growth hormone and testosterone.
How to do a Russian Kettlebell Swing
A few key words come to mind when I think of kettlebell swings:
Basically in that order.
That’s because you need to maintain control both of your body and the kettlebell when you’re doing swings correctly.
Here’s how to do a Kettlebell Swing:
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees soft, the kettlebell on the floor between your feet.
- Bend at the hips in a hip hinge (not at the waist), core strong and spine long, to pick up the kettlebell.
- Your shins should stay vertical to the floor as you come back up to standing.
- Now, using the power of your hips and lower body, swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height, ab muscles “on,” and drive your hips forward.
- Brace your core muscles and put the brakes on with your arms/shoulder muscles to stop the weight at the top the movement before swinging the kettlebell back down between your legs for the next rep.
- Do NOT use your shoulders to power the movement – drive back up through your heels and hips.
Two of the most common mistakes people make with kettlebell swings:
- Using their shoulders/upper body to “lift” the weight up, rather than allowing the power of the lower body to drive the weight up, and
- Rounding their shoulders forward and bending at the waist to lower the kettlebell.
Here’s a quick video that demonstrates one way to learn the hip hinge necessary for doing a kettlebell swing, along with showing a few swings.
And here’s a longer one with me talking you through the basics of a hip hinge when it comes to Romanian deadlifts and swings.
What Size Kettlebell Should You Use?
Most experts recommend that women start with an 8-kg or 18-lb kettlebell, and men with a 16-kg or 35-lb kettlebell.
One of the things with kettlebell swings is that you first want to master technique and get your muscles/tendons used to the movements before loading up with heavy poundages.
But as you get stronger, you will quickly progress, depending on the nature of the movement.
Are you ready to try a full-on kettlebell workout?
Kettlebell Circuit Workout
Here’s a total-body kettlebell circuit to get you going.
Warm up thoroughly for 5 to 10 minutes, either on a piece of cardio equipment or by doing dynamic movement like squats, lunges, arm swings, etc..
Do each exercise for 30 seconds and then take a 15-second break before hitting the next exercise. At the end of the circuit take a 1-minute break and repeat the whole thing for 2 to 4 times through.
- Kettlebell Swings
- Goblet squats
- 1-arm Kettlebell Swing, alternating sides (switch at top of movement, shoulder height)
- Kettlebell deadlifts
- Renegade rows (here’s a how-to, with video)
Kettlebells are Fun
You’re not just limited to doing only swings with kettlebells – there are loads more exercises to do with them, to work your entire body: Turkish get-ups, halos, snatches, overhead press, squats, deadlifts, and more. They are definitely worth the investment when it comes to adding them to your home gym.
Just be sure to progress slowly and to keep a careful eye on your form, because of the unstable nature of the kettlebell. It requires your body to use more core control, which is what makes them so great, but potentially also a little tricky.
- Oxygen Cost of Kettlebell Swings
- The Acute Hormonal to the Kettlebell Swing Exercise
- Do it Better: ACE’s technique series continues with the two-handed kettlebell swing