If you aren’t swinging a kettlebell, then you should start to reconsider that train of thought. The kettlebell swing is one of those exercises that when executed properly, becomes one of the ultimate movements you can do for your fitness regimen.
For many people who are looking to slim down, cardio is king. Rather than head outside for a run or jump on a piece of cardio equipment, instead reach for a kettlebell. While there is nothing wrong with a run or the cardio machines lining the back wall of your local gym, the kettlebell swing is going to provide more bang for your buck, especially if you are a cardio-only athlete.
Utilizing the swing, you are also strengthening and building up your posterior chain, not to mention the low impact being a much better alternative for your joints.
There are key points to remember in the kettlebell swing:
- Hinge, don’t squat: The swing is a simple exercise that can be done wrong and is improperly shown in many a popular media source. It is not a squat movement, but a hip-hinge movement. That means that the hips go back (the hinge), and the knees only bend slightly (whereas in a squat they bend fully). Think about trying to reach back with your booty. Your booty is going “ass to grass” in a squat but rather backwards in the swing as hinge out of those hips.
- Be explosive with the hips, this is not an arm workout: The swing is a ballistic movement. If you think of a bullet fired out of a gun, it receives all of its power initially and then relies on momentum to get to its destination. The same goes for the swing. The hips provide the explosive power throwing the kettlebell up in the air and the arms are just ropes holding the weight like a pendulum. Your goal is to let it float up once the hips have used up their power, but the bell shouldn’t go higher than chest height. We will touch on this later.
- Protect your back: Do NOT let the kettlebell pull the lower back into a compromised position at the bottom of the swing. Pin your shoulders back and down to engage your lats. Use a mirror to watch your form. Maintain a neutral spine and engage the transverse abdominus.
- Location on the downswing is important: Ensure the kettlebell passes between your legs on your upper thighs. For gentlemen this can be a tad bit daunting, but remember this is a hinge not a squat. If you find your forearms hitting your lower thighs, you are putting too much strain on the lower back. A good way to train this is to place a dumbbell or another kettlebell on the floor between your legs as you swing. If you swing so low as to hit that marker, chances are you are squatting, not hinging.
Using the right weight is very important: If you are proficient with your swing, a heavier weight will build more explosive power and provide the greater benefit. A 20kg (44lb) kettlebell for men and 12kg (26lb) kettlebell for women will work fine for most people as a beginner weight. Adjust the weight accordingly with form and explosivity being the focus. Avoid jumping up in weight too quickly.
I mentioned earlier that the kettlebell should not go higher than chest height. This is a very common mistake I see at the gym, and popularized by fitness classes and just the massive amounts of misinformation found on the internet. There are 2 reasons why you should not be taking your bell into that overhead position.
- The overhead swing leads to an overemphasis on the arms doing more work. Many people like to start with a lighter kettlebell to maintain form. Somewhere along the way however, they lose sight of the hip power and begin to focus on making the movement a shoulder workout. Explosive power from the hip and strengthening the posterior chain should be the focus, always.
- The overhead swing can put the shoulders in a compromised position at the peak of the movement. When a person attempts a heavy deadlift or heavy swing, he or she should pull the shoulder blades back and down (packing the shoulders). This protects the shoulder and tightens the back. When we catch a heavy load overhead (e.g., a jerk or snatch) we also want our shoulders in that same position. If we are shrug up or round our back, we put our shoulders at greater risk.
Looking for a challenge and a rapid way to drop some fat in 30 days? Famed coach Pat Flynn advocates his 300 rep challenge. Simply put, 300 reps per day for 30 days. It doesn’t matter how you break them up, nor when you do them, just as long as you get them done. This can be an alternative to your daily cardio, or as a way to add a little extra to your routine.