While the Kettlebell Swing exercise is one of the most popular kettlebell drills, it is also one of the easiest to make mistakes with. This special kettlebell exercise requires proper timing, body coordination, and skill, three things that take time and practice to develop. With all the kettlebell articles out there, there is one point that doesn’t seem to be making headlines, and that is the mistake you might be making.
Why is the Kettlebell Swing Hard?
The problem is that there is a lot of movement is happening during the Kettlebell Swing. This simple-looking movement engages your entire posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, obliques, calves, and spinal erectors among others), requires proper timing, and non-stop effort during sets. Add in the fact that if you’ve been using isometric exercises as your primary method of fitness, the full body, coordinated effort required by the Kettlebell Swing will probably feel unnatural.
Now, this tip is based on my personal variation of the Kettlebell Swing. There are many Kettlebell Swing variations out there, and while some other people may not agree with me, I don’t think that is a bad thing.
Every objective and body is different, so why shouldn’t there be more than one way to skin a cat?
The Mark de Grasse Kettlebell Swing
My variation of the Kettlebell Swing requires an explosive hip motion to expend as much force as possible during the up swing. That force is then stopped by flexing your core and quads to halt your body at a neutral standing position. The maximum height that the kettlebell reaches on the up swing is determined by these actions, with the shoulders and arms simply acting as pivot points. The kettlebell then falls naturally, pulling your body back into the back swing.
My variation involves an explosive hip motion that encourages the maximize range of motion of the hips by incorporating a slight knee bend while hinging at the hips during the back swing (this is exemplified by the graphic below in figure #3, represented as the distance between the yellow and red lines). The goal is to get the maximum distance between a neutral body position (with a neutral body position being defined as the standing position with your knees above your ankles, your hips above your knees, and shoulders above your hips) and the apex of the back swing.
The Primary Kettlebell Swing Mistake
The primary Kettlebell Swing mistake that I see people making doesn’t have to do with range of motion in the hips necessarily, although that is a big issue too. The main mistake has to do with the timing of the swing. Ideally, by the time the kettlebell passes between your legs, your body should already be in a neutral standing position (as you can see in figure #2). If it isn’t, it means that you didn’t move your hips fast enough from the back swing. This leads to less explosiveness, translating into a weaker swing.
As you can see in the picture above, the kettlebell is barely in front of my body, but I am standing up straight already. If you find that you are standing straight at the same moment that the kettlebell is reaching the apex of the up swing (as seen in figure #1), you didn’t move your hips fast enough.
As I stated before, you need to stop the swinging motion by flexing your abs and quads. If this action is not required, your swing is weaker than it could have been (little or no hip explosiveness meaning little or no posterior chain engagement).
Fixing the Kettlebell Swing Mistake
Here are a few ways that you can fix the timing mistake, or at least find out if you’re making it or not:
- If you are not feeling your hamstrings stretch during the back swing, you probably aren’t hinging at the hips enough. Most likely you’re squatting. Bend a little bit more at the hips with each rep until you start to feel that stretch.
- If you’re exploding with your hips, but the kettlebell isn’t going anywhere, you need to increase the range of motion. The best way to do this is with a slight knee bend, but make sure you don’t turn it into a squat!
- Have someone watch you do the Kettlebell Swing. Tell them to look for the start and end point of your hips during the movement. If they say anything less than 5-6 inches, chances are that your range of motion isn’t great enough.
The Kettlebell Swing can be tricky, but with practice and a good trainer you could rapidly improve your form and your results.