How do I Perform Kettlebell Swings?

Shelby Miller
Shelby Miller
Man without a shirt
Man without a shirt

A kettlebell swing is a weight lifting exercise that utilizes many of the body’s large muscle groups, primarily the glutes, to snap the hips forward and project a kettlebell weight in front of the body. Available in weights ranging from under ten to upwards of 90 pounds (4.5 kilograms to 90 kilograms), a kettlebell is a cast-iron weighted ball — essentially a cannonball — that features a flat rubber-coated bottom and a wide handle attached to the top. Kettlebell swings involve grasping the kettlebell in one or two hands, pushing the hips back and swinging the kettlebell back between the legs, and then explosively thrusting the hips forward so that the weight is swung out in front of the body via the momentum of the hip snap.

Kettlebell swings and similar exercises like the kettlebell snatch can be traced to Russia, where they were conceived to train the likes of Russian military, police, bodybuilders, and athletes. Designed to improve explosiveness, strength, speed, and endurance, these exercises are thought to be centuries old. In fact, it is believed that the Russian military invented kettlebell training by exercising with actual cannonballs. While kettlebells are still sold in uncoated cast-iron form, they are often coated in vinyl or rubber and are available in a variety of colors and weights from many fitness equipment retailers.

Though kettlebell lifting has been common practice in many countries for the last century or so, it has surged in popularity in recent years. Partly responsible for this trend are the fitness trainers and coaches who are pushing more integrated, full-body strength workouts over traditional isolated moves performed with dumbbells and on weight machines. Kettlebell swings are an example of this kind of training, as they require a great deal of neuromuscular coordination and engage many muscles simultaneously. As such, they are not for beginners and should only be performed after receiving instruction from a certified fitness professional.

General guidelines for performing kettlebell swings are as follows. For the two-handed swing, the exerciser should stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and the handle grasped firmly in both hands. He should then push the hips back and shift the weight into the heels while inhaling and swinging the kettlebell back between the knees, which should be slightly bent. Keeping the abdominals drawn in and back straight, he should then forcefully exhale while driving forward through the hips, squeezing the glutes, and swinging the kettlebell forward in one explosive movement. For the one-handed swing, the only difference is that the kettlebell is held in one hand while the other arm is held to the side of the body.

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