Say “YES” to the Kettlebell Swing, the love child of a hip hinge and an explosive hip extension. It might just be the most perfect conditioning exercise that exists. Can anyone say, intense calorie burn, core endurance, and a nice tight BUTT all wrapped up into one awesome exercise??
It’s called a SWING for a reason and it shouldn’t look anything like a SQUAT. Just like a swing that hinges back and forth on a swing set, the kettlebell projects back just below your “zipper line” and then is explosively projected forward to shoulder height. I love the swing because not only does it improve your aerobic conditioning, it grooves the hip hinge, the movement pattern necessary for proper dead lifting.
While the Kettlebell Swing is a great exercise if executed correctly, unfortunately, it is also one of the most butchered exercises that exists. Bottom line, if you can’t hinge well, you probably won’t swing well. Often, early on, people make the mistake of using more of a squat pattern than a hinge pattern, resulting in the dreaded SWING-SQUAT! Not very pretty or effective! You can see plenty examples of these bad swings on YOU TUBE!
The Kettlebell Swing is a great exercise when it comes to generating explosive hip power! All golfers should be incorporating swings in their training if you want to see that little white ball go farther. If strong, powerful glutes are what you are after, look no further than the Kettlebell Swing. Glutes are KING when it comes to generating hip power. And I know all the ladies want that strong, tight “bell butt”….
So, is the Kettlebell Swing dangerous? Like any exercise, of course it is, if you do it incorrectly. Let’s be honest, you could probably herniate L4-L5 just by rounding over to tie your shoe, so I’m quite confident that swinging incorrectly could cause some damaging effects as well. For that reason, you are NOT allowed to swing incorrectly at TGA! Problem solved. No herniated disks here!!
For a healthy back, you MUST master the hip hinge while maintaining a neutral spine position. Like the squat, the hinge is one of our body’s fundamental movement patterns. Our hips, which are ball and socket joints, are designed to hinge like a door. The better you get at this movement, the more you spare your low back. Based on my many years of coaching, women tend to be better at hinging than their male counterparts. Guys tend to round more at their lumbar spine while 99% of women I train pick up the hinge very quickly and naturally. I’m sure it has something to do with us ladies having wider hip angles than men and a little bit more mass on the backside!!!
So what’s so wrong about rounding your back when you perform a swing or any other exercise for that matter? According to my fave Professor and low back expert, Dr. Stu McGill, anytime the lumbar spine is flexed repetitively under load, you are at a greater risk for injury. Our backs only get so many bends in a lifetime. Try bending a credit card over and over again, eventually IT SNAPS! So if that isn’t enough reason for you to master the hinge, I don’t know what is??
Here are six (6) tips to a better Kettlebell Swing:
1. Squeeze the Oranges
otherwise known as “engaging your lats”
pretend there is an orange wedged in each armpit
as the kettlebell is thrusted back under your “zipper line” you need to make sure you are not rounding your shoulders and allowing your lats to relax (and letting go of the oranges) you engage your lats by pulling your shoulders blades towards your back pockets and lifting your chest up as you swing the bell between your legs
this will ensure that your spine stays neutral; a neutral rigid spine is what we are always after, not a rounded low back
2. Vertical lockout
At the top of your swing, you must put the breaks on and come to complete stop, otherwise known as the vertical lockout.
Contract the quads and lock-out your knees at the top of your swing
the vertical lockout should feel pretty much like a standing plank: braced core, tight glutes and tight quads
3. Grow Roots from your feet
You need to get good at planting those feet into the ground. A good pair of flat soled training shoes are important. It’s not a good idea to train in running shoes because the cushioning absorbs energy; that’s exactly what we don’t want, we want the energy from the ground to be transferred to the kettlebell and not lost in the cushioning or your shoes
Also running shoes keep you on the balls of your feet and that is exactly what you don’t want when trying to generate force from the ground.
You may want to try swinging without shoes on to get a better sense of what driving your feet into the floor should feel like
No rocking, no rolling out to the side, just keep those feet DOWN!! The more surface contact those feet have with the ground, the better.
4. No Death Grips
The swing is a lower body power movement. The arms are just going along for the ride and should not be stiff. If you hold on to the kettlebell too tightly, you’ll have too much tension in your neck and upper traps. You may even fatigue your forearms. Try loosening your grip and just hold on a much as needed to keep that bell from flying out of your hands and hitting me in the head when I walk in front of you. TGA Rule: never walk in front of someone swinging a kettlebell. Chalk up if that bell is heavy and your hands get sweaty!!!
5. Stretch the rubber bands
So this is where it gets ugly and a swing starts to resemble a squat. If you bend your knees too much on the way back and the kettlebell is allowed to drop down towards the knees as opposed to thrown back towards the “zipper line”, it’s going to look more like a squat or what we call the swing-squat pattern. There should be no lowering of the hips when you swing. Instead, you should have soft knees while hinging at the hips. The farther back you hinge, the more stretch on the hamstrings you create. I call this “stretching the rubber bands”. Try stretching a rubber band as far as you can and releasing it, there’s a lot of stored energy in that rubber band and it travels with some power. Now do the same thing to your hamstrings when you hinge back and just watch how much power you can project forward!
6. Wait for the Bell
I love the Lexus commercial that says, “The ultimate expression of power is control!”
When executing a kettlebell swing properly, you must be in control and be patient and wait for the kettlebell. What in the world does that mean? It’s physics basically. The kettlebell and your hips are creating two separate arcs. Timing is everything when it comes to hinging and executing the swing properly. You must wait for your arms to come in contact with your body before projecting your hips back. If you hinge prematurely, your timing is off and the kettlebell will flap behind you and tap you in the behind!
So why all this fuss about the Kettlebell Swing anyway? Other than it’s one of my favorite exercises for generating power, it’s SWING WEEK at TGA starting Monday, February 8, 2016. If you’ve been around TGA long enough, you have probably experienced a few SWING WEEKS in your day, a week devoted to mastering the swing. Every class will be intentionally programmed with multiple sets of swings. Who doesn’t love the dreaded 10-15-25-50 circuit repeated 3 times!!! Oh yeah, it’s back!!!
LET THE BEST SWING WIN! A little healthy competition is good for us!! I will use my keen physics eye and possibly a goniometer against your hip to make sure you are getting the correct hip hinge angle! I’m sure there may be some stick figure drawings involved as well. Get ready to swing, because you can’t win, if you don’t show up!!
Let me know if you have any questions.
Keep on Swinging,