Introduction to Kettlebells, Lesson One: Swing

At the ECKC we offer an Introduction to Kettlebells Course that allows the new member to get some initial one-on-one training with an AKC coach. No matter what your level of experience in any other fitness modality, or no matter how fit you are, the course always starts with Swing.

Don't be deceived by this simple (you might not think it's so simple in a few moments), yet highly effective element of any introductory or long-term kettlebell protocol. The Swing is the first interaction between the lifter and the bell, and the first step in Swinging is learning to hold the kettlebell properly.

The bell handle should be at 45 degrees on the floor slightly in front of you. When working with the right hand, the left side of the kettlebell handle should be more rearward. Grab the handle with the right hand and slide it toward the left, so you're grabbing the handle off center. Apply the finger lock where the thumb is over the index finger pressing down, while the other three fingers can relax somewhat and allow the bell to drop in the hand as the finger locks does most of the work to secure the bell. Keep the finger lock and 45 degree angle on the bell handle throughout the entire swing motion.

This can be a difficult technique to master, but will save your hands and forearms tremendous stress and therefore extend your swing, clean, and snatch sets. The video demonstrates the technique. Lock the index finger over the thumb and relax the little, ring, and middle fingers to a degree. The objective of the finger lock (or hook grip) is to preserve the grip and forearm muscles, as well as reduce friction in the palm.

Once you get the bell moving it's time to pay attention to how your body naturally wants to move and breathe. Bend at the waist and hips but allow the spine to go through its natural range of motion as you "swing", moving with with the bell, not against it and EXHALE.

Once the bell is in motion, you do as little work as possible to keep it moving, allowing gravity and momentum work for you. This will generate much more productive sets, permitting more and more work to be performed. When swinging the bell back between your legs it moves in a perfect pendulum with no shake of the bell. If the bell shakes or rocks upward at the tail end of the motion, it means it still had motion left in it and you pulled forward against the moving bell. You didn't wait for the bell to finish its rearward arc. This is an inefficient way to move any object. Think of being on a swing in a playground. You need to let the swing's complete it's rearward travel before you thrust forward with your body. Same principle.

When you reverse direction and stand up and INHALE, the thrust of the body quickly unfolding from legs to back pulls on the bell the moment it begins to change direction. The hand and arm here are a mere hook. As the bell is brought between the legs there is a vertical pop initiated by the rear shoulder that causes the elbow to bend upward. This elbow pop gives some more vertical direction to a mostly horizontal movement. The bell will reach it's apex at about waist to chest height, no continuous force is exerted on the bell other than the first quick pop of the elbow. The bell will float to its natural height and seem to freeze in midair in a weightless moment before dropping. At this frozen, weightless moment when the bell floats in front of you, you can feel the grip relax just before the bell falls and demands you follow it quickly and regrip.

The floating bell defies physics as we know it doesn't actually float, but it does change direction and appears to freeze for a second. When we move onto the Clean and Snatch, you'll realize how vital this weightless moment is to repositioning your hand in the kettlebells with little wear and tear.

When you fully grip the bell once again (finger lock, bell handle at 45 degrees), the arm straightens and the body is moving at the exact same speed as the kettlebell, not chasing it or ahead of it, but rather a seamless transition. Once again, allow the body to bend fluidly, exhaling deeply as you fold. Move to the point where the kettlebell is finished its rearward travels and at that exact moment, quickly change direction while still moving without stiffness, let the bell rise to its apex (don't forget the elbow pop), and drop once again.

Use Swings as a great warm up tool, usually with a lighter weight and lower reps. As a hard core finisher to an already tough workout, you'd normally swing with a weight that's slightly heavier than your Push Press, Jerks, and Snatches. Start out with 10 or 20 per hand and build up gradually. Don't underestimate the powerful Swing. It's the only kettlebell exercise with no built in rest position. It can develop a power lower body, hips, and glutes, as well as work the grip and finger lock. Be sure to start slowly and get approval from your health care professional before starting any new exercise.

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