The Biomechanics of the Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing has been around for a really long time, potentially centuries. It's the foundation of all other kettlebell lifts, and where every new lifter starts. As a stand alone movement, it's a highly effective lower body, grip, and breath workout, while some say, burning over 25 calories per minute.

I guess one could argue that there are "styles" of swing, comparable to variations on push ups, bench presses, squats or curls - to produce a specific result. But buyer beware, the swing is a ballistic movement, and if not performed with sound biomechanics, can be potentially dangerous.

The term "kettlebell" and "swing" became popular in the early 2000's when a Russian trainer introduced a system he invented. It really didn't have much to do with what was going in the kettlebell lifting world in Eastern Europe for decades (and the sound biomechanics associated with it), but stood alone as a fitness system. Not bad, just not really kettlebells.

Let's get back to the swing and use that to illustrate the importance of some misconceptions. If you put two hands on a kettlebell, bend your knees excessively, keep the lower back arched and locked, and all your weight on your heels, you're actually squatting, or if you keep your knees straighter (all else the same), you're performing a deadlift. There will be a "swing effect" on the bell, (especially if you accentuate the snap at the end - ouch if done dozens of times), but it doesn't deliver on the original posterior chain engagement promise (the back of the body, from the achilles tendon to the trapezius).  It's basically a vertical (anterior chain) lift. It also prevents the lifter from realizing many of the other benefits of swing, namely timing, coordination, grip, breath, and power.

Here's the first point I need to get across. DO NO INTERFERE WITH THE MOTION (ENERGY) OF THE KETTLEBELL.  In other words, with the swing or any other life, do not lose any momentum or inertia to bad timing. The bell needs to be allowed to swing back as far as it will go, or you are working against yourself in an extremely inefficient manner. On the up swing, the bell should then float to the height it naturally reaches (as per force generated by momentum, as well as the explosive timing of the lower body and posterior chain).

The body weight is TRANSFERRED from the balls of the feet to the heels, using your center of mass (hips) to "get behind" the bell at the exact right moment (timing). If the weight is kept on the heels the entire time, it's like trying to throw a punch or swing a tennis racket without a bodyweight shift (no power).

The hip joints should NOT CRASH. The hips should wind up straight at the apex of the swing, but land softly, without inflaming the hip joints. The spine "stacks" for a moment, and the body relaxes as the bell drops. Exhale at the drop, falling (hinging mostly at the hips) with the bell, and then EXPLODE back up, as the fulcrum switches from hips to knees (quads), pushing the floor away just at the right moment (straightening knees). The elbow is allowed to bend as the knees extend, keeps the bell closer to the body (and lighter).

The swing is not easy to learn, but the basis for all other lifts. It's not something you're supposed to master in five minutes. The misinformation on the internet makes it even harder because you wind up spending lots of time on less sophisticated technique. Do yourself a favor, take the plunge into authentic style kettlebell lifting, master the swing.