The Kettlebell Swing

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The Swing – for legs and conditioning that won’t give up.

The kettlebell swing is exactly what the name implies. A swing, or hinge movement. The athlete will swing the kettlebell from between the legs up to approximately chest level and back, for repetitions, using the hips to power the movement, similar to if the athlete was jumping.

As mentioned before, the swing is more of a hip hinge than anything else. Designed to maximise explosive hip strength and power.

When done properly, there is minimal compressive and shear stress on the lumbar spine because the spine is neither overly flexed, or extended during any point of the swing.

The arms are not used actively, meaning the shoulders are not forcefully elevating the kettlebell.

The kettlebell is being swung forward by a forceful hip drive and the kettlebell “floats” to approximately chest level.

The height of the kettlebell is actually irrelevant because the hip power is the focus and not the actual elevation of the kettlebell.

Here are a few points on how to teach the swing.

Hips first
A natural athlete moves from the hips, never from the back or knees. A hips-first movement pattern is the safest for your back and knees. It’s also the most powerful.

Whilst standing up, place the edge of you hands into the creases at the top of your thighs. Press your hands into the creases and “hinge”, sticking your butt out while keeping the weight on your heels. This will teach the athlete to go down by folding at the hip joint rather than bending through the back. This is probably the most important part of teaching proper swing technique.

It’s the same on the way up. Hips first. Drive up with the glutes and hamstrings, not the quads and definitely not the back.

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The box squat
The box squat is similar to sitting down on a chair. Powerlifters originally thought up the box squat to improve squatting depth, technique and power.

To start, revisit the hip-crease drill. Once you have mastered the movement pattern it’s time to progress.

Pick up a kettlebell by the handle and hold it in front of you. It’s likely that you will need it for balance, at least for the first few repetitions. Stand approximately a foot or so in front of a stable bench or box facing away from it. Lower the body by creasing at the hips and pushing the glutes backward.

Keep pushing the glutes back. The knees will bend naturally. Remember, hips first.

Don’t let the knees drift too far forward. If you don’t feel the hamstrings tighten when you lower, then you’re squatting wrong.

The knees should track the feet, with the feet pointing slightly outward.

Push the kettlebell forward to counterbalance, and remember to keep sitting back. Continue to sit back under control until your glutes touch the box. If done correctly, you should feel tightness across the top of the quads and a stretch along the hamstrings.

Now it’s time to stand up. Rock back slightly. Now rock forward and stand up. Do this by planting your feet into the ground. Shins upright.

The moment that you feel that your weight has loaded your feet, push your feet hard into the ground.

Tense the glutes, and drive the hips forward until you stand up. Full hip extension. Lock out the hips by cramping the glutes.

This might sound a little exhaustive, but attention to detail is what makes it safe, and effective. If you’re going to doing something, do it right.

The box squat is a basic skill often overlooked when teaching movement patterns, but once it has been mastered, you will find that many drills will build from this foundation and will become a lot easier to master.

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The condition:
Swing the kettlebell between your legs and then in front of you up to chest level for repetitions.

The swing standard:
Maintain the box-squat alignment during swings and when picking up or setting down the kettlebell:

  • Keep your head up;
  • Keep a straight – not to be confused with “upright” – back;
  • Sit back, rather than dip down.
  • Extend the hips and knees fully on the top: the body must form a straight line;
  • The kettlebell must form an extension of the straight and loose arm(s) on the top of the swing.

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The 10,000 swing workout

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In a nutshell

  • Challenge yourself with four weeks or five of intensive kettlebell swinging to test your grit and improve body composition;
  • At the completion of the program, you will have done 10,000 kettlebell swings dispersed throughout 20 workouts. You’ll do 500 swings per workout;
  • Between sets of kettlebell swings, do one of the following: chin-ups, goblet squats, dips, or overhead presses;
  • Master your kettlebell swing pattern. It’s not a squat. It’s a hip hinge and a hip snap. Your arms should not travel above your shoulders.

Making progress with training
As humans, we thrive when we push our boundaries, reach goals, and beat our personal records. If we’re performing faster, fitter and stronger, we tend to feel more alive.

So, if you want to improve, you have to seek out new challenges, struggle, adapt and overcome.

The 10,000 kettlebell swing workout is a challenge that will rapidly transform your overall body composition in just four or five weeks.

 

The Program
In four or five weeks, the athlete is going to perform 10,000 proper kettlebell swings. These will be split over 20 workouts. That is 500 swings per workout.

Between sets of swings, the athlete performs a low volume, strength movement. Training either four or five days per week. Training two days on, one day off, then repeat.

  • Men should use a 24kg kettlebell;
  • Women should use a 16kg kettlebell.

Breaking it down. Swing clusters, sets and repetitions
Following this repetition scheme to reach 500 total swings per workout:

  • Set 1: 10 swings;
  • Set 2: 15 swings;
  • Set 3: 25 swings;
  • Set 4: 50 swings.

That is 100 swings completed, or one cluster. Repeat the cluster another four times and you will have completed you’re daily total of 500 swings. Between sets is where more conditioned or experience athletes can add a low volume strength movement.

The strength movements
Use a strength movement with low volume between sets of swings. Some of the best movements are:

  • Overhead Press;
  • Dips;
  • Goblet Squat;
  • Chin-up.

Other movements to consider could be a front squat, weighted pull-ups or even muscle-ups. This is where you can really personalise your program. I would stay with presses or pulls. It is fair to say that after 500 swings per day, you probably won’t feel like adding any extra hip hinge work.

Use a 1-2-3 repetition scheme for most movements. Here is an example using the overhead press:

  • 10 swings
  • 1 press
  • 15 swings
  • 2 press
  • 25 swings
  • 3 press
  • 50 swings
  • Rest for 60 sec.

For the strength movements, use your five repetition max weight. If you’re conducting dips, use a 2-3-5 repetition scheme.

If you choose to lift five days in a week, conduct strength movement on four of the days and pick a day where you will only conduct the swings.

You can use a different strength movement each workout, rotating through the movements mentioned earlier. My preference is to use two days of both overhead presses and pull-ups.

Only use a single strength movement each workout.

Rest
After each set of 10, 15 and 25 repetitions, rest for 60 seconds. After each set of 50 repetitions, extend your rest to three minutes. During this longer rest period, perform some corrective work. Conduct stretches as required, such as in the hips, or lower back. Add in some mobility movements to keep your body loose.

Here is what a sample week could look like:

Day 1

  • 10 Swings
  • Press 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Press 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Press 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 presses.

Day 2

  • 10 Swings
  • Chin-up 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Chin-up 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Chin-up 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 chin-ups.

Day 3 – Rest

Day 4

  • 10 Swings
  • Press 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Press 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Press 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 presses.

Day 5

  • 10 Swings
  • Chin-up 1 rep
  • 15 Swings
  • Chin-up 2 reps
  • 25 Swings
  • Chin-up 3 reps
  • 50 Swings
  • Rest 30-60 seconds; repeat 4 more times.

By the end of the workout, you’ll have completed 500 swings and 30 chin-ups.

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Rest, or begin the cycle again

Swing Technique
There are several variations to complete the kettlebell swing. The two main variations being the American Swing, as seen in Crossfit workouts, and the Russian Swing.

The major difference between the two variations is that the Russian Swing is primarily a hip hinge movement with the kettlebell reaching to roughly chest height, and that the American Swing there is a secondary movement where the kettlebell is pulled overhead.

While there are uses for both variations of kettlebell swings, we will focus on the Russian Swing for this program.

The condition:

Swing the kettlebell between your legs and then in front of you up to chest level for repetitions.

The swing standard:

  • Maintain the box-squat alignment during swings and when picking up or setting down the kettlebell:
    • Keep your head up;
    • Keep a straight – not to be confused with “upright” – back;
    • Sit back, rather than dip down.
  • Extend the hips and knees fully on the top: the body must form a straight line;
  • The kettlebell must form an extension of the straight and loose arm(s) on the top of the swing.

What is next?
Firstly, congratulate yourself for completing this program. If done correctly, it can be  quite the challenge. Well done.

You’ll most likely be in much better shape than you were four or five weeks ago and you should be ready for the next challenge.

Keep swinging.