The kettlebell swing is one of the most hallowed kettlebell moves out there, a move that builds athleticism, strength, and power all at once.
It fires up your glutes and hamstrings, and attacks your back muscles too, and it’ll challenge your core and your grip more than you think as well. And it does so while also pushing your heart rate into the stratosphere as you alternately explode the kettlebell forwards then manage all its momentum on the way down. It’s one of the first movements that anyone learns when they first pick up a kettlebell.
But it’s also one of the most butchered exercises out there. The basic kettlebell swing is hard to master, partly because it’s one of the first exercises you’ll learn that challenges you to create and then control momentum. Especially if you come from a classic bodybuilding background, or if you’re used to focusing your training on specific muscle groups, you may find the swing tough to pick up.
The good news about the swing is that most of the issues people battle with it are correctable. Here are three common kettlebell swing flaws — and a way for you to tackle each one.
Common Kettlebell Swing Flaws
The Problem: Too Much Arc As the Kettlebell Passes Through Your Legs
The kettlebell isn’t supposed to shift too far behind your legs. By keeping the arc small, you keep the weight of the bell close to the center of mass of your body. This not only protects your back, but it lets you deliver more power when you’re swinging upwards.
A good swing will pass between the legs with the bell near the tops of your thighs. A bad swing may pass between your legs with the bell closer to your knees. This is an issue of timing and understanding of how the body moves during the kettlebell swing. Don’t try to keep your arms away from your torso the whole time. Let them near your torso before the bell shifts backwards between your legs, and keep your core tight as you do this.
Fix It: Think of “attacking your crotch” with the kettlebell. Focus on doing swings with the bell and your hands as close to your upper thigh as possible. Your hands and wrists can actually touch your inner thighs. Work on this with the hike swing. Set up a kettlebell 6 to 12 inches in front of your feet. Reach your hips back and hinge forward, keeping your core tight so your back is flat. Grab hold of the bell and, without moving your torso, pull it to your crotch. Then squeeze your glutes and stand up aggressively, sending the bell into a normal swing. Reset it on the ground and repeat. Do 5 reps at a time.
The Problem: The Squatty Swing
The squatty kettlebell swing is perhaps the top kettlebell swing flaw. Your glutes are supposed to drive th kettlebell to swing, but this very often becomes a leg motion. You start to do squats, and your torso never hinges forward when you do this. You see it in the arc of the kettlebell: It’s supposed to swing outwards, but squatting up and down creates vertical force and sends the bell in the wrong direction.
Your quads and shoulders wind up doing all the work, and your back is at risk, since it’s being loaded more than your glutes and hamstrings.
Fix It: Place a soft plyo box or a friend’s hand right in front of your knee before you start to do swings. Once you start swinging, the goal is to never let your knee touch the box or your partner’s hand. That’s going to force your knee to stay closer to perpendicular to the ground, and if you maintain this position, your swing will wind up being a lot more hamstring-driven. During squat motions, your knee tracks forward a bit. That hand or plyo box is now preventing that from happening.
The Problem: No Upper Back Tension
When the kettlebell swing is done right, your entire torso is stiff as a board. Your abs are tight, and your upper and lower back muscles are rigid and tense. This tension protects your spine and lets you swing more powerfully.
But very often, in an attempt to truly “swing” the bell, people over-relax their upper bodies and fail to keep the upper back and rotator cuff muscles involved. That can lead to shoulder injuries, and it’s definitely not making the most of the swing.
Fix It: Work on proper positioning by learning what upper-body tension should feel like. Stand with your heels, butt and back to the wall. Without losing back or butt contact with the wall, reach your hands in front of you as far as they can go, rolling your shoulders forward. You’ll feel your upper come off the wall. This is the position you want to avoid.
Next, pull your shoulders back tight, squeezing your shoulder blades into the wall as you extend your hands. You might feel your chest puff up. This is an engaged position and you’ll feel it. Do this before a set of kettlebell swings, aiming to recreate the feeling you feel in the second setup.
How a Kettlebell Swing is Supposed To Be Done
The classic kettlebell swing is a much smaller motion than you think. It’s all about hinging at the hips, an action that’s supposed to be natural for your body. You’re aiming to push your hips back, letting the kettlebell carry between your legs and gradually dropping a rigid torso near the ground. Then, you propel the kettlebell forward not with your arms or your upper body, but by essentially exploding straight into a stand-up position and squeezing your glutes as hard as possible.
Your upper body shouldn’t be involved in this at all. It’s all about lower-body power. For more insight into the kettlebell swing, check out our Form Check on the move.
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