EXERCISE BREAKDOWN: KETTLEBELL SWING
HOW TO DO IT
STAND TALL – look mean and mean business.
CAREFULLY DEADLIFT THE BELL UP – Pick it up carefully without flexing your spine please. (Unless you’re ready for a dynamic start, then do it that way– still no flexing your spine obviously).
HIP HINGE – We want to flex the knees (but not bend them much — it’s not a squat), then push the bum back until we feel the Hamstrings stretch. While doing this we need to maintain the spine’s neutral position and pull the Kettlebell back between the legs. Keep your eyes fixed on the floor a few metres ahead of you.
SNAP SHUT – Then aggressively snap the hips shut, aggressively tensing your bum muscles when you get there. This should propel the Bell out in front of you. At the top we need to ‘Glute Lock’ (lock the Quads and feel like we are tensed. Your eyes remain on the same spot, which should mean your head can remain still throughout.
TIGHT GRIP, CONTROL WITH LATS – as soon as the Bell gets to Belly Button height, grip it tight, feel your Lats tense through your armpits and stop the damn thing getting any higher.
PULL BACK DOWN – then we want to actively pull the bell back down into position. Don’t wait for gravity, use your strength and pull it back in place ready for your next rep.
FIND THE RHYTHM AND BUILD POWER – The active pull back down will encourage rapid stretch in the Hamstrings before they recoil and start the move back forwards. Thanks to this – we then have a quick, powerful rhythmic swinging motion.
HOW YOU PEOPLE MESS IT UP
YOU ROUND YOUR SPINE – This is the highest risk mis-manouvre! Fast ballistic move, with heavy weight, with rounded spine = blooming disaster for ligaments and disks in your back. This error will happen if the Bell is too heavy, if your Hamstrings are too tight to hinge properly or if your just haven’t learned the right way to do it. This will hurt you badly. Don’t do it. A powerful exercise must be used wisely, just like a chainsaw – you can do a lot of good with it, but lose your focus and swing it around without the proper precautions and it might not end so well.
Warning over – if you fear this is you, film yourself or get someone to you. Master the Hip Hinge to Glute Lock first, plus the Stiff Legged Deadlift, then master these with sets of 5 (low reps to avoid fatigue), then master it slowly with only a little weight added each time. They are such a great exercise however, that even if it takes you 18 months to nail it, its worth it.
YOU OVEREXTEND THE SPINE AT THE TOP – letting the kettlebell-thing get too high will force you to lean back at the top, and your spine will then overextend. This will do you in. Don’t let it happen. You are in charge of the move, not the damn kettlebell!
To fix this: learn to stop, before you lean back by engaging your abs and you’d lats!
YOU CAN’T TIME IT TO SAVE YOUR LIFE – This happens a lot – especially when learning. Your hips apply power at the wrong time, the bell doesn’t go anywhere and you just cant seem to get the hang of it.
The fix — Watch clips of it being done well by accomplished KB Swingers, make sure you have that picture in your mind, then practice at a variety of tempos until you do get the timing down. Make sure there is nothing passive in your technique, you swing it out hard with a ‘Hip Snap’ and you pull it in hard with your arms.
YOU SQUAT – If you bend your knees too much, you’re squatting, not hinging. Naughty. Go back, master Hip Hinge to Glute Lock and transfer that move to the Swing itself.
YOU TRY TO GIVE YOURSELF WHIPLASH – The spine goes from arse to neck. Tail to Skull. The spine must remain fixed from arse to neck throughout the swing. The movement comes from the pelvis moving. Don’t let your head fly around during the swing, you must keep the neck still as well as the low back.
YOU DONT WANT IT BAD ENOUGH – if your kettlebell performance looks lazy, unenthusiastic and uninspiring – you’re not doing it right. It should look powerful and violent, yet controlled. It should cause other gym users to move away from you but watch on in awe out of the corner of their eyes. If it looks lazy – have a word with yourself and work on adding force and control in equal measure. It’s not one to do while watching the TV.
YOU STARTED TOO LIGHT – Its always wise to start light, but too light and it just won’t feel realistic. Make sure the weight is heavy enough that it takes some effort but light enough you can control it.
TOO MANY MOVING PARTS – Done right, these are fast, tight, controlled moves. If you seem to have more moving parts than an Octopus, go back to basics. Shorten the move, control the height with your Lats, lock your Glutes at the top and make sure you keep your ‘Iron Spine’!
ATTACK THE ZIPPER!– scary but effective. Don’t let the Bell come down passively but attack the zipper area, then get out of the way (you will) last second.
PLANK! – It’s not relaxed at the top. Its a standing Hardstyle Plank — with bum, thighs and stomach squeezed tight.
‘IRON SPINE’ – Often used and vitally important. Don’t let it budge, hinge it!
STRETCH THE HAMMIES then LOCK THE GLUTES – to encourage the right mechanics at the hips… feel the Hamstrings stretch at the bottom of the move and then feel the Glutes lock to control at the top.
I’m very keen that you reslove to do these and do these well if at all possible when following The Strength Sessions programme. However, you know by now that I’m all about convenience and reducing barriers between you and getting your training done. So, if you can’t do them for logistical reasons, I’d reccommend adding in either of these instead:
FORWARD POWER LUNGE
QUALITY BODYWEIGHT SQUATS
and if you can’t do them because of slight injuries or trouble with technique, I reccomend either of these weighted manouvres instead:
STIFF LEG DEADLIFT
WHY DO KETTLEBELL SWINGS?
There are loads of reasons I put these in The Strength Sessions Programme, despite the fact they can be tricky to learn and require equipment, the benefits are worth it:
THESE ARE GREAT FOR HIP STRENGTH AND POWER — There is little better when one considers the various barriers and benefits of other exercises. These are a classic compound move that will primarily strengthen the Hamstrings & Glutes, but will massively strengthen the upper back and spinal stabilisers too -– all good things. Oh, and your grip. And your abs. And your Lats too (That’s about it though).
THEY ARE VERY PRACTICAL — (erm, as long as you have a kettlebell anyway!), because they work so many muscles for such a simple and quick move.
IT’S KINDA FUN — right?
GATEWAY TO THE LAND OF KETTLEBELLS — If you like the idea of Kettlebells, The Swing is absolutely fundamental.
WE ‘NEED’ SOMETHING BILATERAL IN THE STRENGTH SESSIONS PROGRAMME — all the one leg squatting is great, but it’s nice to have an exercise with two too, to balance things out a bit (I’m sorry if that doesn’t read well, I was childishly trying to use all three spellings of that word in a row. I don’t know why).
THESE ARE GREAT ARSE & LEG SHAPERS! — if all you did was Swing a Kettlebell and eat well, you could still have a great physique. Get good at these and your arse and legs will reflect it.
GREAT FOR LOW BACK — as long as you do them properly, these are great for building a strong & healthy lower back. I know I already said that, but it’s worth repeating. Done well: great for back health. Done poorly: terrible for you. Learn well.