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March 12, 2022 9 min read

The kettlebell bell is often left in the dust for other bulky gym equipment like the dumbbells and barbells. While this cannonball look-alike might look like a flimsy excuse for weighted equipment to many bodybuilders,  kettlebell exercises are as rewarding as any other exercise done with their counterparts.

The kettlebell swing is a conditioning exercise that packs quite a punch. Although many exercises that require momentum are frowned upon, the kettlebell swing is anything but an ordinary swing. Below, we have provided everything you need to know about the exercise.

fit muscular young Man doing KettleBell Swings in a warehouse

What Is The Kettlebell Swing?

If you haven't heard of the kettlebell swing, this might be because many gym-goers believe it is a waste of precious workout time. If you've heard this line quite a few times, chances are the naysayers are doing the kettlebell swing wrongly. The kettlebell swing is a ballistic exercise that involves swinging the kettlebell in a pendulum motion. It can be a unilateral or bilateral exercise. All that matters is the kettlebell passes a range of motion from between your knees shoulder-level or with your arms fully extended.

This might sound deceptively simple but beware: the last thing you want is to smash a kettlebell against your groin. One common misconception gym-goers have about the kettlebell swing is using the arms. Contrary to popular gym opinion, the swing does not come from your arms but your legs. It sounds like a nuts theory, but all you do with your hands is hold the kettlebell while the push power comes from driving through your feet and into your hips.

Think of it this way: Your legs are nothing but a solid pillar, hips are the hinge, while the torso and arms are your drivers. With the proper grip and swing, the kettlebell swing is a great way to build full-body strength, balance, and even stamina.

Muscles Worked In Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing might be a simple, fast, and short exercise, but it works the body's major muscle groups. An unrecognized star of the show, the kettlebell swing works the arms, shoulders, pectoral muscles, core, abs, hips, glutes, and significant leg muscles. Knowing which muscles are involved and ensuring they are engaged during the kettlebell swing is a splendid way to ensure that you hold proper form throughout your routine. Admittedly, it doesn't look like there is much movement going on. However, this low-impact full-body exercise loads your muscles without stressing your joints.

Arms

Your arm muscles - mainly the forearms, triceps, and biceps - are engaged throughout the exercise during the concentric and eccentric movements. Your fingers are wrapped around the often fat kettlebell handle, allowing you to activate your forearm muscles and strengthen your grip. Although your arms do not fold at the elbows, your triceps and biceps are engaged enough to probe strength and some muscle hypertrophy.

While this might not seem like much, arm and grip strength is necessary for navigating every activity you partake in throughout your life. Whether it is grabbing heavy grocery bags, or bench pressing in the gym, you will need more than a little bit of both qualities. The kettlebell swing does not guarantee massive arms, but it's an early way to tone and strengthen your arms.

Shoulders

Needless to say, your shoulders also support the weight of the kettlebell in your arms. The weighted equipment loads your shoulder muscles, leading them to be engaged throughout your movement. Although most of the drive necessary for the move comes from your legs, your shoulder muscles, especially the deltoids, increase the power of your swing, allowing you to achieve peak movement. Your delts also help you control the eccentric phase of the swing to avoid going too fast.

Back

The  latissimus dorsi, also called lats for short, is the broad, flat muscle that forms the bulk of your back muscle. It helps stabilize your shoulder blade, produce movements in the shoulder, adduct, and extend your arms. The lats also allow you to control and swing the kettlebell, which is engaged for most of the kettlebell swing. The degree of engagement of the lats, however, depends on how forcefully you swing the weighted equipment.

Your trapezius and rhomboid muscles also get in on the fun during the kettlebell swing. The traps are back muscles that originate from the base of your neck and span the length of your mid-back, while the rhomboids are a pair of muscle groups found in the upper back region. The traps and rhomboids both function to protect and control the scapular movement, allowing you to move your shoulder blades back and even extend your neck.

When performing the kettlebell swing, it is necessary to keep an upright torso with a proper posture. Your traps and rhomboids help you achieve this by keeping your shoulders from slouching during the movement. 

Abs and Core

Your abs and core muscles are also engaged during the kettlebell swing. During the exercise, your body is braced to secure your form, for stability, and to prevent the rounding of your lower back. This activates the muscles in your midsection, including rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae. The engagement of your core muscles also helps you to generate force for swinging the kettlebell. In contrast,  your abdominal muscles help resist excessive spinal extension during the concentric phase of the swing.

Legs

Although your legs are anchors and contribute only a fraction of the power needed for the swing, your quads still receive attention during the exercise. Made of four muscles, namely the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermediate, your quads are the large muscles of the thighs that help extend your knees. The more knee flexion you have during the exercise, the more your quads are activated.

During the kettlebell swing, your quads are most activated during the downward phase. The hamstrings, which are also engaged during the kettlebell swing, helps to extend your hip. It works inversely to the quads as the more your knees are flexed, the less your hams are engaged. Other than its effect during the hip-push phase of the kettlebell swing, the hams also act as knee stabilizer muscles.

Glutes

The glutes are one of the primary muscles you train during the kettlebell swing. The glute muscle that receives the most attention is the gluteus maximus, as it is crucial for driving the hips to an extension during the swings. The glutes generate the momentum necessary to accomplish the kettlebell swings fully. To get the most of glute engagement, contract your glutes at the top of the movement. The kettlebell swing also slightly activates the muscles of your calves. Essentially, all muscle groups are activated to some extent, providing a much-welcomed boost in your full-body strength.

Benefits of Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is a full-body exercise that primarily targets your posterior chain and engages major muscle groups of the upper body. It conditions your body and hones essential features like stamina, stability, balance, and even mobility.  Kettlebell swings are also significant for explosive strength

Unlike many other mirror exercises, the kettlebell swing hits both the major and minor muscle groups you either see or don't. It offers a bang for your buck and would probably have you shaking at the end of your routine. Some benefits of the kettlebell swing include:

  • Full-body exercise: Many low-impact exercises guarantee full-body muscle engagements, but only a few of these exercises deliver. Even fewer kettlebell exercises involve these many muscle groups. The kettlebell seeing is a superb option if you want to improve total body strength for stamina, stability, balance, and mobility. It is easy to perform and even easier to master.
  • Body conditioning: The kettlebell swing provides a complete win, all-in-one run for your money. It helps develop muscular strength, increase muscle mass, improve muscle endurance, increase your strength, improve your flexibility and joint mobility, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Regardless of what you're trying to achieve- muscle toning or cutting fat- the kettlebell swing is a wonderful addition to your workout routine. Just a moderate amount of sets and a kettlebell are enough to get your heart racing and calories burning in no time.
  • Better posture: The kettlebell swing works the primary muscles to ensure you have and maintain a proper posture. It engages and strengthens these muscles that range from the back muscles to the hips and glutes. Most people battle with a bad posture that is often a result of hunching over desks for long hours or reclining in bad sitting positions. This often leads to a noticeable slouch in your shoulders and pain in your lower back. The kettlebell swing is an effective way to strengthen these muscles and ensure that your sound is aligned.
  • Grip strength: The kettlebell has a fat handle, and you have to have a firm grip on the handle or risk it flying out of your hands. Although this fatter handle is more difficult to grip, it surreptitiously helps strengthen your forearm muscles, improving your grip strength.

How To Do Kettlebell Swings

There are two versions of the kettlebell swing, namely the American kettlebell swing and the Russian kettlebell swing. Although they look very similar, there are some key differences to note when performing these variations.

The Russian Kettlebell Swing

 

One of the significant differences between both versions is their range of motion. The Russian kettlebell swing involves a shorter range of motion that minimizes your arm movements. It is less explosive and optimizes hip drive instead of arm power, making it a safer option for beginners. The key to performing any kettlebell swing variation is to do so with such a perfect form that there is no nuance in your stance. 

To perform the Russian Kettlebell:

  • Hold the handle of a kettlebell with both hands using an overhand grip.
  • Ensure the kettlebell is about one or two feet away from your thighs.
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  • Slightly bend your knees and Kings forward at your hips.
  • Pull your shoulder blades backward and keep your back straight.
  • Swing the kettlebell behind you, so it is above your knees.
  • Engage your core and keep your elbows unlocked.
  • Activate your glutes and hinge your hip.
  • Simultaneously straighten your knees and get into an upright position as you swing the kettlebell upward and forward.
  • Keep your torso straight without overextending your spine.
  • At the peak of the movement, the kettlebell should be around chest level.
  • Guide the kettlebell back down to the starting position below your groin without arching your back.
  • This is one rep. Complete as many repetitions as possible.

The Russian kettlebell swing is simple, straightforward, and does not require extra effort from your spine. The American kettlebell swing, on the other hand, is a lot of work when compared to its Russian counterpart. The Russian kettlebell swing is a great exercise option for building lean muscles in the major muscle groups. For the best result, pair your exercise with our  RIPPED STACK for increased muscular strength, fat cutting, reduced muscle emaciation, and better lean muscle mass.

The American Kettlebell Swing

 

If you have excellent shoulder mobility, a good back, stability, and stamina, you should give the American kettlebell swing a trial. It is more demanding, so don't be overconfident. Stick to the instructions to ensure your safety without going out of your comfort don't. If you feel a painful strain in your shoulders, arms, or back, you should probably stick to the Russian kettlebell seeing for now. 

To do the American kettlebell swing:

  • Many people prefer a deeper stance for this variation. You can choose to stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart or employ a shoulder-width stance.
  • Grip the kettlebell with an overhand grip using both your hands.
  • Let the kettlebell hang between your thighs.
  • Bend your knees slightly.
  • Lean forward at your hips and keep your back flat.
  • Engage your core and keep your neck neutral.
  • Pre-tension your shoulders and lock your arms to improve joint stability.
  • Drive through your legs and glutes to swing the kettlebell.
  • Extend your knees as you approach the top portion of the swing.
  • Incorporate arm power as you lift the kettlebell overhead, straight to the ceiling.
  • Guide the kettlebell back down to the initial position. This is one repetition.
  • Complete as many reps as you can fit in a set.

Getting It Right

Both variations consist of explosive movements generated from the hips and legs. They look like the same exercise other than the difference in the top part of the movement. A significant difference is the mechanics that are involved in the concentric phases: where your latissimus dorsi muscles help to put the brakes on the chest-height swing in the Russian kettlebell swing, the American kettlebell swing depends on your flexibility and shoulder mobility to initiate the lowering phase without dropping the kettlebell on your head.

Regardless of these differences, both exercises offer incredible benefits to the body. Before attempting any of the variations, ensure that you are in good shape. Warm-up with various exercises like arm stretches to increase your mobility and flexibility.  We recommend perfecting your Russian kettlebell swing before attempting the American kettlebell swing. To perfect the American kettlebell swing, you need all the energy you can get. Couple your exercise with our  AMPED-AF pre-workout formula for increased energy, improved focus, better muscle endurance, increased explosive power, and better performance.

Adding The Kettlebell Swing To Your Routine

While the kettlebell swing might be an awesome full-body exercise, things can quickly go wrong when it is performed properly. It is important to perform the exercise with perfect form to engage the right muscle groups and reduce the risk of injury.

When learning to perfect the kettlebell swing, start with the Russian kettlebell swing before working your way up to the more complicated American version. This will get your muscles ready for the muscle-racking ripple effect that the latter provides. For more exercises to add to your full-body conditioning list, check out the  10 best full-body kettlebell exercises.