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May 30, 2021 9 min read

At first glance, they can look like a simple arm swing exercise that wouldn’t pose much of a challenge to regular lifters and gym-goers.  However, kettlebell swings are extremely deceiving because they’re one of the most intense full-body exercises out there.

They elevate your heart rate in seconds while pushing all of your muscles to the brink of exhaustion. If building strength and/or burning fat is your goal, then you can’t go wrong with incorporating kettlebell exercises into your normal training program.

Need some more convincing?  Here are the top benefits of kettlebell training plus how to get started doing them today.

Fitness Kettlebells swing exercise bearded man workout at gym

What Are Kettlebell Swings?

Kettlebell swings are what’s known as a ballistic exercise, meaning that they require power from your body to create a fluid movement in the air.  Jumping is a great example because it requires you to power up from your legs to vault yourself into the air.

Unlike jumps where the force is coming from your legs, the force required to do kettlebell swings comes from a hip-driving movement.  The power of your hips driving forward is what flings the kettlebell in the air. Unlike other exercises such as lifting dumbbells or barbells, kettlebell swings don’t require the same controlled tension.

Rather, they’re a controlled swinging movement where the goal is to make the swing as fluid and continuous as possible. The best kettlebell swings are those that are driven by the power of your hips and controlled by your core and upper body. 

As a result, you’ll not only build up power but also strengthen your entire body.  While kettlebell swings are the most traditional exercise done with kettlebells, there are several other ways to utilize kettlebells as weights throughout your workout.  You’ll see some of those variations in the suggested workout below!

1. Work Out All of Your Major Muscle Groups at Once

Kettlebells is a staple total body exercise meaning that they require work from all of your body’s major muscle groups including the:

  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Arms including the biceps
  • Core muscles including the abs and obliques
  • Glutes
  • Legs including the quads and hamstrings

Everything from your upper body to your lower body should be on fire during kettlebell training, and especially your core.  You will both build muscle and increase muscular endurance in all of these major muscle groups.  With just one simple exercise, you can make a serious impact on your entire body. 

2. Work a Few Different Small Muscle Groups

In addition to working all of your major muscle groups, kettlebell swings put your smaller muscle groups to work as well. Calves, triceps, and even your hands (for grip strength) should all be on fire during a kettlebell swing.  Kettlebell training is a tried and true full-body workout.

3. Develops Explosive Power

Kettlebells are an excellent training tool for developing body power and explosiveness. Many powerlifters cross-train with kettlebells, particularly for improving their deadlifts.

Power is going to allow you to lift heavier faster.  Hinging from the hips and waist during kettlebell swings forces you to release that hinge with as much strength as you can to power the heavy kettlebell upward.

The benefits of more power are not just delegated to powerlifters, though.  People who regularly lift weights should be able to increase their maximum weight and improve athleticism when their power capacity is increased.

4. Kettlebells Are a Fat Burning Cardio Workout

Although kettlebell swings are technically a form of resistance training, they’re also a fantastic aerobic exercise.  Aerobic exercises increase your cardiovascular health and endurance.  They are the most important exercises to do if your goals are related to weight loss.

In one study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), participants in the study completed an 8-week exercise program in which they did two hours of kettlebell training twice a week.  At the end of the study, the participants not only increased their aerobic capacity by 13.8% but they also:

  • Increased their maximum oxygen consumption
  • Increased their maximum heart rate level
  • Increased core and grip strength

All of these results reflect the fact that kettlebells are an ideal cardio workout.

5. They’re Super Efficient (Burns a lot of Calories Quickly!)

Take a moment to guess how many calories you burn in a more traditional cardio workout such as jogging or biking.  Now, guess how many calories you burn from doing kettlebell swings.  The truth may shock you.

In the same ACE study, the researchers concluded that the average person burns about 400 calories in just 20 minutes of doing kettlebell swings.  Compare that to jogging in which the average person burns around 200 and biking which is closer to 175.

That makes kettlebell swings a calorie bargain!  You can do them for very short amounts of time and still burn tons of calories to ignite fat loss.

6. Improves Posture

You can be the biggest guy in the gym but if your posture sucks, it can make you look smaller and unconfident.  One of the best ways to improve your posture is to improve your back strength.  Thankfully, kettlebells are an excellent workout for your back.

With a stronger back, you’ll:

  • Stand up straighter
  • Round your shoulders less
  • Keep your neck in line with the rest of your body

Nail the strong back with kettlebells and you’ll look better thanks to better posture.

Young, muscular, athletic built man working out, lifting a kettlebell weight in an abandoned ruined building

7. Improves Flexibility

Once you get into that continuously flowing movement of kettlebell swings, you can actually improve your flexibility.  The areas that you should see the most improvement in are your:

  • Hip flexors
  • Hamstrings
  • Back

Swinging kettlebells increases your range of motion in each of these areas.  That means fewer injuries and more mobility. 

8. Challenges Dynamic Balance

Dynamic balance refers to your ability to maintain balance while in motion such as when you’re doing exercises on one foot.  In one study, participants who did kettlebell training significantly improved their dynamic balance while a control group who didn’t use kettlebells didn’t have the same improvements.

While having a good balance might not seem all that important at first, the truth is that it’s crucial especially for regular weight lifters. Benefits of good dynamic balance include:

  • Improved coordination 
  • Better functional movement
  • Fewer strength-training related injuries

9. Reduces Back Pain

Kettlebell training is good for your entire body but especially for your core and spinal strength.  Yep, spinal strength.  Having a strong, healthy spine is key to staying fit and functioning throughout your life.  Not only that but having a strong spine will also help reduce back pain.  That’s because when your spine is strong, you:

  • Stand up straighter
  • Prevent nerve deterioration
  • Increase oxygen to your spinal cord

All of these things will help reduce back pain, particularly in your lower back.  If you want to live a long and healthy life, make exercises that reduce back pain and promote spinal health a top priority.

10. Can Be Done From Almost Anywhere

You don’t need to go to the gym to do kettlebell training.  There are several options online for reasonably priced kettlebells that you can keep at your home gym.  Or better yet, if you already have a set of dumbbells at your house, you can substitute a dumbbell for a kettlebell.

Along with bodyweight exercises such as planks, pushups, and burpees, you can do a full workout at home that incorporates kettlebell swings.

Fitness Kettlebells swing exercise bearded man workout at gym

Kettlebell Swings Form

As usual, proper form is king above all else.  Because kettlebell movements are deceivingly difficult, it’s easy to lose your good form while doing them.  Just remember that what’s most important above all else is that you maintain good form throughout your entire workout.  It’s better to either do fewer swing reps or decrease the weight of your kettlebell than it is to continue with poor form.

Here’s exactly how to do kettlebell swings with proper form:

1. Hinge at the Hips: Start with your feet hip-width apart and a kettlebell about one foot in front of you.  Then, hinge at your hips so that your upper body angles slightly towards the floor and your hips move backward.  If you’re doing this right, you’ll feel the tension in your hamstrings and posterior chain. Do not turn this starting position into a squat.  Meaning that when you get into starting position, you’re not overly bending your knees so that you’re squatting.  Rather, the goal is to hinge from the hips and waist.  You want a little bend in your knees but the majority of the hinging should come from your hips.

2. Grab Hold of the Kettlebell: Hinge further at your hips so that your upper body is almost parallel with the ground.  Bend your knees slightly and grab onto the kettlebell with both hands.  The palms of your hands should be facing your body. Pull your shoulders back - do not round your shoulders!  One of the easiest ways to injure yourself is to overly-strain your shoulders by rounding them.  Prevent shoulder injuries and any other injuries by tightening up the core and flattening your back before picking up the kettlebell.

3. Lift and Swing the Kettlebell: Lift the kettlebell off the ground and swing it back between your legs.  Your upper body should no longer be parallel with the ground but rather at about a 45-degree angle.  Your knees should have just enough bend to them so that you can swing the kettlebell between your legs. When the kettlebell goes between your legs, do not round your back or shoulders!  Try to imagine a rod running from your hips through your head that forces your upper body to stay in a straight line.

4. Drive your Hips Forward and Swing the Kettlebell: Swing the kettlebell forward using momentum from driving your hips forward.  As it swings, your legs should straighten up and your body comes up nice and tall.  The kettlebell should not swing up any higher than your shoulders and your arms should be straight. Avoid lifting the kettlebell in the air with your shoulders, back, and arm muscles.  Remember, this is a controlled swing movement.  The power generated from your hip drive is what should swing the kettlebells up, not lifting from your upper body and arms.

5. Allow the Kettlebell to Drop Back Between Your Legs:  Allow the kettlebell to naturally swing back between your legs as you press your hips back so that your upper body angles to 45-degrees and your knees bend slightly. Remember, this is supposed to be a fluid movement so you shouldn't have to force the kettlebell back down.  Let the natural momentum of the kettlebell plus the movement of your hips control things.

6. Keep the Fluid Movement Going: Continue with the hip drive and natural swinging of the kettlebell.  Once you get to the point that you can no longer go without breaking form, swing the kettlebell one last time through your legs and then place it on the floor in front of you.

Here’s A Short Kettlebell Training Workout

Ready to add kettlebell swings to your regular strength training routine?  If that’s you (which it should be), then give each of these kettlebells exercises a try. You can combine them to create a short kettlebell workout.  Also, try adding them to your HIIT or CrossFit routine.

1. Do the Warm-up: Regardless of your fitness level or however good you think you are, you need to do a proper warm-up.  

Before weight training, you should do stretches targeted at your whole body and some light exercises such as lunges to activate your major muscle groups.

2. Traditional Kettlebell Swings: Start your workout out with traditional kettlebell swings.  Do your swings for a maximum of 90 seconds at a time.  If you can make it a whole 90 seconds without feeling the burn, then up the weight of your kettlebell.

3. Kettlebell Snatch: Unlike the traditional kettlebell swing where the majority of the movement comes with a swing, this variation requires more applied strength. Start with your feet hip-distance apart.  Then, squat down so your thighs are parallel to the floor  and pick up the kettlebell with just one hand.  Use a drive from your hips to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height and then press it up above your head so that your arm is completely straight in the air.  Softly drop the kettlebell back down to starting position and then go again. This exercise combines some of the traditional kettlebell swing patterns of movement with some extra muscular strength of your shoulders.

4. Kettlebell Goblet Squats: Now it’s time to target your glutes and quads with goblet squats.  Start with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart and the kettlebell a few feet in front of you.  Squat down into a traditional squat with your glutes pushed back and grab onto the kettlebell.  Hold the kettlebell near the center of your chest and hold it upside down so that the weight part is above your hands.  Then, start doing traditional squats.

5. Cooldown: No workout is complete without a proper cooldown.  A cool-down should include:

Without a cooldown, you’re not going to build as much muscle and your body won’t recover properly. That means that some of the efforts you put into your workout will be gone and your body won’t be as prepared for your next round of working out.

Final Thoughts on Kettlebell Training

These best kettlebell training benefits should make anyone want to incorporate them into their routine.  Whether your goal is to lose weight, build muscle mass, or build up some endurance, kettlebell training will do you well.

As long as you maintain proper form, you’ll work your entire body and see results quickly!

Bonus tip: Want to work out like Chris Pratt?  He says that kettlebell swings were an essential part of his training program before filming Guardians of the Galaxy!