The kettlebell swing trains one of the 4 major human movement patterns everyone should be proficient in – the hip-hinge. A soundly performed swing is a prerequisite for learning and performing more advanced kettlebell exercises such as cleans and snatches. It is an extremely versatile exercise which can be programmed for unparalleled fat-loss, developing explosive power of the hips and glutes(butt) for enhanced athletic performance, or in the words of world renowned kettlebell pioneer and former Russian Special Forces instructor Pavel Tsatsouline - “cardio without the dishonor of aerobics”. Feel free to add running on a treadmills and using an elliptical to the previous statement. Here are a few common mistakes seen when performing the kettlebell swing:
1. Turning It Into a Squat
As mentioned above, the kettlebell swing is meant to be a hip-hinging exercise, and not a squat. Hip-hinging is a basic human movement which targets the glutes(butt) and hamstrings as opposed to the quads. This takes any undue strain off both the lower back and knees, and also assists in correcting the imbalance in strength around the hips which is a common cause of both lower back pain and ACL injuries in today’s population. When done correctly, the shins stay as close to vertical as possible with the bulk of the movement coming from – you guessed it – the hips.
2. Turning It Into a Front Raise
Again, the swing is meant to target the hips, glutes, and hamstrings – i.e. the lower body. It is not meant to target the upper body in any meaningful way. A properly performed swing is executed with a forceful and explosive thrust of the hips similar to what one would do when performing a max vertical leap. Done correctly, the arms weightlessly project forward away from the body in a straight line through the wrist with the kettlebell becoming an extension of the arms- i.e. the bottom of the bell should be facing forward at the finish and not towards the floor whatsoever.
3. Swinging The Bell Overhead
This particular mistake became much more prevalent once the Crossfit craze took over. It is often accompanied by over-extension, or arching, of the lower back. Long-term this results in pain and/or injury to the lower back and/or shoulders, and short-term results in a complete waste of time through taking the emphasis off of the targeted muscles of the hips, glutes, and hamstrings. A properly performed swing finishes at approximately chest height with a straight line being able to be drawn through the trainee’s body from heel to head. If you wish to swing the bell overhead, learn how to snatch from a qualified instructor.
The common result with these mistakes is turning the exercise into something which it is not. Keep the exercise….the exercise. Otherwise you risk both safety and effciancy. Often these mistakes are the result of using a kettlebell which is too light. Most males should start with a 35lb. bell, with advanced trainees progressing on to using a 53lb. bell. Most females will begin with an 18lb. bell for upper body exercises and a 26lb. or 35lb. bell for lower body exercises. Using the correct weight for your ability will not permit you to perform many of mistakes so often seen in untrained individuals. Kettlebells lighter than 18 pounds are meant for corrective and rehabilitative exercise by professionals.