How to Do a Kettlebell Swing

  • The kettlebell swing is a full-body exercise that strengthens your hamstrings, lats, and shoulders.
  • To get the most out of the movement, avoid common form mistakes like crouching instead of limping.
  • Variations include the American Kettlebell Swing, where you swing the weight overhead.

With moves like the snatch, goblet squat, and farmer’s carry, there are a variety of exercises that can be performed using a kettlebell. However, the most popular is the kettlebell swing, an exercise that works the whole body.

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise for everyone, regardless of fitness level or strength. They can be made more challenging with heavier weights, or scaled down with lighter bells for beginners or anyone working on their form.

They’re especially good at working your posterior chain (i.e. your glutes, hamstrings, calves, lats, and shoulders). This is especially important for people with back pain as a strong posterior chain will help protect your spine.

“Every time you activate the posterior chain muscles, you create a protective covering around your spine,” says strength and conditioning coach Reda Elmardi, founder of The Gym Goat. “Knowing how to activate these muscles when moving reduces the risk of injury.”

Below are some helpful tips on how to perform a proper kettlebell swing, along with the most common mistakes to avoid and some useful insights from strength coaches.

How to do a kettlebell swing

A woman performing a kettlebell swing exercise in a sunny warehouse gym wearing a sports bra and training leggings

It’s important to strike your hips and keep your arms straight but relaxed while performing a kettlebell swing.

Jacobblund/Getty Images

When trying a kettlebell swing for the first time, use a weight that you can lift comfortably. This will help you keep a firm grip on the kettlebell and avoid injury.

When choosing a kettlebell for the first time, it’s a good idea to visit a gym or sporting goods store to test out different weights rather than just ordering what looks good online.

According to personal trainer RJ Cincotta, “Aim for 20-25 pounds if you don’t already have a solid base of muscle mass or have experience with a kettlebell [12 kg] Kettlebell for a woman and a 30 to 35 pound [16 kg] bell for a man.”

He adds that “for those who have experience with a kettlebell and have been using one 1-2 times a week, women might opt ​​for a 30-45 pound dumbbell [16 to 20 kg] bell and males for 40 to 50 pounds [20 to 24 kg] kettlebell.”

Strength coach Pete McCall says that for lower-body movements (like the kettlebell swing), “heavier is better” and that it forces you to use better form and technique.

But that doesn’t mean grabbing the heaviest kettlebell possible. If a 20 or 30 pound kettlebell seems too heavy, it’s okay to pick something light and work your way up.

How to do a kettlebell swing:

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. Rock your hips back and, with a slight bend in your knees, lift the weight off the floor with both hands, palms facing down and thumbs under the grip but over your fingers.

3. With feet on top, head straight and looking straight ahead, keep your arms straight, relax your knees and rock your hips back.

4. Bend at your waist as you swing the kettlebell back and between your legs, keeping your arms straight but loose.

5. Next, drive your feet into the ground and explode your hips forward to create momentum to bring the bell back through your legs and in front of your body.

6. Continue swinging the weight until it is at least shoulder height, keeping your arms stretched out in front of you.

7. Finish the rep by squeezing your glutes and engaging your core with the kettlebell at the top of the swing in front of you.

8th. Keeping your back straight and core engaged as you bend your hips and swing the kettlebell back between your legs.

Common kettlebell swing mistakes

Person swinging a kettlebell outdoors

Remember to keep your back straight and bend at your hips as you swing the kettlebell between your legs.

Getty/Emir Memedovski

While kettlebell swings are an accessible exercise for people of all fitness levels and exercise ages, there are a few mistakes people make with their technique and form that can result in injuries such as wrist discomfort, bruising, and back pain.

Here are the most common mistakes:

1. They Squat (Instead of Twisting)

If you remember one thing about the kettlebell swing, do it like this: The kettlebell swing is a hinge—not a squat. Elmardi says the momentum comes from having your hips shift backwards like you would on a hinge, rather than your butt falling backwards like a squat.

2. You initiate the movement with your arms (instead of your hips)

Your hips and glutes should generate the force that swings the kettlebell back and forth. If you feel your shoulders tiring before your hamstrings, you’re probably using your arms and upper body to swing the weight around instead of your lower body.

Your arms should be easy to guide the weight as it hovers over you, says Jake Harcoff, head strength coach and owner of AIM Athletic.

3. You’re not fully engaging your middle core muscles

If you do it right, your back shouldn’t hurt after kettlebell swings. If this is the case, chances are you’re not supporting your core throughout the workout entire duration of movement.

To keep your midline engaged, remember to breathe in when the weight is between your legs and breathe out when it’s on your shoulders or over your head while keeping your belly button up and toward your spine.

Kettlebell Swing Variations

There are two main variations of the kettlebell swing that can be performed by both novice and experienced weightlifters, each targeting different muscles and yielding slightly different results.

There’s the endurance-building American kettlebell swing and the strength-building Russian kettlebell swing. The build and basic movement patterns are similar, but what differs is how high you bring the weight before swinging it back between your legs, Harcoff says.

Here’s how they vary:

  • Russian kettlebell swing: When performing a Russian kettlebell swing, use your shoulder and core strength to stop the bell at shoulder height.
  • American kettlebell swing: When performing an American kettlebell swing, keep swinging the weight until it’s over your head. At that point, immediately change direction to bring it back in front of your body and between your legs. This variation relies on shoulder strength and stability to change direction in the air.

Although anyone can perform either variation, Elmardi says the American kettlebell swing requires greater shoulder stability than the Russian kettlebell swing, and so people typically need to use a lighter weight.

As such, the American kettlebell swing is generally better for building endurance, while the Russian kettlebell swing is better for building strength and muscle.

Insider snack

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise for people of all fitness levels and ages, as long as you’re using a weight you can lift comfortably. The movement works a range of muscles along your posterior chain, like your glutes, hamstrings, lats, shoulders, and calves.

But it’s important to follow proper kettlebell swing technique to avoid injury and get the most out of the exercise. Always remember that this is a hinge movement, not a squat, and that you are initiating the movement with your hips rather than your arms.

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