Most people misunderstand and misuse kettlebells, mainly because they do not understand the unique principles of the kettlebell swing. The swing, specifically the double-handed swing, is a rite of passage in the kettlebell world. To fully understand kettlebells and all of their unique biomechanical benefits, this basic swing motion must be executed correctly.
The swing — which is all glutes, all the time — is beloved for its hinge. When a person swings the kettlebell correctly, he or she engages the posterior chain and fires the glutes and hamstrings and gets the areas that have been weakened or deactivated by day-to-day sitting to strengthen and work. The kettlebell swing is a perfect tool to help battle some of these issues and wage a war on these imbalances.
Be patient if you can’t master it right away. Remember these are muscles and movement patterns that have not been worked in a while. When you begin to fire your glutes and hamstrings, you’re reactivating or teaching them to work and pitch in during simple motions like walking, running, jumping, kicking, lunging and squatting.
Choose a kettlebell that is difficult to lift up with just your arms, since you use your whole body for the exercise. I recommend starting with a 15-pound kettlebell. Here’s a step-by-step guide to swinging kettlebells the correct way:
Photo courtesy of the author
1. Hinge by sitting back and bending at the hips, then swing the kettlebell back and behind your knees.
Do not confuse a hinge with a squat. In a hinge you bend at the hips first, then the knees, and your hips will always go back more than your knees. Do not squat!
You should be swinging the kettlebell behind and above your knees, bending more at the hips with a slight bend at the knees and a strong, straight back. You will be incorporating your posterior chain and momentum to generate the power of the movement.
2. Thrust your hips forward, squeeze your glutes, and stand up straight.
Do not backward bend at the top of the motion! Be sure to create a non-stop fluid motion as you swing — with the kettlebell going behind the knees then up to shoulder level.
Stay rooted to the ground. Never explode out with the kettlebell and find your heels or toes off-balance or off the ground. In swinging motions especially, keep your feet rooted and remember to use the glutes.
3. At the top of the swing, the kettlebell should go no higher than chest level.
Do not raise the kettlebell with your arms. Your arms — as well as the kettlebell — should remain weightless through the entire motion. Everyone’s swing may look slightly different, but the hinge remains the same!
Aim to squeeze your glutes before the kettlebell reaches face level — as it does, pop the hip forward and willingly make the kettlebell fall back behind the knees. Speed comes from making sure your force and body drop the kettlebell down, not gravity.