How to Improve Your Kettlebell Swing

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Kettlebells have been around for a long time – at least in Russia, where the kettlebell as we know it today originated approximately 350 years ago — and so has kettlebell training. While the movements that can be performed with a kettlebell (or two) are close to limitless, we will focus on the most basic kettlebell movement of all: the two-handed swing. Whether you want to improve your Helen time or simply want to improve your kettlebell fundamentals, read on.

The Cold War: Russian vs. American swings

Beginners: Focus on mastering the technique of the Russian swing and focus on hip explosion before working up to the American swing.
There are two basic types of swings: Russian and American, both of which offer dynamic workout possibilities. However, on CrossFit’s mainsite, WODs primarily call for American swings; for CrossFit Football, the Russian swing is their standard. So what’s the difference?

CrossFit Silicon Valley’s original website offers a clear explanation:

Just look at the arc of the swing.  The Russian swing starts just below the groin and is swung to chest or at most, eye level.  The movement is short, brisk and compact.  The American swing begins level to the knees and moves upward to full arm extension over the head.  Its motion is longer and smoother than its Russian counterpart.  The height of the arc of the American swing may be twice that of the Russian.

The subtler difference is the bend of the knees.  The Russian style looks similar to a stiff-legged deadlift.  Most of the movement is in the hips and the knees bend slightly, almost as an afterthought.  The American swing is more like a squat as the knees bend to a much greater degree.  Each method requires a different body alignment for correct performance.

Incorporating both styles of swings into one’s training is important, as explained by

The Russian kettlebell swing is considered best for beginners until they master the basics and understand the correct technique. This swing is excellent for conditioning the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It also improves lower back stamina and stability. The short stroke associated with this style conserves more energy and allows for greater repetitions. The disadvantage is that this style provides less cardio conditioning than the full overhead swing.

The American kettlebell swing involves more muscle groups and is a more complete workout. The greater height of the bell also means the hips and back are being trained harder. In addition, the overhead swing increases shoulder girdle flexibility, balance, and coordination. The disadvantages of the full overhead swing lie in fatigue and incorrect form. When swinging the bell overhead repeatedly, it’s easy to lose control of the bell as muscles become fatigued. This can result in injury to the person using the bell, or those around them. The other disadvantage is improper form. In an effort to swing the bell overhead, the hip snap action can disappear and thus render the exercise ineffectual.

Hips don’t lie: Send your hips back (not your knees forward) to initiate the swing.
In other words, beginners should focus on mastering the technique of the Russian swing and focus on hip explosion before working up to the American swing.

Swing Like a Pro

The road to success begins with the set-up position, which is the same for both Russian and American swings:

  • Position your feet shoulder width or slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Place your weight on your heels.
  • Keep your shoulders back and down and chest up.
  • Sustain a tall spine and neutral head position.
  • Focus your attention on a spot on the floor six feet in front of you.
  • Tighten your glutes, things, and abs, and draw up your kneecaps.

If that all sounds somewhat familiar to you, it should: it is very similar to the deadlift set-up, as described in a previously published Tabata Trainer article.

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