It's the sneakiest total-body strength and cardio exercise ever. Once you get hooked, you're going to be loyal to it for life.
All hail the kettlebell swing. If you've never done one before, you're probably wondering why there's so much buzz around this classic kettlebell exercise. But there's a reason it's held strong in its top spot in the workout world.
"The kettlebell swing is the most widely known kettlebell movement because of its versatility and ability to quickly get the heart rate up," says Noelle Tarr, a trainer, StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor, and coauthor of Coconuts & Kettlebells. "It's an incredible total-body movement that builds strength while also requiring power, speed, and balance."
Kettlebell Swing Benefits and Variations
"The swing mainly targets the muscles of the core, including your hips, glutes, and hamstrings, and the upper body, including your shoulders and lats," says Tarr. (Try this fat-burning kettlebell workout from Jen Widerstrom to give your whole body a killer workout.)
While the specific muscle benefits are clutch, the best part is that this movement translates to a more fit and powerful body overall. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that kettlebell swing training increased both maximum and explosive strength in athletes, while a study conducted by the American Council on Exercise found that kettlebell training (in general) can increase aerobic capacity, improve dynamic balance, and dramatically increase core strength. (Yes, that's right: You can totally get a cardio workout with just kettlebells.)
Ready to get swinging? While most strength training guidelines say, "start light, then progress," this is one instance where starting too light can actually backfire: "Most people actually start with too light of a weight, and therefore use their arms to muscle up the movement," says Tarr. If you're new to kettlebell training, try a 6 or 8 kg kettlebell to start. If you have experience with strength training or kettlebells, try a 12kg.
If you don't feel ready for a full swing, simply practice "hiking" the kettlebell back up behind you and then placing it back on the floor. "Once you feel comfortable with that, try opening at the hips quickly to power the swing with the hips, and then hike the kettlebell back underneath you and place it on the floor," she says. Practice pausing in between each swing (resting the kettlebell on the floor) before stringing them together.
Once you've mastered the basic swing, try a one-handed swing: Follow the same steps as with the traditional kettlebell swing, except only grab the handle with one hand and use one arm to perform the movement. "Because you are only using one side of your body, you must keep tension in your core at the top of the swing to stay balanced," says Tarr. "The one-handed swing is slightly more difficult because you’re being challenged to control the entire movement with one side. As a result, it’s best to start with a lighter weight and build up as you become more comfortable with the movement." (Next up: Master the Turkish Get-Up)
How to Do a Kettlebell Swing
A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell on the floor about a foot in front of toes. Hinging at the hips and keeping a neutral spine (no rounding your back), bend down and grab the kettlebell handle with both hands.
B. To initiate the swing, inhale and hike the kettlebell back and up between legs. (Your legs will slightly straighten in this position.)
C. Powering through the hips, exhale and quickly stand up and swing the kettlebell forward up to eye level. At the top of the movement, the core and glutes should visibly contract.
D. Drive the kettlebell back down and up underneath you and repeat. When you're done, pause slightly at the bottom of the swing and place the kettlebell back on the ground in front of you.
Repeat for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Try 5 sets. (Alternate swings with heavy kettlebell exercises for a killer workout.)
Kettlebell Swing Form Tips
- Your arms should simply guide the kettlebell as it floats up during the first half of the swing. Don't use your arms to lift the bell.
- At the top of the movement, your abdominal muscles and glutes should visibly contract. To help you do this, blow your breath out when the kettlebell reaches the top, which will create tension in your core.
- Don't treat the swing like a squat: In a squat, you shoot your hips back and down as if you were sitting in a chair. To perform a kettlebell swing, think about pushing your butt back and hinging at the hips, and let your hips power the movement.