The kettlebell swing is a fundamental skill that is great for beginner to advanced athletes. It has almost magical properties, in that it increases strength in many domains. Part of this “what the hell effect” is related to reversing the momentum of the kettlebell. Athletes even note increases in pull-up strength as a proper swing engages back and shoulder muscles.
In this article, we will discuss the hard-style swing popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline. The Girevoy Sport style swing is a great exercise that relies on the efficiency of movement so that one can perform it for long durations. The hard-style swing relies on putting maximum effort into each rep. It emphasizes explosiveness over efficiency.
In the video below, you can see a proper, explosive kettlebell swing.
Key Kettlebell Swing Components
There are key points to remember in the kettlebell swing:
Hinge, don’t squat: The swing is a simple exercise that is done wrong in so many popular media sources. It is not a squat movement, but a hip-hinge movement. That means that the hips go back (hinge), and the knees only bend slightly (they bend fully in a squat). Think about this position as a jump. If you try to jump forward as far as possible, the bottom position is the same position that you use at the bottom of the kettlebell swing.
Be explosive with the hips, not the arms: The swing is a ballistic movement. If you think of a bullet fired out of a gun, it receives all of its power initially and then relies on momentum to get to its destination. The same goes for the swing. The hips provide the explosive power throwing the kettlebell up in the air and the arms are there just for the ride. Do not worry about how high the kettlebell goes. Your goal is to let it float up once the hips have used up their power.
Protect the back: Do not let the kettlebell pull the lower back into a bad position at the bottom of the swing. Pull your shoulders back and down to engage your lats. I like to approach the kettlebell like a gorilla with my arms out. By keeping my upper back tight, I provide more protection to my lower back.
Location on the downswing is important: Ensure the kettlebell passes between your legs on your upper thighs. As Dave Whitley says, it is like playing chicken with your man or lady parts. Wait until the last second to hinge back and let the kettlebell go between your upper thighs. If you find your forearms hitting your lower thighs, you are putting too much strain on the lower back.
Use the right weight: If you are proficient with your swing, a heavier weight will build more explosive power. A 24kg (53lb) kettlebell for men and 16kg (35lb) kettlebell for women will work fine for most people. Stronger men can use a 32kg bell (70lb), and stronger women can use a 20kg bell (44lb). Adjust the weight according to your experience and proficiency with the kettlebell. The key is to be explosive, so don’t jump too high in weight yet.
Troubleshooting the Swing
There are some common problems that we see in beginners. The first issue is that people tend to either squat too much or don’t bend their knees at all (like a bird drinking water). I often have people kneel and then sit back on their feet.
This will position the person for what they want to do with the swing. As mentioned above, it is like a jump. One does not start a jump from a full squat nor without bending the knees. It is mostly the hips going back with a slight knee bend.
A Tool for Every Athlete
The kettlebell swing is one of my go-to exercises for all athletes, beginner to advanced. It is simpler to teach than Olympic barbell movements and it provides overlapping benefits (strength, speed, and explosiveness). It also fits the middle ground of building strength and burning fat.
By adjusting the weight, we can train elite deadlifters or fitness models. One of the most underrated features is how it builds the glutes. Strong glutes have aesthetic properties, but also protect the low back from injury. By doing a proper kettlebell swing, we reduce the chance of low back injuries.
For an easy program using kettlebell swings, try this hybrid conditioning program. It utilizes the kettlebell swing to build power, strength, as well as burn fat. The kettlebell swing may not be the only tool, but it provides many benefits that it is one of my go-to tools.
“Everyone loves the Turkish getup. Except me. But they are so darn good for me I do them anyway. I do 20 per week usually with my snatch weight bell but sometimes just with a shoe… the Turkish get up is the cod liver oil of exercise lifts.” – Gary Music
He’s right. The get-up is good for you, but it also leads to frequent expressions of disgust. This article will outline the benefits for get-ups, provide progressive steps and tips for performance, and suggest basic programming in attempts to motivate you to incorporate this movement into your weekly training routine.
Benefits of the Get-Up
We need a reminder of why certain things are good for us, especially if they taste a little sharp. Some of the distaste associated with training the get-up may be that it seems too complicated and the investment to learn the exercise outweighs the obvious rewards. The get-up may not be as trendy as dynamic barbell movements, but I can assure you that its benefits are definitely worth your time.
Here is why you should care about the get-up:
Shoulder stability and mobility: The get-up is preventative medicine for your upper body. Holding a kettlebell overhead builds stability and mobility for your shoulders. Additionally, heavy get-ups will lead to pleasant surprises in your pressing strength.
Thoracic extension and rotation: We do a number of exercises in the horizontal and vertical planes, but not many that call for rotation. The get-up builds rotational strength and patterning that is helpful for athletes.
Linking motor patterns: The get-up builds bodily awareness and trains patterns that translate across athletic endeavors. This type of patterning is not available from bilateral exercises alone. Brandon Hetzler describes how the get-up mimics many of our developmental movement patterns such as rolling and crawling. Hetzler and other noted rehabilitation specialists, such as Gray Cook, use the get-up to rebuild proper movement patterns.
Functionality: Getting off the ground is arguably the most functional of exercises.
Step 1: One-arm Press
From the fetal position, roll onto your back and press the kettlebell up with your right arm.
Keep your free hand over the right hand for extra stability.
Your right knee is bent and your left leg is flat on the ground at a 45-degree angle from your body.
Your left arm is positioned on the ground at a 45-degree angle from your body. Note: The 45-degree angle is a starting point and will vary depending on your torso and arm length.
Lock your eyes on the kettlebell and keep them there for the next few steps.
Step 2: To the Elbow
This step is often the most difficult because many people mistakenly just try to do a sit up. Keeping your torso as stiff as possible and your shoulders back and down, exert force into your right leg and left elbow to extend your right arm to the ceiling and rotate yourself up. This step is like throwing a punch. When you throw a punch, you don’t move your shoulder first and then rotate your body. Rather, your whole body rotates to extend the arm.
Step 3: To the Palm
This step is relatively easy. Keep your shoulders down and back, and imagine a straight line from the kettlebell (right hand) to the ground (your left hand). You want that line to be as solid as possible.
Step 4: Low Sweep or High Bridge
Mark Cheng introduced the high bridge to the TGU as a tool to open up the hips so the left leg can sweep through. When you are in the high bridge position, your body will form a tripod with the sweep leg and left arm, and the right foot will be directly below the kettlebell.
Step 5: To the Knee
Next, sit your hips back to bring yourself into a kneeling position. Your left leg will be at a 90-degree angle to your right leg. Pivot your left leg around like a windshield wiper so it is aligned with your front leg. Your gaze will now shift to the horizon instead of the kettlebell.
Step 6: Lunge Up
The lunge seems like a simple step, but treat it just like a squat in that you don’t want your knee to travel past the toes or track inward.
The Way Down
So much effort is spent figuring out how to get up that understanding how to get back down is often an afterthought. Here are important tips to make getting down easier.
Control the descent. It’s not a race to the finish, so remain as tight and organized as you were on the way up.
People often forget which leg initiates the decent. Use your free hand as a guide to tap the leg that will go back.
From the knee, remember to “windshield wiper” the back leg 90-degrees. Rather than falling and finding the ground with your hand, this position allows you to hinge you hips back and use your hand to gently find the ground.
One of my favorite programs for the get is Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple and Sinister program. When I have used the program in the past, my deadlift and press have gotten stronger.
Here is the protocol (add more rest to build up to this goal):
5 Minutes: 20 swings per minute
1 minute: Rest
10 Minutes: 1 get-up per minute (alternate sides each minute)
You Don’t Have to Like Get-Ups
Spend time watching the videos to build your proficiency at the get-up. You might still dislike the movement, but as with most things that are difficult, it’s worth the effort. You’ll be surprised at how much stronger and more durable your shoulders feel, even if you do the exercise without weights. Ten get-ups a day, four times a week is optimal, but your recommended dosage will vary on your needs. Make sure you get in your weekly dosage of get-ups and over time, your face might not scrunch up in disgust.
I recently shared a few of my go-to programs for endurance and strength. When combined, these programs will take you about an hour a day for six days a week. But what you do with the other 162 hours of your week makes a big difference, too.
Researchers have found that people burn up to 2,000 more calories a day just by their non-exercise related activities. It seems the small changes in your life can be the difference between seeing your abs and not.
Pushing a mower instead of riding on one for an hour a week can add up to a big change. (Photo courtesy Pixabay)
Tip the Calorie Equation
James Levine has done a great deal of research on the topic of energy expenditure. The “calories in” side of the energy expenditure equation is pretty simple. “Calories out” is more complicated, and is affected by:
Our body composition (more muscle burns more calories)
Thermic effect of food
Our activity (in and out of the gym)
Levine found that for two adults of similar size, daily energy expenditure varied by as much as 1,000 to 2,000 calories per day. He hypothesized that much of this variation comes from our non-exercise activities.
We often focus on programming our training, but we spend most of our time outside the gym. We can boost our results from the gym by engaging in healthier behaviors in day-to-day activities, such as these:
Ditch the Car: Years ago, I read French Women Don’t Get Fat. I might have missed the point, but what I remember is that many Europeans walk much more throughout the day. My Dutch friend, Ellen Hamaker, describes riding a bicycle everywhere. In the United States, we often can’t ride our bike or walk to work. We don’t build communities that encourage physically moving ourselves from one location to the next. Instead, we rely on cars.
Take the Harder Route: Most of us opt for the elevator, rather than taking the stairs. We often look for the closest parking space, although the longer walk would do us well. Those less convenient non-exercise activities account for a great deal of our daily expenditure. Find those opportunities in your day-to-day life outside the gym. For example, one of my most relaxing activities is mowing my lawn with a human-powered reel mower. The more active you are in everyday tasks, the more fitness you will have.
Stand at Work: James Levine also coined the phrase, ‘Sitting is the new smoking.” That may be a slight exaggeration, but sitting definitely prevents you from being in a more active position. Juliet and Kelly Starrett have been advocating standing desks for schools in their Stand Up Kids program. This program has made great progress in helping kids live less sedentary lives. I made the switch to a standing desk about three years ago. I have a university office and a home office, with different standing desks in each. Both are excellent. You can start out with an inexpensive solution by putting blocks under an existing desk. Test standing incrementally if you are used to sitting all day.
Compounding Effects of Small Changes
Many people think of change as a large and overwhelming task. But just like investing money leads to compounding interest, making small lifestyle changes creates compounding effects.
For example, standing at work made me focus more on my posture. I stopped letting my pelvis have an anterior tilt and starting holding it in place. This in turn, helped my shoulder pressing, as it lined up my spine in a stacked position. At the same time, I started thinking about my feet. I now grip the ground more, and I have improved my arches. This patterning has changed the pronation of my feet and affected my knees in a positive manner when I squat.
Increase your non-exercise activities throughout the day. You might notice more fitness improvements than you would if you switched up your programming.