You love nothing more than getting to the gym as often as you can. But alas — life happens. When you haven’t got a lot of time for training — nor room in your apartment for outfitting an entire home gym — all you need to keep going is a kettlebell.
Moves like the kettlebell swing don’t require a lot of space. You also don’t need to train for hours on end to see results. Only got six minutes? Cool. Swing a kettlebell in that gap between meetings, and your strength and overall fitness levels will start to rise.
Mastering the kettlebell swing can solve a whole world of lifting problems. Maybe you didn’t notice that your hip hinge form was off until you loaded that fourth plate onto the barbell. Kettlebell swings give you instant feedback to help you teach and reinforce proper hip hinge mechanics. They also get your heart pumping enough to improve your cardio fitness on par with running and other traditional exercises. Read on to find out what else kettlebell swings can do for you and your gains.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
Benefits of Kettlebell Swings
Improve Power and Explosiveness
Strength athletes who want to incorporate explosive power into their training might want to do so with minimal impact on their joints. To bolster recovery while also increasing your rate of force development and rapid muscle activation, opt for low-impact kettlebell swings. This dynamic hip hinge boosts your power and explosiveness at a level that’s on par with plyometric moves like the jump squat. (1)
Even lifters at intermediate and advanced training levels can boost the challenges to their power and strength training with kettlebell swings. Periodized kettlebell swing training — where you increase the weight you’re lifting gradually over the course of several weeks — can dramatically improve an athlete’s power production and strength. (2)
Kettlebell swings don’t just help boost your power — they can also help make you stronger. (1)(2) Just six weeks of training with heavy kettlebells can improve your half squat max. (1) That’s especially significant if you’re trying to iron out any kinks in your squat training that require you to get stronger in the back half of the lift. Incorporating kettlebell swings into your program can even help boost your full squat one-rep max. (2)
That’s to say nothing of your core and grip strength, which get a huge increase from kettlebell swings. Your core keeps you stable while your grip keeps the bell in your hands. And because swings are continuous, neither will get a break until you’re done.
Boost Aerobic Capacity
You don’t have to swing heavy or for very long to get your cardio in when you have a kettlebell. Grab a 16-kilogram kettlebell and perform as many reps as possible in 12 minutes. Research suggests that this type of protocol can significantly increase your oxygen consumption and positively impact your cardio health. (3) This makes kettlebells a viable form of cardio for folks who want to improve their cardiovascular health without running — and without spending hours doing steady-state work. (3)
Improve Jump Height
Weight training by day and dunking basketballs by night? Kettlebell swings can help your LeBron-oriented cause. Swinging heavy bells for only six weeks can improve your vertical jump height just as much as jump squat training. (1)(2)
Physically jumping with exercises like box jumps and broad jumps aren’t always accessible for athletes. You might not have access to a plyo box or may live above neighbors who won’t appreciate the banging around on their ceiling. You also might have limitations from joint pain. Swing some bells instead and you’ll be looking at similar gains when you’re able to jump again.
Even if you like running and box jumps, there’s no denying that they can take a pretty hefty toll on your joints. If you’ve got achy knees or plantar fasciitis, even the most rigorous of warm-ups might still leave you hobbling after a running bout or box jump session. Enter kettlebell swings — you can boost your power and cardio health without all that banging around.
Because your feet stay in the same position and your knees don’t move much, kettlebell swings can be ideal for people with various aches and pains in their knees or feet. (4) Swings can even help get your muscles used to the kinds of pressure that strength training can place on your low back and hips. (5) This may set you up for more success during more intense lifts or higher-impact activities.
Short on time? Kettlebell swings might just be your new go-to for gains. Just four minutes of swings with a Tabata protocol — 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest — can significantly boost your aerobic capacity. (6)
Swinging for 10 minutes total with work:rest intervals of 35 seconds to 25 seconds is also sufficient for improving your cardio health. (7) Six minutes of kettlebell swings can also boost your muscular endurance, which is a win for your overall strength training. (8)
Not a lot of space to work out in your studio apartment? Square footage isn’t an issue when you’re training with kettlebells. All you need is a few feet of space — in front of your couch will do quite nicely — for an intense kettlebell swinging session. Kettlebells also don’t take a lot of room to store. Slip one into the corner of your room and break it out any time you need to break a sweat.
Improve Hip Hinge Mechanics
Properly performing kettlebell swings involves squeezing your glutes at the top of each repetition. You’re essentially performing high-volume hip hinges, driving and finishing each rep with your glutes. Research shows that the weight of the bell provides instantaneous feedback as to whether you’re sufficiently activating your glutes during swings. (9)
The more efficiently you can activate your glutes, the more successful your big pulls — think, deadlifts — are likely to be. Nailing your hip hinge mechanics during kettlebell swings means you’re putting your body under less loaded stress than with high volume deadlifts. But you’ll still be stimulating glute growth and practicing proper hinging technique. (9)
Increase Muscular Endurance
Performing kettlebell swings just twice a week for six weeks can significantly improve your muscular endurance. (8) To get this effect with just two sessions per week, try performing 12 sets of 30-second rounds of kettlebell swings with 30-second rest periods. (8) You’ll also want to progress the weight you’re using by four kilograms every two weeks — as opposed to keeping the weight the same — to ensure maximum results. (8)
Boost Growth Hormone Levels
Kettlebell swings don’t just leave you winded. They also produce an acute hormonal response in your body. Just six minutes of kettlebell swings with a 30-seconds on, 30-seconds off protocol can significantly increase your growth hormone and testosterone levels. (10) Cortisol and lactate levels also rise, along with your heart rate, during these brief bouts. (10) These hormones are often associated with muscle adaptations — so it seems that you don’t have to have long sessions for big results.
Improve Spinal Stability
Whether you’re pulling a heavy barbell from the ground or you’re unracking a heavy load on your back, you need great spinal stability as a strength athlete. Swinging a bell three times a week for eight weeks can increase your ability to resist sudden, loaded pressure on your spine. (11)
This may be particularly useful for contact sports athletes who need to brace against tackles or other impacts. Spinal stability also comes in handy during barbell lifts, including when you snatch a loaded barbell very quickly overhead.
Potential Reduced Injury Risk
The direction of the force on your body during a properly-performed kettlebell swing is largely horizontal, as opposed to vertical. (12) As a result, there may be less shearing force on your spine during kettlebell swings than during loaded barbell lifts, potentially reducing the risk of a low back injury.
With that said, movements like the kettlebell swing have been shown to increase lumbar shear and compression during swinging movements when not performed properly. (13) So make sure you’re doing your swings correctly. Keep the bell above your knees, your back neutral, and your lats engaged with a strong hip snap.
How to Do the Kettlebell Swing
Doing kettlebell swings the right way is essential. Here’s how to get them done efficiently and effectively.
- Assume a stance wide enough for the bell to pass between your thighs. For some people, this will be hip-width apart. For others, it will be wider. Place the kettlebell a foot or two in front of you.
- Stand tall, then hinge at your hips with a soft bend in your knees. Grasp the bell with both hands. Keep your elbows soft but mostly straightened.
- Initiate the swing by hiking it between your legs. Aim for the bell to pass above your knees. Maintain a neutral spine as your torso approaches horizontal.
- Explosively “snap” your hips back up to standing by squeezing your glutes. Let the momentum swing the bell up to about chest height.
- Engage your lats to help efficiently transition the bell from rising to falling. Hinge at the hips as the bell descends to smoothly transition into your next rep.
- Repeat for reps.
Keep your chin in a neutral position throughout the lift. Exhale as you explode up to increase your coordination and core engagement.
Kettlebell Swing Variations
It’s not all about the double-handed swing — although that is a tremendously valuable tool to have in your box. These kettlebell swing variations will get your heart thumping and your power skyrocketing, too.
One-Arm Kettlebell Swing
Traditional kettlebell swings are performed with two hands. When you opt for using just one hand, you’ll be engaging your core even more than normal. You’ll need to resist rotation throughout the swing, which requires your core to fire up in a big way.
You can perform this move continuously with one arm at a time. Or, you can alternate your swings, switching hands each time the bell approaches your chest level.
Dead Stop Kettlebell Swing
Normally, kettlebell swings are a very continuous, fluid movement. When you add a dead stop, you’ll be doing pretty much what it says on the tin. You’ll be coming to a dead stop on the ground between each rep.
Doing this kills the momentum from rep to rep. Without momentum, you’ll need to rebrace your body between swings. You’ll be generating the force of your initial hike backward from scratch each time. In doing so, you’re maximizing your muscle recruitment and therefore, your potential strength gains.
Staggered-Stance Kettlebell Swing
Any time you’re staggering your stance, you’re putting your body off-balance. Normally with kettlebell swings, your feet will be aligned as normal underneath you. But with a staggered stance, you’ll be increasing your core engagement and ironing out any strength imbalances you might have between your legs.
It might take you some trial and error to find the optimal staggered stance for you. You want your feet close enough together to maintain perfect, forward-facing form. However, you want them far enough apart to make a difference from your regular stance. Start small and light, and progress from there.
How to Program the Kettlebell Swing
When it’s time to integrate kettlebell swings into your program, you’ll want to consider exactly what your goals are. Are you trying to increase your cardio fitness? Practice your hip hinge mechanics? All of this makes a difference in terms of how you’re programming your sets, reps, and timing.
After the movement prep components of your dynamic warm-up, kettlebell swings can serve as a great way to get your blood pumping, elevate your heart rate, and prepare your muscles for bigger movements. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps with a light to moderate weight toward the end of your warm-up.
Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) Training
Like plyometrics, you can do explosive and maximal force kettlebell swings after strength movements like squats. According to the principles of post-activation potentiation — where you follow a heavy strength move with an explosive exercise to maximize your gains — this can increase both your strength and power.
Focus here on explosive, low-rep sets. Try following a heavy squat or deadlift set with a set of three to five kettlebell swings.
Using kettlebells to improve your cardio fitness and conditioning is an attractive option for folks who can’t stand treadmills. You can program this type of training in any number of ways. You can do kettlebell swings with the Tabata protocol, where you’ll spend four minutes swinging for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds. If you’re more experienced, you can take a page out of kettlebell sport’s book and opt to find out how many crisp swings you can do in 10 minutes.
The possibilities for kettlebell cardio training are nearly endless. You can do a kettlebell swing EMOM (every minute, on the minute), aiming to perform 10 or 20 swings a minute for 10 minutes. Do this or protocols like it as a workout finisher, as its own cardio training session, or even during an active recovery day.
If you’ve got a kettlebell, you’ve got the key to improving pretty much any aspect of your strength training. Learning how to swing a kettlebell opens up an entire world of possibilities for your overall cardio fitness and strength. Even if you’re a barbell nerd, kettlebell swings will help promote the spinal stability and explosive strength you need to bust through plateaus. Become your best self on the platform by swinging a kettlebell wherever your training finds you.
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