Blog Fitness What Do Kettlebell Swings Work Out? 

What Do Kettlebell Swings Work Out? 

Originally called girya, kettlebells were used to weigh crops and other goods in Russia. But, as people realized their potential for fitness, kettlebells became a staple in many workout routines everywhere (10). Kettlebell swings are a great way to work out your entire body, and they can be done with relatively little space and equipment. In this article, we’ll go over what kettlebell swings work out, the benefits of doing them, and how to properly execute the movement.

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Muscles Worked In Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings are a full-body exercise that primarily targets the posterior chain. 

The posterior chain is made up of the muscles in the back of your body, including the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae. These muscles perform a variety of functions, such as hip and spine extension, which are essential for daily activities like walking and sitting (13).

While the kettlebell swing does target the posterior chain muscles, it also engages the muscles in the front of your body, including the quads, core, shoulders, and arms. The movement also requires stabilizer muscles throughout the body to maintain balance and control.

Let’s look at each muscle group that’s worked in a kettlebell swing:

Glutes

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body, and it’s responsible for hip extension, which is the primary movement pattern of the kettlebell swing (3).

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus) that run down the back of your thigh. They work with the glutes to extend the hip and produce force during the swing (4).

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae is a group of muscles that runs along both sides of the spine (2). These muscles work to stabilize the spine during the kettlebell swing.

Quadriceps

The quadriceps are a group of four muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis) that make up the front of your thigh (12). They work to extend the knee, which is an important movement in the kettlebell swing.

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Core

The core muscles (transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques) work to stabilize the spine and pelvis during the kettlebell swing (6).

Read More: Kettlebell Leg Workout To Build Strong Legs And Core

Shoulders

The shoulders are needed to stabilize the weight of the kettlebell throughout the movement.

Arms

The arms hold the kettlebell in place while the rest of the body performs the swinging motion.

kettlebell swings

Benefits Of Kettlebell Swing

There are many benefits to incorporating kettlebell swings into your workout routine. Here are some of the most notable benefits:

Improve Cardiovascular Fitness

Kettlebell swings are a great way to get your heart rate up and improve your cardiovascular fitness. The swinging motion is a continuous, dynamic movement that challenges the cardiovascular system (9).

Build Strength

Kettlebell swings are an excellent way to build strength in the lower body, specifically the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. The explosive nature of the movement also helps to build power and speed (9).

Improve Hip Mobility

The hip-hinge movement pattern of the kettlebell swing helps to improve hip mobility (7). This is an important quality for athletes who need to generate a lot of power from their hips, such as sprinters and jumpers.

Build Core Strength

The kettlebell swing also challenges the core muscles to maintain stability during the movement (5). A strong core is important for all athletes, as it helps transfer power from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa (6).

Burn Fat

Kettlebell swings are a great way to torch calories and burn fat. The dynamic nature of the movement helps raise your heart rate and keep it elevated, which is ideal for burning fat.

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Improve Grip Strength

Grip strength is important for athletes who need to hold on to objects with a lot of force, such as tennis players and rock climbers. It’s also important for lifters; a strong grip will help you to have a better hold on the barbell during compound lifts like the deadlift and squat (1).

Kettlebell swings are a great way to improve grip strength due to the dynamic nature of the movement. The constant swinging motion forces your grip to work overtime to keep the kettlebell in place. This ultimately leads to increased grip strength (8).

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kettlebell swings

How To Do Kettlebell Swings

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to properly execute a kettlebell swing:

  • Step 1: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell in front of you. Place your hand on the handle so that your palm is facing your body.
  • Step 2: Bend at the hips and hinge forward, keeping your back flat and your core engaged. Allow the kettlebell to swing between your legs.
  • Step 3: Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes to extend your hips and swing the kettlebell up to shoulder level.
  • Step 4: Allow the kettlebell to swing back down between your legs and repeat the movement.

Kettlebell Swings Variations And Progressions

Here are a few kettlebell swings variations and progressions that you can add to your workout routine:

One-Arm Kettlebell Swing

This variation challenges your grip strength and core stability even more than the two-handed swing. Because it’s more difficult, it’s a great progression for those who have mastered the two-handed swing.

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How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell in front of you. Grab the handle with one hand and place your other hand on your hip.
  2. Bend at the hips and hinge forward, keeping your back flat and your core engaged. Allow the kettlebell to swing between your legs.
  3. Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes to extend your hips and swing the kettlebell up to shoulder level.
  4. Allow the kettlebell to swing back down between your legs and repeat the movement.

American Kettlebell Swing

The traditional swing is known as the Russian swing, but the American swing is a popular variation that’s often used in CrossFit workouts. The main difference between the two is that the American swing finishes with the kettlebell overhead, whereas the Russian swing does not.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell in front of you. Grab the handle with both hands and place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend at the hips and hinge forward, keeping your back flat and your core engaged. Allow the kettlebell to swing between your legs.
  3. Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes to extend your hips and swing the kettlebell up to shoulder level.
  4. As the kettlebell swings back down, quickly reverse the momentum and swing the kettlebell overhead.
  5. Allow the kettlebell to swing back down between your legs and repeat the movement.

Read More: 100 Kettlebell Swings A Day Weight Loss: Putting Your Strength To The Test

kettlebell workout for weight loss

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Doing Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is a complex movement and there are a few common mistakes that people make when doing them. Here are a few tips on how to avoid these mistakes (11):

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Relying On Momentum

Contrary to what its name suggests, the kettlebell swing is not a momentum-based movement. The momentum should be generated by your hips, not your arms.

If you find that you’re relying on your arms to generate the swinging motion, then you need to lighten the load. Use a lighter kettlebell until you’ve mastered the movement pattern.

Flinging the weight might be a sign that your sequencing is off; your hips should extend fully before your arms start to move the weight overhead. You should rely on your lower-body strength—not your arms—to get the weight moving. 

Relying on momentum is dangerous and can lead to injuries, so make sure you’re in control throughout the entire range of motion.

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kettlebell swings

Swinging Too High

While it’s important to extend your hips fully at the top of the swing, swinging the kettlebell too high can put unnecessary stress on your shoulders and lower back.

To avoid swinging too high, focus on maintaining a flat back throughout the entire range of motion. 

Use your shoulders and upper back to control the kettlebell, and resist the temptation to arch your back or round your shoulders. At the top of the swing, your arms should be parallel to the ground—no higher.

If you find that you’re swinging the kettlebell too high, lighten the load and focus on maintaining a flat back throughout the entire movement. 

Rounding Your Back

Rounding your back is a common mistake people make when doing kettlebell swings. This can put unnecessary stress on your spine and lead to injuries.

To avoid rounding your back, focus on maintaining a flat back throughout the entire range of motion. Use your hips and core to control the movement, and resist the temptation to arch your back or slump forward in the downward swing.

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Squatting With The Downward Swing

Kettlebell swings require a forward hinge at the hips, not a squatting motion. This is a common mistake people make when they start doing kettlebell swings. Squatting reduces the power output of the movement and puts unnecessary stress on your knees.

To avoid squatting with the downward swing, focus on maintaining a flat back and hinging forward at the hips. 

Allow your arms to hang straight down from your shoulders and resist the temptation to round your back or slump forward. Keep your core engaged and your knees slightly bent throughout the entire range of motion.

Pausing At The Bottom Of The Swing

Pausing at the bottom of the swing puts unnecessary stress on your lower back and hamstrings. It also reduces the power output of the movement.

To avoid pausing at the bottom of the swing, focus on maintaining a smooth, fluid motion throughout the entire range of motion. Allow your arms to swing naturally and resist the temptation to pause or hold the kettlebell at the bottom of the swing.

The Bottom Line

The kettlebell swing is a powerful movement that can help you build strength, power, and endurance. It mainly targets the posterior chain; a group of muscles that includes the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

When done correctly, kettlebell swings are a safe and effective way to build strength and improve your fitness. However, there are a few common mistakes that people make when doing them. 

Be sure to avoid these mistakes to stay safe and get the most out of this exercise.

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DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. A Brief Review of Handgrip Strength and Sport Performance (2017, journals.lww.com)
  2. Anatomy, Back, Muscles (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Gluteus Maximus Muscle (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  4. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Core Muscle Activation in One-Armed and Two-Armed Kettlebell Swing (2016, journals.lww.com)
  6. Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review (2020, mdpi.com)
  7. Effects of kettlebell mass on lower-body joint kinetics during a kettlebell swing exercise (2019, tandfonline.com)
  8. Effects of kettlebell training on aerobic capacity, muscular strength, balance, flexibility, and body composition (2013, research.usc.edu.au)
  9. Kettlebell Exercise as an Alternative to Improve Aerobic Power and Muscle Strength (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  10. Kettlebell training in clinical practice: a scoping review (2019, biomedcentral.com)
  11. MANAGING RISKS OF TRAINING WITH KETTLEBELLS TO ACHIEVE OPTIMUM BENEFITS (2017, journals.lww.com)
  12. Muscles of the Anterior Thigh – Quadriceps (n.d., teachmeanatomy.info)
  13. Posterior muscle chain activity during various extension exercises: an observational study (2013, biomedcentral.com)
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