If you’re the kettlebell type, you know the swing.
You wander the weight back between your legs like a soccer ball, then explode with the force in your hips (it’s a little more complicated than just that – we’ll get into that below).
If you haven’t understood this step yet, do so because it’s one of the most functional and efficient lifts you can do. But if the swing is now a matter of course for you (or just boring as hell), you can choose two more variations that add even more challenge, train muscles throughout your body, and develop strength, strength and conditioning.
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David Freeman, creator of The Freeman Method, a five-workout kettlebell and body weight program available now on the website Men health All Out Studio App explains the three swings you need to master.
The Russian kettlebell swing
Classic swing is also known as Russian swing due to its origin in Russian sports training programs. “This swing is the basic kettlebell movement,” says Freeman, and it should be one of the first exercises anyone who trains on the machine learns. “It hits multiple parts of the body at once, including the core, glutes, hamstrings, quads, back, shoulders, and arms.”
The exercise also teaches you to pivot at the hips, that is, bend your hips backwards while maintaining a long spine and alignment from your head to your pelvis. When you pivot properly, you can safely perform other great strength building moves like deadlift and power clean.
When making heavy weight swings, they can create explosiveness in the hips, which is helpful for all sports. When done more easily for high repetitions, they are really testing your grip strength and cardio.
How it goes
Step 1. Place the kettlebell on the floor and stand behind it with your feet hip and shoulder width apart. Keep your head, spine, and pelvis aligned, and bend your hips back so you can reach down with both hands and grab the kettlebell handle. Pull your shoulder blades together and down – think of “a proud chest”. Inhale deeply into your stomach and support your core. Focus your eyes on a point on the floor a few feet in front of you.
Step 2. Extend your hips a little to lift the weight off the floor, then wander it back between your legs. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, squeeze your glutes and reverse the swing to explode your hips and swing the kettlebell up. Let the power of your hips propel the weight up – don’t lift with your shoulders and arms. Your arms should be bent with elbows close to your body as the weight swings up.
Step 3. Control the descent and let the weight swing between your legs again to advance to the next rep.
One-armed kettlebell swing
When you take one hand off the kettlebell, the swing becomes a one-sided exercise that increases the demands on your core. The weight is now harder to stabilize, so your body wants to rotate towards the side that is holding it, and resisting this movement will greatly strengthen your abs and lower back.
“It also increases your shoulder activation,” Freeman says of the movement. You need to take extra care to keep your shoulder packed down and back to prevent the bell from pulling your arm (and ultimately your whole body) forward. “And did I mention grip strength?” says Freeman. “Using just one hand to control the kettlebell will definitely tone your hand and forearm muscles.”
How it goes
Perform the one-armed swing while performing the Russian swing, but with one hand. Avoid twisting as your hips bend and the weight swings down. Keep your shoulder pulled down and back – imagine tucking it in your back pocket. You can start the one-armed swing from the ground or transition from the standard two-armed swing to it as shown in the video below.
Kettlebell Swing + Squat Complex (SWAT)
Many people turn the swing into a squatting motion instead of a hip joint, which is wrong, but Freeman says you can combine a squat and swing in one movement that works the lower body even better than any movement done on its own. He calls it the “Swat”.
“The punch requires a strong awareness of your body in space,” says Freeman. So don’t try until you have the Russian swing and the one-armed version.
But when you’re ready, the beat increases your heart rate like no other kettlebell movement, as the combined hinge and squat movement affects virtually your entire body.
How it goes
Step 1. Perform a Russian swing as described above to set the kettlebell in motion. After a rep or two, prepare to crouch as the bell rises to face level. Counterbalance the swing of the increasing weight as you recline your hips and spread your knees apart, which activates your glutes. Go as deep as you can without your tailbone tucking under it.
Step 2. As you descend, the bell will rise over your face. If so, get out of the crouch and prepare to quickly bend your hips again to “catch” the weight as you swing back so you can start the next repetitive smoothly.
The hard part is the timing. You need to do the hip extension that makes the weight sway and then immediately bend your hips again to get down into the crouch.
“The bell counterbalances your weight when you crouch,” says Freeman. “To protect your back, you should master the rhythm of the movement with a very light weight first and progress from there.”
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