Just imagine it. An exercise that’s simple, fun, works for everyone and can be done anywhere. The holy grail of workouts, if you will.
Can such a thing exist?
Yes — it can and it does. It’s called the kettlebell swing. And I don’t want to exaggerate, but I think it might just change your life forever. Whether you’re an average office worker trying to slim down or an elite athlete looking to add something new to your routine, this incredible exercise can help you.
Let me walk you through what a kettlebell swing is, why it’s basically the perfect exercise, and how to do them safely to strengthen your entire body.
What is a kettlebell swing?
You’ve probably seen a kettlebell before. They’re those solid metal balls with handles that look a bit like door knockers. They come in all shapes and sizes, from 2kg to 24kg and higher.
Here’s a kettlebell swing in a nutshell (don’t worry, we’ll go into much more detail in a moment): you hold the kettlebell with both hands wrapped around the handle and swing it between your legs in a fluid back and forth motion.
The video below shows a full kettlebell swing, from initial starting position to ending safely:
This might sound like a very simple exercise, but when you do it properly it can make you feel as if you’ve run a marathon. You can do it anywhere, at any time, from your home to the gym to the park. It’s perfect whether you’re training for a specific goal (like running a marathon) or if you want to become slimmer, stronger and fitter generally.
When it comes to picking the right kettlebell for you, most women will want to begin with a 8kg, and most men a 12kg.
Why is this exercise so good?
The kettlebell swing is an incredible exercise for 5 main reasons:
1. It burns tons of calories and fat
Want to get the most from your workout in the shortest amount of time? Kettlebell swings can use up to 20 calories per minute, which makes them one of the most effective exercises around. Don’t expect to get there immediately — but with practice you can burn through those calories with high intensity kettlebell bursts.
As an added bonus, whole-body exercises like the kettlebell swing are ideal for reducing fat stores and replacing them with muscle. If you’re looking to burn calories and banish fat, look no further.
2. It’s perfect for normal, busy people
When you’re juggling everything else in your life, you want exercise to be as straightforward as possible. You can do kettlebell swings at any time and in any place. Fit a few in before you go to work. Or pop your kettlebell in the car and do some swinging in the park. 😉 Learning the exercise is as easy as mastering two movements, and you’ll be giving yourself a full-body workout all in one — simples.
3. It strengthens all your muscles and joints
Rather than working parts of your body in isolation, the kettlebell swing gives you all-over exercise that works your hamstrings, glutes, lats, abs, back and shoulders. This kind of workout will make you stand taller, improve your muscle tone and give you more energy.
Plus, this exercise isn’t high-impact. That means it strengthens all the tendons and ligaments in your body and makes them less prone to injury.
4. It fixes your back, core and shoulders
If you sit at a desk all day, the kettlebell swing is the perfect exercise to strengthen your core. Traditional crunches and sit ups just can’t reach your deep abdominal muscles like a kettlebell swing can.
And if you’ve got lower back pain or bad shoulders, this exercise might be just what the doctor ordered. The kettlebell swing can provide the mobility and strength you need to realign and strengthen weak muscles all along your spine.
5. It’s a blend of cardio and strength training
Should you be doing cardio? Or strength training? With kettlebell swings you never have to worry, because they’re both at the same time. This exercise raises your heart rate as it builds your muscles. You won’t become a bodybuilder or a lean athlete, but you’ll get the best of both worlds — a toned, healthy body with the right balance of endurance and strength.
In short… it’s hard to find an exercise that can do so much for your whole body that requires so little space, equipment and expertise to use.
Ok, so how do I do a kettlebell swing?
Before we start, there are two very important things to do during any kettlebell swinging to make sure you keep your body safe and avoid hurting yourself:
* Keep your abs as tight as possible.
* Keep your butt as tight as possible.
I tell my clients to imagine they’re just about to be punched in the gut and to brace themselves tightly for impact. Really squeeze your core together. The more solid and compact you make your body, the more you’ll get from kettlebell swings and the safer they’ll be. In fact just squeezing both your abs and your butt at the same time will make any exercise about 99% safer.
The kettlebell swing form
So the first step to doing a kettlebell swing is to get into the correct position. You should be standing with a straight back. As I said, make sure your abs and butt are tight. Your shoulders should be down in line with your hips and knees. You should feel your shoulder blades squeezing together. Your feet should be a little further apart than your shoulders, and you can point your toes forwards or outwards as you prefer. At all times you want to keep your feet flat on the floor — never let them lift up.
^ As shown here.
Learning the movements
Next we’re going to divide the swing into a series of moves and do them one by one so you understand how the exercise works — before we even get to picking up a kettlebell.
You’re in your initial standing position, squeezing your core, getting ready to perform a kettlebell swing. Don’t hold your breath! Make sure you’re breathing smoothly and keep breathing throughout.
Here are the steps you need to follow:
1. Clench your fists tightly together, as if you really were holding a kettlebell. Lift your arms so that they’re held straight ahead of you, parallel to the ground in line with your shoulders and just below your eye line.
2. Move your arms down together in a straight line so they’re between and underneath your legs, while bending your knees slightly. You shouldn’t be squatting, but you should push your bum out.
3. Return to position number 1 by lifting your arms so they’re stretched in front of you. Squeeze your bum cheeks as hard as you can and keep your back straight at all times. Your upwards movement should come mainly from your hips thrusting forward.
Practice doing this a few times without the kettlebell. You should start to be able to combine these two positions into one fluid swinging movement. Keep going until you feel confident you’ve got the basics down.
Pro tip: The key to the kettlebell swing is to imagine there’s a triangle between your knees, your hips and the kettlebell. The kettlebell is only allowed to swing within this triangle. It’s not the end of the world if you let the kettlebell go slightly underneath your knees, but keeping the triangle in mind will help keep you safe and let you get the most from this exercise. Remember — it’s not a squat movement, it’s a hip hinge movement.
Adding the kettlebell
Now we’re feeling confident about the movements, it’s time to pick up that kettlebell. Start with one that’s fairly light. You should be able to lift it easily.
Follow exactly the same steps we went through above, but this time with your hands gripping the handle of the kettlebell. Remember to keep your back nice and straight, your shoulder blades down and squeezed together, and your abs and butt tight. As you start going through the moves you’ll probably feel very slow and controlled. That’s fine at this stage, so just keep going and practice the exercise as many times as you want as this tempo.
Here’s how it should look:
To really master the kettlebell swing, you need to move onto the next stage. It’s trickier, but not impossible. The idea is to get into a real rhythm with the swings and speed things up until your hips are doing the pushing back into the standing position. Your arms shouldn’t be doing any lifting at all.
This time, after you’ve swung downwards, thrust your hips forward as you start to bring the kettlebell back up. Squeeze your butt cheeks and your abs as you do this, and use the power from your thrust to keep the motion going. 😉 The weight of the kettlebell itself should naturally propel you and turn the whole exercise into a continuous, fluid movement.
It can take a bit of practice, but it really pays to get to this point. You’ll be able to do the exercise for much longer this way and see far better results from the time you do spend doing it.
The finishing touches
So far we’ve been starting the swing with our arms stretched in front of us. But to do this exercise properly, you should actually start in the second position — with the kettlebell between your legs and your knees slightly bent.
This way you can give yourself a few initial swings to allow yourself to build momentum and easily get into the fluid motion we just practiced. I generally give myself 3 swings to do this. Make sure your arms don’t reach higher than the top of your shoulders, even though you might feel tempted as the momentum builds.
Here’s how it should look once you’ve mastered the continual motion:
When you’ve completed your set and want to stop swinging, gently reduce the length of your swings until you eventually come to a dead stop with the kettlebell again between your legs. Never try to finish this exercise in full swing — you’ll end up bashing the kettlebell into your knees and doing some serious harm.
Here’s how to safely finish a kettlebell swing:
That’s it! Now you know exactly how to master the kettlebell swing. If you’re still not feeling totally confident, don’t hesitate to ask a fitness instructor or personal trainer (cough cough — me!) to show you how to perfect your swings.
Enjoy incorporating this fun, simple move into your workouts to get the most from your exercise routine while strengthening your entire body.
If you have any questions, as always please do get in touch.