Updated: Feb 11
The kettlebell swing is a fantastic conditioning movement! It's definitely one of my favorite forms of "cardio." However, it's often performed incorrectly. That poor form can lead to back pain or may lead some to believe that kettlebells in general cause back pain.
I've been coaching kettlebells as a StrongFirst Certified Instructor for over six year and I am always learning something new when it comes to swings. However, there are three things that seem to be pretty consistent among my clients and workshop participants once they get the deadlift part of the movement down (which means they can mostly keep a neutral spine from bottom to top).
These are the places where I find they get stuck...getting it right sometimes and not so much other times. The good news is that once they (or you) become aware of what *right* and *not so right* feels like then you'll be on your way with some practice! If any of these sounds familiar for you or for your clients, give the cues and drills a try and let me know how it goes!
(Thanks to Steve, Owner of Fit4K, for stopping by to be a part of my Swing Masterclass for Coaches on Zoom today! I was able to grab some screenshots from Zoom to use here.)
#1 ARCHING THE BACK AT THE TOP
This most often happens because you are using your arms instead of legs, and you are not tight (or serious!). Remember the top of the swing should look like a plank (not like this!).
Think about projecting your energy up instead of out. I have found this helpful with beginners especially.
Pull kneecaps up at the top. Having tight quads at the top often helps you stop in the plank position.
Supine Plank: This helps them understand what the swing should feel like at the top.
Hardstyle Plank: This helps them understand how to engage core, quads and lats. Pull elbows and toes together. This is a position you would only want to be in for 10 - 20 secs.
Coaches, put your hand a few inches from where they should be stopping. If they touch then that is immediate feedback.
Note that a lean may happen with a very heavy bell(s), but it comes from ankles and not the back.
#2 MOVING WITH THE BELL INSTEAD OF MOVING THE BELL (Timing is off)
This usually happens also because you are using arms instead of legs. You do not move with the bell. Your hips move the bell. (Here I am moving with the bell.)
Think about coming up fast, and then letting the bell fall (slower). Timing is different here.
Do not release your glutes until your forearms hit your stomach.
Here, I am moving the bell. I am up fast and powerfully, and then waiting to push my hips back.
Play chicken with the bell. (See how long you can let the bell fall before pushing your hips back.)
Play around with some heavier bells (as long as you are able to maintain a neutral spine when swinging).
Note that a heavier bell often helps you shift from using your arms to using your legs/hips because you now have a bell you cannot just pull up, thus helping the timing. Only do this if everything else with your form is good and you are not having any pain while swinging.
#3 SWINGING TOO LOW
This can happen because the lats and core are not engaged and the shoulders are loose, you aren't hinging back enough, or the bell may simply be too much right now. Swinging too low can also cause timing to be off.
Aim the bell to hit within the triangle.
Your forearms should touch your inner thighs. Keep armpits "closed" on the backswing.
Put a medicine ball between feet for feedback. (It messes up the set-up, but otherwise gives great feedback. I have found clients will go to great lengths to not touch the ball!)
Interested in learning more? My Kettlebell Fundamentals Workshop is Sunday, March 6th! This is a full day workshop where you will learn six foundational kettlebell skills so that you can start training or coaching like a kettlebell pro! We'll cover the deadlift, swing, get-up, squat, clean and press. (Continuing education credits available!) Get the details here. Save $100 now through February 17th.