As kettlebells are becoming more and more popular, it is time to learn how to perform correctly the most basic exercise: the swing.
The swing comes into play every single time you lift a bell off the floor, rack or un-rack the bell, or execute a snatch. Most of the moves done in juggling competitions are based on the swing.
The swing is a compound lift, meaning it is a lift that stresses two or more body parts at once. This type of training involves the whole body, developing functional qualities because one has to stabilize a weight in all 3 planes of direction at the same time. More muscles are being used simultaneously, having a great positive effect on the neuromuscular system.
Strength is related to how good your nervous system communicates with your muscles, not solely on your muscle mass. Functional training (opposed to training with machines or body building routines) develops overall athletic abilities and coordination.
Human beings' primary function is movement. We are not statues or androids made up of separated muscles groups. Our primary goal in life and sports is to move, to perform, to get the job done. Big muscles do not improve movement. Strong, resilient muscles do.
The swing provides an intense load to the hips and posterior chain. Strengthening the hips will add power and stability to your training and carry over into your daily life. Not to mention toning your rear side...
The swing shares similar elements to the vertical jump and sprinting. There is a synergy between muscle groups of the legs and back. This means knee, hip and back extension happens in the same exact sequence you would use in any jumping movement.
You are actually developing strength in a sequence that the brain can immediately apply to similar movements.
What's more, the swing is worked at high reps, grooving a path in the neuromuscular system, reinforcing motor skill development, and challenging your muscular and cardio-vascular system at the same time!
Strength is useless if you lack the ability to apply it throughout the whole duration of the contest or task at hand!
But let's see how to properly perform this exercise.
Swings can be done 2 hands or 1 hand. When using 1 hand, you can also use 1 kettlebell in each hand.
The height to which you lift the bell depends on how much power you generate from your hips. Remember that the arms are just holding on to the bell and are accompanying the movement.
Up to shoulder level is common for assistance work; Overhead is commonly see in juggling choreographies, or to really push your pulse high.
It is a fantastic exercise because the variations and benefits are numerous. In this article, I will be covering the 2 basic techniques and the proper way to breathe.
Remember to pick a weight that is right for you!
The basic swing
This is the most commonly seen type of swing.
I'll describe here the 2 hand variation:
Place the kettlebell in front of your feet. Grab loosely with 2 hands, palms facing down. Pull your shoulder blades back. Push back with your butt and bend your knees to get into the starting position, which looks almost like a deadlift . Make sure that your back is flat and you are looking straight ahead. Pull the bell towards you, let it swing back and forcefully extend your legs, hips and back. The trajectory of the body is quite linear, you should explode up as if you were jumping for height.
In the top position, your body should be fully extended with the hips pushed forward, the kettlebell in line with your arms. When first starting, it is fine to only swing the bell to waist or shoulder level.
For a fraction of second, the bell becomes weightless, just before it is about to fall down.
On the way down, get ready to counteract the force of the bell which will want to pull you forward. Let your body follow the bell by pushing your hips back and bending your knees, going back to your starting position/ quarter squat.
Remember that the center of gravity of the bell is in front of your hands, and that a free falling bell can generate forces over 4 times its weight, depending on the height and speed at which it is falling!
As soon as your arms contact your body, it is time to reverse the movement and repeat the sequence, so that the swinging movement is not interrupted. Use as much explosive power as possible.
Start with 10 reps. Repeat 3 to 5 times. Slowly work your way to 4 to 6 sets of 25 reps.
The competition swing
In kettlebell sport, swings are done differently according to a few factors like weight, time of the set, body mechanics.
The goal is to achieve more reps with less effort.This technique is more advanced, and requires more awareness and coordination.
Here, I'll describe the one hand technique.
The start position is as above, bell in front of the feet. The same safety issues apply here: keep your back straight, look ahead, fold at the hips, bend the knees.
The handle is rotated 45 degrees towards the center line of the body, to be easily picked up with one hand, thumbs facing down. The space between the thumb and index finger fully comes against the corner of the handle. Finally, the thumb comes to wrap around the index finger but the grip is loose. Pull the bell off the floor, let it swing back and straighten up.
There is more to this swing than a simplistic linear up and down motion of the hips.
This technique benefits from the pendulum effect on both side of the swing. This means there are 2 spots where the bell is weightless on every rep: one in front of the body and one behind, on the back swing phase. To effectively accomplish this, you have to use a double flexion/ extension on every rep.
As the bell is swinging back, the upper body follows it and the knees extend for a second time, allowing the bell to go further back than with a simple swing. The momentum takes the bell to a spot where it is weightless before it starts falling and swinging forward again.
As you are going down, think of going down to a quarter squat and flow into a good morning. Then, reverse the motion by going forward into a quarter squat and finally straighten up again.
The benefits are that you can better load your hamstrings, generate more momentum from the hips, train for longer sets, and give you lower back a fraction of rest on every back swing.
By keeping the thumb facing down, you stop the bell from rotating in your hand, sparing your grip and blisters.
Normal tempo is about 35 reps per minute.
Start working 30s left hand and 30s right hand for a total of 2 minutes, gradually increasing to 6 minutes without stopping.
Then switch hands every minute and increase by 30 seconds until you can last 3 minute with your left hand and 3 minutes with your right.
You should notice extra strength in the back of your body and your forearms.
It might be time to start swinging a heavier bell!
Some final words about breathing:
The proper breathing pattern for optimal efficiency is as follow:
Breathe in through the nose as the bell is swinging up, while the ribcage opens and expends.
Breathe out through the mouth as the bell is swinging down and the ribcage is being compressed.
This method takes advantage of the natural opening and closing of the ribcage to assist the breathing, effectively using the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles to take fuller breaths.
The Valsalva manoeuvre (breath holding) is used to protect the spine when lifting very heavy weights, and as such has limited place in kettlebell training.
Deep breathing mobilizes the lower lungs, which contain the greatest surface area, enhancing respiratory efficiency by reducing the number of breaths required per minute.
For every extra millimetre the diaphragm stretches during inhalation, lung capacity increases by a volume of about 250 mils.
If you breathe in at the bottom, you cannot take advantage of this phenomenon!
Staying relaxed through long sets and breathing in and out fully also help keep your heart rate from going sky high.
Something definitely worth considering!
International Union of Kettlebell Lifting