Kettlebells are awesome! They are great for the posterior chain which contains such muscles as your hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae the problem is half the time I see people swinging a KB they are not using these muscles because they are swinging wrong, more on that later.
What are Kettlebells?
Kettlebells have been used in sports and competitions in Europe since the 1940’s and were first used in Russia. The simplest way to explain a KB is to say it’s a heavy ball with a handle on it as crude as that description is, KB’s are normally cast iron, cast steel or a composite.
Not only are kettlebells great for explosive movements, the posterior chain, grip strength, endurance and posture but they are also a serious cardiovascular workout too and are often used by MMA fighters for this.
Despite the idea of the Kettlebell being very simple is actually requires quite a lot of technique to use it properly, especially when you move on to cleans and snatches. You only have to mis-time a snatch once to know you don’t want to get it wrong again as the Kettlebell will give you a nice lump and bruise on your wrist and forearm.
The hand position in which you catch and hold the handle in cleans and snatches is important too as Kettlebells require endurance and you want to save as much energy as you can to make sure you keep good technique. Rather than having the handle sit across the middle of your palm (palms facing you) you want it to be at an angle from your outside index finger knuckle to the inside corner of your palm. This almost locks the wrist out straight and prevents you waisting energy and wrist stamina trying to the stop the wrist bending when doing cleans. This is a good tip but a bit advanced right now as we need to look at the swing first.
The main problem I see with the KB swing is people squatting rather than hinging at the hips. This is crucial as you want to create tension and stretch out those hamstring to use that potential energy stored in them when they are under tension, this will allow for an explosive drive & also keep the back chain muscles working opposed to the quads.
These muscles on the back of your body are so often weak on us, especially those who sit down for long period as the anterior (front) muscles of the body often become short and tight such as the hip flexors and the affects posture. Often by restricting mobility in the hips and anteriorly rotating the pelvis causing a lordotic curve of the lower spine.
When swinging the bend in the knees should primarily be caused by the fact that you are hinging at the hips, think of this like doing a Romanian deadlift where you push your hips back to create tension and a stretch in the hamstrings.
Let’s go through the swing technique
How high should I swing?
You may see people swinging above the head, I personally wouldn’t advise this as if you are not confident with KB swings it can make you hyper extend or even worse you have a small risk of dropping it on your noggin.
Ultimately kettlebells are awesome if used correctly and they will certainly give you many health benefits, I would put them as one of my preferred form of cardio also. I much prefer dynamic movements rather than just running on a treadmill in the same plane of motion, impacting the same joints and not really building any more strength or body awareness.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment or question.
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Thanks John, great article on an often overlooked gym tool!
Thanks for reading and your comment Tim.
Any cues on movements to practice to help achieve a solid KB swing? Bodyweight or resistant band hip hinges for example. I have bad posture at the moment and I’m trying to recorrect my patterns.
Hi Ross, I mean the hip hinge you can practice with no weight or just a bar/dowel on your back. For me the movements that I would use are movements that resemble the movement of a swing at some point. So exercises like RDL’s and to a certain extent glute hip bridges and box jumps. It’s about being explosive with that posterior chain and learning to create tension and thus force in the hamstrings.