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How Do You Do Kettlebell Swings?

PSA: You've Been Doing Kettlebell Swings All Wrong

Woman exercising kettlebell swings.

Chances are high you've done kettlebell swings in a group fitness class, with a personal trainer, or during a workout you created for yourself (and good on you for making your own plan). It's an effective movement to get stronger and improve your overall fitness level. Kettlebell swings aren't as easy as they might seem, though, and it's common to see people perform this exercise with the wrong form. Think of this as your kettlebell swing crash course.

American vs. Russian

Austin Lopez, CSCS and owner of AUSome Fit, told POPSUGAR that there are two types of kettlebell swings: American and Russian. The former go overhead while the latter don't go above the shoulders.

"Both are hip-drive movements," Lopez said. "The back should not really be working in the swings because the abs are braced and legs are driving the hip motion."

Common Mistakes

According to Lopez, the most common (and dangerous) mistake he sees is people who "don't brace [their abs] enough." If your abs aren't engaged, you run the risk of hurting your back. The second most common mistake Lopez witnesses is people not driving their hips all the way forward. "You aren't getting the most out of your swing this way and it could result in injury at heavier weights," he said.

When it comes to American kettlebell swings, which go overhead, Lopez told POPSUGAR that this requires much more shoulder mobility. "Make sure you are rolling out the muscles around the shoulder before throwing yourself into heavy [weights]," he advised. "Otherwise, make sure the shoulders are pulled back so they don't pull the back into a rounded down position."

It's a lot to think about, which means you shouldn't be afraid to go back to basics with your kettlebell swings. Choose a light weight to start, and don't move on until you've perfected your form.

How to Do a Kettlebell Swing

The most important thing to remember is that the movement doesn't come from your arms, back, or your shoulders. It's all about engaging your core muscles and driving your hips forward, all the while keeping your back straight. Although this swinging movement looks like it's all about the arms, the work is focused in the legs, butt, and core. You don't just swing your hands forward but rather engage the core, load weight in the hips, and thrust the pelvis forward to propel and swing the kettlebell.

  • Stand with your feet wider than hips-width apart, toes slightly pointing out. Squat down, and pick up a kettlebell with both hands. Allow it to hang between your legs.
  • With a flat back and your core engaged, inhale to bend your knees and push your butt back. Your weight should be back in your heels so your knees are in line with you toes.
  • Keep your abs strong and arms straight. On an exhale, press into your feet, squeezing your legs and glutes as you aggressively explode up, extending through your hips and legs to stand, which drives to about shoulder height.
  • Inhale, and with control, come back to the starting position, allowing the kettlebell to swing back between your legs, keeping your back flat.
  • This counts as one rep. Do 15 to 25 per set.

Once you get the form right, you'll start to reap all the benefits kettlebell swings have to offer.

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