The Secret Weapon for Becoming Lean and Powerful

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Kettlebell (KB) Swings are one of the most versatile and important moves that you can learn to do. Unfortunately they are also one of the most basterdized moves that you’ll see done at a big gym.

Seriously, NO ONE does this right. Generally, it looks like a Lego man is doing a squat-to-hump-raise using only the spine, and no muscles

Most people do these by squatting a bit too much, not being explosive enough, and lifting with the low back, instead of using the hips to initiate a powerful thrusting motion. Chad Shugart calls KB Swings “an act of controlled violence”. This is the perfect description.

If you do KB swings and feel them in your low back, your form probably needs a bit of work. Check with a trainer, preferably someone who is RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) or StrongFirst certified, and get them to critique your form.

So your form is on point, perfect. Make sure that you’re feeling a stretch in the hamstrings at the bottom, and keeping the core and glutes tight at the top.

 

KB Swings for Explosive Power

 

For most people, I believe that KB swings can be substituted for Olympic lifts like the clean and snatch because they help develop explosive power through the posterior chain (hams, glutes, and low back).

They also have a lower barrier of entry, take less time to learn, and can be done in a smaller space. If you have no aspirations of being an Olympic lifter or competitive crossfit athlete, you can use swings to get 90% of the benefit you would with Olympic lifts.

This will make you a faster sprinter, a higher and longer jumper, and will develop good body mechanics and control.

If you’re looking to build maximal power, keep your sets shorter than 15 seconds, or roughly 10 reps. it’s important to put maximal power into ever rep and focus on “slamming” your hips into a locked out position.

If your gym doesn’t have kettlebells that are heavy enough to challenge you, try one of these two options.

Since force = mass x acceleration, if you’re lacking in the mass department, you need to make up for it by accelerating the weights as hard as you can.

Having someone push the bell back down from the top position will make you compensate and forcibly decelerate the weight. When this happens, you can take advantage of your muscles natural elasticity by contracting with an equal or greater force.

If you don’t have any friends, but you do have a band, you can use that. Stand on the band with both feet and loop the middle through the handle of the bell. Again, accelerate maximally, but keep tension through the core every time.

Training recommendation: Do 5-10 sets of 5-10 swings with a maximal contraction.

One way that I like to structure this is by doing 10 sets of 10, and starting my set every minute, on the minute, so the rest time is dictated by how fast I do the exercise.

 

KB Swings for High Intensity Interval Training and Fat Burning

 

Figure Athlete Nicole Wilkins

Once form can be achieved with minimal effort, kb swings can be used as a conditioning tool. Doing between 50-250 swings in a set is not a great way to develop power, but it’s an amazing way to burn fat and stay very lean.

You’re forcing some of the largest muscles in your body to work extremely hard, which burns a metric dick-ton of calories in addition to shaping a glorious badonkadonk.

Additionally, you’re working very hard on the endurance function of your postural and core muscles. By becoming strong in what most Americans would consider an uncomfortable or awkward position, you can protect yourself from injury when bending and lifting.

Training recommendation: Start with doing 100 swings in as few sets as possible. Gradually increase that number up to 250 swings before moving onto a heavier bell.

Sets of 50 are my preference here.

 

Bonus: Hulk Grip

 

***WARNING: UNLESS YOU ARE VERY GOOD AT SWINGS AND CONFIDENT IN YOUR ABILITIES, DON’T DO THIS.***

Instead of applying chalk or liquid chalk to dry your palms and make gripping the handle easier for high rep or high weight, use lotion on your hands just before you swing.

I found this out accidentally, but it’s a very different experience trying to swing a bell with slippery hands. Make very sure you’re in a room without people to hit or mirrors to break.

Training Recommendation: Do 2 sets of max reps. Then go cry.

4 COMMENTS

    • Hey tmcdonald2013, that’s a great post, lots of good info there, thanks for putting it out there.

      Here are my thoughts though
      1) When comparing increases in VO2 max and increases in cardiovascular endurance between sets of KB swing and actual cardiovascular activity, the KB swing will lose out every time. You’re training more of the anaerobic energy system with the KB’s and much more of the aerobic energy system during extended biking or running. On the flip side, you’ll develop more muscle from the swings, and you have a bit more of the EPOC effect, which will give you a higher caloric burn than estimated in the article.
      2) Vertical leap trial, if you’re giving men only a 16kg bell to use, I wouldn’t think there would be much improvement… That’s the kind of weight a good coach could get a beginner using within 2 sessions. To get the kind of stimulus I’m talking about, you’d have to be well versed in the move, and using a heavier bell.
      3) Spinal Loading. A traditional crunch puts an estimated 3,350 N of shear force on the low back as well, and as much as I don’t endorse doing crunches or sit ups, You can’t escape that the spine is subjected to forces all day long from tons of different stimuli. I think that learning how to brace the deep core musculature against those forces, are where kettlebells can be extremely effective.

      All in all, it’s good to keep in mind that KB’s are not the be all end all of fitness, rather a good tool to keep around, just like barbells, dumbells, TRX’s etc.
      I still love them as a training implement, and love KB swings for the insane benefits you can get from just one exercise.
      Thanks again for the great question TMac!

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