Part 5: Bootilicious – The Kettlebell Swing
So the swing that I would like to discuss is the one that is best for your butt – the Russian swing.
The Russian kettlebell swing is a hip hinge just like a glute bridge or deadlift. The main muscle working in the hip hinge is the glutes with help from the hamstrings (and of course other stabilizer muscles).
And while you see everyone and their mother’s uncle attempting some sort of hinge exercise, most people don’t do it correctly – People either turn the hinge into a reach with their back (aka back rounding) or a squat.
It’s interesting…the hip hinge should be an easy movement for us to do but it is actually the one that most people have trouble with.
So how do you teach this easy but hard movement?
I start most people out with glute bridges. Once they have mastered the two leg, bodyweight glute bridge, I move them to a standing hip hinge near a wall.
The key with the standing hip hinge near the wall is to use the wall as a guide. You want to make sure that they keep their back flat and reach their butt toward the wall.
If they have trouble keeping their back flat, you can have them hold some sort of dowel down their back and make sure that the dowel doesn’t come off their head and butt because their back rounds or really separates from their back because they over arch.
If they seem to have trouble getting their butt closer to the wall (or even to touching it…I sometimes start them close enough so that if they do it correctly their butt will actually touch) and they aren’t rounding their back, then they are most likely squatting.
Use the wall or pole or something behind them to teach them to stick their butt back and hinge at the hip-joint. If they perform the movement correctly their butt should either touch or at least get closer to the object behind them!
After they master the bodyweight standing hip hinge near the wall, I will add a resistance band around their hips to teach them to be explosive with the movement.
With this move you face away from the wall with the resistance band attached to something behind you. You wrap the resistance band around your hips and step as far away as you can.
Then you hinge over and explosively come back to standing, squeezing the butt cheeks and driving the hips forward.
For this move, you will need to assume a more athletic stance (so knees slightly bent through the entire motion) than you would necessarily for the standing hinge by the wall.
The resistance band is an especially great way to teach the kettlebell swing because the band mimics the weight of the bell.
Your hips go backwards and you hinge over because the weight drives you backwards and you want to absorb the load. You then squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward to propel the weight forward.
Once you have managed this you are ready to start on the actual swing. Start with the two-handed, single bell swing.
Starting with the kettlebell on the ground, you will hike it backwards like a football to start the swing. It doesn’t matter how high you get the kettlebell to go…and actually it really shouldn’t ever get above your shoulders!
You are powering each swing with your hip hinge. As you swing the kettlebell forward, you will have a slight lean back at the top and a slight posterior tilt to your hips because you are squeezing your butt cheeks. You arms aren’t working at all to lift the kettlebell…it is swinging because of the power from your glutes.
You then leave your hips out long enough to catch your forearms with the kettlebell descending. You don’t want to be hinging over while the kettlebell is away from your body. You hinge over only to slow the kettlebell down and absorb the momentum.
The connection between your forearms and hips is very important and is key to making sure this movement is powered by your glutes and not your low back!
Your forearms then maintain a connection with your hips as you hinge over leaning forward with your chest to counteract the weight of the kettlebell between your legs.
The kettlebell should go back smoothly and shouldn’t really swing up and hit you in the bottom. If it does, you are actually using too much power for the weight and can probably even go up in weight.
This video actual shows a great swing.
In this swing, his spine is in line from the tip of his head right to his tailbone. At the top of the swing, he is standing up straight with only a slight lean back and he hinges back over when the kettlebell drives his hips back. There isn’t a gap between his forearms and hips as he goes back into the hinge. Everything is connected and moves TOGETHER. As he hinges over, his butt goes back. He doesn’t squat and his back doesn’t round.
If your swing looks like this and you can feel that forearm/hip connection, you are doing the move correctly and can start upping the weight or playing around with variations.
Another variation of the swing, the single arm swing, can also be a great way to learn the swing movement as it can sometimes force people to maintain that forearm to hip connection. BUT this variation is more challenging on the core and may be more challenging on the grip.
To progress the swing move, try a double bell swing, but when you do this make sure you have a really really good handle on the other two variations first.
While the kettlebell swing can be a more frustrating move to truly master, it really is a great way to develop glute strength and improve your power. It can be a great way to get over a deadlifting plateau if you find yourself struggling!
Shoot some people even argue that heavy kettlebell swings are even better than deadlifts….and, while I love my deadlifts, kettlebell swings are definitely pretty freaking good.
So work on your swings today. If you aren’t confident in your hip hinge (if you round or squat), start with a beginning move like the glute bridge and progress from there. Don’t just jump right into swings and end up hurting your low back!
And….P.S. Speaking of progression yesterday…this article is basically one to do the kettlebell swing!