If given a choice to only do the same exercise for the rest of my life, I would, without hesitation, choose to perform kettlebell swings. It’s quick, only requires one piece of equipment, you can do various workouts, and boy, does it make me sweat!
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Benefits of Kettlebell Swings
Performing Kettlebell swings is my go-to when I need to burn some calories in the shortest amount of time.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) researchers found that a kettlebell workout can burn up to 20 calories a minute (1).
That means that a 20-minute kettlebell workout could burn up to 400 calories.
While in another study, ten college-aged men completed a kettlebell swing workout consisting of as many kettlebell swings as they could perform in 12 minutes.
The participants would use a 16 kg (35lbs) kettlebell to complete the workout. Participants were told to go at their own pace and take as much rest as they needed.
The subjects completed an average of 265 swings in the 12-minute workout.
Using a metabolic cart, researchers found that the participants burned an average of 160 calories in the 12 minutes, an average of 22 swings per minute (2).
One hundred sixty calories aren’t too bad for just 12 minutes.
Keep in mind; many variables determine how many calories a person can burn for any given activity.
- Activity level
- Your lean body mass (more LBM equals more calories burned)
- Your metabolic rate
You would also have to take into consideration training specifics such as:
- Weight of the kettlebell
- The type of kettlebell swings (American vs. Russian)
- The speed at which you are swinging the kettlebell
- And the kind of training (Endurance, power, HIIT)
With that being said, many people might be able to burn more than 160 calories in a 12-minute workout.
The kettlebell swing is a full-body exercise.
Performing Kettlebell swings work your core, back, shoulders, hamstring, quads, glutes, forearms, and chest.
A study by the American Council of Exercise (ACE) found that participants who completed a one-hour class consisting of kettlebell exercises twice a week demonstrated meaningful improvements in VO2max, leg press, grip, dynamic balance, and core strength. (1)
Kettlebell swings help develop power and athleticism.
A 2012 study found that participants who performed kettlebell swings twice a week for twelve minutes improved max strength in the half squat by 12% and explosiveness by 15%. (1)
It puts the aerobic and anaerobic systems to work.
- Aerobic (with oxygen) capacity is your body’s ability to transport and use the oxygen you breathe. Think jogging.
- Anaerobic (without oxygen) capacity is your body’s ability to work when oxygen is insufficient to meet the activity’s demand. I.e., the reason why you can only sprint for about 20 seconds.
In a 2010 study, eight healthy adults participated in 2 kettlebell workouts, in which kettlebell swings were included, per week.
The researchers found that the kettlebell workouts taxed both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.
Furthermore, the researchers also concluded that the kettlebell’s weight influenced whether the aerobic or anaerobic systems were used more.
Using a kettlebell that weighs less or equal to 13% of the person’s body weight demanded more from the aerobic system.
While utilizing a kettlebell heavier than 13% taxed more from the anaerobic system.
Performing kettlebell swings with a heavier kettlebell, such as in a HIIT workout, would stress the anaerobic system more.
While using a lighter kettlebell would allow you to perform more kettlebell swings without getting tired or losing your grip.
The kettlebell swing will give you better muscular endurance.
Speaking of the aerobic system, performing kettlebell swings can improve your muscle endurance.
Muscular endurance is your ability to contract a muscle for extended periods of time.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, to improve muscle endurance, we would need to use lighter weights, 40-60% of 1 rep-max, for a higher number of repetitions (e.g., 15- 25). (1)
Russian versus American Kettlebell Swings
The two main types of kettlebell swings are the Russian variation and the American variation.
The Russian kettlebell swing stops between the chest and eye level.
The American kettlebell swing finishes overhead, and it requires a lighter kettlebell.
It is recommended that beginners perform the Russian variation, especially since the American version puts the shoulder joint in a vulnerable position.
How to Do Kettlebell Swings
Step-by-step instructions courtesy of Stack.com
Step 1: While standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and with a kettlebell in front of you, bend at the waist and hold the kettlebell handle with both hands, palms facing your body, and your upper body should be close to parallel to the ground.
Step 2: Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your abs before starting the exercise.
Step 3: Lift the kettlebell and let it swing between your legs. Slightly bend your knees while doing the exercise. Remember to keep a flat back and your neck straight.
Step 4: Explosively drive your hips forward to drive the kettlebell into the air. You should be only guiding the kettlebell up with your arms, not pulling it. Keep the swing up to chest level.
Step 5: Let the kettlebell travel back down and through your legs. Control the kettlebell while it’s coming down, and smoothly begin the next repetition.
Step 6: When you’ve completed all of your reps, allow the kettlebell to swing back through your legs and carefully place it on the ground.
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Mistakes performed during the Kettlebell swings.
- You round your back. Doing this can seriously mess your back up. Keep your chest up and proud!
- You perform a squat when doing the swing. You are supposed to hinge at the hip as if you were doing a deadlift. So butt back, not down.
- You are not using the hips to generate power. A lot of people use their arms too much to perform the swing. Your arms are only used to guide and control the kettlebell.
- You are ignoring your core. Keep your core tight throughout the whole exercise.
- Every minute on the minute, perform 10-15 kettlebell swings. Rest for the remainder of the minute. Repeat until you have done 20 rounds.
Kettlebell swings from hell
- In the first minute of this workout, you will perform one kettlebell swing and rest for the remainder of the minute. In the second minute, you will complete two kettlebell swings and relax for the remainder of the minute. On the tenth minute, you will complete ten swings and so forth, until you can’t perform the number of swings prescribed within the minute. This workout will test you.
The 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge
- For this workout, courtesy of t-nation.com, you will perform 1,000 kettlebell swings a day for ten straight days. The last time I completed this challenge, I lost 8 pounds in the first seven days.
- The prescribed kettlebell weight for this challenge is:
- For women-16 kilos or 35 pounds.
- For men-24 kilos or 53 pounds
- If you are new when it comes to performing the kettlebell swing, you should consider doing this workout with a lighter kettlebell.
- For this workout, you will perform kettlebell swings for 20 seconds. Once those twenty seconds are up, you will rest for ten seconds. That’s one round. You will complete a total of 8 rounds. This workout only takes 4 minutes to complete! FOUR!!!
- If you are feeling brave, you can perform this workout a few more times. Just make sure you rest an adequate amount of time between workouts.
- Pick an amount of time and see how many kettlebell swings you can perform.
- For example:
- As many repetitions as you can perform in 20 minutes
- As many reps as you can perform in one hour.
- Pick how many swings you would like to complete as quickly as possible.
- I.e., 200 kettlebell swings as quickly as you can.
Kettlebell swing variations
Single-arm kettlebell swings
For this variation, you will need to use a lighter weight.
This is an excellent kettlebell swing variation that will challenge your core, grip, and shoulder stabilizing muscles.
Step-by-step instructions courtesy of Classpass.com
Step 1: Stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back and slightly bend your knees. Grab the kettlebell handle with your right hand and extend your left arm out from your side.
Step 2: Start by swinging your right hand backward between your legs. Make sure the handle of the kettlebell remains slightly higher than your knees.
Step 3: Snap your hips forward by forcefully squeezing your glutes and lifting your chest. The kettlebell should swing forward on its own. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat with the other arm.
Alternating Kettlebell Swing
This kettlebell swing variation challenges your core and coordination.
Step-by-step instructions courtesy of Onnit.com
Step 1: Place a kettlebell in front of you about a foot distance away.
Step 2: Maintaining a long spine and wide, proud chest, hinge, and grab and pull the kettlebell back to create momentum with one hand.
Step 3: Once you reach the peak behind you, snap your hips forward, launching the kettlebell forward.
Step 4: Right before you reach the peak of the kettlebell in front of you (about chest height), quickly change hands and finish the movement.
Step 5: As you downswing, maintain that long spine to avoid rounding.
Step 6: Snap your hips forward, launching the kettlebell in front of you, repeating the motion switching back to the first hand.
Double Kettlebell Swing
This kettlebell swing variation is more difficult, as you will use two kettlebells. It also requires a wider stance than the traditional kettlebell swing.
Step-by-step instructions courtesy of Breakingmuscle.com
Step 1: Begin in an athletic hip-hinged position with one hand on each kettlebell. Look forward about 6 to 10 feet in front of you or at the horizon line.
Step 2: Hike the kettlebells back between your legs using your lats. Then stand up explosively by squeezing your butt cheeks together hard to pull your hips forward.
Step 3: Stand strong at the top of the swing by grinding your feet through the ground, bracing your abs as if preparing to get punched in the gut, and pressing your shoulders down away from your ears to keep your body integrated as a complete unit.
Step 4: After a brief floating pause at the top, allow the kettlebells to begin to descend, then push your butt back to guide the kettlebells between your legs again, and repeat.
Step 5: Stay in control of the action at all times. Put the kettlebells in their place rather than allowing the kettlebells to pull you into a position, especially on the way down.
No kettlebell? No worries. You can perform kettlebell swings with dumbbells.
Step-by-step instructions courtesy of ironbullstrength.com
Step 1: Standing tall, place a dumbbell directly beneath you and in the center of your body. Choose a light dumbbell at first since you’ll be performing a few warm-up sets. After you’ve completed your warm-up sets, choose an appropriately heavier weight.
Step 2: Place your feet just outside of shoulder width. Straighten your back before bending at the knees to lower your hips towards the ground.
Step 3: Secure a firm grip on the dumbbell (or kettlebell, sandbag, etc.) with the left hand. Bring your chest up. Bring your shoulder blades back and down. Make sure your upper traps (shoulders) aren’t elevated.
Step 4: Contract the core and lean forward slightly. Maintain that grip on the dumbbell and allow the dumbbell to move back towards your glutes before swinging it between your legs and above your head, keeping the arm straight as you do this.
Step 5: Control the dumbbell as it comes back down towards the ground and in between your legs. Maintain a straight back throughout. Repeat the swinging motion back and forth for the prescribed repetitions. Repeat on the other side.
Doing kettlebell swings is a serious way to pack on muscle, increase your strength, and improve your muscular and cardiovascular endurance while burning a ton of calories. They are an excellent way to get your workout on and kick some ass in the least amount of time possible and without having to leave the comfort of your home.
If you have become a believer and decided to live and die by the kettlebell swing, but don’t have one yet, consider buying one from Cap Barbells. These kettlebells are made of solid, high-quality cast iron, with a wide handle, and in a wide range of sizes.
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