by Dave Thomas
The kettlebell swing is among the most dynamic tools we have in fitness. When performed correctly, it is responsible for the following list of accomplishments.
- High reps for fat loss
- Transfer of force
- Deadlift lockouts
- Pull-up plateaus
- Fighting grip fatigue
- Postural correction
- Lumbar strengthening
- A gorgeous ass
- Combats selfies
Performed incorrectly and you’re likely slashing that list or erasing it completely. The easiest way to assess whether or not a swing is performed correctly is to examine start and end range of motion.
Today we will examine the end range and take a look at four positions you want to avoid.
It seems as if it’s a counter measure to those who are trying to avoid the “the high pull” type of swing where you’ll see folks sorta two-hand snatch the kettlebell to it’s end position, and in turn over using the traps in a movement that shouldn’t involve them. While true that position should be avoided, flipping bell upwards at the conclusion of the swing is not the answer to an over utilization of traps.
If the bell is being flipped upward, not only is the natural cadence and smooth nature of the movement being interrupted, but the very important lats are being turned off and the swing turns passive. When swings turn passive, progress is lost and puppies cry. The bell should simply arrive at roughly shoulder height with the bottom pointed towards the wall in front of you. Not up, not down. Straight on.
It’s okay if the bell is positioned slightly above the horns, but anything more…would be uncivilized.
Elbows should be extended at end range but scapulae should be retracted, not protracted. Often times, people think that by extending your elbows properly it means your shoulders must roll forward along with it, but that’s not at all the case. At end range, double check that your elbows are just about at full extension and your shoulder blades are retracted. If you feel as if the bell would fly forward at the top of your swing were it to be released, you are likely incorrectly protracting and forward rolling like the image above.
If the bell was released at the top, it should float straight upward and fall down in a series of flips like a diver entering a pool, not a broad jumper.
While the image above likely looks common to most and invokes a, “What the shit is wrong with that swing?” thought, the reality is there is a lot to be desired with a swing that ties the elbows to the ribs.
This is the position where the elbows are in an exaggerated position of flexion, presumably to avoid the being “Jack Reacher”. The athlete is focused so hard scapular retraction that the elbows play along with that and bend to a degree that prevents full range of motion and any involvement in the lats whatsoever.
The lats are a critical part of the swing and so often overlooked in favor of “crack the walnut” glute-based advice. By all means develop a powerful, visually pleasing ass. Just don’t forget to tend to your lats in the process.
“Leeean back! Leean back!”
Maybe in college frat houses, but not in the kettlebell swing.
This is the position that is most common at the top of the swing. It typically occurs when the knees do not reach full extension, and that position of partial flexion causes the hips to overcompensate and become hyper-extended.
In short, your knees aren’t doing shit so you’re hips do too much.
When you take each rep into hyper-extension you create highly unnecessary soreness on the lumbar region.
You should not extend past that line. Regular, full hip and knee extension will lead to a smooth, flowing swing with proper muscle targeting.
Do you notice yourself in any of those images? If so, you’re not alone. The kettlebell swing is a beautiful yet challenging motion that takes most a very long time to master. Try and improve a little bit each day and one day you will become a Jedi of one of the finest tools in fitness.
Dave Thomas is an owner and coach at Performance360.