By Robby Sparango
The point of the Russian kettlebell swing is very simple. We want to develop power and strength while also targeting our hamstrings, glutes and trunk musculature. So, every aspect of the swing needs be performed with that in mind.
Here are five tips to help get more results from your kettlebell swing.
1. Swing Like You’re Wearing Cement Shoes
The intention of this concept is to keep your entire foot planted throughout the movement, so you want to imagine that your feet are literally trapped in cement as if you’re about to take a one way trip off of Coney Island pier. This allows your glutes to maximally contract, generating all the force to shoot the kettlebell upward. It also enables a more upright shin, minimizing dorsiflexion and providing a very stable swing.
Why is that important?
When you drift upward on your toes and your heels become elevated, typically speaking it means your lumbar is in hyperextension with your knees still flexed. When you lose heel contact with the ground, you lose the hamstrings, ultimately just taxing your lower back and providing almost no work the muscles we actually want to target.
2. Draw Back Like an Archer’s Bow
This metaphor is derived from the mechanics of an archery bow. Just as projectile tension is loaded into the bow when drawn back, so are your hamstrings, glutes and hips in the kettlebell swing with the same idea to propel power forward. The movement is easy to find, simply stand with your back approximately a foot away from a wall, then “reach” back with your butt to touch the wall. You should feel tension throughout your glutes and hamstrings (this may sound similar to what Dave talks about in terms of pre-loading tension when doing deadlifts).
This is the pattern to perform each and every rep with, draw back that bow, load the tension, unleash it.
3. Crush a Walnut with Your Butt Cheeks
As far as glute developers go, the kettlebell swing has few peers and no superiors. They are the largest muscle group in the body, responsible for locking out the heaviest deadlift to holding a perfect plank to shaping your butt. During the upswing, imagine cracking a walnut between your butt cheeks. You’ll see the force this generates when your arms stop around your midsection and the kettlebell continues its ascent going beyond parallel to your hands. Glute contraction also protects the lumbar in just about every major lift or movement, so if you continuously are sore in your low back after swing day, you need to focus more on cracking the walnut.
Contract your glutes hard, they’ll slam together and the kettlebell will feel significantly lighter.
Soon after your ass will look significantly assy-er.
4. Packing Your Shoulders
This is one that we’ve heard in class for many different exercises but it’s never more important than when swinging a kettlebell. Swing from the side and you’ll notice the arch it travels. The bigger the arch, the further the bell is from the body. The smaller the arch, the closer.
Which is easier to control?
When your shoulders aren’t packed it sets off a chain reaction. The bell drifts away from you on each upswing, you rise up on the balls of your feet to reel it in, only to increase the velocity on the backswing. You rock back on your heels, lower back rounds violently and breathing soon becomes erratic and then you die of kettlebell dishonor.
Start with the kettlebell on the ground about a foot in front of you, rock the handle towards you and as you grab it (without lifting the bell yet),”pull” your shoulders back, squeeze your scapula together, then a quick hike pass and right into the swing. Pull your shoulders back throughout the entire movement, especially on the upswing, keeping the arch nice and close to your body.
A good tip is to imagine where the bell would go, if you were to let go of it on that top end. Would it fly off or hover in front of you? Your body will know the answer without actually letting go. .
5. Give Attention to Your Breathing
Dial in your breathing and you’ll swing kettlebells twice as efficient and twice as heavy. Abdominal pressure is paramount in the swing. Not lung capacity but abdominal. Lay on your back and place a light object, your phone or an anvil, on your belly and then breath so as to move it up and down. Your chest will remain still and your abs will expand. By breathing into your belly on the backswing you prevent your lower back from rounding, protecting it from injury. It also creates a “springy” action that propels you back upright making the swing easier. On the upswing let out a sharp controlled exhalation while keeping your stomach braced, then a quick inhale into the belly on the descent.
Very rarely do we perform movements with perfection, but most all of can stand to improve in at least one of these areas so focus on them next time we do swings and I guarantee you feel a difference.
Robby Sparango is a Level I coach at Performance360 and has hundreds of hours of experience swinging and learning about Russian kettlebell movements.