How to Do a Kettlebell Swing Without Hurting Yourself

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The kettlebell swing exercise is a versatile strength and conditioning move with tons of benefits — if you do it correctly.

The kettlebell swing is a functional exercise that can help build all-over strength, as long as you do it with good form.
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Although it's widely used and praised for strengthening your core, back and legs, the kettlebell swing is an advanced exercise that's easy to mess up. You need to have a good grasp of proper kettlebell swing form to safely perform the movement and stay injury-free.

Here, you'll learn how to do this compound movement properly to fire up your whole body the safe way.

How to Do a Kettlebell Swing

Before you start swinging, you'll want to fully master kettlebell swing form.

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Step 1: Start Standing

  1. Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent slightly, with a kettlebell on the ground between your feet.
  2. Grab the kettlebell handle with both hands.

Step 2: Hinge at the Hips

  1. Keeping your back flat, shoot your hips back and pull the weight between your legs and under your hips. You should feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings.

Step 3: Swing Forward From the Hips

  1. On an exhale, push your hips forward and straighten your legs, swinging the bell up to chest height with control.
  2. Using the bell's momentum, swing the weight back between your legs and under your hips as you simultaneously sink into your hips and bend your knees.
  3. Push your hips forward again to go right back into the next swing.

Tip

Your power should come from your legs and hips, not your shoulders, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

How Much Weight Do You Need?

A big part of safely mastering the kettlebell swing is choosing a weight that's comfortable and safe for you, especially if you're new to kettlebell workouts. Start with a lighter weight, but something that's still heavy enough that you can't easily pick it up with one hand, says Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights and founder of holistic wellness program The Beta Way.

"The bell should feel slightly challenging to raise from waist to shoulder height using just your arms," Howell says. "I like to start newbies with a maximum of a 26-pound kettlebell or 35 pounds if they have strength trained in the past."

You should be able to perform a set of 8 to 10 kettlebell swings with this weight pretty comfortably.

How Many Kettlebell Swings Should You Do?

Once you've found the appropriate weight for your fitness level, get comfortable performing 8 to 10 consecutive swings. Continue building up slowly, and when you can finish 20 to 30 reps in a set, you can start to tailor the exercise to your goals, Howell says.

For example, if your goal is to gain strength, stick to 8 reps per set with a heavier kettlebell, according to the ACE. Or, if you want to focus on cardio, use a lower weight and go for time instead of reps. Swing for 30 seconds, followed by a 30-second rest, and increase your work intervals as your endurance grows.

Why Kettlebell Swings Are So Effective

Kettlebell swings can build all-over muscle and even help improve your grip strength, Howell says.

While this move is a total-body burner, it's especially excellent for developing your core. After an eight-week kettlebell swing training period, researchers saw up to a 70 percent increase in athletes' core strength in a small April 2013 study from the ACE.

Kettlebell swings will also fire up your legs. Visually, it may seem like your upper body does all the work, but the power in your swing comes from your hips, glutes and hamstrings, according to the ACE.

Still, your lats, forearms and triceps will get a piece of the action, as they help extend your shoulders at the top of the exercise.

And if all those strength gains weren't enough, this move will also give you a hit of cardio, too. After the training period in the April 2013 ACE research, athletes saw an average of a 13.8 percent increase in their aerobic capacity.

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Kettlebell Swing Form Mistakes to Avoid

But you may miss out on all those benefits — and even risk hurting yourself — if you let your form falter, according to the ACE.

Because this dynamic exercise works multiple muscle groups at once, getting a little fatigued is inevitable, making it harder to maintain good form, which is one of the reasons kettlebell swings aren't the best fit for beginners. Always stop before your form starts to slip, and avoid these common mistakes as you swing.

Not bracing your core. Make sure your abs are engaged throughout the exercise, Howell says. This is even more important as you progress to heavier weight; you need to keep your trunk tight to protect your lower back.

Squatting instead of hinging. Squatting down before you swing makes it harder to engage your hips in the exercise, making you more likely to rely on your upper body to lift the bell, according to the ACE. Practice hinging and driving through the hips before you add the swing. Imagine you're trying to touch a wall behind you with your glutes.

Cheating on your last rep. "I see a number of athletes with gorgeous swings during a workout and on the last rep they simply bend over, rounding their back to rest the bell down," Howell says. You may feel tired toward the end of a set, but avoid rounding your back both while you swing and when you pick up the bell or place it down to prevent lower back pain and potential injury, he says.

Warning

If you feel any pain in your lower back during a kettlebell swing, stop right away. This is a telltale sign your form is lacking and/or your weight is too heavy.

Take a Step Back With Kettlebell Swing Modifications

If the exercise feels clunky or awkward, brush up on your hip hinge mechanics first. Learning how to hinge properly is the biggest piece to grasping the full kettlebell swing, according to the ACE.

Hip Hinge

  1. Start standing a foot away from a wall, facing away from it, with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  2. Move your hips back toward the wall, leaning your torso toward the floor with your back flat.
  3. Once your torso is parallel to the ground, drive your hips forward and reverse the motion to return to standing.

Tip

Throughout the hinge, keep your back flat and neck long. Lock your shoulders down and back.

Kettlebell Hip Hinge

Once you feel comfortable doing a hip hinge with no weight, practice the exercise while holding a kettlebell.

  1. Start standing a foot away from a wall, facing away from it, with your feet at shoulder-width distance, knees slightly bent.
  2. Hold a kettlebell in front of you, arms long.
  3. Move your hips back toward the wall, leaning your torso toward the floor with your back flat.
  4. As your torso comes forward, lower the weight toward the ground, keeping it close to your body.
  5. Once your torso is parallel to the ground, drive your hips forward and reverse the motion to return to standing.

Up the Ante With Kettlebell Swing Progressions

Once a full kettlebell swing feels good, you can add more challenging variations to your workout.

Single-Arm Swing

  1. Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  2. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand with your palm down and your left arm straight out to your side.
  3. With a flat back, shoot your hips back and hinge your torso forward as you swing the bell between your legs.
  4. Drive your hips forward to change the momentum of the weight and straighten your legs to swing the kettlebell to chest height.
  5. Pull the weight back down and between your legs as you bend your knees to prepare for the next rep.

Tip

Remember that the motion of the weight should come from your lower body, not your arms, even in the single-arm swing.

Double Kettlebell Swing

  1. Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, with two kettlebells about a foot in front of you.
  2. Hinge forward with a flat back and a slight bend in your knees to grab a kettlebell in each hand, palms facing down.
  3. Swing the bells between your legs.
  4. Drive your hips forward to change the momentum of the weights and straighten your legs to swing the kettlebells to chest height.
  5. Pull the weights back down and between your legs as you bend your knees to prepare for the next rep.

Tip

Double kettlebell exercises can help you break through training plateaus and burn more calories, according to the ACE, but these movements are advanced. Start out with lighter weights and progress gradually, always prioritizing good form.

Incorporate Kettlebell Swings Into Your Workout

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