5 Reasons You Should Be Swinging + Variations
When most people think of a kettlebell and what to do with it, the first thing that comes to mind is the swing. For most kettlebell enthusiasts it has become second nature, but to those who have never picked up a kettlebell it definitely looks awkward. Swinging a weight between one’s legs is typically frowned upon in a gym setting.
If you are doing them, great! Here are a few tips on how to get more from swings and if you are not swinging, why you should get started.
First of all why should we do them? The swing is a powerful movement that is (fairly) easy to learn with incredible benefits for all levels of athletes. Let us break them down:
Builds a powerful backside
Anytime you are in a hinge position (think hips back with straight, but not locked out legs) you are going to be working your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, back). Combine some power behind it and not only are you building elasticity of the musculature, you are also building strength through some of your key drivers. Increase the strength, flexibility and overall response of your hamstrings and glutes and you will see a a dramatic increase in your power output.
Builds a powerful full body connection
Why is this important? Look at some of the best fighters in the world. Size does not always matter. Many times it is the athlete who can orchestrate movements with precise timing, rotation and control that can have devastating knock out power. What implications does this have? The average Jane or Joe (most of us) can develop similar full body power through the use of certain compound movements explosively. Olympic lifts are great, but have a high technical barrier. Movements like the swing help you understand the connection from the start of the movement at your feet to the end of the weight at the top o the swing along with everything in between.
Builds Explosive Power
While this goes along with building a strong back side (stronger glutes = more explosion) the swing targets explosive strength due to a couple reasons. You have to generate incredible force to swing the bell without using your arms, thus focusing on hip speed. The ability to decelerate a weight that is much heavier due to speed, redirect that load and fling it back has a direct carry over to just about all explosive aspects of sports from fast rotation (Swinging, punching, throwing) to explosive sagittal movements (jumping).
Builds Grip Strength
Pick up a fairly heavy kettlebell and immediately every muscle, tendon and ligament in your hand, wrist and forearm fire. Now start swinging it. You cannot hold a bell with a viselike grip since you will tear just about every ounce of skin on your palm so you will have to hold it just tight enough to keep from letting go and just light enough to not break the handle in half. This bit of movement within your hand will challenge your grip even more. Adding one arm swings, alternating swings and flips and you will have everything you need for crushing grip strength. A strong grip is an incredibly underestimated attribute. From the mundane of opening a tightly packed jar to the dramatic holding on for dear life, be it a cliff, opponent, etc. Grip strength is incredibly important. Do not neglect it.
Builds Work Capacity
Work capacity allows you to go longer, burn more calories and build overall athleticism. I am not a hater of typical conditioning methods, even of the machine variety. If it gets you going and you enjoy it, who am I to judge? I will say there are better options than others, but ultimately the thing you do consistently is what is going to benefit you. With that said, I am also about efficiency. I do not typically have long bouts of uninterrupted time which is why swings are so powerful. Combine swings with a pushing or stability movement for rounds and you have got a powerful conditioning circuit with little equipment that can be done just about anywhere.
Alright so that is why we are swinging. Now let us get down to the mechanics.
Mechanics of the swing
Being mindful of your breath during a set will help you stay focused on the output of each movement as well as when and where to keep tension high. Breathing into your belly and diaphragm versus chest breathing will activate your parasympathetic system keeping stress lower and you calmer. If you start taking fast, shallow breaths into your chest the set will not last long.
From there let us discuss posture. Focusing on your connection to the ground will help you stay grounded (pun intended) and thus more structurally sound. The external load is going to want to move you all over the place. In order to not get taken for a ride you will want to use tension at the right time in order to counterbalance the weight as it moves forward and back. As you hinge and launch you want to make sure you have inhaled at the right time and maintained tension in order to keep your body safe.
For your challenge we are going to start with dead start swings. I use these as a progression for multiple swings since all the focus is on one, perfect rep. I also use these as an intensifier because you have to generate momentum each and every rep. The execution of the swing is powered by the orchestration of all the pieces moving together. Let us start:
- From the second you position the bell in front of you, ground your feet, stand tall, pull your shoulders back and take a few belly breaths.
- Hinge down and once you have reached that end point squat down to reach for the bell without compromising mid and upper back position
- Grab on to the bell take another breath in, build tension, and powerfully hike the bell back
- Once you have reached that end point behind you with your arms married to your upper body tense your glutes and drive your hips forward explosively
- With that power generated the weight will have moved up explosively while you finish that position in a tall stance with a strong posterior pelvic tilt (imagine rotating your pelvis up to your sternum)
- At the top of the end position tighten up your lats, pull the weight back down connect your arms to the body and hike back again
- At the end of the bottom position bend your knees slightly again to bring the bell forward to the starting position
Hinge VS Squat
The hinge (hips back, fairly straight legs) will get more of a stretch reflex in your hamstrings while helping activate more of your entire backside. This creates a more fluid arc as you bring the bell back and forward. This will be easier on the knees.
Performing a slight squat with the swing will activate more anterior (Front line) particularly in the quads. You do not want to be too exaggerated, but as you get into heavier bells it will make it slightly easier to handle and adds a simple variable to get more from the movement.
Once you have mastered the swing in its bilateral form now we are ready to play with some variables. By adding in a flow component to one movement rather than multiple helps compartmentalize what you are doing making it easier to wrap your mind around it.
Flowing allows for a free form component that builds connection, creativity and conditioning. The full body connection as you blend tension and fluidity through multiple angles and positions will build a level of awareness and resilience that will keep you safe. The creativity to come up with workouts and flows that will be useful while keeping you and your clients engaged. As you flow through a handful of positions for an extended period of time you will be building incredible conditioning as well.
Your next challenge is gonna get your creative juices flowing. You are going to set the timer for 60 seconds and with a bell that is closest to 1/4 your bodyweight you will be flowing with the swing. Here are the rules:
- You will not perform the same movement twice in a row. You can come back to it, BUT the goal here is to keep yourself thinking of what is coming next
- The variables will be where you swing (in between legs, outside of legs) and foot position (staggered stance, rotation, etc)
- While I want you to challenge yourself I want you to work within your abilities and what you feel comfortable with. If you are new to swinging then challenge yourself with alternating hands and utilizing a staggered stance. If you are an expert then get a little more creative. Here is an example: https://www.instagram.com/p/BmgDf1AHx1M/
- Do not push past failure or through pain. It should be challenging, but not wreck you.
To recap here is your challenge:
Minute 1: Deadstart swings to show that you can control each and every rep with high tension and high output. Use a bell closest to 1/3 your bodyweight
REST 1 minute
Minute 2: Swing Flow with a weight that is closest to 1/4 your bodyweight
As a workout (which I use regularly) give this a go:
- 60 seconds Deadstart swing
- 60 seconds rest
- 60 seconds Crawling/Pushups/Suspension pushups
- 60 seconds rest
- 60 seconds Swing Flow
- 60 seconds Banded Squat Press
Repeat for 4-5 rounds.
Give the challenge a go and let us see it! I want as perfect execution as possible!
Until next time
Master Coach for Kettlebell Kings
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