The kettlebell swing is a much under-used and extremely underrated exercise. It’s the most basic of all the kettlebells exercises, and it’s imperative that you learn how to do it correctly, before attempting more complex moves like snatches and cleans. However, just because it’s basic doesn’t mean that it’s easy, unimportant, or without benefit. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of swinging.
The posterior chain is the collective term for your hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles. Many people try to target these areas individually – you’ll often see people in gyms doing leg curls for their hamstrings, butt kicks and leg lifts for their glutes, and back extensions to target the erector spinae muscles of the lower back. While there’s nothing wrong with these exercises, the posterior chain really does work better as a unit.
The kettlebell swing, and more specifically, the split second where the bell changes from descending to ascending, as you powerfully snap your hips forward, is fantastic for hitting your entire posterior chain, and is far more effective and time efficient than trying to target the muscles individually.
Increased Total Body Strength
You may not realise this, but increased posterior chain strength translates into increased total body strength. Whenever you perform a free-weight or body-weight leg exercise, you posterior chain muscles have to work to either create movement, or provide stabilization. Even many upper body lifts, such as bench presses, overhead presses and rows require your posterior chain to do some work. Think of a powerlifter performing a bench press, or Olympic lifter jerking a weight overhead – they have to get their whole bodies, including their legs, glutes and lower backs, as tight as possible. A stronger posterior chain equals a stronger you.
The kettlebell swing is an extremely quick move. You should always aim to emphasise the hip “snap” when performing it, and aim to launch the bell up on every rep. This increased speed and power can be enormously beneficial if you need to get quicker. Sprinters, wrestlers, football players and many other athletes will include kettlebell swings in their training to help improve their hip drive, and increase speed.
When you think of what muscles the kettlebell swing works, your core muscles may not immediately spring to mind, but your core is just as important as your hamstrings, glutes and back when swinging. In order to maintain a neutral spine, your abdominals have to work very hard to prevent your lower back from rounding, and keep your head and chest high.
Unlike sit ups and crunches, which emphasize spinal movement, swings train the core for what it’s designed to do – stabilization. There aren’t many exercises that will work your core harder than heavy kettlebell swings will.
Reduced Lower Back Pain
This links back to increased posterior chain strength. Often, lower back pain can be attributed to weak glute muscles, and tight hamstrings. As we’ve already discussed, swings will take care of your weak glutes, but they can also be used as an assessment tool. If you have tight hamstrings, you will find it very difficult to sit back into the correct position for a swing. Therefore, not only will swings reduce lower back pain by strengthening any weak muscles, they can also be used to identify any which are tight, and may need stretching.
Hopefully that’s enough to convince you that you need kettlebell swings in your training. Now, get swinging.