Over the past decade, kettlebell swings have grown in popularity as a quick full-body workout.
Originating in Russia, kettlebells (called girya in Russian) are associated with great power and strength. They were originally used to measure against the weight of various goods but were eventually used in strength competitions (
Nowadays, they’re popular in workout programs such as CrossFit and in athletic training programs. Because they’re convenient and relatively simple to use, they’re also commonly included in high intensity exercise plans for the average person.
This article tells you the benefits of kettlebell swings, the muscles they work, how to perform them properly, and common mistakes to avoid.
There are many benefits to kettlebell swings, including (
- Better cardiorespiratory fitness. Kettlebell swings involve your whole body, which requires your heart to beat faster to pump blood throughout your body.
- Stronger posterior chain. Unlike many exercises that focus on the front of your body, kettlebell swings target your upper and lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, known collectively as the posterior chain.
- Greater explosiveness and power. Kettlebell swings require high force development and activation of muscles of the posterior chain, which can improve your overall fitness, performance, and power.
- Full-body workout. Kettlebell swings use your upper body, core, and lower body for an excellent full-body workout.
- Powerful calorie burn. Kettlebell workouts are high intensity and can burn a lot of calories in a short time. And you may burn more calories after the workout due to post-exercise oxygen consumption, which is a temporary increase in metabolism to support recovery.
- Quick and convenient exercise. Most kettlebell workouts can be completed in as little as 10–15 minutes and require only a kettlebell to get started.
- Low impact exercise. Kettlebells keep your feet planted on the ground, which reduces force and pressure on your knees. For some people, this may be a better option for getting the heart pumping than higher impact exercises such as jump training.
Kettlebell swings are a high intensity, low impact exercise that helps improve your cardio fitness, strength, and explosive power.
Kettlebell swings are considered a full-body workout because they target muscles of the upper and lower body as well as the core.
In particular, kettlebell swings target muscles of the posterior chain (
- erector spinae
- trapezius (traps)
You may also notice some activation of your abdominals, quadriceps, anterior deltoids, pectorals, and forearm muscles — which are considered part of the anterior chain (front of the body). In addition, kettlebell swings can help improve your grip strength (
While kettlebell swings are a full-body workout, they mostly target the muscles along the posterior chain (back of the body). The main muscles used are the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and muscles of the upper back.
To get the most out of your workout and reduce your risk of injury, it’s important to learn how to properly swing a kettlebell. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding a kettlebell with both hands (palms facing toward you) and arms straight down.
- Inhale and push your hips back (hinge your hips) and slightly bend your knees to bring the kettlebell between your legs. Be sure to keep your back straight and engage your core.
- Exhale, contract your glutes, and push your hips forward to lift your body into a standing position. Allow your arms to swing the kettlebell as far as it will naturally go. Shoulder height or parallel to the ground is your goal, although you do not want to use arm strength to raise the kettlebell. It may take a few swings to find your rhythm and maximize the lift.
- Inhale and lower the kettlebell between your legs by pushing your hips back and slightly bending your knees. This is 1 rep.
- Perform 2–3 sets of 10–20 reps, or continue for your preferred amount of time (e.g., as many as you can do in 5 minutes).
It’s important to focus on proper form throughout this movement to prevent lower back injury. Most of the force should come from your legs and glutes, not your shoulders and arms.
Focusing on the hip-hinge movement during the lowering phase will allow you to safely build power and momentum.
Do not abruptly stop the exercise, which may lead to injury. Instead, slowly reduce the speed and power of your swings until you can safely stop.
When performing a kettlebell swing, focus on hinging your hips during the lowering phase, which will help build up power to perform the move safely and effectively.
While kettlebell swings can be an effective and safe exercise, these common mistakes can slow your results and potentially lead to injury (
- Lifting with your arms. The power and momentum from your lower body should drive the kettlebell up. Your arms should simply guide the kettlebell, not do the heavy lifting.
- Rounding your back. Avoid rounding your back and shoulders during the lowering phase, which can put excess strain on your lower back. This requires keeping your upper back and shoulder muscles strong to resist the pull of gravity.
- Squatting. The kettlebell swing relies on a hip-hinge movement to swing the kettlebell up and in front of your body. Squatting puts more attention on your quadriceps and produces less power.
- Bending your knees too much. This can result in a squatting movement, which will not produce as much power and momentum.
- Not engaging your core. To prevent lower back injury and support the movement, keep your core engaged throughout the exercise.
- Swinging too fast. Kettlebell swings should be done with intention and proper form. Moving too quickly will place more focus on your upper body because you’re not giving your lower body enough time to generate force. This can also lead to injury.
- Using the wrong weight. The kettlebell should be heavy enough to provide a challenge but not so heavy that you struggle to lift it and compromise your form. It’s best to gradually increase the weight once you perfect your form.
- Forgetting to breathe. Focus on inhaling as you hinge and exhaling as you push.
As you learn to swing a kettlebell, remember to keep these common mistakes at top of mind.
Learning to properly swing a kettlebell takes practice, which is why it’s important to prioritize your form before progressing to a heavier weight.
Choosing the right kettlebell weight will depend on your strength and experience.
If you’re a beginner, it’s best to choose a lighter kettlebell. This will allow you to practice the swing movement with proper form.
While there are many weights available, most beginners will likely want to start with a kettlebell weighing 10–18 pounds (4.5–8.0 kg). You may also be able to purchase lighter weight kettlebells (e.g., 5 pounds or 2.25 kg), if needed.
As you perfect your form and get stronger, you may wish to increase your kettlebell weight. Depending on your experience level and strength, you might choose a heavier kettlebell weighing anywhere from 18–70 pounds (8–32 kg).
The right kettlebell weight will depend on your current strength and experience. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start with a light weight and increase the weight only once you’ve perfected your form.
Kettlebell swings have a plethora of benefits, such as improved cardiovascular fitness, strength, and power.
They’re also a high intensity yet low impact workout that can burn a ton of calories in a short period of time, making them convenient for anyone with a busy schedule.
If you plan on adding kettlebell swings to your workout routine, be sure to practice proper form to reap the most benefits.
Whether you’re bored with your current workouts or are looking for a boost in power, you’ll want to give kettlebell swings a try.