The kettlebell swing should be a staple exercise in any fat loss programme.
The swing, using a kettlebell (not a dumbbell or weighted plate believe it or not), can provide a plethora of benefits for fat loss, and when utilised correctly, can save time, equipment and months of wondering whether those inches will ever come off.
Due to the quick-fire nature of gyms, exercise classes and gym enthusiasts to jump on any fitness bandwagon that will seemingly fit the elusive motto of ‘instant results’, kettlebells are now widely available in most fitness settings.
This, while not exclusively being a bad thing, has unfortunately led to the kettlebell swing, the most popular of all kettlebell exercises, being butchered into an amalgamation of dodgy squats, bad backs and unhealthy movement patterns.
Before you start swinging your way to a serious injury, let’s take a few steps back and understand why you should be performing swings, how you should be performing them and how best to incorporate one of the most awesome fat loss exercises into your programmes.
Why You Should Perform Kettlebell Swings
They’re Great for Your Back – Swings strengthen the glutes, stretch the hip flexors, develop back extensor endurance and enable you to practice stabilising the spine
They’re Great for Conditioning – Accentuating strength work with high velocity, high rep swings will add a metabolic component to your programming, allowing you to improve endurance and burn loads more calories
They’re Great for Explosiveness and Power – The swing is a great, safer alternative to Olympic lifting, which will increase strength as well as improving intensity and power
Where To Start
Important tip number one: the kettlebell swing is not a squat. This is the primary mistake people make when performing a kettlebell swing, ultimately ruining the effectiveness of the movement and increasing the risk of a serious injury.
The swing is performed on the foundation of a hip hinge – a movement from the hip joint that maintains a neutral spine, whilst shifting your bodyweight to the back of your body.
The hip hinge can serve as a precursor to the majority of movements both in and out of the gym, and can be beneficial for strength, body composition, performance and posture.
Step 1 – The Hip Hinge
Before you even pick up a kettlebell it's imperative you practice performing the hip hinge; the specific movement vital to performing a swing.
Place a dowel alongside your back so there are three points of contact – the back of the head, the upper back and the sacrum. Initiate the movement at your hips, driving them backwards, whilst maintaining soft knees and without losing any of the three points of contact with the dowel.
Be careful not to flex your spine, bend your knees too much or change the position of your head. When you feel a crazy stretch in the back of your hamstrings you know you’ve got the movement correct.
Step 2 – The Pull-Through
It’s time to start practicing utilising the hip hinge in the form of a loaded movement, specifically the pull-through; an exercise that will develop your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, while improving strength and athleticism.
With your back to a cable machine, and a rope in between your legs, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Perform the hip hinge perfected in step one, and sit your hips back until your torso is at a 45 degree angle.
Pull the rope back up, primarily with your hips, squeezing your glutes as hard as you can when finishing in the standing position.
Pull-through rep number 1 complete.
Step 3 – The Hike
It’s time to get the kettlebell involved. Again perform the hip hinge perfected in step one and grab hold of the kettlebell (almost trying to break the handle) which should be placed on the floor, twelve-eighteen inches in front of you.
Imagine pulling your shoulder blades down and into your back pockets so the kettlebell tilts slightly towards you, before snapping the kettlebell back through your knees.
Kettlebell swing started.
Step 4 – The Swing
The kettlebell now takes place of the dowel and rope utilised in previous steps, as you continue to hinge at the hips loading up those hamstrings and glutes - our primary ‘slingshots’ to propel that kettlebell forward.
Snap your hips forward so fast and hard they almost arrive in the standing position before any other body part, whilst squeezing your butt cheeks as hard as you can. Now squeeze 10% harder.
Focus on swinging as hard as you can, ensuring you can see over the kettlebell at the end of each repetition. Allow a ‘relaxed portion’ at the top of the swing- not relaxed enough for a cup of tea, but enough to then safely carry into your next rep. Swing away.
Remember to improve your swing through proper practice. Be efficient with your technique, keep it simple and have fun.
Utilising The Swing
It’s imperative you don’t start off too heavy with your kettlebell swings, but similarly not too light. Too heavy and you’ll struggle actually swinging; too light and you’ll end up lifting with your arms. Ladies grab an 8 or 12 kilogram kettlebell; men a 16 or 20 kilogram kettlebell.
There are three main methods you can employ to utilise the swing in your workouts.
Swing For Repetitions:
- 6 sets of 15-20 reps
- 8 sets of 12-16 reps
- 10 sets of 8-12 reps
Swing For Time:
- 20 secs swings/40 secs rest x 8
- 30 secs swings/30 secs rest x 8
- 20 secs swings/20 secs rest x 8
Swing For Time & Repetitions:
- 6 swings every 30 secs x 10
- 10 swings every 45 secs x 8
- 12 swings every 60 secs x 6
There’s no denying the benefits of kettlebell swings are clear to see, with one simple exercise encompassing improved strength, endurance and fat loss potential. The simplicity comes from a sound technique, however, and while performing swings are a fun way of burning tonnes of calories, it is vital you practice and perform each step perfectly.
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