You can get fit doing just ONE exercise.
Proper kettlebell swings (KBS) burn fat, build muscle, improve endurance, count as cardio, correct body imbalances, and reverse pain.
More versatile than squats, deadlifts, or even sprints (all my personal favorites), the kettlebell swing is the rightful king of exercises.
Kettlebell Swings: The Perfect Exercise
The kettlebell swing is a full-body exercise that uses posterior chain muscles to powerfully thrust a kettlebell. Contrary to popular belief, the kettlebell swing is a hip hinge movement and not a squat. Originating from Russia, an American style swing with greater range of motion also emerged.
KBS can standalone as a workout, part of a high-intensity circuit, warmup, or cooldown.
Kettlebell swings are one of three exercises recommended by legendary coach Dan John:
Exercise for fat loss — Swings, goblet squats and Turkish get-ups.
Elderly clients — Swings, goblet squats and Turkish get-ups.
Travel related issues for elite athletes and collision occupations —Swings, goblet squats and Turkish get-ups.Dan John
Pressed for time?
Use kettlebell training.
The “minimum effective dose” of swings is between 75-250 reps per day. I can finish 75 in 88 seconds.
In less time than I spend brushing my teeth, I complete an entire day’s workout. Sometimes I’ll hack my kettlebell session for greater benefit with a technique called blood flow restriction training (which I recently wrote about).
Here’s what performing 75-250 kettlebell swings per day does to your brain and body:
The KBS is a functional exercise that translates into real, usable power. It corrects body imbalances; builds strength, endurance, stability, and mobility; and is user friendly.
I’ll elaborate on the benefits of the kettlebell swing:
1. Mental Resilience
Committing to a daily exercise program builds mental toughness. Even more so when you follow through. Kettlebell swings take grit. The last few reps test willpower. But it’s worth the struggle.
Building personal resilience carries over to life outside training.
2. Full-Body Workout
The kettlebell swing engages large muscle groups and small stabilizers. Don’t let the lower-body swinging movement fool you. Swings strengthen the upper body too.
Kettlebell swings strengthen the entire posterior chain (core, lower back, glutes, hamstring), mid-back, upper-back, forearms, lats, and shoulders. This one exercise hits just about everything.
3. Efficient & Convenient
Running, biking, and cardio workouts take hours. Kettlebell swings, not so much. Most people can get a good workout in 1-10 minutes. KBS don’t require lots of gear nor space to perform.
An adjustable kettlebell, or a few standard kettlebells are enough.
4. Improves Cardiovascular System
I don’t love running. I prefer to burn calories and get my heart-strengthening cardio in any other form.
Kettlebell training, and KBS especially, are great alternate cardio exercises. More reps equals a greater cardio effect. 2010 research found kettlebell training improves cardiovascular health.
A more recent 2014 study found that longer kettlebell training provides the same aerobic benefits as treadmill walking.
Even better that I can build strength at the same time.
5. Builds Strength
Kettlebells forge wiry and explosive strength. Especially at the lower rep ranges, KBS activate all kinds of lower-body muscles in the posterior chain affectionately known as the “power zone”.
A group of healthy men improved maximum strength by 9.8 percent and explosive strength by 19.8 from a training program focused on kettlebell swings.
Great for athletes or anyone looking to build strength, explosiveness, or power.
6. Easy to Use
Initially, kettlebells are daunting.
How to hold a cannonball with an awkward handle?
Once you overcome this initial hurdle, you can start going up in weight. Kettlebell swings are simple and intuitive. You don’t need extensive training nor expert credentials to perform them.
Unlike traditional barbell and dumbbell training, kettlebells don’t subject the body to moments of extreme pressure and load.
Kettlebell swings are one of the few exercises that jack up my heart rate like running without straining my joints.
8. Builds Endurance
Related to strengthening the cardiovascular system, kettlebell swings build muscular endurance.
240 reps of swings aren’t easy. Russian strongmen have used them as an endurance enhancer since the 1700s. Last through three minutes of swings and you’ll feel the hallmark burn of muscular endurance.
9. Greater Stability & Balance
Awkward shape and density make kettlebells a top choice for strengthening your core.
Plus, kettlebell swings require balance to prevent the swinging motion from pulling you off your feet. Greater core strength improves balance and ability to coordinate muscles.
Training stability and balance leads to greater strength and new personal records on other lifts.
10. Burns Calories
A core weight loss tenant is to burn more calories than consumed. KBS is a great choice, burning around 1,200 calories per hour.
Swinging kettlebells for an hour isn’t easy though. The metabolic benefits make it more effective than the equivalent running or walking.
11. Strengthens Lungs
Regular kettlebell swings make your lungs healthier and more efficient. KBS require large amounts of energy and tax the lungs.
This form of training forces the lungs to become more efficient at absorbing and processing oxygen.
Don’t have a heavy enough weight?
Try a basic kettlebell swing variation.
KBS alternatives for lighter weight: one-armed swings, switchover swings, American swings, kettlebell partner tosses.
13. Improves Flexibility & Mobility
Usually seen as an endurance or strength-building exercise, few consider the mobility benefits of the KBS.
I sit (and stand) behind a computer, hunched over my keyboard for good portions of the day. This shortens my hip flexors. And hip flexors rarely lengthen in typical workout routines, leading to body imbalances.
With each swing you alternate between activating your glutes and elongating hip flexors. Balancing your hip flexors. Making kettlebell swings an ultimate solution for combating the perils of sitting all day.
14. Reduces Back Pain
Just make sure to use good form.
15. Corrects Imbalances
Fitness buffs focus on the so-called front body “mirror muscles”, and neglect the rear.
Proper kettlebell swings even out your rear by activating the entire posterior chain.
Balancing the front and rear helps you perform at your peak and decompresses your lungs.
Steps to Perform a Perfect Kettlebell Swing
To do a proper kettlebell swing, first you must decide whether to use American or Russian style. Russians don’t raise the kettlebell as high, a better choice for learning. Here’s how:
- Stand with feet apart, slightly wider than shoulder-width
- Look straight ahead
- Keep your shoulders retracted and back straight
- Start with your kettlebell between your legs
- Squeeze your glutes and shoot your hips forward and extend your legs to raise the kettlebell. Your hands are just there as guides but don’t do any of the lifting.
- The kettlebell should rise to shoulder level and float in the air for a split second as the momentum switches.
- Guide the kettlebell back down with your arms extended, bring through legs until you can absorb the force with your hips.
Kettlebell Swings: Frequently Asked Questions
What part of the body does kettlebell swings work?
Kettlebell swings work nearly the entire body. Muscles used include stabilizers, calves, quads, hamstring, glutes, core, lower back, mid-back, upper back, forearms, lats, and shoulders.
How many kettlebell swings a day?
How many swings you do per day depends on your training program. The general recommendation is between 75-250 kettlebell swings per day. If 250 becomes too easy, increase weight.
How heavy should a kettlebell swing be?
You must maintain control over the kettlebell throughout the swing. Beginners should start with 12 kg/26 lbs for women or 18 kg/40 lbs for men. Stronger women can start at 16 kg/35 lbs, or men at 22 kg/48 lbs.
Why are kettlebell swings bad?
Kettlebell swings are a top exercise, but unsafe if done improperly. American style swings put the shoulders into unnatural positions. Swinging with a rounded back can cause strains and injury.
Kettlebell Swings: An Ultimate Exercise Suitable for Any Workout Plan
Proper kettlebell swings strengthen the entire body. Few low-impact exercises transform the body as quickly and efficiently.
KBS are useful for the elderly, injured, and traveling athletes. Swinging builds:
- Corrects body imbalances
- Fixes bad posture
Now’s the time for you to take action.
Pick up a kettlebell or two. Or get an adjustable kettlebell that can progress along with your strength. Learn good form and take your first swings. Let me know how that goes.