This is a post by our guest author Peter Luffman, Personal trainer and strength coach in Bristol.
I see a lot of people swinging kettlebells incorrectly, and dangerously! They often come to me after having used them at a gym or a “class”, and there are always the familiar signs that they have not had proper instruction.
Its very common for other personal trainers or fitness instructors to watch a youtube video and believe they now posses the information and skills to teach someone the kettlebell swing. I know that because I once thought this way when I first started out. But the truth is, no matter what the exercise, there is always going to be a learning curve. And if you haven’t practiced the exercise you will get caught out. Especially when it comes to kettlebells!!
Here are my top 5 don’ts when it comes to the kettlebell swing.
The swing is not a squat, there will be some movement at the knee but mostly it should be hip flexion. The kettlebell swing is a posterior chain exercise, focusing on the hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Keep your shins vertical and move from the hips.
Don’t use your shoulders to pull!
The kettlebell should swing through extension of the hips to the standing position at which point it should feel weight less at the top . The arms should be loose and the hands act like hooks to guide the bell. If you are pulling the bell up to chest height you are doing it wrong and totally missing the point of the exercise.
Don’t swing it higher than chest height!
Another misconception is that you are trying to swing the bell higher and higher. Crossfit anyone? This could not be further from the truth. The point of the exercise is to project energy forwards, not upwards. Swinging kettlebells above your chest or in some cases above the head is inviting injury at the shoulder and lower back. Don’t do it!
Don’t swing it lower than your knees!
If you have a weight on the end of your arms and it swings down lower than your knees, you will feel a pull and strain on your lower back. Does that seem like a good idea? Swinging a bell this way will invite lower back pain quicker than anything. Guide the bell in towards the groin and elbows towards the ribs.
Don’t swing it for more than about 30-40 seconds!
This is another one that really grinds my gears, a typical trainer will set up a circuit and of course he/she is a super duper cutting edge trainer so there is a kettlebell swing station, and then prescribe working sets to last for 1 minute and the rest period to last for 10-15 seconds! Sound familiar? I very rarely recommend doing more than about 20-25 swings. in one go and for good reason. The swing is a tiring exercise, performing it for one minute is very exhausting (unless of course you are swinging a really light bell, in which case you will never see any benefits) and form starts to go out the window. Swinging with poor form is the quickest way to get injured. If your trainer prescribes circuits like this, trust me he/she has no idea how to put a proper circuit together, my advice is to walk out of the door and look elsewhere.
The above photo shows excellent swing form. Note how straight he is when stood up, and note how deep his hinge position is, maximally engaging hamstrings and glutes. His elbows are next to his ribs and his shins are very upright. The bell has gone slightly higher than the chest but the lats are engaged to bring it back down.
This is a picture of the celeb Jillian Michaels taken from her kettlebell DVD. This is the most absurd thing ever, for a so-called expert to recommend you swing your kettlebell like this!! Its akin to a policeman telling you to rob houses or to drive past school’s at 80 mph!
Please be careful with your kettlebells and seek correct instruction if you are unsure.