Previously in the Exercise Series, we have covered major weightlifting movements such as the deadlift and bench press. Today, we’ll be looking in detail at a lesser-known exercise known as the kettlebell swing.
This is another highly effective and beneficial exercise that requires excellent form to avoid injuries. As a gym owner, you can learn the essentials of this exercise to make sure you’re providing your clientele a safe and encouraging environment in which to do their kettlebell swings.
Major proponents of kettlebells are often amazed at how little the average exerciser knows about kettlebell workouts in general. Kettlebells appear so odd and unwieldy that it’s hard to imagine how this awkward-looking piece of equipment has developed such a cult fanbase among hardcore athletes and CrossFitters.
Just from watching someone do kettlebell swings, you might not understand how truly taxing a swing workout can be. Though it looks like a simple movement, it works your entire posterior chain, from your lats down through your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Not to mention, kettlebell swings provide an intense workout for your heart and lungs. Many athletes use swings as a high-intensity interval workout to improve overall athletic ability in a short amount of time.
Incorporating kettlebell swings into your workout routine delivers all of these benefits packed into a short workout time:• An excellent cardiovascular workout or a stellar anaerobic workout on par with the toughest of HIIT training regimens• Impressive calorie burn potential• Improved grip strength• Stronger and more explosive hamstrings and glutes• A more stable and durable core and back to prevent injuries• Muscular endurance as well as overall strength
In fact, some people love the kettlebell swing so much that it has gained a reputation as the perfect exercise.
Choosing a weight
When we discussed the more common weightlifting moves, we did not mention choosing an appropriate amount of weight to lift. Most people understand that barbells are heavy and that you must choose a weight that you can lift safely while maintaining good form.
When it comes to kettlebell swings, however, choosing the correct weight to start with is even more crucial, so it deserves a special mention here. Keep in mind, you will not be slowly raising and lowering the weight as you would in a standard lifting workout. Swings get their name because you will be literally swinging the weight around at a fairly high velocity.
When you get into the height of the movement and realize you have chosen a weight that is too heavy, it’s going to be much more difficult to slow the velocity of the kettlebell to a stopping point than it would be to simply place a too-heavy barbell back on the floor. Trying to swing a kettlebell that exceeds your capabilities is a recipe for back injuries and property damage, so it should be avoided at all costs.
For this reason, we recommend choosing a relatively light weight if you have never done kettlebell swings before. As a general rule of thumb, women can often safely start with a 12-25 pound kettlebell, and men with an 18-35 pound kettlebell. Once you master the form and have a good idea of how much you can safely swing, feel free to increase the weight as necessary to get a great workout.
Since the movement of a kettlebell swing is so dynamic and explosive, it might be easier to learn proper form from a video rather than from text only. This tutorial explains safe kettlebell swing form in an easy-to-replicate fashion.
Once you have watched the video and you are ready to try your hand at kettlebell swings, keep the following pointers in mind:• Keep your back as straight as possible throughout the entire movement. The idea is to bend at the hips, not the waist. • Avoid bending your knees too much. You should never drop lower than a quarter squat at any point. • Use your hamstrings and glutes to drive your hips explosively forward. This hip drive is what causes the kettlebell to fly upward. At no point should you be lifting the weight using your arms or shoulders. • The top of the kettlebell’s movement should be roughly shoulder level or slightly below. Some people raise the kettlebell far higher, above head level, but this is not necessary and may increase the risk of shoulder injury. • When you set up your workout space, remember that you will be swinging a very heavy weight around with some speed. Keep your workout area clear of pets, children, and any property that could get damaged from an errant swing.
The only two vital things you need for a great swing workout are a kettlebell and enough floor space to swing it around safely. Beyond that, everything else is optional.
That’s just one reason why stocking kettlebells in your gym is a great idea. They are low-cost and low-profile, they don’t require much in the way of storage space, and they need little to no maintenance.
To make sure your gym members get the optimal kettlebell experience, provide a wide range of weights in a convenient rack to keep them organized. You might be surprised at the range of kettlebells people will use. While advanced users might reach for a weight that is 50+ pounds, small women or anyone rehabilitating an injury could easily prefer a 5 to 10-pound weight. The vast majority of people will use weights somewhere between that range. However, if your gym caters to advanced lifters, athletes, or CrossFit enthusiasts, you might want to consider stocking even heavier kettlebells.
Another consideration when it comes to stocking weights is how many of each weight you want to provide. While a basic workout uses only one kettlebell, “double” kettlebell workouts require two kettlebells of the same weight. For example, a very fit person doing a double swing workout might choose two 25-pound kettlebells and swing one in each hand. You might, therefore, consider stocking an even number of kettlebells at each weight level.
That should be all of the equipment most people will need to get a great swing workout. Some people prefer to use gloves or hand chalk to increase hand comfort during grueling workouts, but overall this should not be necessary for you to provide. In fact, because gloves may increase the risk of someone accidentally letting go of a kettlebell during a high-velocity arc, and chalk may lead to skin irritation or tearing from the intense friction of a swing movement, it might actually be better for you to avoid providing these extras to your clientele.