The Kettlebell Swing – A love hate relationship
by Neil Perkins
Kettlebell training is an emotive subject with fitness professionals. It has the Marmite effect of ‘you either love it or hate it’. I am very much bipolar when it comes to my relationship with the kettlebell. In my hands or under my tutelage on a one-to-one basis, I love this training tool. The issue arrives when other people utilise it and don’t understand it design and implementation into a training regime.
In the correct hands Kettlebells are a fantastic tool that for correcting postural issues, engaging the posterior chain and providing a full body power endurance workout. In the wrong hand they are likely to make the highlight reels and When Exercise Goes Bad and CrossFit Fails. They will also bolster the profitability of the local chiropractors.
I’ve recently scheduled a training workshop with my own training team and one of my things to rectify in 2018 is ‘bad swinging’. The kettlebell swing is the primary move that Personal Trainers, S&C coaches and Bootcamp instructors chose to use (you’ll understand that PT’s, S&C and BC’s coaches are not the same!) This movement should see your hips hinge forward (from the hips not the knees bending) as your posterior chain activates to drive the kettlebell up. The kettlebell should hang at your crotch and an uncomfortable closeness to your genitalia and when descending the momentum of the bell should drive under your crotch and bounce of your backside – the kettlebell ‘tapping your ass’ should be your cue to engage your glutes to thrust the hips forward in an almost sexual motion. I have heard all sorts of teaching points for teaching kettlebell swings that include
‘tapping that ass’
‘Squeeze a walnut between your ass checks’
‘Thrust the hips forward’
‘Like your trying to bang your last inch in’
Even with such graphic and sexual descriptions, people still don’t get it. Either the population have not experienced the same ‘horizontal activities’ that I have? Or they are very poor at it?
NLP teaches you the art of coaching and communication with visual, audio and kinaesthetic learners and how to cater for them, but with the kettlebell swing for some reason you get the fourth type pf learner – the learner that doesn’t want to learn.
The kettlebell swing is the primary exercise for engaging the glutes and the posterior chain. When it comes to group exercise it can be added and implemented into fitness classes such as bootcamps and providing it is performed correctly it is a safe exercise and requires far less technical input and equipment than say the deadlift or even the squat (90% of gym goers think they are firing their glutes when they squat and deadlift, but in reality they’re not)
Most people in sedentary jobs really could benefit with engaging some posterior chain and getting their glutes firing a little more. For the everyman stronger glutes will improve your posture, reduce risk of injury and help you perform day to day tasks like walking upstairs, standing, walking and sitting. For the sports people, your gluets are you power base – you will not become strong and powerful with week glutes.
The kettlebell is used a pre-cursor to Olympic weightlifting and I think this is where part of the problem with the end user comes from. I have always trained, not worked out. Training is for the definition of an end goal, people who ‘work out’ will ‘work out’ to sweat. I used to integrate Olympic weightlifting into my training regime – why? Olympic lifts are great for developing explosive power, as a boxer this transfers well. Lifts are also incredibly mentally taxing – you must think about technique, movement and patterns of muscle firing. For those of you who have ever learnt to box, you will see the frustration of learning the mechanics of punching correctly – this is how you enhance power. You don’t learn to throw the perfect right hand with effort and muscle alone – you need to learn the mechanics that go into the movement – then you develop power. Olympic lifts and boxing are very similar and the mechanics of co-ordinating your whole body to throw a punch is the same as learning to co-ordinate your whole body to move a weight. The kettlebell swing is a pre-cursor to Olympic lifts and to perform correctly, safely and beneficially you must think about your positioning and movement, you can’t do it on effort alone – we’ll you can, but you’ll spend a fortune at the chiropractors.
The ‘Form Nazi’s’ will argue this, but you can perform a shoulder press, press up or box jump with bad form and not risk injury. If you perform a kettlebell swing badly, you will inevitably see some tightness in the back at best – you’ll slip a disk at worst (the form Nazi’s will agree). You need to engage your mind and think about your form every time you swing a kettlebell. You need to think about hinging form the hips, driving your heels into the floor, and thrusting your hips forward. You also need to think about your start and end position. In group exercise situation when I have a group to take care of I have been guilty of this, but if your back hurts you shouldn’t lower the weight – you should stop and learn to swing correctly and think about you teaching points.
I could reel of a list of examples of bad kettlebell form, I’d like to say that I have never seen it in my own classes or my own gym but that would not be the truth. We are in the top 10% with our effectiveness and safety for using this tool, one of my latest targets is to make our delivery of this exercise a 100% effectiveness record and get people using the ultimate training tool to its maximum potential.
Think about your swings and get swinging.