Exercise Spotlight: Kettlebell Swing


Hardstyle Kettlebell Swings are an extremely beneficial exercise when performed with proper technique. They develop powerful hips, strong posterior chain, and a solid core. As an added bonus, while building amazing strength and explosiveness, they are also one of the top exercises for burning fat, as they utilize your entire body and are very metabolically demanding.

The kettlebell swings that my colleagues and I see in most gyms across the country make us cringe. So this article will be a tutorial to break down the hardstyle swing.

In each video I will coach my new student through step-by-step drills that will teach her the swing technique.

Step 1 – Tension Breath

First it is important to understand how your breathing plays a role in the tension and relaxation that should take place during each swing. In StrongFirst, we use a tension breath which is a “TSS” sound with your tongue against your teeth. When done properly you will feel a contraction in your core.

Step 2 – Plank vs. SFG Hardstyle Plank

The second step is a drill we use to teach proper full body tension, called the Hardstyle Plank. Many people do planks, but you will know when you have done a HS plank. This isn’t a plank that you will do for minutes on end. This plank will be full body tension for 10-15 seconds. The video below will demonstrate the difference in a standard plank that you might have seen in your gym and the SFG Hardstyle Plank.

  1. Place your feet together or shoulder-width distance apart.
  2. Your elbows slightly more narrow than your shoulders.
  3. Hips fully extended and NO bend in the knees.
  4. Neutral Spine w/ eyes looking between your fists.
  5. When making the same “TSS” sound from the step one video, imagine pulling your elbows and your knees together.
  6. Keep the tension out of your face, neck and traps…hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
  7. Now stand and repeat this tension while making a standing Plank.This should mirror the top of a Hardstyle swing minus the straight arms.

Step 3 - Hike Stance

The next step is very important. It's the “Hike Position,” or "Hike Stance," which should mirror the deadlift stance. Many people try to squat or have a very wide stance when they perform swings. This will decrease your power and can also be unsafe. This video will demonstrate this stance set up and a wall drill to reinforce the hinge. Remember the HS Swing is a HINGE not a SQUAT!

  1. Shins should be vertical or close to vertical.
  2. Neutral Spine with your eyes looking at the horizon.
  3. Chop at the hips (i.e. HINGE).
  4. Feet are rooted to the ground.
  5. Inhale (big sniff of air).
  6. Push through your feet and stand up.
  7. Tension breath should match the hips.
  8. Tops position is a standing plank.

Step 4 – Pendulum and Hike Pass Drills

One step that is often missed or left out is the actual “Hike Pass”. We often see people just pick up the bell and start swinging rather than hike. So to dial in the Hike and show the importance of the hip drive, we practice the “Hike Pass” from set up, to pendulum to power swings. This video will demonstrate each of these steps. Each step should be practiced before moving on to Step 5.

  1. SET UP – shoulder-width stance, hinge and load the hips, neutral spine and shoulders connected.
  2. PENDULUM – set up same as above, push arms back and let them come forward on their own.
  3. POWER SWINGS – use a heavier bell, focus on pushing the bell back hard and pop the hips to stand up. If you are in a grassy area, you can also practice a forceful hike and release it behind you to get the feeling of really throwing it back. Then repeat this powerful hike but stand up. This would be single start/stop swings. Reset after each swing to groove the stance and set up.

Step 5 – Hardstyle Swing

We can now move on to the final Step which is the two handed swing. There are other swings that you can progress to after you have perfected the two hang swing (i.e. Single Hand Swings, Transfer Swings, and Double Bell Swing), but don’t rush to these other swings until you have a solid foundation.

  1. Hike Stance set up.
  2. Place your bell a foot or so in front of you.
  3. Hinge, load your hips and grip your bell.
  4. Spine is neutral and eyes are on the horizon.
  5. Root your feet to the floor.
  6. Grip and visualize breaking the handle of the bell to engage your lats.
  7. Sniff in some air.
  8. Hike the bell and keep it close to your body.
  9. Snap the hips and match the tension breath at the top with the hip snap.
  10. The bell should float momentarily at chest height while you are in a standing plank.
  11. Throw the bell back for another rep.

Common Errors

In this last video I will discuss some of the common errors that my colleagues and I see regularly while training our students or instructing at the StrongFirst SFG Kettlebell Certification.

  1. Pulling or muscling the bell with the arms/shoulders
  2. Shrugging your shoulders
  3. Hyper-extending the low back at the top of the swing
  4. Chicken necking
  5. Squatting vs hinging
  6. Not finishing with the hips (stopping short)
  7. Not matching the breath to the hips
  8. Scooping the knees
  9. Flexing the ankles

The swing is just one of many kettlebell skills. However, it is the foundation to all the other skills.

It is very important to groove good HS swing technique. Don’t rush through each step. Have patience to get to a nice safe swing. We are always striving for the perfect swing. If you are looking to instruct others, I highly recommend that you hire a certified instructor to prepare you for the SFG certification.

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