How to Do a Kettlebell Swing: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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In general, strength training exercises should be performed without relying on momentum to lift and lower the weight. But there are exceptions to this rule and the kettlebell swing is one. This exercise is a great addition to an upper-body workout.

Also Known As: Russian kettlebell swing

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, hips, core, shoulders, and back

Equipment Needed: Kettlebell

Level: Intermediate

How to Do a Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell 2 Arm Swing
Paige Waehner

Give yourself some space to perform the kettlebell swing—four or five feet in front and a couple of feet behind. You may also want to make sure there's nothing breakable (like a mirror or TV screen) directly in front of you. While it would be unusual to lose your grip on the kettlebell and send it flying, it's not unheard of.

Place the kettlebell on the ground in front of your feet, which are slightly wider than hip-distance apart with the toes angled out slightly. Bend your knees a little and keep your shoulders rolled back with your abs engaged, drawing your belly button toward your spine.

  1. Press your hips back, tipping your torso forward as you reach your hands toward the kettlebell handle. Keep your back completely straight and don't squat. If your knees start bending significantly, you'll lose the hip hinge. If you notice this occurring, reset and work on pressing your hips back.
  2. Inhale as you grasp the kettlebell handle firmly with both hands. Roll your shoulders back slightly to help control the momentum of the swing while preventing a forward curve of the spine. Your core is still engaged.
  3. Exhale and, in one powerful movement, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as hard as you can to rise to an upright position. During this part of the exercise, make sure the hips do not extend past your shoulders and allow the kettlebell to swing forward as high as it will naturally go, which is usually around shoulder height.
  4. Inhale and swing the kettlebell back toward the floor (which it will automatically want to do) while pressing your hips back. Allow the weight to swing between your legs while keeping your neck aligned with your spine.
  5. Continue the kettlebell swings, remembering to keep your torso straight and to power the movement with your hips and glutes. Don't exit the move suddenly by dropping the kettlebell or forcing your momentum to stop. Instead, reduce the power you use with each swing until you can comfortably and safely return the kettlebell to the floor.

The main thing to remember when performing the kettlebell swing is that you're not using your arms to lift the weight in front of you and you're also not using your quads to squat. Rather, you're hinging your hips backward, then powerfully using your hamstrings, glutes, and hips to return to an upright position.

This hip hinge movement causes the weight to swing forward and back naturally as a result of your glute and hip power. Your arms keep the swinging motion under control but they're not actively participating in the lifting or lowering of the weight.

On your first swing or two, the kettlebell may not go all the way to shoulder height. As you build momentum, allow it to swing to the point where it feels weightless for a split second—usually when it's almost parallel to the ground.

Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing targets your glutes, hamstrings, hips, core, and the stabilizing muscles of your shoulders and back. While you may experience a small benefit to your quads and delts, the swing is designed to target your posterior chain (the back side of your body).

We use posterior chain muscles in everyday movements such as bending over to pick something up off the floor or to stabilize the body as we lift a child. These muscles also support proper movement during physical activities that rely on the lower body, such as running and kicking.

Many people focus on working the muscles on the front of the body—including the chest, abdominals, and quadriceps. Using exercises that hit the back of the body can help correct potential muscle imbalances.

Swinging a kettlebell is excellent for generating power and strength. It can also cause your heart rate to soar. The result is a movement that offers a lot of bang for the buck, making it good for people who want to maximize efficiency during their workouts.

You can enjoy a heart-healthy boost of cardio with kettlebell swings while also building strength, stability, and coordination that can transfer to everyday activities.

Other Variations of a Kettlebell Swing

You can modify the kettlebell swing to better match your fitness level and goals.

Hip Hinge With Broomstick

If you need to get used to performing a hip-hinge correctly, grab a broomstick or pole to help you master the movement.

  • Stand tall and set up the same way you'd set up to perform a kettlebell swing—feet slightly wider than shoulder distance apart, toes angled slightly outward, knees slightly bent, core engaged, and shoulders rolled back.
  • Hold the broomstick perpendicular to the ground against your spine with one hand above your head and one hand just below your tailbone. The broomstick should touch your tailbone, your upper back between the shoulders, and the back of your head.
  • From here, perform a hip hinge by pressing your hips back as you tip forward from the hips, keeping your core engaged and your torso absolutely straight. The broomstick should maintain contact with your body at the exact same points throughout the movement. If you hunch forward or bend your knees too much, the position will change.

Perform this motion in front of a mirror and take note of the way your body feels as you hinge. When you feel a nice stretch through your hamstrings, engage your glutes and hamstrings and squeeze them to "pull" your torso back to standing, still maintaining the same contact with the broomstick as you rise.

Hip hinge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing

This exercise is performed in the exact same manner as the two-arm swing, but you only use one arm at a time. This helps develop unilateral shoulder stability and anti-rotational core strength, both of which can improve coordination and reduce the likelihood of injury due to muscle imbalances.

As you perform the single-arm swing, hold the non-working arm out to the side to help with stability. Choose a lighter kettlebell than you would typically use with both arms and perform a single set with one arm before switching sides.

Kettlebell One Arm Swing
Paige Waehner

American Kettlebell Swing

Once you've mastered the traditional kettlebell swing, also known as a Russian kettlebell swing, you can progress to the American version. The American kettlebell swing involves swinging the weight overhead versus stopping at shoulder height.

Because this variation requires a greater range of motion in the shoulder, it should only be performed by advanced exercisers and requires the use of lighter weights. Avoid the American kettlebell swing if you have a shoulder injury or limited range of motion in this joint.

kettlebell swing

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Common Mistakes

Due to the complexity of this movement, there are a lot of ways to perform the kettlebell swing incorrectly.

Not Maintaining Control

Using momentum to lift and lower a weight increases the risk of injury. Thus, the kettlebell swing must be performed with appropriate form and control.

This exercise engages a large number of muscle groups simultaneously. If your sequencing is off or you're moving in a manner that flings the weight, powering the exercise with your upper body rather than the lower body, you're setting yourself up for possible muscle strains or other problems.

Lifting With the Arms

One of the most common kettlebell swing mistakes is allowing your shoulders and arms to be responsible for the forward swing of the kettlebell—like with a front raise, where your shoulders help lift the weight in front of you. Really, your shoulders and arms shouldn't be involved in lifting the kettlebell at all.

Instead, the shoulders and upper back should be locked in to control the swing and prevent you from being pulled forward as the kettlebell swings up. This also keeps your upper back from rounding toward the floor as the kettlebell swings down.

If you notice that the muscles of your shoulders—particularly the front of your shoulders—start getting tired, chances are you're lifting with your arms. Reset and squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to power the movement while extending your hips.

Try to actively prevent your shoulders from lifting the weight upward, relying instead on the momentum of the hip extension.

Rounding Your Back

To help prevent low back pain or strain with the kettlebell swing, it's imperative that you keep your spine straight throughout the exercise. Rounding or slumping the shoulders and upper back is a tell-tale sign that your core, upper back, and shoulder stabilizers aren't sufficiently engaged.

As the kettlebell swings downward, this forward slump could place more strain on your low back while reducing the likelihood that you're hinging forward correctly from the hips. Ultimately, this also reduces the power you can generate with your glutes and hamstrings.

If you notice a rounding of your upper back or shoulders, reset and reengage your shoulders, upper back, and core. Focus on keeping your torso completely straight as you hinge backward from the hips.

Squatting With Each Swing

The kettlebell swing uses a hip hinge to generate momentum, not a squat. This means that it requires you to press your hips back without bending your knees much as your torso tips forward toward the floor. This action is more similar to the Romanian deadlift.

Many people, however, aren't used to the hip hinge action, so they squat down with each downward swing, bending their knees before popping up to stand while swinging the kettlebell forward. This reduces the power output of the glutes and hamstrings and places more focus on the quadriceps.

It also prevents the desired momentum that can be generated by the posterior chain of the body, making it more likely you'll have to use your shoulders and arms to help lift the weight.

Aside from the initial small bend at the knees you use to get set at the beginning of the exercise, your knees really shouldn't bend much as you swing. Rather, the forward tip and rise to standing should come as a result of the hip hinge, powered almost entirely by your glutes, hamstrings, and hips—not your quadriceps.

Safety and Precautions

If you've been participating in regular strength training workouts and have the core and shoulder strength required to hold a plank for 60 seconds, chances are you're up for trying the kettlebell swing.

Using the correct form is necessary for preventing injuries, especially if you already have low back or shoulder pain. Performing the kettlebell swing incorrectly can place unnecessary strain on these joints, leading to greater pain or injury.

If at any point you feel sharp or shooting pains in any of your joints, stop the exercise and consider replacing it with exercises that have similar benefits, such as medicine ball slams or combat rope swings.

You can do kettlebell swings for a desired amount of time or a certain number of repetitions. Either way, start slow. Only do a few until you become more comfortable with the movement and develop enough strength to increase the reps or time.

Having a good baseline level of core strength is important before attempting the kettlebell swing. It's a good idea to work with a trainer to make sure you're performing the exercise correctly.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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