The swing, whether with a kettlebell or with a dumbbell, has become one of my favorite strength and conditioning tools. I was not introduced to the exercise until a couple years ago and had not really used it consistently in my programming until recently. I prefer the kettlebell over a dumbbell as the ends of the dumbbell can be difficult to hold on to. The kettlebell puts the mass of the implement further away from the body making the swing more effective.
The swing is not an exercise that many of us were taught during our physical education days of high school but the hip “hinge” is one of the most fundamental movements we as humans do. It is what separates the deadlift from the squat. To break it down simply, the hinge is the flexion and extension of the hip with a posterior weight shift. People may get the “hip hinge” and the squat confused because of the hip motion required for both. Here is a simple way to differentiate the two movements:
Hinge: Maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend
Squat: Maximal hip bend, maximal knee bend
The difference comes in the involvement of the knee. This is one of my biggest pet peeve with personal trainers when they try to implement the swing. It becomes a squat with a swing. This takes a lot of the power from the hips out of the equation and requires you to muscle the weight to the top position. The weight should be getting to the top position through the momentum of the hip snap, which is forcefully pushing the hips into extension after pushing your hips back. The arms should just be guiding the weight through an arc and the weight should basically be an extension of your arms and not flopping around. The weight should return back between your legs and repeat the process. The weight should never be down around your ankles. I have seen others describe it as attacking the zipper or your forearms should be in the groin area. Also, be aware of spinal position. Below is a picture of Jillian Michaels showing off her impeccable KB Swing form….
If you look in the back of the picture you can see her vertebral discs after the shot out her back. In all seriousness, you should have a solid spine with little flexion or extension occurring. A rock solid core should be engaged to help stabilize and control the weight.
That was all the technical stuff….now onto why I use the swing. The swing is excellent at training and developing the posterior chain. Since implementing them into my workouts I have seen greater flexibility in my hamstrings. The stretch that is placed on them during the loading phase of the KB swing places a nice stretch on the hamstrings. Swings can also be a great accessory move for your bigger lifts like the squat or deadlift. At the end range of hip extension the glutes, or your butt muscles are firing at their greatest. Glute development is especially important in protecting your back both in the weight room and in everyday activities. Weak glutes means the responsibility to move the weight falls on the weaker back extensors usually leading to a muscle strain or even worse a vertebral disc injury.
The swing is also a great conditioning exercise. If you are like me, I hate running or steady state cardio. Due to the high amount of muscle mass working at a high level, it can be quite taxing on the body. If done at a high enough intensity(weight, speed, etc), swings can get the heart rate up quite significantly. I like to use them in tabata format(20 sec on, 10 sec rest for 8 sets), in 6-8 sets of 25-50 reps with a minute to 30 seconds rest, and in Every Minute On the Minute type templates. Due to the primarily concentric nature of the exercise, there is also limited soreness associated with the swing. Much of the soreness created from exercise is due to the eccentric or slow lowering phase of your traditional exercises. Since gravity is doing much of the lowering during the swing, the muscle action during this time is relatively low. Swings have also been shown to increase testosterone and growth hormone after a bout of exercise involving swings, meaning they can be a great addition to an off/recovery day. These hormones are important in protein synthesis and muscle building. Swings can help increase our goals of strength and hypertrophy through the interaction the increased hormones in the body.
The swing is a relatively new exercise in the mainstream fitness world but has been used in sports performance, especially the MMA’s for years. They help create powerful hips, strong low backs, and can increase cardiovascular capability. These are important aspects to success in the athletic field and staying injury free.