The “humble” kettlebell…the real MVP of the Corona Virus pandemic. More of these bad boys probably got sold in 2020 than in the previous 100 years combined!
Truth be told, there are a lot of different movements you can do with a kettlebell and if you have three or four lying around, you can pretty much get a whole workout in. Any of the top 26 kettlebell WODs will work you.
…but today, we’re talking about one exercise and one exercise only.
The almighty kettlebell swing!
If I was trapped on a deserted island with only a heavy-ish kettlebell and nothing else to do for a month, I’d spend my days swinging away. And the accumulated kettlebell swing benefits I would experience over that period of time? I’d be more jacked than when I arrived!
Let’s explore the numerous kettlebell swings benefits. By the time we’re done, you’ll probably donate your barbell to Goodwill.
Table of Contents
15 Kettlebell Swings Benefits that Make Them…Tolerable
Kettlebell swings are a full-body exercise. They provide excellent cardiovascular benefits and can increase overall strength and endurance. Whether you opt for the classic “Russian Swing” or the more challenging “American Swing” (we’ll discuss these differences shortly!) there are numerous upsides of adding any type of kettlebell swings to your routine.
Kettlebell swings engage your entire body. They target various muscle groups at once, especially the posterior chain. This exercise primarily activates your:
Besides these muscles, they also work your shoulders, arms, and hands.
(compare your grip on your kettlebell on your first day of swings and again after 90 days…try to tell me your hands and grip haven’t gotten stronger!)
The swinging motion requires coordination, endurance, and power to execute properly and with efficiency. As such, your whole body gets in on (and benefits from) the exercise.
Kettlebell swings are a low-impact exercise. They are especially suitable for beginners and for those who do not want to put excess stress on their joints.
The fluid, controlled movements anchored by the almost permanently grounded feet give kettlebell swings their low-impact reputation. They don’t put much stress on the knee joints, although you can still get great fitness results from swinging a ‘bell for 10-15 minutes.
Boost Cardiovascular Health
Kettlebell swings are great for improving cardiovascular health and endurance. Apart from being a great muscle-strengthening exercise, swings are an excellent cardio exercise.
When I was training for the Chick-fil-A Race Series, which involved 7, 5K running races over the span of 8 weeks, I only ran two days per week (to include race day). The rest of the week, my main form of cardio training was the Russian kettlebell swing.
And I won the series!
The swing involves repeated, rapid and forceful swings. This leads to increased heart rate and enhanced circulation, even during relatively “light” or short sets. Over time, these factors improve the endurance of the heart muscle, increase lung capacity and overall stamina…even for non-kettlebell swing-related endeavors!
Additionally, research shows that kettlebell swings benefits the development of significantly greater cardiovascular and metabolic responses within a Tabata vs. traditional training framework. This means that the high-repetition kettlebell swings (such as Tabata intervals) may elicit a strong cardiovascular response.
As mentioned, kettlebell swings are a full-body workout. However, mainly due to the constant hip hinging involved, they primarily build the muscles of the posterior chain:
- gluteus maximus
- latissimus dorsi
- erector spinae
Another major muscle group worked with kettlebell swings is the quadriceps, located in the front of your leg. Additionally, they will improve your core and, as previously discussed in painstaking, anecdotal detail, grip strength.
If they’re performed properly, kettlebell swings involve a lot of hip hinging at high volume.
Hip hinging is important for numerous reasons:
- it helps strengthen the posterior chain (as discussed above)
- builds core muscle strength
- improves balance
- increases flexibility
A study about hip hinging done in 2022 concluded that “hip hinge exercise stretching was the most effective method for increasing hamstring flexibility, pelvic tilting angle and dynamic balance”. That makes it an effective stretching method for chronic low back pain with hamstring tightness.
The ability to effectively hip hinge transfers over to a lot of different lifting movements, most notably the deadlift. Improving your hinge via kettlebell swinging will ultimately reap numerous benefits.
Increase Muscle Endurance
Kettlebell swings effectively build stamina and increase muscle endurance.
The body has to essentially be able to sustain repetitive contractions for a long period of time because of the (usually) high-number of reps and explosive nature of this exercise. The muscles are engaged constantly, and they work to generate power and keep control of the movements.
Some of the more famous kettlebell swing programs such as Simple and Sinister (100) and 300 swings a day, call for triple-digit swing sessions. Try one of these programs before building up the requisite swing muscle endurance and…well…good luck.
Kettlebell swings play a significant role in improving the overall flexibility. To swing the kettlebell, the body needs to perform a wide range of motion, especially your hips, hamstrings, and lower back. Swings stretch those muscles, which increases their flexibility over time.
Hip hinging increases hip mobility. This helps with enhancing the range of motion in other exercises and everyday activities.
The swing motion also stretches the hamstrings, which is often a tight muscle group, and makes them more flexible.
Improve Spinal Stability
As previously mentioned, kettlebell swings work the core muscles that provide stability and control of the exercise. By engaging the core muscles, they become stronger and more flexible. This contributes to improving the overall spinal alignment and stability.
Kettlebell swings include the controlled hip hinge movement. This encourages a proper alignment of the spine and a neutral position, which reduces stress on the vertebral discs and prevents injuries.
Because this exercise is performed with up to 25° of lumbar spinal hyperextension from maximum hip extension to the overhead position, there is an increased risk for a lower back injury (especially with high reps). This means it’s extremely important to learn fundamental movements and to maintain proper posture in order to realize these kettlebell swings benefits.
Boost Growth Hormone Levels
Kettlebell swings trigger an acute release of hormones that increase muscle mass and strength.
A study showed results of analyzes of hormone increase during the kettlebell swings, including:
- immunoreactive growth hormone
- lactate concentrations
The acute increase in hormones that are responsible for muscle adaptations means that kettlebell swings are a very good addition to resistance training programs.
Kettlebell swings require large degrees of stability and control, especially as form begins to deteriorate during high-rep sets. By building your core strength, balance and stability improve.
Swings require precise coordination throughout the whole body. And with repeated sessions, the body adapts to maintaining this equilibrium which improves overall balance.
The kettlebell swing is a versatile exercise. This means they can be adapted to different fitness levels and goals and modified to meet personal needs. They are suitable for both beginners and professional athletes.
From Russian swings to American swings to one-arm swings and from light-to-medium-to-heavy kettlebells, “swingers” (ha!) have plenty of options.
Additionally, one can add kettlebell swings to a HIIT workout or just do them as a standalone exercise.
This is an exercise that can garner excellent results in a relatively short period of time.
The kettlebell swing’s dynamic nature engages multiple muscle groups, which makes it a high-intensity full-body workout.
Even a 10-minute workout with 35-second swing intervals followed by 25-second rest intervals increases aerobic capacity.
If you have limited time or if you simply prefer shorter workout sessions, kettlebell swings benefits are right up your alley!
Limited Space Requirements
You knew this would make the list. Your garage can be the size of a closet and you’d still be able to do kettlebell swings!
Swings only require a few feet of space to work in. This is great if you work out in a cramped (garage) gym.
Don’t have a gym or garage and the next lockdown is raging around the world? With a few trusty kettlebells, even your bathroom can be transformed into your training space!
Easy on the Back
If done properly, kettlebell swings (with a proper hip-hinge) don’t put too much stress on your back. By strengthening your posterior chain muscles, you also prepare your back for more demanding exercises such as deadlifts.
In this way, you can use a low-impact exercise such as a kettlebell swing to build your core strength and practice hip-hinging in preparation for heavier and more technically-difficult movements.
Additionally, a study done in 2017 showed that kettlebell swings can reduce muscle sensitivity in the hips and lower back. This can potentially reduce pain in those areas.
The combination of cardiovascular and strength workouts in kettlebell swings makes it an effective way to burn calories and lose weight. Research done in 2010 showed that kettlebell swings burn 20.2 calories per minute. For context, this is comparable to what you would burn when running at a 6-minute mile pace.
(to be fair, you’re probably not going to swing continuously for even 2 minutes straight, but you get the point!)
As a high-intensity exercise, kettlebell swings are far more successful in burning fat than low- and moderate-intensity exercises. For many people, this might be the most enticing of the kettlebell swings benefits.
Also, the growth hormone (whose release is stimulated by kettlebell swings) can aid in a small decrease in body fat.
How to Do Kettlebell Swings
In order to gain all the benefits of kettlebell swings and avoid injuries, you need to learn how to do it properly. We’re going to specifically cover the Russian Kettlebell Swing here:
- Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart directly over the kettlebell. Reach down with arms straight and grab it with both hands.
- Push your hips back while inhaling and bend your knees slightly, bringing the kettlebell between your legs (gravity and momentum will do most of the work with this part)..
- Engage your core and keep your back straight.
- Contract your glutes and exhale, pushing the hips forward and forcefully standing up.
- The force generated from your hip hinging will drive the kettlebell up and forward. The arms are simply “along for the ride”, mainly just holding the kettlebell as it ascends. Keep your shoulders parallel to the ground.
- Push the hips back and let gravity “take” the kettlebell back down between your legs and to the starting position.
The number of reps of this exercise and the weight of the kettlebell will depend on your fitness level and goals an which kettlebell swings benefits you’re looking to maximize.
Kettlebell Swing Variations
Variations of kettlebell swings can target specific muscle groups and create different stimuli in the body.
One-Arm Kettlebell Swing
As the name says, this kettlebell swing is done with one arm instead of two. This variation engages your core more than the regular kettlebell swing. It does so because the core needs to work more to prevent the rotation of your body during the exercise. Also, it improves grip strength because you need to hold and swing the heavy load with only one hand.
If you have access to a specially-designed one-arm kettlebell (generally, a smaller, more compact “horn”), opt for one here. Do not use a one-arm kettlebell for two-arm swings…unless you want to get some gnarly pinky blisters (your hands will be cramped along the edges of the horn). These hurt sooooooo bad.
Alternating Kettlebell Swing
This variation includes a one-arm swing but switching the arm with each rep. You should swap the kettlebell to your opposite hand in mid-air. Then, you should reverse the swing to the start position. This variation will improve your coordination, core balance, and overall strength.
Make sure you have sufficient experience with one-arm swings before attempting alternating swings.
Russian vs American Kettlebell Swings
These are the most popular variations of the kettlebell swings and are done with both hands.
The main difference between the two is the end position of the kettlebell.
The Russian Kettlebell Swing includes stopping the kettlebell on the chest or eye level. It engages your lats in order to stabilize and reverse the swing.
The American variant let the kettlebell go overhead. This requires great shoulder mobility and stability.
American swings are by far the preferred programming kettlebell swing variation in CrossFit WODs and programming. If you’re in a CrossFit competition and they call for American swings…you do American swings.
That being said, I remember having a conversation with an old school “hardstyle” kettlebell instructor at my old gym in Texas. Coach “Doc” had been in the first of Pavel Tsatsouline’s kettlebell certification classes and had been working with kettlebells for decades. We talked about swing variations one day.
“Tom, almost nobody does the ‘American swing’ (he used air quotes here) correctly. Almost nobody can do them correctly! I don’t know why CrossFit made them popular, but people should just stick to Russian swingin’”
In my experience, Doc is almost 100 percent correct!
Wow…that was a mouthful…15 big kettlebell swings benefits!
Whether you decide to opt for the tricky American swing or the classic Russian swing, there really is nothing stopping you from doing kettlebell swings right this minute.
Like, seriously, you should do some now.
Ok, I get you might not want to swing right now, but after reading all about the numerous cardiovascular kettlebell swings benefits, you’re probably itching to get a long metcon in. Check out our article on the top CrossFit endurance WODs. Remember, VO2 max is very closely correlated with longevity!