The Anatomy of Kettlebell Training: The Swing

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The “style” of kettlebell training I practice is called Girevoy Sport or G.S. It is a fluid style where the body works as efficiently as it can to move the weight throughout the given range of the desired movement.  Our goal is to primarily achieve an overall strength endurance so we only utilize the necessary muscles without purposely and needlessly over exerting as taught  by other schools or styles.

G.S. has been the original and predominate kettlebell training style used by those who developed kettlebells in Russia and all other ‘styles’ of kettlebell training have derived from it.  I do believe in the Bruce Lee method of training which suggests to use what works and leave that which does not. So this is naturally how I practice and teach my methods.

When beginning Kettlebell Training, or any exercise for that matter, one must learn to crawl before walking and running. All too often we get “runners” from day one and then they get hurt and confused.

Slow down and learn the basics so that the advanced, when and only when, you’re ready will be much easier to learn and manage.  Kettlebell training is, in my opinion, the best method for overall strength endurance, fat blasting, cardio endurance, toning, joint stabilizing, and so much more in the most efficient movement patterns inside each workout. One of those movements is the Swing.

 

The Swing is the foundational movement for everything standing up with the Kettlebell. The movement called the Clean and the Snatch all root directly to that of the Swing. So when beginning Kettlebell training it is vital to do hundreds and even thousands of swings so that you learn how the body is supposed to move and flow with momentum with the bell. To give you an idea, I’ll go a bit further into the anatomy of the swing itself.  This is what I call: “A Lesson In Kettlebell Crawling”.

The swing is but a supporting movement in order to strengthen the posterior chain (everything in the back of your body or what you don’t see in the mirror when looking into it) primarily as well as the anterior chain to give support to the posterior. In the movement the body and brain become stronger and more efficient in lifting in that motion so that a natural progression to either the clean or snatch can be made quite effortlessly. Again it is entirely about efficiency and moving efficiently in these movements from one to the next. As long as you progress when you are ready each movement will flow into the next in such a way that there will be very little effort applied by the Crawler so that when beginning to Walk you’ll have a strong leg to stand upon.

Swing Practice

The easiest way to picture the starting posture I would say to picture a football player who’s about to hike the ball.

The legs do in fact bend- it may have been difficult to see in the baggier pants I was wearing. In the forward bending of the swing the spine remains nuetral in that my head follows the bell instead of looking up or straight. When that happens, as in other teachings, the cervical spine impedes. Instead of driving with the legs as in a push press, which recruits the quads a bit more than needed or desired, the hamstrings and glutes are actively recruited to move the bell throught the motion of the swing from between the legs to chest height. The hips are driven upward by these primary muscles as fast as needed in order to create momentum on the bell enough to get it to between chest and eye level height. The arms are used as little as possible and are only a support to the lower body in the entire movement.


Anatomy of the Swing

 

1. The Grip That Matters Most: When you start, have the bell about 1 foot in front of your feet. Grab the kettlebell in the opposite corner of the bell than the hand that is working with it. NEVER grab the middle of the bell- ever. So if your swinging with you’re right hand you grab the left corner and if you’re working with your left hand grab the right corner(as pictured) Make the “OK” sign with your hand and put the thumb over the top of the finger. Very, very lightly grip the Kettlebell with your forefinger and thumb- which is called the Lock Grip. The strongest part of your hand is between your forefinger and thumb so it’s best to use that area. The other three fingers can be present on the handle, but just don’t squeeze with them. By doing that the bell handle will not be aligned efficiently in your palm.
2. What Goes Up: To initiate the swing bring the bell between your legs touching your forearm to your inner thigh as high up on the groin as possible. As soon as your forearms touch your inner thigh move your legs and hips as you would to stand up straight. This will engage your hamstrings and if you do it fast enough the bell will move upward by the momentum of your legs. Imagine that you do not have arms, but only legs and the bell moves solely by the leg and hip generated momentum.
3. Must Come Down: When you go down allow gravity to bring the bell down without actively trying to get it there. Afterall it’s going down on its own anyway so let it and simply use your arms to guide it where you want it to go. When it goes between your legs direct the bell so that your forearms again touch high on your inner thighs. This will look kinda like the stance football players get into when they hike the football. Then without blinking an eye begin your upward thrust of your hips again. Thrust your pelvis & hips upward, which will create the needed momentum to bring the bell up to just above chest height. When performing the swing never allow the bell to travel above eye level. So that being said, you will always have the bell travel between your chest and eye level on each and every Swing motion.
4. Idle Hands: You will do very little with your arms. In fact relax both arms and hands as much as possible. Don’t have a death grip on it and when you move the weight up, from the thrust of your hips, ever so slightly pull the bell inward so your arms very slightly bend, but not too much. The bell should feel weightless in your arms and hands due to the momentum you generate from your hips.
5. Crack Walnuts With Your Butt Cheeks: When you thrust the bell up with your legs and hips be sure, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, that you squeeze your glutes(butt muscles) as hard as you possibly could. I mean squeeze those suckers so hard that you can crack a walnut between your cheeks. AND u can practice that with your friends for some weekend entertainment… SERIOUSLY though that’s how hard you’ve gotta squeeze your glutes when you thrust the bell upward. That way your lower back turns off as much as possible and your core turns on. If you feel your back working that’s okay. Remember we’re primarily working the posterior chain and that’s the back*. We just want it to work as little as possible compared to your hamstrings, glutes, anterior core, and upper back.
6. Final Thoughts: If you feel your lower back work a lot, first don’t be alarmed cause it will be working, but just consciously squeeze your glutes harder. If you’re a beginner in your Kettlebell practice don’t be surprised if you feel your lower back working a lot and getting stiff after the first couple workouts. That’s normal and I encourage you to remember that feeling and focus on cracking your walnuts so that the stiffness doesn’t continue to happen. We don’t want your lower back to be working predominately over your hamstrings, glutes, and mid-back/shoulders. Keep in mind that the bell should feel weightless in your arms and hands due to the momentum you generate from your hips.

To help you picture it better here’s a couple videos by 2 men I very highly respect in Kettlebell technique.

1. AKC Master Coach Mike Stefano teaches the G.S. Swing

2. Honored Master of Sport Valery Fedorenko(who is what Tiger Woods is to golf and what Michael Jordan was to basketball, Valery is to Kettlebell Lifting Sport) performing the Snatch and you can clearly see the blend of the Swing and the Snatch flow together.

7. Suggested Perfect Practice: To get started with kettlebells, and build the proper mind/body connection as well as propell your strength onto new levels, my suggestion is to perform a routine of 100 swings each day for 30 days above and beyond your everyday activity. When you’re done that will be 3,000 swings total.  The weight does not need to be a lot. Kettlebell training is about ongoing practice and movement efficiency.

What’s Coming Next: In the next segment on the “Anatomy of Kettlebell Training” we will be breaking down the Snatch as well as the Clean and Overhead Lockout aka Long Cycle. This is my all time favorite Kettlebell movement and targets every single muscle in the body by incorporating 2 pulls and 2 pushes inside of the one movement. If there is one movement that you can do for the rest of your life that will give you the absolute best overall strength and fitness results Long Cycle would be it.

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Comments

  1. chrisrogerstraining  February 5, 2010

    Bob,

    Great post mate, exactly my thoughts! Keep them coming!

    http://bathkettlebellbootcamp.com

  2. Jim Lane  February 18, 2010

    Bob,
    That’s a crazy raincoat you’re wearing in that picture. And what’s up with the respirator and the rifle? Goin’ huntin’ for Walnuts? I didn’t know things were so bad in Illinois. Ha! 🙂
    Great article on the swing and super reminders. The swing is such a fantastic exercise by itself and one that most folks really do need to master as you stated.

    Best in health,

    Jim
    .-= Jim Lane´s last blog ..Viking! Warrior! Conditioning! =-.

    • Bob Garon  February 17, 2010

      Thanks for ur comment Jim… glad u enjoyed my post.

      I definitely enjoy ur blog too. 🙂

  3. buildupperbodymuscle  March 9, 2010

    I’m not that familiar with kettleball training. I’m much more familiar with standard weight training exercise so this was a very informative post. Thank you for sharing. It would seem to me that to help avoid lower back injury, along with tightening the glutes, tightening the cores muscles will help as well.

    Thanks,
    Jo Chris
    .-= buildupperbodymuscle´s last blog ..Build Upper Body Muscles Fast Regardless of Genetics =-.

    • Bob Garon  March 9, 2010

      Hey Jo Chris-

      Thanks for your comment. Yup the glutes are actively engaged, but the core doesn’t need to be actively engaged since it involuntarily engages itself when performing Kettlebell movements. You won’t even need to try and it will engage. In fact it is the core muscles which fire before any other muscle no matter what you’re doing or what the movement is. That’s why Kettlebell Training is awesome for full-body conditioning and strength endurance.

  4. Fort Collins Chiropractor  April 30, 2010

    I like kettlebell training for lower back, old school revamped.

    • Bob Garon  April 30, 2010

      I couldn’t agree more Scott. If performed properly, and with the appropriate weight, kettlebell training is amazing for the entire posterior chain as well as complimentary toward the anterior.

      Thank you for your comment. 🙂

  5. Head Coach  January 11, 2011

    Wow Bob – this about puts my recent kettlebell article to shame! One of my members e-mailed this article to me to check out and I must say, thanks for raising the bar…err….bell…you get the idea heh heh
    Head Coach´s last blog post ..Kettlebell Swinging – The Hot New Swingers Lifestyle For Health

    • Bob Garon  January 11, 2011

      Thank you! I appreciate your very nice comments. Please let me know if there’s anything I can specifically help you with.

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