Kettlebells can be daunting. Heck, they look like little cannonballs. That’s kind of scary.
And kettlebell swings look even crazier. But never fear—once you learn to use this exercise, you’ll unlock an intense full-body workout that can help you lose fat, get stronger, and even sculpt a shapely butt.
To avoid injury, the following build-up exercises should be mastered before performing the kettlebell swing. So if you can hip hinge, deadlift and hike, you can swing. It may take one day or it may take a year, but keep practicing the four moves until you can do multiple reps comfortably.
1. The Handcuff Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is a fundamental movement that everyone should know. Learning to use your glutes, hips and hamstrings will not only target some highly-prized muscle groups, but will also keep your knees and lower back safe during heavy lifts.
- Hold a light kettlebell in your hands behind your back as if you were getting handcuffed (which hopefully isn’t a familiar position for you).
- Pull your shoulders back, squeeze your butt and brace your abs as if someone was going to punch you in the gut.
- Bend your knees slightly and push your butt back against the kettlebell.
- Keeping your chest tall, chin down and back flat, continue to push your butt back until your torso is bent over about 45 degrees.
- Return to the starting position by pushing your heels through the floor and squeezing your butt.
2. The Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift
The next step is to add some weight to the hip hinge. The kettlebell sumo deadlift is the perfect exercise to challenge the glutes and hamstrings before moving on to the swing.
- Stand over the kettlebell with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward (you shouldn’t be able to see the kettlebell if you look straight down).
- Perform the hip hinge the same way you did during the handcuff hip hinge, but keep pushing your butt back until you can reach the kettlebell with your arms straight between your legs.
- Grab the horns of the kettlebell firmly, pull your shoulders back and drive your knees out as if you were trying to spread the floor with your feet.
- Lift the kettlebell by pushing your heels through the floor and squeezing your butt, making sure your hips and chest rise at the same time.
- Return to the starting position by performing the same hip hinge motion as the handcuff hip hinge.
3. The Kettlebell Long Snap
If you’ve ever watched football, you’ve seen the long snapper. You know, the guy who bends over and throws the football backward between his legs so the kicker can boot the ball through the goal posts. Well, it turns out that hiking a football is very similar to the beginning of a kettlebell swing.
Before you learn to swing, you need to learn how to “hike” the kettlebell and get it moving backward between your legs. To master this movement, try this:
- Set up as you would for the kettlebell sumo deadlift, but instead of placing the kettlebell between your legs, place it a few feet in front of you.
- Grab the kettlebell with your arms straight and engage your lats by squeezing your armpits together and trying to put your shoulder blades in your back pockets.
- Keeping your arms straight, forcefully drag the kettlebell back toward your legs until it leaves the ground (note: the kettlebell should leave the ground just as it reaches the middle of your foot).
- Let the kettlebell swing just below your hips but no farther—letting it travel too far backward can hurt your lower back.
- Return the kettlebell to the starting position and repeat.
4. The Kettlebell Swing
Once you’ve mastered the hip hinge, sumo deadlift and long snap, you’re ready for the real deal: the full-blown kettlebell swing. Here’s how to put it all together:
- Get into position and hike the kettlebell just like you did for the long snap.
- Once the kettlebell travels just under your hips, forcefully straighten your legs and squeeze your butt to thrust your hips forward.
- Stay relaxed with your arms and let the kettlebell swing forward—don’t actively lift it up with your arms.
- Once the kettlebell reaches about chest height, let it start to fall back toward you.
- Just before your hands touch your thighs, drive your hips back through the hip hinge motion and repeat the swing.
The kettlebell swing is by no means an easy exercise. There’s a reason there are entire classes and certifications dedicated to the swing and other kettlebell movements. But there’s no reason you can’t use it in your workouts. With a little practice and these four exercises, you’ll be swinging like a pro in no time.