Learn the Kettlebell Swing in 4 Easy Steps

Tony Bonvechio
by Tony Bonvechio
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Learn the Kettlebell Swing in 4 Easy Steps

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.

Try this:

  • 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.

Get Swingin’

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.

About the Author

Tony Bonvechio
Tony Bonvechio

Tony Bonvechio (@bonvecstrength) is the co-owner of The Strength House in Worcester, MA, where he trains primarily powerlifters and team sport athletes. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at bonvecstrength.com.

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20 responses to “Learn the Kettlebell Swing in 4 Easy Steps”

  1. Avatar Chrisski says:

    Would love to see pictures added to this article.

  2. Avatar WEBAyahoo2 says:

    I’m so glad I read this…. I got a Stamina Adjustable Kettle Bell for my birthday and injured myself (my hip) with my first kettlebell workout. I was afraid to use it again… but now that I have some guidelines and videos to go by I will incorporate these 4 into my routine.

    Thanks.

    • Avatar sunnidayz155 says:

      Don’t do this unless you want to add a painful shoulder injury to your list of painful experiences. Not recommended.

      • Avatar Weightlifting gal says:

        Ya, I hurt myself walking. So I don’t recommend walking unless you want to add a painful shin splint to your list of injuries.

      • Avatar Brandon Stumpf says:

        ALWAYS start with a light weight and learn proper form! If this is done correctly, and the athlete does not go too heavy too fast, then the likelihood of injury is very slim. One must also be aware of prior sports injuries before attempting ANY new exercise, or risk a painful tear or worse. You can’t demonize an exercise based on one person’s experience, otherwise tennis elbow would have ended the sport decades ago 🙂

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for reading.

  3. Avatar omgstfualready says:

    My trainer loves these. I just did 8 30 second on/10 second rest intervals with the kettlebell and it was rough (I went up to a higher weight and was literally panting by the end of the 8th interval).

  4. Avatar PSC says:

    How should these be logged in the workout diary? There are no kettlebell exercises listed in the database.

  5. Avatar Adam Trainor says:

    Heya Tony. Nice progression and some great videos to go with it. The long snap is one of those I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of, so thank you. Do you have any recommendations for people working in gym with no kettlebells? I’ve done plenty of dumbbell work to simulate the KB, but it doesn’t always work out perfectly.

    • Adam –

      Thanks for reading! DB swings are a good substitute but can definitely be a little tricky because the handle is different. I actually love medicine ball slams as a KB swing alternative too so give those a try if you have med balls handy.

      • Avatar Adam Trainor says:

        I will try those both. I’ve played around with DB swings by holding the end of the DB, but tough to do single handed, and depending on the gym, not safe. Thanks Tony.

  6. Avatar sunnidayz155 says:

    Having recovered from a painful shoulder injury, I would not recommend swinging weights. The recovery took two years and it is not something I would wish on anyone.

    • Have you considered that maybe your injury was more to do with HOW you did swings and not the SWINGS themselves? With your logic, every single person who ever swung anything weighted (baseball bat, tennis racket, etc.) would get hurt.

  7. Avatar Despina Belle-Isle says:

    KB swings and other exercises have always been part of my workouts. When done using proper form (generally like all exercises should be done) they are extremely safe and very effective. I always get a great combination cardio and strength workout when I use kettlebells. My favorite KB exercise is the Turkish get up.

  8. Avatar RaLynn says:

    Why do I see so many ppl swinging the Kettle so far up it goes past their head; isn’t that bad?

  9. Avatar RaLynn says:

    I have HIIT and made a routine 60 sec swings 60 sec switch swing 30 sec R suitcase pick up 30 sec L suitcase pickup 30 sec tri 30 sec upright row 30 sec Left arm swing 30 sec R arm swing 45 sec L cling press 45 sec R cling press 60 sec swings 2 min rest and repeat 3 more times….

  10. Avatar Gigi says:

    Sorry, I was sidetracked by the anti-Mormon message on your page. I take it you don’t want Mormons to utilize information on your blog, and you want to spread misconceptions and hate. Hmmmm

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