You can judge a piece of training equipment by how many problems it can solve and how much space it takes up. Kettlebells crush this assessment nearly every time because they meet multiple training ends — mobility, strength, power, conditioning — with a small but mighty footprint.
Kettlebells are versatile, but nearly all kettlebell training movements stem from one foundational move: the swing.
The kettlebell swing is a ballistic hip hinge. Think of this as a dead lift but with violence. Once you understand that, the swing can be broken down into three simple steps: hinge, hike, snap.
Here’s what the steps look like put together:
As your swinging skill improves, you’ll be able to execute a swing at any weight within the limits of your strength. But to start, it’s important that you actually grab a heavy enough bell. Without enough weight, it’s difficult to get the rhythm of the swing. Note: Most kettlebells come in kilograms, not pounds.
Guys, start out with a 24-kilogram bell — that’s 53 pounds.
Ladies, start out with a 16-kilogram bell — that’s 35 pounds.
Skill Building to Conditioning
If you take a quick gander around the internet, you’ll find folks using kettlebell swings in all kinds of high-intensity, asinine workouts, while butchering the foundational movement. Don’t listen to these folks. Or at the very least, don’t jump right into their workouts.
As it goes with anything else, skill comes before intensity. You wouldn’t do timed shooting drills without first gaining proficiency with the basics of shooting. Swings are no different.
Start by practicing the elements of the swing and by doing dead-stop kettlebell swings, as shown in the video, at the beginning of your strength workouts. Do these between your warmups and your first sets of power/strength training.
Once you’re nailing the dead-stop swing and are able to string solid swings together, start adding them to your power training. Once you’re able to do multiple sets during your power training, then you can add them to conditioning sessions.
Let’s talk more about power and conditioning while having a look at some sample swing workouts.
Besides serving as the foundation for most training with kettlebells, the kettlebell swing’s main application is to develop power in the hips and lower body. Swings fit this bill well because they train rapid deceleration (you have to slow the bell down), rapid transition (you have to quickly redirect the bell’s force), and explosion (you gotta snap them hips, boo).
Overall power is best developed with moderate to heavy weights and with lower reps. That typically means a bell that’s somewhere from 24 to 48 kilograms for dudes and 16 to 32 kilograms for ladies.
Power training with swings is simple. Do three to six sets of three to eight reps. That set and rep range will ensure that you’re using enough weight to develop power. Pair your swings with a plank variation, and you’ve got yourself a great pre-strength-training primer.
Once you have your swinging skill locked down tight, you can start using swings for conditioning. The best conditioning application for swings is power endurance. While you can do any number of workouts that meet that end, my favorite is a simple EMOM, or Every Minute on the Minute.
At the top of every minute, for 10 to 20 minutes, do 10 to 15 swings. When you’re starting out, keep your reps and time toward the low end of the spectrum. But as each session produces less burn in your cheeks and challenge to your grip, walk the reps and time up. Choose a bell that is heavy enough to give you work but light enough for you to maintain your form. Since your skill is solid by this point, dudes, you can go as low as a 20-kilogram bell. Ladies, you can snag yourself a 12-kilogram if need be. But you’ll progress quickly if you’re consistent.
This is a kick-ass exercise that prepares you for a bunch of other kick-ass exercises. Dial in your setup and execution. Train for power. Then, swing away.
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