What Muscles Do Kettlebell Swings Work?

Kettlebell Advice

Female athlete performing kettlbell swing
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Kettlebells have been around for more than a century. But this simple yet effective piece of gym equipment has become almost indispensable in the past decade.

And there are good reasons they are so popular. First, the kettlebell swing is a basic routine for any skill level. It is great for boosting strength, plus this exercise hits different muscle groups.

In fact, many gym-goers report a wow effect after just a few kettlebell workouts. This article focuses on the muscle groups that you can target with kettlebells. On top of that, you’ll get some tips and tricks on how to get the most from the bell routine.

Reasons to Swing a Kettlebell

Kettlebell swings are easy to incorporate into your current gym routine. They allow you to quickly and safely burn a lot of calories without jeopardizing muscle mass.

The swings are one of the few cardio exercises that shed excess fat and build muscle at the same time. You’ll also increase cardiovascular strength and keep your joints safe since there is no impact. And the results are quick to appear.

The movement itself involves different muscle groups at the same time. It also hits the small muscles that are hard to target. There is no compartmentalizing with kettlebell swings. The routine uses the lower and upper body for an all-encompassing workout that promotes optimal strength and muscle definition.

As for the muscle groups, the kettlebell swing works the hamstrings, abs, lats, glutes, pecs, shoulders, and grip.

Here is a Closer Look At the Muscles the Swings Activate

Shoulder Muscles

Shoulder muscles include rotator cuffs, deltoids, trapezius, and rhomboids. Together they stabilize the neck, arm, and shoulder to prevent upper spine rotation when you do the kettlebell swing. The muscles also keep your scapulae stable to prevent shoulder or arm injury.

 For the most part, the swinging phase doesn’t require you to tense the shoulders. The temporary tension, the so-called lockout, comes at the end of the phase, downward and upward. During the lockout, your thighs, buttocks, and abs are tight. You also need to depress and pull back the shoulder blades when you do an upward kettlebell swing.

Leg Muscles

You can hit various leg muscles with kettlebell swings. For example, a single-hand swing works your hamstrings and a double kettlebell swing works wonders for the quadriceps. The double swing also improves leg drive.

That’s the force that your legs generate during an upward kettlebell swing. Move your weight to the heels, slightly extend the knees and hips, and thrust forward to do the swing.

Posterior Chain

The posterior chain goes from the hamstrings and calves to the lower back and buttocks. This group of fasciae and muscles is responsible for movement coordination when you run, jump, throw, and swing.

When you swing a kettlebell, you trigger a hinge-like motion in the hips. As a result, your buttocks and lower back go through a cycle of activation and relaxation. This exercise is particularly good for the semitendinosus – one of the three hamstring muscles.

Core Muscles

You activate the core muscles with every swing and breath. These muscles are the external and internal obliques, transversus abdominis, diaphragm, and multifidi.

Your core muscles work in tandem with the posterior chain to boost core strength. You get additional torso stability and a better control of the downward swing. The extra stability also helps your lower back to cope with the compressive power of the kettlebell swing.

Optimizing the Kettlebells Workout

Key Elements of a Kettlebell Swing

By now, you understand that kettlebell swings are great for activating a lot of muscle groups. The swing is straightforward, but there are certain things you need to know to avoid injury and get the best workout. These are the top 5 tips for a dead-on kettlebell swing.

The Kettlebell Weight

The trick with kettlebell swings is to be explosive. You can increase the weight once you get the motion right, but don’t be too ambitious at the start.

Most men who nail the swing benefit from a 53-lb. kettlebell and women a 35-lb. bell. Stronger and more experienced men and women might go up to 70 and 44 lbs..

Explosiveness is in the Hips

Imagine firing a bullet – it gets all the power when you squeeze the trigger and the momentum carries it to the target. A similar ballistic movement applies to a kettlebell swing.

 You use your hips and leg drive to swing the bell upwards and the arms don’t do any lifting. It doesn’t matter how high you swing. The aim is to get the kettlebell in the air with the power of your hips.


Don't Squat

Many beginners make a mistake by squatting when they start with kettlebell swings. You need to hinge, rather than squat to do the exercise properly.

Your hips hinge (go back) and there is only a slight bend in the knees. Remember, your knees are completely bent when you squat. The position is similar to the one you’re in before jumping forward.

The Downward Swing

It might feel like playing chicken with your private parts, but the bell needs to go between the legs in the upper section of your thighs.

You should wait till the last moment and hinge back to allow the kettlebell to pass the upper thighs and legs. If the forearm hits the lower thighs, it signals an excess strain on your lower back.

Keep the Back Safe

While swinging, you need to engage the lateral muscles by pulling the shoulders back and down. A tightened upper back affords extra protection to your lower back.

In general, some gym-goers approach the bell like a gorilla to ensure the proper stance. This way there is no risk for the kettlebell to pull your lower back to the wrong position at the downswing phase.

How to Do Kettlebell Swings

As previously hinted, you can choose to perform a two-arm or one-arm kettlebell swing. And there is no reason not to incorporate both swing types into your gym routine.

The Two-Arm Swing

The two-arm swing is somewhat easier to do than the one-arm, which is great if you are just starting out. It allows you to build up stamina and strength that’s needed for the more demanding kettlebell exercises.

Grab the bell with both hands and position your feet. The kettlebell should fall between the legs. Keep your head up and look straight, then propel the bell with your hips. Ten to 15 repetitions per set are enough for starters.

This swing allows you to use a heavier bell, but remember to keep the weight reasonable. It’s also a low-impact exercise which puts minimal strain on your joints.

The One-Arm Swing

Once you master the two-arm swing, it’s time to move onto the one-arm. Note that this exercise requires more effort and might be quite demanding for your shoulders. Here’s how to do it properly.

  • Place the bell between the feet and tighten the rear back. Slightly bend the knees and assume the starting posture. Make sure that your back is flat, and while looking ahead force the bell in the air using the power of your hips.
  • Swing the bell down, and don’t forget that it needs to pass your upper thigh. About ten repetitions per set will do the trick and then switch hands to start a new set.

The one-arm swing is great for working your core muscles and it also hits the stabilizing muscle groups.

How to Incorporate Kettlebell Swing into Your Routine

There are many ways to add the swings to your gym sessions. There is no right or wrong way, but some general rules apply.

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise to finish your legs and back workout. Some people include them on the active recovery day when there are no leg and back sets. The exercise doesn’t cause too much fatigue, so feel free to add kettlebell swings to the chest-and-arm day.

Alternatively, you can use the bells as a warm-up exercise to get your heart pumping. For effective cardio, you can skip the treadmill altogether and swing the bells for up to 40 minutes.

The 40-minute swings are great for burning fat while keeping your muscle mass intact. This routine is usually done with lighter bells. If you go for heavier kettlebells, make sure to keep the number of repetitions down.

You should approach the kettlebell swings the same way as you do interval training. It translates to short intensive bursts, quick rest, and do it all over again.

 The most optimal kettlebell workouts are focused on repetitions, sets, and the combination of one- and two-hand swings. It’s important to set your mind to completing the routine, rather than just spend 40 minutes with the bells. This allows you to quickly build up cardio endurance.

Conclusion

Kettlebell swings are one of the best gym routines you can take up. As presented, the swings work a lot of different muscle groups to boost strength and build muscle, not to mention a good sweat.

Some precautions are necessary, but if you follow the tips in this article, there is little to no risk of injury. In fact, you need to nail the swinging motion to hit the right muscle groups and get the most from this exercise.

Here’s the deal. If you want to become a lean mean machine, kettlebell swings with proper weights are the way to go.

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