The Dirty Dozen: Move #1 – The Kettlebell Swing

by Phil Ross on February 13, 2013

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The Kettlebell Swing: Often to referred to as the “Mother of All Kettlebell Exercises” and is the root of all Kettlebell Training.

The Kettlebell Swing is not only the basis but one of the biggest differentiators between Kettlebell Training and other strength and conditioning systems. The Kettlebell Swing “reverse engineers” the practitioner’s hips by the development of the hip hinge, hamstring and glute recruitment through the pop and lock required to execute the movement properly. In addition, the incredible rooting effect for power transference through the body is applicable to improved performance in virtually all sports and strength performance.

The Kettlebell Swing has so many benefits, yet many go untapped through poor execution. I’ve had people walk into my studio claiming “I love to swing, I do tons of them all of the time.”  Then I watch them swing – Ooof! I don’t know where the heck they learned to “swing”, but now I know why they thought that swings were easy! No eccentric/concentric motion, shoulder’s not packed, no rooting, legs bent at the top and to much at the bottom, chicken necking so much that I thought was I hanging with Frank Perdue, lats not engaged, power leaks all over!

Now that we’ve looked at the poor examples, how do we execute the swing? Step one, find a quality instructor or at least purchase some DVDs or get your hands on a video program from one of the top flight RKC Instructors. I will mention, no matter how good a video is, nothing replaces working under the scrutiny of a qualified Kettlebell Instructor.

Starting from the ground up, let’s consider our feet. First make certain that your feet are the correct width apart. If they are too close, you’ll never be able to swing the bell between your legs. If they are too far apart, you won’t be able to completely fire your gluteus, thus leaking power. Additionally, you will tax your hip flexors more which could result in injury. Rooting with the floor is key. Take advantage of the feedback from your feet with the floor. Establishing that that intimate contact with the floor creates a map of you body’s nervous system and helps facilitate feedback and feedforward of movement.

Draw your kneecaps up into your quadriceps as you lock out your knees. This should happen simultaneously to the driving of your coccyx to your naval and the contraction of your gluteus.

While all of this in occurring, you need to shorten your abdominals by “zipping up” and exhaling a short, hard purposeful breath.

Pack your shoulders and engage the lats as the power of the swing travels from the ground, through your feet, into your legs and through you hips and gluteus, up into your lats, passing through your arms and shoots out of the bottom of the Kettlebell.

When you are swinging, think of “hips and grips”. It’s also very important that you go between full relaxation and full tension. This is how to develop incredibly useful strength!

There are quite a few swing variations. There are the two hand swings, the one hand swing, hopping lateral swing, hand to hand swing, dual bell swing, dead start swing, walking swings and the much maligned bottoms up swing, to name a few. All of the same principles apply to all of the swing variations, however there are certain unique benefits to each variation. Check out the accompanying video demonstrating some of the variations of the swing.


Now its time to get off of the computer and start swinging!

Master RKC, 8th Degree Black Belt, Specialist in Bodyweight Strength and CK-FMS Certified. Phil Ross’ name is synonymous with Martial Arts and Fitness. He is known as the area’s Kettlebell King and has successfully competed on the National Level in…  Read more here.


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  • Cody

    Question. In the video, he demonstrates making your upper torso parallel to the floor on the down swing. Wouldn’t this put excess strain on the lower back/spine?

    • If you have correct form, the swing can help prevent back pain. Your pelvis needs to be tucked, your butt cheeks squeezed together, shoulders packed. Everything is tight. Also, noticed how his neck is neutral. It’s common for a ‘swinger’ to look up or across the room as he swings. This is a good swing demo for showing how tight and clean the swing is.

      • Cody

        I am aware of all the benefits and proper form, but I have never seen anyone demonstrate such an exaggerated bend at the hips, including Pavel. Everything else is dead on correct including the fixed neck position, I just don’t feel its natural to reach a 90 degree angle between the floor and the torso during the movement.

    • Anthony

      You should not be trying to make your torso parallel to the floor. You should be trying to get your hips back as far as possible.

  • richard

    i have seen dozens of tutorials on the swing and even recieved instruction from an rkc instructor in my home town. what grabbed me by the collar was the upper body parallel to the floor as the ‘hiking ‘ motion hits the backswing. wallsquats, wak away from wall ‘booty’ touch ,etc. ..have all been used to teach the hinge motion ..but the exxagerrated upper body position even with proper form seems a tad ‘odd’… not a slam mind you i just have never seen it taught this way by the rkc guys i follow. i agree that swings are a great help to the lower back..i have 3 ruptured discs and am able to perform high rep swings as an aid to help with my back problem. 50,60, and sometimes 70 and 90 lb bells are used for swings all without any problem to my already injured spine!! keep swinging and delivering info..the world needs ‘real’ exercise and training materials!

    • Thank you Richard. I have often used the swing to “reset” someone’s low back. Keep Swinging!

  • smith

    I don’t understand the torso parallel to the ground. I paused this video on the downswing and indeed his torso is 90 degrees to the floor with his head down facing the floor. I tried doing this style swing this morning and it made me dizzy.

    • Hello Smith,
      Getting your upper body parallel to the ground loads the hips, hamstrings and glutes. It’s a goal, but not everyone is capable of achieving the 90 degrees of the motion.
      1) I’ve been swinging, and swinging properly, for quite a while. So I am used to bringing my hips back fairly deep and maintaining a neutral spine. Additionally, I’m fairly flexible – especially in my hips and hamstrings. Most likely a result of my many years in the martial arts.
      2) How is your breathing? The breathing on your swings, as with most kettlebell exercises, is essential
      3) Do you suffer from meniere’s?
      4) Was it just this particular motion?
      5) In order to maintain a neutral spine, my face would be looking at the floor at that end of the swing. Many kettlebell lifters do pick up their heads, thus causing undo stress on the cervical spine. A neutral spine, no matter how deep you swing, is essential.
      I hope that this answer helped.

  • seeker

    those swings are terrible

    • Rose

      Can you explain why you think so? It’s my opinion that criticism without explanation isn’t very helpful for anyone!

    • “Seeker” I have zero respect for you for several reasons.
      1) You don’t even put your name. Immediately you demonstrate your complete lack of courage.
      2) You are free to submit a video of yourself performing swings on video and post it on YouTube. I’d be interested to see them – but I would not know who to “Seek” out, your name is not listed. However, you have an open invitation to come to my studio
      3) I wonder how many people you have helped? How many orthopedic surgeons you train? How many injured people your swing methods have strengthened backs and made them able to live pain free? How many high school, college and professional athletes you have trained to championship level? I’d like to see the list – ahhh – but then again, we would not be able to ever find this. You make anonymous posts.
      “Seeker” good luck with your swings – or whatever else you do.

  • seeker

    he shrugs at the op
    the kb doesn’t ever “float”
    chicken neck at the top
    knees straighten then bend again before the hips are done

    • Seeker – Your assessments and comments of the technique demonstrated are completing way off. I will contribute your inaccurate remarks to your lack of knowledge and the fact that you may not have seen too many athletes performing an intense, powerful set of swings.

  • seeker

    Doesn’t matter who you know or, those swings are crap. I guess it’s good for you that Jones, Nuepert, Whitely, Rif, etc all left so you can pretend to be a master. Good luck to you


    Sounds like Seeker is intentionally trying to piss people off. I have been swinging kb’s for 4 years now. I am pushing 50 yrs old with a dislocated disc in my lower back and I swing a 52 pounder with considerable ease. But every now and then my form suffers and use Mr. Ross’s video to get back on track. Seeker should troll some other website, Mr. Ross keep up the good work and thank you.

  • Sam

    Mr. Ross-

    I have been looking for information on what “reverse engineering” of the hips means. I was wondering if you can elaborate on that more and what that exactly means. Reverse engineering as opposed to what?

    Also, I have a spondylolisthesis with a bi-lateral pars defect in the L5 vertebra. This is where the transverse processes are not attached to the body of the vertebra so the L5 slid forward. I tell you this because I’m very wary about not leaning back at the top but I see that you do it(very small amount) and many other RKC videos I have watched, they do it as well. Is that okay because of the pelvic tilt and needing to balance out the inertia of the moving kb?


  • Jared

    For a sec when he said “Front view” I thought he said “F^&k you” to the kettlebell. I thought “man…this dude shows the kettlebell who’s boss!” LOL. I like the “hike the ball” analogy to get you to put more force into the downswing. I am trying to get my torso more horizontal, but I think my ankle mobility (or lack thoerof after breaking both of them in middle/high school sports with no prescriptive therapy to follow) is limiting me. I’m currently working on that, though. Thanks for the info, Ross!

  • Pingback: Training an Olympic Judoka with Kettlebell Swings and the Goblet Squat | RKC School of Strength()

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