How To Avoid Back Pain From Kettlebell Swings

by Wayne Pallas on July 26, 2017

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Wayne Pallas HKC, Swinging A Kettlebell

I earned my HKC in April of 2016, and began working with clients shortly afterward. The most common complaint I have heard has been lower back pain after swinging. Since I have always been careful to teach proper technique (e.g. packed shoulder blades, loading the glutes, keeping the head up, etc.), I was puzzled and decided to figure out what was causing this problem.

One possible cause is over-lordosis, arching the back at the top of the swing. I think the best remedy is to teach and practice a vertical plank. Full body tension, especially in the core, helps keep the back properly aligned.

I also noticed is that swinging with a kettlebell is different than practicing the hip hinge without weight. Weight changes the way the upper body moves during the hip hinge. The heavier the weight, the greater the risk that it will alter a proper hip hinge, putting more stress on the lower back (see photo below), especially if you keep your arms perpendicular to your torso on the way down.

Lower Back Stress From Incorrect Swing

The heavier the weight, the greater the risk that it will alter a proper hip hinge, putting more stress on the lower back, especially if you keep your arms perpendicular to your torso on the way down.

If you think of the upper body as a lever, with the navel area as the fulcrum, the weight of a kettlebell during a swing or snatch will tend to pull the shoulders down and in turn, move the hips up, which engages the lower back (see photo below). The solution I came up with is to “sit” into the hinge more, which feels like you are moving closer to a squat than a hinge, but relieves lower back stress.

Upper Body As A Lever

If you think of the upper body as a lever, with the navel area as the fulcrum, the weight of a kettlebell during a swing or snatch will tend to pull the shoulders down and in turn, move the hips up, which engages the lower back.

You can experiment with adjusting your hip hinge while moving or you can adjust your technique statically. Hold a fairly heavy kettlebell as you would for a squat and assume a hip hinge stance. Bend forward slightly visualizing your immobile upper body moving around a fulcrum (the red dot in the photos above). You should be able to feel your lower back reacting to the weight. From there, rotate your shoulders up (and hips down) until the back stress disappears (see example below). This approximates the proper stance while swinging with weight.

Lower Back Swing Experiment

Rotate your shoulders up (and hips down) until the back stress disappears.

After adjusting the hip hinge using weight, my clients and I have become more aware of our posture, and have been able to adjust it even while swinging, avoiding back pain.

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Wayne Pallas, HKC is a retired Colorado teacher (40 years, math/music), avid runner, personal trainer, and former martial artist. Over the past five years, he has sent out a monthly general fitness newsletter, Wayne’s Fitness Tips & Tricks, to several hundred readers. He is currently training for the Denver RKC in September.

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  • I can’t help thinking “Overlord Osis” would be a terrific trainer name 🙂

  • Matt Schifferle

    Great point to ponder, thanks Coach!

  • Geoffrey Levens

    Good tip. When I have had low back pain from swings though it is from hyperextension at the bottom. For some reason I have tendency to shut off my abs as the bell goes between my legs and tension already present in lower lumbar pulls pelvis back. Something I must always be mindful of, esp as weight of KB increases.

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