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by Bret Contreras – 9/18/2012 The kettlebell swing is an incredible exercise, but it's also quite polarizing, as strength coaches seem to either love it or hate it. I've spoken to coaches in America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and I always get the same two opinions. It's either something like, "I love the kettlebell swing, it's a great tool for teaching proper hip movement and for conditioning the glutes and hamstrings," or something like, "The kettlebell swing sounds good in theory, but my athletes need heavier loads to induce adaptations. Therefore I'll keep squatting and power cleaning." I can understand both sides of the equation. What the coaches with the latter opinion fail to realize is that the hip extension torque requirements of a lighter kettlebell swing can indeed match that of a heavier clean or snatch, due to the inherent arced motion of the kettlebell. You must absorb eccentric loading and then reverse the kettlebell forward and upward, whereas in the case of the Olympic pulls you simply accelerate the barbell upward and then catch it up top. For this reason, the classic argument suggesting that power outputs of kettlebell swings can't match those of power cleans and snatches isn't accurate, but you must take into account the resultant (horizontal and vertical) data to realize this. However, I agree with the premise that a 35-pound kettlebell won't do much for increasing a lineman's hip strength – heavier loads are indeed needed as they lead to greater force production, which is always important! But force isn't the only variable important in sports, power is a critical component, and the swing is an excellent movement for hip power.
Perfect Swing Form You Know it When You See It
First I'd like to discuss kettlebell swing form. I'm sure the RKC folks have scrutinized every last detail about the swing and have come up with the best possible way of teaching it. And since I'm not RKC-certified, I'm not quite as qualified as those folks to discuss kettlebell swing form. However, I'm obsessed with biomechanics and a student of movement in general. And for this reason, I know a perfect kettlebell swing when I see it. There's a certain beauty to the motion that's hard to describe. Watch this video of my friend Marianne and you'll understand: Here are some general rules you want to be aware of:
which is around shoulder-level. but rather on hinging around the hips. The movement's emphasis isn't on sinking down into a squat. The feet stay planted firmly on the ground – there's no rising onto the toes. you must improve their movement patterns before loading them up. I'm ecstatic. A proper set up (sort of like a center hiking a football) is with high hips. I've trained a few of these folks myself. Rather. when someone shows up to train with me and they have proper kettlebell training experience. There's no excessive contribution from the arms. so patience is needed. deadlift. It can take weeks just to get them to hip hinge properly. The goal isn't to learn how to use momentum and conserve energy – it's easy to figure out how to "cheat" during the swing. With these clients. While the kettlebell is near the body. Show Me Someone Who Can Swing Properly and I'll Show You Someone Who Can Squat. There's a considerable range of motion around the hip joint with the torso position nearly parallel to the ground at the bottom range of motion. If they can swing properly. an explosive hip action characterized by a strong gluteal contraction raises the kettlbell upwards and the lifter shifts his weight backward a bit. For this reason. The posterior pelvic tilt and glute contraction is maintained while the kettlebell travels upward and away from the body and is held until the kettlebell drops back down and returns near the body. the lifter shifts his weight forward a bit and the knees bend and travel forward slightly. and hip thrust properly. and Hip Thrust Properly Talk to any coach or trainer and they'll tell you some horror stories about "nightmare" athletes or clients who showed up on their doorsteps with the worst lumbopelvic-hip-complex (LPHC) kinematics known to mankind. Tell them to sit back and they coil over like a snake. a solid arch. On the way up. They're unable to keep a neutral spine while bending. On the way down. and the kettlebell out in front to allow for proper "hiking" of the first rep. They don't possess the motor control to stabilize the spine while moving solely around the hip joint. for the most part the hips drive the kettlebell to its peak height. it stays close to the "privates" and never sinks below the knees. A neutral neck position (no cervical hyperextension) is maintained throughout the movement. . Deadlift. it's quite easy to teach them how to squat. the goal is to achieve a maximal glute contraction to drive the kettlebell forward and upward explosively while adhering to excellent technical form. A neutral spine (no lumbar flexion at the bottom or hyperextension at the top of the movement) position is maintained with very slight anterior pelvic tilt at the bottom of the motion and very slight posterior pelvic tilt at the top.
so your strength and power will rapidly increase when you start taking swings seriously. At first. In the video above. several months ago I bought a 106-pound kettlebell." "knees out." and "keep the neck in neutral. and more recently a 203-pound kettlebell." Good kettlebell swingers are already doing all of these. I should mention that my form on kettlebell swings is far from optimal. but when you go heavier. Now my 106-pounder feels like a cupcake. Two weeks later I got 20 reps with it. fit females want to strive to swing 106 pounds for reps and males should shoot for 203 pounds. These qualities exemplify most of the more complex components of the big lower body lifts. I never got any "assistance" from swinging light kettlebells around. However. you can put deadlifts on the backburner for a while and maintain your strength by doing heavy ass swings 2-3 times per week." "chest up. it's a different story. Heavy Ass Kettlebell Swings (HAKS) – An Incredible Deadlift and Olympic Lift Assistance Exercise When an assistance lift works. I've found that it's easy to swing 70 pounds with perfect form. you know it immediately. but nevertheless I've found that the transfer to deadlifting is incredible as long as you go heavy. . I'm swinging the 203-pounder for 8 reps. over time. However. but it's a long-term goal to strive for. so you can train them more frequently. I'm not nearly as eloquent as Marianne. heavy swings don't destroy the body like maximal deadlifts do." "push through the heels.They already possess superior motor control in the LPHC characterized by proper hip hinging form and proper gluteal contraction at lockout. But I know how to use my glutes properly (from 6 years of hip thrusting) and therefore I fire them like crazy during the swing. In fact. but in the meantime it still provides an amazing training stimulus. 70 pounds." "squeeze the glutes. I look like a damn Neanderthal heaving the weight around. "heavy" for a typical female lifter might be 35 pounds and for a typical male. Think about the typical cues used by coaches during squats and deadlifts: "Sit back. This may seem far-fetched. Best still. Eventually I'll make the 203-pounder look right.
444 278-353 Hip Hinge Style70 1. the 140-pound swing (I needed to hold onto two 70-pounders to use this load) leads to similar levels of horizontal force than those seen during maximal sprinting by elite sprinters. New Zealand.140 340-402 Hip Hinge Style140 2.935-2. forceful kettlebell swings done in an RKC-style fashion would help sprinters attain greater speeds. In fact. . but in the hip style swing. and faster speeds are all about the hips. the emphasis is on hip hinging (see Marianne's hip range of motion). Horizontal Force Production. To the naked eye. so it's logical to assume that rapid. the differences in form between the two appear very subtle.325-2. but in terms of kinematics and kinetics they're quite different. In the squat style. Style Load (lbs)Peak Vertical Force (N)Peak Horizontal Force (N) Squat Style 70 2. Elite sprinters are able to generate large amounts of net horizontal force at high velocities. and the torso stays slightly more upright.170-2.(2. I conducted a minor experiment. the hip-hinge style swing generates much more horizontal forces than the squat style swing due to the more aggressive hip action. which is very significant. the knees bend more.(1) And many researchers feel that horizontal force production and horizontal power are the keys to increasing speed. you not only get more vertical force production. but you get 50% more horizontal force production. the second by Kreutzfeldt Zebis and colleagues (5) and was published ahead of print in July 2012. the kettlebell sinks down more. The chart below summarizes the two study's findings.550 499-520 Heavy Hip Dominant Swings. In fact. The first was conducted by Stu McGill and Leigh Marshall (4) and was published in January 2012.3) Muscle Activation During Kettlebell Swings Two excellent studies have been published on muscle activation during the kettlebell swing.349 166-182 Squat Style 140 2. McGill's study used a 16-kilogram (35-pound) kettlebell in the study. while Kreutzfeldt Zebis's study used either 12-kilogram (26-pound) or 16-kilogram (35-pound) kettlebells. and Sprint Speed As you can see by the chart.Inherent Ground Reaction Forces Involved in 2 Styles of Kettlebell Swings When I was in Auckland.431-2. I used two different loads (70 pounds and 140 pounds) and performed two different styles of swings (a squat style swing and a hip-hinge style swing) while standing on a force plate. with the heaviest loads.
lighter kettlebell loads are warranted in the swing. At the end of this article I'll provide several options that allow for heavy swinging. You'd be thinking. press them. but this is the exception. coaches. The average spinal loading was reported for the other participants and values were very high considering the weight of the kettlebells. Imagine if you started seeing tons of studies on dumbbells but the studies only used 10 and 20-pound dumbbells with grown men.(6) And 70 pounds still isn't all-that. a recent study published ahead of print by Lake & Lauder used up to 70 pounds and this is one of the best studies I've seen to date (it showed that swings elicited a greater impulse than squats or jump squats). I wish Stu would've reported the compressive and shear forces on the spine during Pavel's swings as this would be interesting to know. snatch them.(7) I realize that lighter kettlebells are common because people want to clean them. However. nor were they using as heavy of loads. And initially. you must progress them in load. so I'm calling for action here! Fitness equipment manufacturers need to start mass-producing heavy-ass kettlebells. I want to see training studies using heavy-ass kettlebells to see their transference to athletic performance. and lifters. in my opinion. use heavier loads.Peak Activation (% MVC) Gluteus Maximus 76 Gluteus Medius 70 Semitendinosus 115 Biceps Femoris 93 Long Head Muscle % of Movement Cycle at Peak Activation 57 56 – – Hip Joint Angle at Knee Joint Angle Peak Activation at Peak Activation – – 72 70 – – 7 7 McGill also included a case study on Pavel Tsatsouline in his study." Well. that's what I'm seeing in kettlebell research – incredibly light loads for the hips! Interestingly. and do Turkish get-ups with them. Check out my thoughts here on a recent study comparing kettlebells to Olympic lifting by Otto et al. and gym owners need to start buying them. not the norm. "Silly researcher. – a poorly designed study. . so undoubtedly the compressive (and likely the shear) loads were much greater in Pavel's case study. Problems With Kettlebell Research One good thing I've noticed over the last year is that we're seeing a huge influx of kettlebell studies in the literature. However. I know most gyms and athletic facilities don't carry heavy-ass kettlebells. and using a 32-kilogram (70-pound) kettlebell. as athletes and clients advance in kettlebell swings. These folks weren't nearly as experienced as Pavel at swings. Pavel was able to achieve 100% peak muscle activation in the gluteus maximus and over 150% peak muscle activation in his erector spinae. these studies aren't very meaningful to me.
Conversely the anterior pelvic tilt is the correct pelvic rotation for squatting [and] lifting heavy loads off the floor. The pelvis plays a vital role in the ability of the athlete to produce strength efficiently and safely. where the kettlebell reaches its apex. It is only when a load (or bodymass) is lifted or resisted those other types of pelvic tilt become necessary.(9) At this moment. the core musculature relaxes and therefore compressive force diminishes. make sure you swivel at the hips and keep the core and glutes tight. Yuri Verkoshansky and Mel Siff.(4) And these figures would surely be much higher during heavier swings. I feel that they're generally well tolerated by the masses.(8) It's actually a quote from two legends in our field. creating shear forces on the spine. For folks who are intolerant to shear forces. this compressive force is protective and limits shear forces. Stu's latest kettlebell study showed that the swing imposed 3. only sufficient tilt is used to prevent excessive spinal flexion or extension The posterior pelvic tilt is the appropriate pelvic rotation for sit-ups or lifting objects above waist level. you'll feel the hammies when in a hips flexed position (at the bottom ROM of the swing) and glutes when in a hips-extended position (at the top ROM of a swing). So don't just jump full-bore into heavy swinging – ease into it. As you can see in the video of Marianne. Verkoshanksy and Siff 2009 If you adhere to this properly during a swing. so at the same time the kettlebell is reaching its apex. One interesting gem I learned from Stu in a recent lecture was that the very top portion of the swing. it's also pulling the body forward. this spells trouble. poses the greatest risk to the spine. Even then. compressive protection from shear isn't there. Unfortunately.A Key Finding from Pavel Pelvic Positioning During the Swing I obtained the quote below from Pavel Tsatsouline. Here. indicating that they might be problematic for some lifters. if you do experience pain or discomfort in the swing. standing and walking.195N of compressive force and 461N of shear with only 35-pound kettlebells. What made me so happy was that I came to this conclusion on my own without ever seeing this quote. practice makes perfect. because it is the major link between the spinal column and the lower extremities a neutral pelvic tilt offers the least stressful position for sitting. Nevertheless. Stu's study showed that even when cued to move at the hips and keep the spine in neutral. . Stu McGill's Insight I've never encountered a client who couldn't tolerate a kettlebell swing. many subjects indeed flexed and extended their spines. And without the core muscle activation. However. there are indeed folks who might experience back pain or discomfort with swings. her spine doesn't appear to flex or extend.
Heavy swings are not a sissy exercise. Here's what it looks like: . you get more hip range of motion. Jim Wendler approves them (10). The heavy swing is a superior movement in my opinion.Are Kettlebell Swings for Pussies? I'll keep this brief. Second. by law the dynamic deadlift must decelerate to come to a halt. the double overhand grip provides a great challenge to the grip. threaded at both ends) Two 3/4-inch x 4-inch pipe nipples for the "horns. First. one 3/4-inch x 8-inch nipple cut in half One 3/4-inch floor flange One Swedish penis enlarger (just making sure you're still reading) Of course. there's a greater acceleration phase with the swing as it's really a ballistic movement. However. In fact. I like the heavy swing better than the Olympic lifts and jump squats for football players – it's simpler to teach and easier on the joints. I made mine for under $15 after I first read about it online. Four Options for Heavy Swinging There are four options for heavy swinging: Homemade T-Handle You can make your own homemade T-Handle. I no longer see any need to perform dynamic effort deadlifts. trust me! Heavy Swings A Permanent Replacement for Dynamic Effort Deadlifts? After performing heavy swings for a solid month." or better. Down the road I'd like to see college football and NFL teams taking heavy swings seriously.(11) All you need from your local hardware store is the following: One 3/4-inch pipe Tee fitting One 3/4-inch x 12-inch pipe nipple for the vertical shaft (a pipe nipple is a piece of pipe. Many meatheads say that kettlebell swings are a sissy exercise. Enough said! I'm sure he'd like them even more if he had a 203-pounder to throw around. you'll need some 25-pound plates to load onto the pipe as well. And third. and Jim has squatted a grand and has a huge beard.
Morin JB. and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation. Visk?r TC. 3. Jensen TL. Andersen LL. Chaouachi A. J Strength Cond Res. Bencke J. 2011. and my 203pounder is from ADER. Mortensen P. Mann. but the Hungarian Core Blaster works very well too. McGill SM. Conclusion And with that. 25(4):933-9. you can buy a KettleClamp. which I found on eBay. 2011. you can buy a Hungarian Core Blaster.Hungarian Core Blaster Second. Kettlebell swing. if so you'll thank me down the road.(12) This is better than the homemade version (T-Handle) so if you have the money. There are also companies selling them online.(14) If you have the money. snatch. 2. you can simply buy heavy ass kettlebells. Andersen CH. Cronin J. which I bought at a local fitness store. The KettleClamp Third. I shall wrap up this article that's ostensibly every damn thing you wanted to know about heavy kettlebell swinging. motion. 2012. 43(9):1680-8. Petersen MH. I hope you decide to take my advice and start implementing heavy swings. and low back loads. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Effects of running velocity on running kinetics and kinematics. Brughelli M. The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling. This is a new invention that essentially turns any dumbbell into a kettlebell. Zebis MK. 26(1):16-27.(13) Here's what it looks like: Monster Kettlebells Finally. go for it. you should definitely go this route and buy the actual heavy kettlebells as they simply feel the best. 2011. 4. Technical ability of force application as a determinant factor of sprint performance. RA. Kettlebell swing targets semitendinosus and supine leg curl targets . Samozino P. J Strength Cond Res. My 106-pounder is from APOLLO. 5. as does the KettleClamp. Skotte J.CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Please join me and become a proud swinger! References 1. Edouard P. Marshall LW.
2012.biceps femoris: an EMG study with rehabilitation implications. P. Hungarian Core Blaster. [Epub ahead of print] 6. MovementLectures. 14.? Hardstyle Abs: Hit Hard. 2011 Dec 28. The KettleClamp. T-Handle. Feb 29. 13. . March. Contreras. J Strength Cond Res. 11. Audio Lecture. 8. Lauder MA. Look the Part. August 2012. 10. Lake JP. Olympic Weightlifting vs. Br J Sports Med. Dragon Door Publications. Tsatsouline. 12. [Epub ahead of print] 7. Jan. 2012 Jul 6. Kettlebells on Lower Body Strength and Power. (I received an advanced copy) 9. Blood and Chalk Volume 4: Jim Wendler Talks Big Weights. Krahn. 2013. 2010. From the Lab to the Trenches. Monster Kettlebells. B.Com. B. Lift Heavy. Mechanical demands of the kettlebell swing exercise. McGill S and Liebenson C. 2010.
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