The Kettlebell Swing
- Level: Beginner
- Muscles strengthened: Butt, Back, Shoulders, Arms
- Target: 3 sets of 12 reps
What you need to know
The Kettlebell Swing, also known as the Russian Swing, is a great exercise both for warming up the body and for toning the lower back and glutes (butt) in particular.
The key to performing this exercise effectively is to initiate the swing in the hips rather than the shoulders – which is the most common mistake for first-timers.
And since the back and butt are bigger muscles that means you can swing heavier weights than if you were using the shoulders.
If you’re using the Kettlebell Swing as part of a warm-up go for a light weight. This will vary from person to person but typically will fall within a 2kg to 5kg bracket. If you can comfortably manage 15 successive swings without needing to rest then that’s a good warm up weight for you.
It is not advisable to go above 5kg when you’re warming up the body as the momentum of the movement combined with a heavy weight can cause injury when the muscles and joints are cold. So always save the heavy kettlebells for a thoroughly warmed-up body.
If you’re using the swing as part of a toning session or circuit workout then find a weight that challenges you on the last two of 12 reps and try to complete three sets in total three times a week. Most people should manage at least 5kg from the outset, stronger exercisers can swing 20kg or even more. Wherever you start aim to increase the weights you use by 10% in the first month.
Remember that kettlebells are meant to feel heavy. Your form when exercising can suffer as much with a weight that’s too light as it does with a weight that’s too heavy, so experiment with different weights on the first few occasions and ensure you don’t take it too easy or to make it too hard.
What you need to do
Start with the kettlebell on the floor in front of you and set your feet wide of your hips with the toes and the knees turned outwards.
Maintain a long back and long arms, bend your knees and hold the kettlebell by the handle with both hands, with palms facing the body.
Keep your knees bent but extend them just enough to lift the kettlebell off the floor – ensure the lift comes from the legs not the arms or the shoulders.
Before you move, make sure your feet are both grounded heel to toe, your knees are both bent and your back is extended crown to tail. If all this is the case your torso will be naturally tilted forwards.
Ensure also that your shoulders are drawn down from the ears and dropped into the back and that your core is engaged.
Begin to swing by lengthening the legs, tucking the tailbone under, tensing the glutes and allowing the long arms to rise. As you do this make sure the hands reach shoulder level but no higher to avoid stressing the back. Breathe out through the mouth as you swing upwards.
Then bend the knees, tilt the tall torso forward and swing the arms under the body until the hands are just behind and below the tailbone. Breathe in through the nose as you swing downwards.
Repeat for the number of reps you’re completing and then return the kettlebell to the floor by bending the knees.
Tips and Pointers
- Remember the movement is initiated in the hips not the shoulders.
- Control the level that the hands rise to, if you go too high you’ll lose your posture and put stress on the lower back.
- If you find your hands swing above shoulder level easily you can probably manage extra weight (unless you’re only warming up).
- Keep your heels grounded at all times.
- The tighter you tense your butt the easier it will be to keep a long spine and a toned tummy as tension in the glutes brings extension to the lower back and creates a better position for the core muscles in the abdominal wall to engage.
If you need some equipment to get started then check out the range of kettlebells in our online shop: Kettlebells