Learning the KettleBell Swing
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Just as last week and I attended the HKC Hardstyle Kettlebell certification put on by Dragon Door in Newport Beach. Going into it I would say the most I had moderate knowledge of how to utilize the kettle bell but only after going through the certification do I truly understand the complexity of the 3 major lifts we went through:
- The Swing
- The Get-up
- The Goblet Squat
Before going any further I like to thank Dan John (http://danjohn.net/), Paul Daniels (http://thebodywarehouse.com/), Benjamin Cooke and Jim Hooper (http://www.balboafitness.com/) for putting on a great seminar. The student to teacher ratio was probably around 3 to 1, which I think in this setting was perfect. Again the complex nature of these lifts and the always evident possibility of injuring yourself makes it important for fitness professionals to understand how to correctly relay the information they learned at the seminar to their students.
Before we go into what an actual swing is I think it’s important to realize why it so hard for so many people. The Hip Hinge movement pattern is a lost art and feared by many, with good reason since if done with poor technique there is always the potential of strains of the muscles surrounding the spine, disc hernations, and more, but a hip hinge actually does not have much to do with increasing lumbar flexion at all. It is merely an isolated motion of the pelvis, about the hips, creating forward flexion and posterior pelvis displacement.
With the swing we are looking at how to control the hip hinge through different ranges of motion, loaded and unloaded, in a ballistic fashion.
Without going too much into the secrets of the seminar, let me at least state these tips to help out some my clients master the swing…. There are two major parts of the swing.
The Up Phase
The stance phase is actually no more than a standing plank. Imagine doing a plank on elbows and toes, knees locked, glutes contracted, no low back sagging, shoulders locks and neck straight… it is really no different except now we are standing. Now lets compare to standing… we see the knees are extended, the glutes are contracted, the belt line should be parallel to the floor (as if your pelvis is a full bucket of water ready to slosh out either side with a slight tip), the shoulders should be compact as if you were holding paper in your armpits, the head should be straight and lifted in a manner as if there was a balloon pulling up on your body from your hair. As you can see in this position we are very powerful… The core is engaged, your feet still grounded (as Dan John would say “driving your heels to China”), and the elbows are pointed around 60° outward. From this position if you extended your elbows you would see the maximum height of the kettle bell swing for our beginner stage.
The Down Phase
To help find this position for the first time we need to understand the hip hinge again. The way I was able to understand it the best was with this scenario… Imaging someone jamming a 2×4 straight into your groin area while you are in your standing plank position… what would happen? You would “react” and dive your hips away as quick as possible. I know it sounds bad but in order to cushion the eminent blow your hips would automatically retrieve backwards, your lower back and shoulders would come forward to counter-balance(while still in a neutral spine position.) In this position you would start to feel a pull on your hamstrings. Imagine this as a reflex. In this situation we would not be bending our knees because again we are trying to “retreat backwards” from the piece of wood. Through the seminar they explained one of the major differences between the swing and a squat is the amount of knee bend.
Swing = maximum hip bends (so again that posterior displacement) and minimal knee bend (there will be some knee bend yet not a lot).
Squat = maximum hip and knee bend, which will create more of the upward/ downward propulsion. Think of it as jumping, if you were to jump you use maximum knee bends and hip bends… in fact most people doing squats will not feel their hamstrings pulling as strongly as in the swing.
In a swing we’re looking for feedback from the hamstrings as the hip displaces posterior, or backwards, and this feedback will feel as if the hamstrings are “on fire” because they are being stretched aggressively.
The Swinging Motion
The dynamic motion of the swing can be accomplished by finding a quick transition from the standing plank position to the “wood scenario” and back again to plank.
If we are able to accomplish the swing at The Performance Place these are going to be our steps:
1) know how to plank
2) experience the “woods scenario” → experience the feel of the hamstring stretching
3) start with the kettle bell about 2 feet away, between your legs, and drag it towards you while continuing to have straight posture in the lower and mid back. Dragging the bell towards you will allow your pelvis to displace posterior and the momentum will put you into your 1st swing.
4) ” snap” the hips and body into the standing plank position, while letting the kettle bell continue weightlessly in front you (so your are not yanking it up with your shoulders)
5) as the kettle bell descends force it down and ” attack your zipper.” See the Dan John Video on Youtube (13 mins long but it goes over everything I wrote about)
Now some people might feel they’re not doing the swing correctly and they’re probably right, but let’s keep in mind how long it takes to correctly accomplish a motion. I’m sure most people are not able to swing a baseball bat correctly for years, and even though they’ve come close to the perfect form they continue to strive for perfection throughout their careers. Lifting and swings are no different.
My goal is to help you, as my clients, to work towards your fitness and performance goals as safely as possible and I feel the swing can become a major part of that. There were a few regressions and building blocks we can use to make it as safe as possible, so keep in mind if you are not able to do a swing from the start do not get frustrated. Some people are not cut out for it and there are plenty of things we can do to help activate your glutes and core in effort to produce power and strength.
These building blocks will help give the body the necessary feedback it needs to accomplish a swing later on.
Sebastian Gonzales DC CSCS
Owner/CEO The Performance Place