Movement in Focus: Kettlebell Swing
The traditional kettlebell swing (also known as the Russian swing) is performed with two hands on the kettbell, taking it from between the knees to just above eye level, with a powerful hip thrust. Typical modifications include a single arm swing, and the overhead (American) swing - most likely to be seen at the CrossFit Games - where the kettlebell is locked out above the head.
Regardless of the variation, the movement should always come from the hip, using the glutes to drive the weight up, and gravity to bring it back down again. The arms are there to simply guide the kettlebell.
The kettlebell swing might be one of the simplest movements out there, but don't underestimate the associated benefits.
"No one without the capacity for powerful hip extension enjoys great athletic prowess, and nearly everyone we've met with that capacity was a great athlete."
Greg Glassman, CrossFit Inc.
Powerful hip extension goes hand-in-hand with a strong posterior chain, and directly influences the vast majority of movements you'll encounter in the box: from box jumps to running, as well as the Olympic lifts - and pretty much everything in between. If your posterior chain is weak, not only will your WODs suffer, but you'll be more prone to injury too. The kettlebell swing is one of the most effective ways to develop your posterior chain.
It's a versitile movement and, depending on the workout, can be used to build strength, as well as improve conditioning and endurance. They're perfect for high intensity and tabata-style workouts, making them popular in a wide range of training facilities - from boxes to "globo gyms".
Within the functional fitness industry, injuries caused by kettlebell swings are one of the most common complaints reported by physiotherapists.
The most common injury associated with the American swing occurs in the shoulder. According to Andrew Read, one of the best kettlebell trainers in the world, this isn't surprising. He explains (in this Breaking Muscle article) how the narrow hand position restricts the range of motion in the shoulder, which then becomes compromised as the kettlebell moves overhead.
This, coupled with a weak posterior chain, is a recipe for disaster. The athlete is more likely to use their arms, instead of their hips, to drive the kettlebell overhead.
This controversy has caused much debate inside the community, with many box owners imposing a strict ban on American kettlebell swings for members who aren't competitive athletes.
When performed correctly, the kettlebell swing is a safe and effective movement for anyone looking to improve performance. Critics of the American swing have been quick to point out that it doesn't really involve more work than the Russian swing - so is it worth the increased injury risk?
What are your thoughts on the debate?
Let us know in the comments!