The kettlebell swing is a fantastic movement to help develop the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors) and promote powerful hip extension and explosiveness. It is a great movement because it is not overly complicated and you get a lot of bang for your buck. That being said, there are some common faults I see that I would like to address and provide solutions to correct them.
1. Using your hips vs. Squatting
Squatting instead of using the hips to move the kettlebell is probably the most common error I see. The kettlebell swing is a hip-driven movement. You should not be squatting to generate power to swing the bell. Your knees should be unlocked, shins should be vertical, feet flat on the floor (not on your toes or leaning back too far on your heels) approximately hips distance apart, chest up, hinge at the hip and then aggressively extend your hips. After you hinge at the hip if you think about squeezing your butt this will make you extend your hips. The muscles in your posterior chain are powerful; do yourself a favor and use them to your advantage.
2. Getting owned by the kettlebell
Now this can mean a lot of different things, but what I’m referring to is when the kettlebell pulls your chest down toward the ground, and you contemplate “hiking” the kettlebell through your legs to an unsuspecting buddy behind you (please don’t ever do this). Don’t get lazy when you bring the bell down and prepare to swing again. Keep your lats, abs, and lower back tight and make sure your chest continues to point straight ahead. If the bell continues to suck your chest through your legs you need to make an adjustment: a) put the bell down for a few seconds, collect yourself, tighten it up and start swinging again; or, b) if this didn’t correct the problem, the bell is most likely too heavy (please don’t let your ego get the best of you and get a lighter bell).
3. Range of Motion
I’m only going to address the full American swing on this one. This is one of the movements that might lead to me having a brain aneurysm or developing hypertension. A lot of people still think the bell just has to be in the general vicinity of over your head at some point for complete range of motion. I’m not sure where this came from because every time we do full swings I adamantly explain what full range of motion is. So, just so there is no confusion, here is the movement standard straight from the CrossFit® Games website:
“At the top of the swing, the kettlebell must be fully inverted (bell over the handle), centered over the feet with the hips and knees fully extended and the arms straight. At the bottom, the wrists must touch the thighs and the bell must pass behind the heels. There is no requirement for flexing the knees.” (http://games2011.crossfit.com/node/610464.html)
I see a lot of people start out will good quality reps, but as fatigue sets in the bell no longer becomes fully inverted, or perhaps the arms don’t fully straighten anymore. Just because you start to get tired doesn’t mean you get a pass on your range of motion or standards of movement. This doesn’t just apply to kettlebell swings either, but to ALL movements and lifts. If you need to rest a few seconds to get that full range of motion back please do so, or grab a lighter bell if you can’t get it back. I’m not trying to be a hard-ass here, but progress and gains can only truly be determined based on repeatable and measureable range of motion. I want you all to make as much progress and gains as you possibly can. So the next time I (or any coaches) give you a correction or cue please try to make the adjustment. We are only telling you those things to try to make you better, more efficient, and ultimately to keep you safe.