The kettlebell swing - an overview


An overview of the kettlebell swing with muscles activated and movement path

The kettlebell swing is a dynamic and full-body exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles. Think of it as a pendulum or swing. The fixed point is the shoulder and the weight moves forwards and backwards with an extended arm as the body compresses in order to produce force. It is important to understand that the exercise is not a squat, but a hip hinge. Think of the difference between preparing to jump upward and preparing to jump forwards. The kettlebell swing is a forward jump with no jump, as you preload, activate and stabilise.

The primary muscle group targeted during the kettlebell swing is the glutes, which are responsible for extending the hips. The glutes, particularly the gluteus maximus, work to drive the kettlebell forward and upwards, creating a swinging motion.

The hamstrings, which are located on the back of the thigh, also play an important role in the kettlebell swing. They work in conjunction with the glutes to extend the hips and generate power for the swing. The back muscles, specifically the lumbar erectors and the shoulders, also play an important role in the kettlebell swing. These muscles work to stabilize the spine and maintain proper form during the movement. The lumbar erectors, located in the lower back, help to keep the spine in a neutral position during the swing, while the shoulders work to maintain stability and control the kettlebell during the movement.

The core muscles, including the rectus abdominus, obliques, and transverse abdominus, also play an important role in the kettlebell swing. They work to stabilize the spine and pelvis, and they also help to transfer power from the lower body to the upper body during the movement. When the kettlebell accelerates forwards on the concentric phase of the movement arc, the core also braces in order to maintain stability as your base of support is not sufficient to resist forward and backward force production in a tall standing position with feet shoulder width.

Other muscles also involved in kettlebell swing are the quadriceps and the forearms. The quadriceps, located on the front of the thigh, help to control the descent of the kettlebell and act as a brake during the eccentric phase of the movement. The forearms are involved in the grip and control of the kettlebell. The forearms are mainly isometric and switched on throughout the full range of motion with a relaxation at the top of the swing near head height and maximum grip required at the bottom of the swing in order to absorb and overcome gravity, mass and acceleration.

The kettlebell swing is a highly effective exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, making it an excellent choice for building strength and power in the lower and upper body. The only muscle groups not really targeted are the chest and triceps and therefore combing kettlebell swings and press-ups as an interval is an incredibly effective full-body circuit. It is widely stated as one of the best single exercises for a full workout activating as much as 80% of the musculature, heart and lungs with peripheral heart rate training, stability and is joint-friendly as you never leave the spot. It is important to maintain proper form and engage the correct muscle groups throughout the movement to maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of injury.