Updated: Jul 4
In this article, you will discover the awesome benefits of kettlebell swings. Structured in three parts, the beginning of the article provides you with a brief outline of the benefits. The middle section goes into more depth where you will discover 5 benefits of kettlebell swings. And the end summarises the benefits in a list. In addition, you will find links to resources where you will find exercise tutorials, best products, and more.
Benefits of Kettlebell Swings | The Beginning
The kettlebell swing packs a serious punch. As single resistance exercises go few deliver as many benefits as the kettlebell swing. This is quite surprising considering it’s one of the simplest exercises to perform: Stand over the kettlebell, feet a little over shoulder-width, squatting down pick it up and, firing through glutes and core muscles, swing it level with your shoulders.
But, you might be wondering, how can such a simple exercise confer so many health and fitness benefits? It just doesn’t seem possible. It’s both possible and long been understood.
The kettlebell swing is a complete exercise
In the 1920s a Russian weightlifting champion spoke of the benefits of kettlebell swings. He maintained that swinging ‘brings into action and develops practically every group of muscles on the back of your body and legs, and a good many others besides.’ It was these benefits of kettlebell swings that led this Russian weightlifting champion to proclaim that ‘if you have time on your schedule for only one … exercise, make it this one.’
The praise for this humble exercise doesn’t stop there. Pavel Tsatsouline, a master of sports champion and the man largely responsible for introducing the kettlebell to the West, likens the swing to a physical altercation with a Russian bear because, after a good hundred reps, your muscles feel as though they’ve been torn to shreds (that’s a good thing by the way).
In addition to being a tremendous whole-body strength and fitness developer, Tsatsouline reminds us that ‘the swing is a great way to learn your way around a kettlebell and get prepared for the more difficult’ movements, such as the snatch, clean and jerk, and the long cycle.
So far this is just a taste of the benefits of kettlebell swings. There’s a banquet to follow. But if you’re convinced and just want to get a kettlebell and master this immense exercise, follow the links below.
If, however, you’d like to learn more about the benefits of kettlebell swings, read on.
5 Benefits of Kettlebell Swings | The Middle
1: Swing for a powerful Posterior Chain
There’s a lot of fuss being made over the importance of developing Posterior Chain fluidity. Sports scientists and professional coaches have identified that this biomechanical interrelationship features in many sports and fitness disciplines. Thus, strengthening the Posterior Chain can translate to an increase in performance and power delivery. But what is it?
The Posterior Chain refers to the interconnected structures that run from the back of the leg up to the spine. The group of muscles that comprise the Posterior Chain include the calf (gastrocnemius), hamstrings, gluteus maximi, latissimus dorsi and the erector spinae muscles.
This extensive group of muscles are all recruited when swinging the kettlebell. So, by regularly including kettlebell swings into your training regime, you may experience improvements in other active areas of your life.
For example, when I undertook Dan Jon’s 10,000 repetition kettlebell swing challenge (more on this below), which sees the competitor perform 10,000 swings over 20-days, I noticed a significant increase in power when rowing. Actually, after the challenge, I achieved one of my best ever 5,000m row times.
So, if you’re desirous of eking out marginal improvements in your sport, or you just want to develop your Posterior Chain because of the associative physical benefits, start swinging.
2: Swing for a cast iron core
Thanks to Albert Einstein we know that when a mass object experiences acceleratory forces its weight increases. There’s an equation that neatly expresses this physical phenomenon. But if I attempt to explain it I’ll only confuse myself. So, I’ll quietly bypass the technical stuff and instead talk about what this means for the swinger.
When you swing, say, a 16 or 24kg kettlebell, the weight increases the faster the bell moves. As you fire the kettlebell forward with the strong muscles of your glutes and transverse abdominus, the weight – or mass – of the bell continues to increase until it momentarily comes to a stop at the topmost position.
To control this hurtling wrecking ball all the major muscle groups must be engaged. In addition, because swinging the kettlebell destabilises our position, which is why it feels like we’re being pulled off balance throughout the movement, the muscles of the core are recruited to prevent us from falling forward.
It’s this benefit of kettlebell swings that makes it such a solid core developer. And whereas specific core exercises target only those muscles of the core, making them very limited in scope, kettlebell swings work a staggering range of muscles.
3: Swing for gorilla grip strength
Grip and forearm strength plays an important role in many fitness disciplines. In fact, for powerlifters, Olympic lifters and strongmen grip strength is analogous to Achilles’ heel: it’s a weakness that impedes the athlete’s ability to lift more weight, which accounts for why you often see strength trainers using wrist wraps and other tools when ‘going heavy’. For if they didn’t their grip would give along with the weight.
The first and last point of contact with the kettlebell is the hands. And the muscles that do the most to control, stabilise and guide the bell throughout the swing (and most all other kettlebell exercises) are those of the forearms.
Due to the dynamic nature of kettlebell movements, it is not really feasible to wear wraps. In all the years I’ve trained kettlebells and studied the masters of the sport, I’ve never seen an athlete use wrist wraps, supports, or training aids (tell a lie, I once saw a training partner chalk his hands prior to completing a 10-minute long cycle AMRAP).
A beneficial by-product of the kettlebell’s incompatibility with training aids is that your grip strength develops in line with the larger muscle groups. Meaning you won’t wind up with unnatural strength imbalances, demonstrated by the hulk desperately trying to heave a hundred kees off the floor that’s tethered to his wrists by a pair of wraps. Not a good look. Not good training practice.
4: Swing for fat-loss
Kettlebell swings are like kerosene to your metabolism. It’s been convincingly argued and demonstrated by researchers that short high-intensity bursts of kettlebell swings fire up your metabolism. And if you incorporate swings into a 10-minute HIIT workout, your metabolism will be purring away nicely for up to 30-minutes – after the training session.
Try this 30-Minute Kettlebell Workout
This benefit is probably a consequence of the combination of attributes outlined above; that is, kettlebell swings stimulate a wide range of muscle groups and the Einsteinian mass-increases-with-velocity equation.
A corollary of increased metabolic activity is an increase in calorie consumption. Nothing new there. Just like a car, if your ‘engine’ (metabolism) is working harder it burns more fuel (calories/fat).
This ties in nicely with a commonly reported outcome of people who participated in the 10,000-repetition kettlebell challenge. When Dan Jon originally conceived of this sadomasochistic challenge, he recruited a crack team of human guinea pigs to try it out.
After completing the 10,000 reps over 20-days Jon asked his team of swingers to report on the health and fitness outcomes they experienced. More than a quarter of the group reported having dropped dress and trouser sizes while others said they noticed an increase in muscle definition – which is another indication of diminishing body fat.
In the 5 years since the 10,000-rep kettlebell swing challenge was first made public, thousands of people have pitted themselves against it. Many reported strength gains, increased stamina, and positive shifts in body composition.
The fat-loss benefit of kettlebell swings offers a refreshing alternative for people who want to shed a few pounds but aren’t particularly fond of cardio. The common misconception is that the only way to lose weight, trim up, and burn fat is to go running. However, research and an army of testimonials suggest that you can swing your way to a leaner body.
5: Swinging is super simple
The final benefit of kettlebell swings that we will consider is not related to health or fitness. This benefit is technical as opposed to physiological.
One of the strengths of the kettlebell swing is how easy it is to master. The technical simplicity – if you will – makes it an eminently accessible exercise. And someone who is a complete novice can become a competent swinger in no time at all.
It’s for this reason why Tsatsouline recommends that those who are just starting out on their kettlebell journey begin with the swing. For not only does this exercise confer a multitude of health and fitness benefits, as this article has endeavoured to demonstrate, but it is comparatively easy to execute, meaning more people can enjoy the many benefits on offer.
Moreover, the sensible novice who starts with the swing will develop a strong physical foundation on which they can later build an edifice of the more advanced kettlebell exercises. It wouldn’t be an over-exaggeration to say that some kettlebell movements, such as the long cycle, Turkish get-up, or snatch are dangerous. (I almost cracked a cheekbone trying to Turkish get-up with a 40kg kettlebell. Thankfully I attenuated the impact with my free hand. Had I have not, I certainly would’ve spent the evening in hospital.)
By forging rock-solid physicality over the anvil of the swing, you will cultivate the requisite competency to augment your stock of kettlebell exercises. When you do see our other articles:
Try the Hungry4Fitness 6-Week Kettlebell Programme
Benefits of Kettlebell Swings | The End
Below is a distillation of the many benefits people have experienced from kettlebell swings.
Improved muscle definition
Dropping of waist sizes
Increased grip strength
Noticeable body compositional improvements
Augmentation of pre-existing lean muscle mass
Enhanced energy levels
Advancements of strength PBs
Body strength ‘shot through the roof’
Abs really did take on the appearance of slabs!
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
Tsatsouline, P. (2001) The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Dragon Door Publications. USA.