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The Two-Handed Russian Kettlebell Swing

What’s with the Kettlebell rage these days? It seems like everywhere we go there are kettlebell boot camps, Kettlebell DVDs, kettlebell workshops, Kettlebell Kids, etc.

So is there a benefit to working out using a cannonball with a handle? Can they do anything that dumbbells can’t do?

In my humble opinion, kettlebells have certainly been sensationalized in MANY ways. When it comes to conventional western weight training like squats, lunges, pressing and pulling movements, there isn’t a lot that kettlebells can do that good ‘ol dumbbells can’t. However, if we take it back to the true roots and origin of the kettlebell, it tells a fascinating story and brings us to one magical movement that dumbbells just can’t accommodate as well: The kettlebell swing.

Kettlebells were actually used in 17th Century Russia as a weight measure for grains and other goods. As workers in the markets and farmers played around with the kettlebells and challenging each other, they quickly made their way into fairs and competitions where men would swing and throw the heaviest kettlebells to prove their power and prowess. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s kettlebells had made their way into Eastern training regimens as they found it to be an incredible tool to build power, strength, stamina, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility.

The kettlebell swing is a movement that seems to be almost a rhythmic pendulum motion, more playful than painful, but is actually one of the most powerful training exercises for human mobility. When done properly, it trains the muscles surrounding the hip to decelerate, stop, then powerfully accelerate – all the while challenging the core to keep the spine (midline) controlled and stabilized. We see this motion in nearly everything we do – sitting, standing, jumping, running, kicking, punching, throwing, you get the point. Hip extension is singlehandedly the most powerful movement that our body can perform, and the kettlebell swing is the main movement that trains it!

While there are numerous variations on the swing, from single arm to alternating hands, let’s just focus on the basic foundation: the two-handed Russian swing.

The Kettlebell begins just below the groin with only 20 or so degrees of knee flexion. As the hips are extended the bell should be swung to chest height (about a 90 degree angle to the body). During the motion the spine should stay rigid and in a straight line – the only major movement is the hinging at the hip, and slight knee bend as the hips are loading while the bell is decelerating. There should be no deep bend in the knees or and flexion of the spine at any time during the swing. In addition, you should never have to pull or raise the kettlebell up with your shoulders – all of the power for the swing comes from the hips and your arms are just along to ‘ride’ the kettlebell up to it’s stopping point.

The kettlebell swing in a nutshell!

So the question is – Are Kettlebells here to stay? Plain and simple…yes, yes, and yes.


14 Comments

  1. Sharon - August 18, 2014

    Can you or Chris give any advice on how someone mostly confined to a wheelchair on how to loose weight if you guys could help me in any way possible that would mean so much more than you guys could imagine

    • Team Powell - August 18, 2014

      I’d suggest discussing the exercise part of Chris and Heidi’s carb cycling program in their book, “Choose More, Lose More for Life,” with your healthcare team so you can work together to put a workout plan in place to help you reach your goals. They are best equipped to help you as they know your exact health history and issues. It can be done!

  2. Anita - August 18, 2014

    I don’t know I am not so sold on them give me a 12 to15lb dumb bell in my hand and let me do some tri cep and bi cep work and chest work and just plan oh curls with it .. because if I started to swing something heave over my head, someone is bound to get hurt.. my self included..

    • Marla - August 19, 2014

      If you actually looked, she is not putting the kettlebell above her head – only shoulder/eye level. When doing your dumbbells, you are working only one muscle group at a time. This works several on top of also adding a cardio factor to it, which the calorie burn has been compared to running. It’s one of the bang for your exercise bucks and thus why it has been around so long.

  3. Cara Schiavo-Garr - August 18, 2014

    Hi Heidi! Thank you for posting about this. Do you have any suggestions for kettlebell beginners to promote good form and prevent injury? I’m really looking forward to incorporating this into my workout!!

  4. Sarah - August 18, 2014

    Great post. I have used kettle balls in the past and need to get back into using them. I am currently in PT for a back problem and need to strengthen my abs (obviously only after clearance from my doctor). Any suggestions on how to best use kettle balls to work on abs?

  5. Deanna - August 18, 2014

    Hi Heidi! How do you know when you need to increase the weight of the kettlebell? Thanks!

  6. Jennifer - August 18, 2014

    Hi Heidi, How many of these should a beginner start with?

  7. Alissa - August 18, 2014

    I’ve only been taught the Russian swing, and I agree, it’s such a fantastic exercise. I own a 35# KB and it’s great for putting together short at home HIIT circuits when I don’t have time to go all the way to the gym. I’ve wondered why we always see the people on EWL doing the American swing with the bell high overhead. I know there are differing schools of thought, but I’ve always been taught that type of swing is a recipe for injury.

  8. Jennifer Rotterman - August 18, 2014

    What amount of weight should you start out at??

    • Team Powell - August 18, 2014

      It kind of depends on whether you’ve already been weight training or not. 8kg (18 lbs) is a good weight to start with, and you can go up from there. Just make sure you have great kettlebell form!

  9. Annette Pulaski - August 8, 2013

    I used a kettlebell for the first time just two months ago. I have been on my fitness journey for only a short six months. When I was introduced to the kettleball by my trainer I fell in love with it. I am looking forward to adding it to my home gym equipment.

  10. Richelle Sheets - July 16, 2013

    Hi Heidi.. thank you for posting this blog. I have since bought a kettle bell and dvd to workout with. I love it and I can feel “the good ache” in my arms from my work outs already. I can’t wait to tone up this flab and have nice sexy arms 🙂
    Thank you for being such a great motivator!

  11. Megan - July 16, 2013

    I just wanted to comment here and say that I’ve been trying to incorporate more kettle bells into my life! As a mother of 2 young children, everything about working out is challenging! I can’t get to the gym most days because I don’t have a sitter, and I really struggle with working out at home. Kettle bells make it so much easier though; just one piece of equipment to grab, I’m not running all over the house and down on our itchy wool rug doing a dozen other workouts, I can just grab my bell and do a 30 minute routine! I’ve noticed so many wonderful improvements in my body, they are definitely my go to strength workout!

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