My friend Kristin Newman wrote an excellent post about the problems she sees with her clients and the kettlebell swing. Granted, she is teaching a CrossFit or "American Style" swing and I teach a "Hardstyle" or "Russian Style" swing, but the movement is basically the same from the shoulders down. The one exception is that in Hardstyle you stop the bell and throw it back down, whereas Crossfitters let it float and sometimes go higher than the plane of their shoulders. One could debate the different styles all day, but I thought I could add to the discussion by posting the common cues I use to fix the problems that Kristin, I, and just about everyone who coaches the kettlebell swing sees. My Cueing Philosophy
"Show; don't tell." If at all possible, I try to use cues that let clients explore the movement and learn it themselves, rather than talking at them for an hour. People have to learn it themselves, want to learn it themselves, and the best coaches provide cues that act more like guidelines for learning the movement than explanations of what is happening physiologically. Dan John has famously never taken an anatomy class or gotten a fitness certification. To quote him, "I don't know a lot about anatomy, I just know the parts I like." Clients don't want a PT lecture; they want to know what's expected of them and the best way to learn how to get there.
My Swing Cues
Newman points out that this biggest area of trouble she sees is in the Hip Hinge. In the hundreds of people I have taught to swing over millions of reps, I have to agree. The swing is a hinge (maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend), not a squat and not weird hybrid of the two (a "Squinge"). To correct the hip hinge I use these:
- The Overspeed Drill. Smack the bell and push it straight back repeatedly, yelling “hit me!” This will get more explosiveness (because you’re loaded them eccentrically) and get them thinking about their hips instead of their arms.
- Don’t Touch the Hand. Place a hand in front of the knee and say, “don’t touch my hand.” This keeps the shin vertical (remember it's maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend).
Secondly, Newman points out that "this isn't a club, don't booty pop." Arching your low back at the beginning of the swing means you won't be using your butt to accelerate the bell, you'll be using only your low back. How do you know if you're using you're low back? Well, to quote Dan again, "If your hamstrings and butt or sore, I'm right. If your low back is sore, you're wrong!" To correct booty pop:
- The Gut Check. Smack the client in the stomach (or pretend to) at the top of the swing. This will get them to light up their anterior core, keep that booty in check, and has the benefit of keeping them from arching their back at the top of the swing (also bad).
- The Silverback. This is a drill where the client places the bell very far in front of them and just hikes it back behind them, maintains a straight spine, then places the bell in the same place. Aka, “the hike pass.” Once they get the hang of of a neutral spine, we “stand up quickly” and voila, they’re swinging.
Finally, Newman asks people to "stay within their shoulder range." This is easier in a Hardstyle swing because you rarely let the bell get out of shoulder range when you're trying to accelerate it back at your crotch as quickly as possible. But it happens with beginners and Crossfitters, so here are my cues to stay within the shoulder range:
- The Plank. Have the client perform a push up position plank, turning everything on as hard as they can. Kick them lightly. Try to push them over. Maybe even pick up their feet like a wheelbarrow. Now tell them to stand up and get in the same position with their arms. Place your arms under their arms and tell to them push down on your arms as hard as they were planking before. “That’s the top of your range of motion. See how you’re under tension? Now do that at the top of the swing.”
- “Your arms are ropes.” This cue works well for the people who wanna muscle the damn thing with their arms.
- The Ultimate Fix. When people are swinging and going well outside their shoulder range of motion, there is no fix I know better than telling them to get a bell roughly twice the size. When it comes to swings, there’s not much that more weight doesn't clean right up.