The Swing Revisited
by Steven M. Ledbetter
6 minute read
I learned the kettlebell swing about two years ago from a guy named Antonio who is carved from marble and has a butt you could rest a beer on. Rightly thinking the swing might have had something to do with that, I have swung a bell almost every day since. Without exaggeration, I have performed the movement hundreds of thousands of times. For one month, all I did for exercise was swing the bell 10,000 times. I have also taught over a hundred people the hard-style kettlebell swing. After two years of swinging, teaching, and swinging some more, I thought it was about time to revisit this king of ballistic hinge movements.
The Bottom, aka The Hinge
Before one can launch a rocket, one must know where to aim it. The swing is a hip hinging motion very similar to the deadlift. Don’t know how to hinge? Walk over to a wall and face away from it. Place two fingers of each hand on each of your hip bones on the front of your hip. With a perfectly flat back, push your fingers into your hips and shove your butt back towards the wall. Bend your knees a little, but only to get your butt back even further. If your butt taps the wall, come back up by squeezing your glutes and bringing your hips all the way forward. Now take a half-step away from the wall and repeat until your butt cannot touch the wall before you fall over. This is a hip hinge, and the position where your butt is as far back as it possibly can be before you fall over backward is the bottom of the kettlebell swing. Notice your butt was going forward and backward, not up and down. That’s because the swing is about horizontal force production, not vertical. Remember, a swing is not a squat, it’s a hinge!
The Top, aka The Push-Up Plank
Get into the top of a push-up. Now imagine someone is about to sit on your back. Squeeze every muscle holding you up as hard as you can. Think about pulling your shoulders into their sockets, bracing your abs until they are rock hard, and squeezing your glutes so tight that your pelvis actually tucks a little (don’t worry this is probably only bringing it into neutral) and engaging your quads hard enough to pull up your kneecaps. Now get up, stick your arms out and mimic that position while standing. This is the top of the swing. Everything is tight, hard, and locked down. And as you hold it for a few seconds, you can imagine how it might burn a calorie or two.
Putting Them Together
The swing alternates between these two positions: loaded and ready to explode on bottom; hard as a rock at the top. How do you get from one to the other? You explode! Start by placing the bell a few feet in front of you. Hinge down with a perfectly flat back and grab it. Now hike it back like a long snap. As soon as you feel the loaded hamstrings of the bottom position… explode your hips forward! The bell will fly forward, then start to arc upward. Don’t lift it with your arms, your hips are doing all the work here. Think of your arms like ropes with hooks on them. As soon as the bell gets to about chest level, put on the brakes with your lats, abs and butt. This is that top position, like a push-up plank. Your hips should be all the way thru, your shoulders should be down and back, and your body should be hard enough to repel bullets. Once you are in this position and holding it hard, the bell will stop (before it crosses the plane of your shoulders) and your job is now to throw it back at your crotch with all the force you can. Don’t worry, unless you’re an idiot, you’ll get out the way. Right before the bell slams into your zipper, drive your hips back again and keep the bell close to your body. It should never drop below your knees. As soon as it’s back to the bottom position, explode your hips forward again. Shoot for sets of 20, then relax.
Why Am I Doing This Again?
The swing is special. Not like the way your mom told you that you were special, but actually special. The swing is an exercise that targets everything that modern people suck at. We sit too much which means we have flat, useless butts, chronically tight hips, hunched upper backs, and deliver less power than a Yugo with an exhaust leak. The swing is the anti-sitting. When done right, it forces glute and lat recruitment, opens up the hips, teaches proper hinging technique, boosts the endurance of the lower back, and trains full body power. Oh, and did I mention it will crank your heart rate higher than a phone call from your credit card company?
How Do I Program Them?
So we know the swing is bang-for-your buck full body training. For most people, and I am not kidding here, swings, Turkish Get Ups and some jogging are all that is needed to look better, feel better, and generally kick ass at life. In Enter the Kettlebell, Pavel writes the “Program Minimum” which is:
Day 1: Swings and light jogging for 12 minutes
Day 2: 5 minutes of Turkish Get Up singles (Do a rep. Rest. Repeat.)
Day 3: Nothing
Day 4: Repeat Day 1
If you do the Program Minimum and nothing else you will see results. But what if you are already training with a program you like and you want to incorporate the swing? Then I suggest “Coach Stevo’s Daily Swing Program” which is:
On days when you lift heavy things, add 20 swings to the end of your warm up. Increase this by 20 every week until you are doing 5 sets of 20 over the course of your warm up.
On the days you do not lift heavy things, do 100 swings how ever you’d like. If you’re taking it easy, put a bell in your living room or office and do 10 sets of 10 throughout the day. If you want to train your conditioning, do 100 swings in as little time as possible. And if you want to get on some sort of cardio hamster-wheel, try doing 5 sets of 20 with 1 minute breaks in between sets instead.
Try either of these programs out for six weeks and keep what you like; discard what you don’t like. But try it! The swing is a simple movement with huge hotness potential.
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