May 24, 2017In the Swing
If you’re searching for a new exercise to mix up your athletes’ routine, consider the kettlebell swing. While often used for vertical jump training, it can be beneficial for almost any sport as it engages athletes in conditioning, stabilizes their spine through engaging the core, and builds power in the hips.
One of the major benefits of the kettlebell swing is that it strengthens the core and abdominal muscles. In a blog for Shaping Concepts, Shane Doll, CPT, CSCS, writes that this exercise will do more for the core than some of the more traditional exercises such as crunches and sit-ups.
“By controlling the kettlebell during the lowering phase, the abdominal muscles work to stabilize the pelvis and low back,” writes Doll. “One of the primary functions of the abdominal muscles is to control deceleration as a means to support and stabilize your spine. This is why swings and chops of all varieties are so effective for core work.”
This exercise’s dominance in engaging the core and building spinal stability is echoed in a blog for Just Fly Sports by Joel Smith, MS, CSCS, a strength coach at the University of California. The importance of a stable core is paralleled by the power that the kettlebell swing builds in the hips, which can lead to vertical power.
“Recent research by Patel (2010) has found that a standing vertical jump was more positively associated with work at the hip vs. work at the knee,” writes Smith. “This study also showed that encouraging spinal stiffness along with hip dominance could lead to improvements in vertical leap height.”
According to Smith, a focus on work at the hip as opposed to the knee also makes the kettlebell swing beneficial for all athletes. The motion, commonly referred to as the “hip hinge,” is not only useful for jumping skills, but also for teaching safe and proper form for other exercises such as the deadlift and squat.
“The hip hinge simply refers to the ability of an athlete to ‘hinge’ at the hip joint without excessive spinal flexion, particularly in the lumbar spine,” writes Smith. “The hip hinge will show up in a variety of athletic movements, so it is important to train it.”
Another benefit of the kettlebell swing is the breathing pattern that it teaches. Having the correct breathing pattern is important for any athlete, but especially in power/vertical leap training. In Smith’s opinion, the kettlebell swing is one of the best ways to teach this.
“In the hard-style swing, an athlete will breathe in as they swing down, and then exhale hard as they explosively drive the bell back up,” he writes. “This breathing pattern will help add to the power of the swing, and will also assist in transfer to dynamic athletic activities.”
Chances are that throughout this workout, your athletes’ breath and heart rate will be accelerating. Because of this, the kettlebell swing can also provide cardiovascular conditioning. Doll suggests building up conditioning by starting with doing as many swings as possible for 20-30 seconds, then resting the same amount of time before repeating.
While the benefits to the kettlebell swing are numerous, it is important to make sure that your athletes are using the correct form in order to avoid injury. In another blog for Just Fly Sports, Smith describes some prerequisites that your athletes should be able to do before engaging in this exercise, one of which is to be able to correctly carry out the hip hinge. To train this movement, athletes can simply use a wall. Here are the steps to engaging in a proper hip hinge:
- Stand with your back against the wall. Your head, back, butt, calves and heels all should be touching the wall.
- Take a step about a half a foot out.
- Place your hands at hip sockets, palms up.
- Push back with your hips, keeping your back straight. Don’t reach for the toes as your back will arch.
- Snap back up into a straight up position.
- Repeat, keeping the body tight.
To see this exercise in motion, check out this video from SG Human Performance.
Knowing how to properly carry out the kettlebell swing is just as important as being able to do the progressions leading up to it. In a blog for Stack.com, Performance Director Andy Haley, CSCS, describes the steps to doing this exercise correctly:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a kettlebell on the ground about about a foot in front of you.
- Bend at the waist and grasp the kettlebell handle with both hands. Your palms should be facing your body with torso nearly parallel to the ground.
- Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core.
- Lift the kettlebell off the ground and allow it to swing between your legs. Knees should bend slightly, with the back kept flat and neck straight.
- Forcefully drive the hips forward, propelling the kettlebell into the air. Do not use your arms to pull the kettlebell up, it should travel no higher than your shoulders.
- Allow the kettlebell to swing down and back through your legs. Keep your muscles engaged throughout the descent.
- As the kettlebell lowers, move immediately into the next repetition.
To see a walkthrough, as well as the kettlebell swing in action, check out this video from certified personal trainer Amy Kiser Schemper.