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The kettlebell swing torches calories, burns fat and builds strength

While it looks like you are using your upper body to raise the kettlebell, the move is actually a lower-body exercise.
Illustration of young woman working out with a kettlebell
The kettlebell swing — if done consistently and correctly — is effective in improving explosive strength.TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

If you’ve ever been to the gym and witnessed people performing the kettlebell swing, you may be intimidated by the move. And it’s intimidating for a reason: The explosive exercise is easy to perform incorrectly.

While it looks like you are using your upper body to raise the kettlebell, the move is actually a lower-body exercise. When performed properly, you will be using the hips and glutes to create momentum to swing the kettlebell.

What does the kettlebell swing do for the body?

If you’re looking to burn some calories and lose fat, explosive training moves like the kettlebell swing are perfect to add to your workout routine. Because you’re lifting weights and moving your whole body, the kettlebell swing can be considered a cardiovascular and strength training move.

The kettlebell swing — if done consistently and correctly — is effective in improving explosive strength. Explosive strength refers to how fast you can use your strength and is often used in jumping, sprinting and throwing.

The common mistakes people make when doing kettlebell swings

To perform the kettlebell swing properly, there are a few things you should keep in mind to maintain proper form and get the most out of the move. Most of the momentum of the move comes from the hips. However, I find a lot of my clients relying too much on their knees and upper body to move the kettlebell.

I also find that a lot of my clients are unsure of what weight to use when performing the kettlebell swing. While it’s okay to start off using a lighter weight, continuing to use that same weight even when it becomes easier can delay your progress. In order to stay on track and perform the kettlebell swing with proper form, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and bend at the knees.
  • Use your hips to power your movement, not your upper body.
  • Straighten your back as you bring the kettlebell towards the sky.
  • Start off with a lighter weight until you master the form. Then, gradually increase your weight.

How to do a modified kettlebell swing

Depending on your strength and skill level, the weight of your kettlebell may vary. The kettlebell swing can be modified by reducing the weight of the kettlebell or performing the motions with a much lighter form of weight in general, like a water jug or light dumbbell. You can even go through the motions with no weight at all until you feel like you’ve mastered the movement.

Fill up a water jug or pick up a light dumbbell. Holding it in the same way you would a kettlebell, lower it to the ground. Go through the same motions, swinging the water jug or dumbbell up in the air using your hips and glutes to propel it towards the sky until it reaches shoulder height.

How to perform the kettlebell swing correctly

Keeping in mind the common mistakes people make when performing the kettlebell swing, follow these steps to master the move.

  1. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, with the kettlebell on the floor between your feet.
  2. Bend at the knees and hinge forward at the hips. Keeping your back straight and core tight, grab the handle of the kettlebell with two hands.
  3. Press down through the heels and thrust your hips forward, using the momentum to swing the kettlebell up and away from your body.
  4. Tighten the glutes and come to a full standing position, with the kettlebell reaching shoulder height.
  5. Pause slightly at the top before letting the kettlebell fall back towards your feet.

4 exercises that will help you perform the kettlebell swing

Explosive strength doesn’t come easily. However, there are plenty of moves that will help you develop your explosive strength so that the kettlebell swing becomes easier and more accessible.

Modified squat jump

Begin in a standing position. Bend your knees and lower your body into a squat so that your fingertips touch the floor between your feet. Then explosively reach the arms up and press down through the heels to straighten the legs and squeeze the glutes. Use the same power you would to perform a jump, but keep your toes on the ground. Repeat 10 times.

Overhead press

Holding light dumbbells in both hands, bring the arms into a goal-post position at shoulder height. Press the weights overhead, straightening the arms. Release the weights back down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

Side extension

Hold light dumbbells in both hands, with your arms down at your sides. Slowly bring the weights straight out to the sides of the room, stopping at shoulder height. Be sure to keep your arms straight. Slowly release them back down to your sides in a controlled movement. Repeat 10 times.

Wide leg open toe squat

Open the legs wider than the shoulders and turn the toes out. Lower down into a squat, keeping your back straight and your knees bent over your toes. Press down through the heels to squeeze the glutes as you stand back up. Repeat 10 times.

More ways to master the move: