The fundamental kettlebell movement. The swing is the number one exercise. Master this before moving on to anything else. Or just do the swing. The swing coordinates the entire backside of the body in movement, making your back stronger and more durable.
The swing helps you develop all the required attributes of kettlebell lifting. The swing can be performed with one or two arms. It is first learned with two, then one. If you are bigger, it may be easier to start with the one arm version.
One key to understanding the swing is to realize that the arms are cables. All the work is being done by the action of the hips.
To perform the swing, follow these instructions:
- Find the proper stance. Working with one kettlebell, your feet should be about shoulder’s width apart. If you are using two kettlebells you will need to space your feet farther apart to avoid hitting your knees with a kettlebell.
Tip: You can find the footwork position by jumping in the air. Where your feet land, sometimes a little wider, is your swing stance. Spread the stance out more if working with two kettlebells. Make sure you have an even stance. It is OK if your toes are pointed slightly outwards instead of straight forward.
- Next with the kettlebell slightly ahead of your feet, pick it up off the ground. Keep your head up, reach for the kettlebell without looking at it—remember where it is. This keeps the back in proper alignment. As soon as you pick the kettlebell up, you’re going to go right into step 3.
- Swing the kettlebell back and you will be in the position shown in the photo on the left (above). Keep your back straight and your head up. In this position your butt and hamstrings are loaded.
Note: The lower legs are perpendicular with the ground. This is the safest position for the knees.
- Now push your hips forward while straightening your legs. The motion is similar to a standing vertical jump, except your feet do not leave the ground. As you extend your hips, the kettlebell “swings” from between your legs to in front of your waist, or higher, if you desire.
- Finish with your legs straight and the kettlebell weightless in front of you. Then the weight comes down due to gravity and you repeat the process for X number of reps.
- In the end position, with the kettlebell in front of you, your butt and stomach are tight. Your knee caps are pulled up, flexing your quads. Your shoulders are back.
Advanced Level: As you become more advanced, you will learn to pull yourself down with your hip flexors. As you pull yourself down you will breathe deep into the stomach, protecting the back even more, allowing you to handle a heavier weight. The swing becomes a great stomach exercise at advanced levels.
Swing Variations: You can swing with only one arm. You can switch hands every rep. You can pull back on the handle and release it, let it spin one full revolution than catch it again. You can walk forward, backward and sideways while swinging. This will develop strong legs. Step when the kettlebell is weightless at the top of the swing, and make your step athletic and coordinated: i.e. no extra movement.
Swing Benefits: The swing targets the entire backside of the body and coordinates the back muscles to move in conjunction with the hips. It makes your back stronger. You don’t need to think “what muscles am I working out?” You’re working an entire movement, one that uses the majority of the muscles in the body. The swing develops your heart and lung strength as well. Multiple benefits for the price of one exercise.
A staple exercise. The military press, executed properly, involves most of the muscles of the body.
There are a lot of reasons to do the military press. One is that it forces you to use that range of motion–it helps you open your chest because of the way the kettlebell weight is centered. Another is that it makes your shoulders strong and that helps you with carrying things.
Finally, it makes your arms look good. Done properly, it will give your tricep and bicep definition, not to mention your shoulder itself.
I used to have major problems with my rotator from throwing, but they stopped once I started pressing a kettlebell.
- Clean the kettlebell.
- Adjust your feet. I prefer a staggered stance where my right leg is in front of my left when pressing with my left arm and vice versa.
Tighten your legs, butt, and stomach. This forms the base of your press and adds safety and power.
- Squeeze the kettlebell handle as if trying to crush it.
- Press up and around your head, visualizing that you are pressing yourself away from the kettlebell. This keeps your shoulder in the socket.
- Lock out overhead.
- Reverse the process and pull the kettlebell down with your lat. Pulling down with the lat adds safety and power.
Remember to breathe out when you’re pressing it up, and breathe in when you are lowering it. To get more power, squeeze your opposite hand, grab the ground with your feet, and exhale as though breathing through a straw.
There are a lot of nuances to this movement that you will learn with time. Stick with it and perform it everyday—it’s a high bang for the buck exercise.
Military Press Variations: You can press one or two kettlbells overhead. If you’re using two kettlebells, you can press one up while simultaneously lowering the other one. You can also perform a bottom up clean and then press the kettlebell with the bottom of the kettlebell facing up. This is highly challenging and really focuses on your strength and coordination.
Military Press Benefits: This exercise is about increasing your strength. Stronger shoulders will help you with carrying things, with many manual labor jobs you have to do around the house, and they will help you attain a healthy broad shouldered look.
Pull Up / Chin Up
You want guns? A steady diet of pull ups and push ups is all you need. Both exercises have a ton of variations that not only work your entire body, but place special emphasis on your arms.
Additionally, the pull ups develop your lats. If you’re playing sports, or fighting people, or want to look like Bruce Lee, you’ll need to develop your lats. They help transfer power generated from the lower body into the arms.
Pull ups serve as weight control. The more weight you gain, the harder pull ups become.
To start the pull up, hang from the bar. Don’t let your arms pull out your sockets, keep your arms glued into the shoulder by corkscrewing them in—as if you were trying to bend a broomstick that you were holding in front of you.
Initiate the pull from the arms pits, then the biceps. Squeeze the bar hard to generate more force and more power. Do not assist with the pull up by kipping your legs. If you can’t do a pull up, you can have someone assist you, or you can place your feet on a chair and provide your own assistance.
Imagine driving your elbows into your side as you inch towards getting your chin above the bar.
Pause at the top and descend slowly. At the bottom, be sure to keep your arms in the shoulder socket by employing the corkscrew technique discussed earlier.
Pull up variations
You can have your palms facing you—that’s a chin up. It targets the biceps more and many people think it is easier.
Add weight. Ironmind makes a belt that helps you add weight to your pull ups. The pull up works a lot of muscles. Adding weight can really help you fill out your t-shirts if that is what you want.
Jumping pull ups. Don’t do these if you’re using the door frame pull up bar.But, these are a great way to develop explosive power if you have a solidly mounted pull up bar. Pull up quickly and jump off the bar, catching yourself in a different grip. That is, if your palms were facing away, you’d catch yourself in the chin up position, with your palms facing towards you.
Various hand positions. There are many different hand positions you can use to shake things up. Just don’t go too wide (it’s hard on the shoulders) and don’t pull up behind the next (unless you have really outstanding shoulder mobility, most people don’t—especially desk jockeys).
Your legs are your connection with the Earth. Your legs take you to the places you want to go. Say you go on a trip somewhere and a lot of hiking is involved. If you have strong legs you will be able endure and enjoy the scenery. If you don’t, you will be miserable and unable to enjoy the purpose of the visit because your “wheels” aren’t up to task. Having springy-strong legs is a good way to go through life.
The front squat is one of your keys to leg development. Many people have issues with full squat saying they are bad for the knees. Many people do not have issues with the full squat saying that it is good for the knees. It depends on you—use impeccable form and good judgement, and you won’t have any problems.
Humans in many agricultural countries spend countless hours in the full squat position working. So, clearly, the human frame is capable of this movement, it’s just one of the things we’ve lost in our post-industrial society.
Proper squatting begins with learning to pull yourself to the ground using the hip flexors. The movement begins in the hips, not the knees or back. It is important that the knees track the feet. Do not allow your knees to drift to the sides. You can learn this technique by sitting down and back onto a chair. Reach with your butt! Lean forward and throw your arms out to act as a counterbalance.
Make sure your weight stays on your heels. If your weight is on your toes, it’s hard on your knees.
To start the movement,
- Clean one or two kettlebells and place them in the rack position. If you use one kettlebell, make sure to do an equal number of squats when you’re holding it in your left hand as you do with your right. Or, do a Goblet Squat where you hold one kettlebell in front of you.
NOTE: You don’t have to necessarily use weight for this exercise. If you haven’t squatted for a long time, get used to doing bodyweight squats first, before you start loading the movement.
- Pull yourself down to the ground keeping the weight on the heels and activating your butt. Your toes should NOT come up off the ground, but more weight should be on your heels.
- Come to rest in the bottom position and squeeze everything and drive through the heels so you are standing again.
- Keep your head up the entire time.
Squatting is a very natural movement—a primal movement pattern—but many Americans don’t do it at all so we have to relearn it. One thing that prevents proper squatting is hip flexibility. If you cannot get down into a full squat, focus on hip flexibility and work on a partial squat.
Chest Press (shown on swiss ball)
Many people perform the bench press, but I don’t recommend it since it is hard on the shoulders. If you sit a lot—and especially if you work on computers—the bench press can exacerbate your rounded shoulder position. The bench press gratifies the ego because you can work up to big weights, but, lets be honest, I can’t think of a situation in life where my one arm push ups (even just push ups) didn’t give me the pushing strength I needed.
I recommend working only one arm at a time with this exercise, especially when you’re on the Swiss ball. The one arm version challenges your stomach muscles, giving you added benefit.
- Position yourself on the floor or the Swiss ball. If you’re using the Swiss ball, cradle the weight, sit down on the Swiss ball, and then settle in to a position where shoulders are resting on the ball.
- Keeping your chest open, press the weight up, breathing out. Keep your elbows in.
- Pause at the top.
- Pull the weight down, breathing in, taking care to keep your elbow in, and not flared out to the side.
Your hand should be even with your chest and in line with your nipples. If you’re working from the floor, your range of motion will be limited, making the floor version less effective.
This is an important exercise to complement push ups. I recommend getting a Jungle Gym from Lifeline to perform this exercise.
This exercise will develop your lats, shoulders, and biceps. If performing it with one arm, it develops your grip and stomach muscles. I grab onto both handles when performing one arm rows. Also, with the one arm version, make sure you don’t twist your body—this is what makes the one arm body weight row a great core exercise.
Make sure to keep your chest open and your spine in the neutral position (i.e. not excessively arched).
This is like a reverse push up. Once you have your Jungle Gym or other device set up:
- Make sure your feet are anchored and your body is straight, shoulders back, chest open.
- Start with your arms straight out in front of you.
- Pull your arms back, aiming to get your hands near your body, around your chest area. You’ll be squeezing your shoulders together, and essentially reversing the motion of the push up or bench press.