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).