The Kettlebell Swing

By Greg Glassman

In Exercises, Reference

September 01, 2004

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At CrossFit we swing the kettlebell overhead while the kettlebell community swings to eye or shoulder height. No matter how many times we’re admonished for our excessive swing we proceed unabated? What gives? Are we in need of additional, more “qualified”, kettlebell instruction?

While admitting a penchant for iconoclasm, we are not contrary solely for the sake of being contrary. Rational foundations for our programming, exercises, and technique are fundamental to CrossFit’s charter. We swim against the current only when we believe that doing so delivers a stimulus truer to our product - elite fitness.

In the March 2004 issue of the CrossFit Journal we stated that, “Criteria for (exercise) selection include, range of joint motion, uniqueness of line of action, length of line of action, strength of line of action, commonness of motor pattern, demands on flexibility, irreducibility, utility, foundational value, measurable impact on adherents, and, frankly, potential for metabolically induced discomfort.”

This month we apply some of these criteria to an analysis of the two kettlebell swings and then assess two other CrossFit staples, the clean & jerk and the“thruster” for comparison and further elucidation of our thinking in selecting exercises for regular inclusion in our program.

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6 Comments on “The Kettlebell Swing”


wrote …

Why do you quote this:

more “qualified”

Maybe I am not understanding correctly (that is why I'm asking), but to me it seems to imply a lack of respect torwards qualified KB teachers.


wrote …

I am the "TC" quoted in this article. I stand by my quote, and only decry it's use out-of-context to create a battle between the American and Russian swing. Two-handed swings can be done at all levels, if correct and safe form is used. But the power of the swing is in it's potential for building strength-endurance, not maximal power, so a comparison to the Clean and Jerk is an apples and oranges arguement.

The thing that most CFers do wrong while overhead swinging is shown clearly in the photos of the article - page 1, the gentleman's knees are still bent, the back is arched, the bell is past 12 midnight, and his head is poked forward. The bended knees make the low back the fulcrum on the upswing - not smart for power or back health. The arched back should be neutral, a much stronger position to stop the KB. The bell should be stopped just short of vertical for three reasons - the distance traveled will be nearly the same as vertical, the reversal of direction can happen quicker (allowing for more reps per minute), and you will avoid the risk of "losing it" behind you, which can easily wrench your wrists, elbows and/or shoulders, and possibly your ankle if it falls closely behind you. The head poking forward is unneeded compensation for an excessive swing behind the shoulders.

Try doing the two-handed swing following the parameters I describe and see how much more solid and safe you feel. Overhead swings are great, IF you do them safely.

FWIW, Russian KB Lifters rarely do two handed swings - they do 1 handed swings with very heavy KBs, usually 32kg if they do snatches with the 24kg, and they swing the 40kg if they snatch the 32kg KB. Read Steve Cotter's article in the July 2007 CF Journal to get a more detailed and "qualified" description of the way Russians swing the KB.

Mr. Glassman's actions after this article was published seem to indicate agreement with my "needing more qualified" KB instructors, since he has since recruited both Jeff Martone and Steve Cotter to write articles for the Journal and put on KB certifications for CrossFit. Very smart moves on his part, just as he recruited Mike Burgener to improve the Olympic Lifting technique of CFers, and got Rippetoe's expertise on the powerlifts.


James Beaumont wrote …

I totally agree with Coach on the power thing. The greater distance you move an object, the more force you exert. That is just basic physics.

The question then is: Why not just snatch the kettlebell to get it overhead?

The snatch is just swing with a punch on top.


wrote …

While in theory, the concept that the relative "power" can be compared between the American Swing, the Russian Swing, the Thruster and the C&J, the formula discussed is not correct. In fact, the power exerted with the KB swings is missing a part of the equation. The power exerted on the thruster and the C&J can be compared because you a moving a weighted object from the ground to overhead, fighting against the earths gravity. However, the power calculation for the KB swing is not taking into account the fact that you are using your arms as a lever and are creating rotational momentum on the object, the KB. You exert the same amount of force to move the object from the ground to approximately the mid-point of your body, but after that point, because of the use of the arms as a lever and the rotational momentum created at that point, if you stopped exerting force on the object, it would continue on it's path for an additional distance. However, with the C&J and thruster, if you ceased exerting upward force on the object, it would stop and drop at that point, at least on heavier weights. I believe this is more the point Russian KB teachers are trying to make. The movement from the eyes to overhead, adds little if any work because of rotational inertia. While in theory, your simple calculations are correct, in reality, there is additional data that you would need to calculate that you are leaving out. The power exerted on the vertical lifts can be calculated linearly, the power exerted on a KB swing can not be calculated linearly because of rotational inertia.

For what it is worth, I do the American swing. My belief is that while additional swing distance does not increase work linearly, it does force your shoulders to do additional work to balance the weight and keep it in control at the top of the swing that does not occur with the Russian swing.


wrote …

I russian swing. The american swing doesn't mean more hip power, per se, it means that you begin to recruit your arms to fulfill the height requirement. While more work is being done, the essence of "arms like cables" is lost about half way up. I guess its a matter of function with so much overhead work in CF but for it to be hip drive only, my opinion is that a russian swing keeps it "pure" in mechanics and minimizes the "front raise" portion. The other thing I notice is that as CF'ers approach vertical (and stop short usually) there is a slight lean forward which can reduce the fully extended hip(as pictured in the article actually).

just my $.02.


wrote …

It seems to me that many new people have trouble with body mechanics. The Russian swing is a good way to teach them how to "hinge" and to harness their posterior chain power. Initially I do not have them even worry about going overhead. We just focus on a solid position, and good hip drive, and they feel a sense of accomplishment. Even some of the more advanced athletes have poor body mechanics with the American swing, i.e. back arched, knees bent, etc...I teach both American and Russian swings. They both have utility. I feel there is a time and place for each.

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