A look into 3 different styles of kettlebell swings
With so many versions of the kettlebell swing floating around, let’s shed some light into some of the advantages and differences.
‘Crossfit’ American kettlebell Swing
- Overhead swing
- More knee bend & drive (quads), knee dominant
- Upward projection of the kettlebell, “vertical” force
‘Hard-style’ Russian Kettlebell Swing
- Chest level swing
- Hip bend/drive, Hip dominant
- Horizontal projection of the kettlebell, “forward” force
‘Girevoy’ Sport Kettlebell Swing
- Note the fluid pendulum motion and relaxed nature.
This style of swing, like the powerlifting style of squat/bench/deadlift, was developed to meet the demands of the sport: efficiency. This “fluid-style” allows swings and associated moves to be done for ridiculous amounts of repetitions.
Also remember that Girevik’s (KB lifters) also wear elevated heels and adopt an extended rack position which may have to be strongly taken into consideration in terms of “higher-end” athletic carry-over. Could have potential usages in certain situations.
American vs. Russian Swing:
The American-style swing is an explosive squatting motion versus the deadlifting (hip hinge) movement of the Russian Swing. The former uses more knee flexion and a more vertical torso during the back-swing phase. The latter has a more horizontal torso angle and minimal knee bend.
The only reason why the American style swing goes “up” is because it is done with a squatting motion, as opposed to the “horizontal” projection of the Hardstyle swing. When you put the kettlebell above your head for multiple repetitions, you have no choice but to revert to squatting it.
A properly done hardstyle swing can help maintain movement health.
In this day and age, musculosketletal imbalances, such as Janda’s lower cross syndrome (below), run rampant.
Performance application: Hardstyle wins
Bottomclean Lastly, sporting movements draw from the ability to load up the hamstring like an elastic and release it to jump, tackle etc. This style of swing teaches just that (at least the way Pavel teaches us). Most beginners default to a knee dominant swing. However in athletics we recognize the importance of training the posterior chain muscles.
Left: Loading the hamstrings with the hip hinge. Notice the vertical tibia and more horizontal torso angle.
Having many other (and perhaps superior) methods for explosive vertical squatting force such as barbell cleans and jump squats, the American kettlebell swing doesn’t seem to do justice in this sense.
Redundant/(harmful?) overhead motion of American swing
Crossfit has a way of making things “full body” for the sake of using more muscle groups/larger range of motion (kipping pull-ups, Sumo deadlift-High pull and thrusters anyone?). While “full-body” might sound like harps and whistles, as noted above, what people really need to do is to learn to use their hips well.
The hardstyle swing teaches you to generate power using your hips. The RKC/SFG organizations extend this idea further by correcting excessive arm usage in the swing by doing Low swings and Towel swings. If overhead motion is desired, a kettlebell “snatch” (google that!) can be done instead.
People who can’t put their arms overhead through shoulder flexion end up hyper extending their backs to get their arms in this position. This usually ends up with ribs flying out and core insufficiency. If you do use an overhead swing, at least screen athletes for overhead ability first. Any dysfunction is magnified by “x” hundred number of reps.
Take your pick – below is a style of swing I don’t endorse: