Today I am diving deep into what people call the “what the hell effect” of one of my favourite exercises: the kettlebell swing.
I’m sure all of you, at some point, searched for the answer regarding what is the best exercise for this, and what is the best workout for that and whatnot, often realising that there is not one single best exercise for anything, generally speaking.
Truth is, it is all very individual. A good training program includes a variation of exercises and, no matter how great the exercise is, you need to switch up every few months or so to keep challenging your body in different ways to continue upgrading your fitness level.
With that being said, there are a few exercises that can tick many boxes but none more so than the kettlebell swing. It is because of this impact that the kettlebell swing has gained the “what the hell effect” slogan which is a reference to many people seeing multiple areas of their athletic performance increase after programming in the kettlebell swing.
But Why Is It So Effective?
When performed correctly the kettlebell swing can increase your explosive power, build a strong posterior chain, strengthen your core muscles and correct hip and lower back issues caused by prolonged sitting, which is sadly a modern-day life issue most of us are facing.
The explosive hip hinge carries over to pretty much any athletic endeavour, whether it be jumping higher, sprinting faster or lifting heavier. The muscles used to execute the kettlebell swing and the way it is performed are optimal to improve all those areas in different sports or exercises.
The anti-flexion aspect of the swing requires you to resist against the weight as it returns to your hips, teaching you to maintain a strong and neutral spine whilst activating your core muscles correctly.
This helps with resisting arching the back during other movements which is the key to building real functional core strength and endurance.
When It comes to burning calories the Kettlebell again excels.
The kettlebell swing is resistance cardio. You can perform it for high rep as an almost cyclical movement, but with resistance, you can simultaneously work the muscles and the cardiovascular system making it a huge calorie burner and a great way to get more done in less time.
Kettlebell Swings Muscles Targeted
The “What the Hell Effect” in the context of kettlebell swings refers to the broad range of benefits and impacts that this exercise can have on the body. Kettlebell swings are known for their efficiency in targeting multiple muscle groups and promoting overall fitness.
The term suggests that the positive effects of kettlebell swings extend beyond what one might initially expect, leading to improved strength, cardiovascular endurance, and functional fitness. Essentially, it captures the idea that the benefits of kettlebell swings may pleasantly surprise individuals, providing a holistic impact on their physical well-being.
With that in mind, let’s just remember what muscles are targeted by the kettlebell swing before we dig deeper into how to perform the movement and a quick workout I designed for you to experience the “what the hell effect” of the kettlebell swing.
Kettlebell swings are a fantastic full-body exercise that targets various muscle groups. Here’s a breakdown of the muscles engaged during kettlebell swings:
- Hip Muscles:
- Glutes: Kettlebell swings heavily activate the gluteal muscles, especially during the explosive hip extension phase.
- Posterior Chain:
- Hamstrings: The hamstrings are engaged as you hinge at the hips and then forcefully extend them during the upward swing.
- Lower Back (Erector Spinae): The muscles along your lower back work to stabilize and support your spine throughout the movement.
- Core Muscles:
- Abdominals: The core is essential for stabilizing the spine during the swinging motion, providing strength and support.
- Shoulder Muscles:
- Deltoids: The deltoids, particularly the posterior part, are involved in the swinging motion as the kettlebell moves upward.
- Front Thigh Muscles: While not as intense as in some other exercises, the quadriceps play a role in the initial phase of the swing.
- Forearm Muscles:
- Forearm Flexors and Extensors: Gripping the kettlebell and controlling its movement engages the muscles in your forearms.
- Cardiovascular System:
- Heart and Lungs: Kettlebell swings, especially when done in a high-intensity manner, contribute to cardiovascular endurance and overall cardiovascular health.
- Hip Flexors:
- Hip Flexor Muscles: The hip flexors are engaged as you swing the kettlebell forward and then control its descent.
- Latissimus Dorsi (Lats):
- Upper Back Muscles: The lats contribute to stabilizing the shoulders and upper body during the swinging motion.
Kettlebell swings are a dynamic and compound movement, making them an excellent choice for efficiency in targeting multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Proper form is crucial to maximize the benefits and minimise the risk of injury.
How To Perform the Kettlebell Swing
You want to think of the Kettlebell Swing as something in between an Explosive Romanian Deadlift and a Vertical Jump. You should be sitting back to load up the glutes and hamstrings before explosively thrusting the hips through to propel the kettlebell upwards.
Check below the coaching points that should give you an idea of how to perform the kettlebell swing with proper form:
- Start standing with feet hip-width apart
- Tall neutral spine, proud chest, tight core
- Hold kettlebell at arm’s length with both hands on kettlebell
- Backswing/pull the kettlebell underneath your hips and you hinge backwards
- Engage and press glutes and hamstrings back
- Explosively push your feet down into the ground
- Powerfully thrust your hips to full extension squeezing your glutes and abs at the top of the movement
- Allow the kettlebell to float at about chest height
- Don’t “shoulder raise”/muscle up the kettlebell with your upper body
- Stay tall and fully extended as kettlebell descends back to hips/underneath spine hinging to allow the forearms to hit the hips
- Rinse and repeat
Kettlebell Workout – Experience the “What the Hell Effect”
Now that you know what is the “what the hell effect of the kettlebell swing,” let’s put it into action.
Below is a kettlebell swing workout that will give you infinite progression options as well as being a perfect place to start if you are new to the kettlebell swing.
This is as simple as it reads but insanely effective. You will take your light weight and swing it for 15-20 reps resting for the remainder of the minute. When the minute is over, switch to a medium weight of a kettlebell for 10-15 reps. Once that minute is over, switch again, this time for a heavy kettlebell and perform 5-10 reps.
This style of workout is known as “EMOM” in CrossFit, or Every Minute on the Minute. That means you have a full minute to perform the reps in the workout. In this case, if you do 15 reps with a light load of the kettlebell in 30 seconds, it means the remaining 30 seconds on the clock are used for you to rest your arms. When the minute is over, you grab the next kettlebell and do the reps again; the remaining time on the clock is always used to rest.
I would start at the bottom end of the rep range and work up week on week until you hit the top end of the rep range at which point you increase the weights used.
EMOM for 15 minutes:
- Min 1 – 15-20 Kettlebell Russian Swings (Light)
- Min 2 – 10-15 Kettlebell Russian Swings (Medium)
- Min 3 – 5-10 Kettlebell Russian Swings (Heavy)
- Min 4 – 15-20 Kettelbell Russian Swings (Light)
- Continue until minute 15, always swapping between light, medium, and heavy kettlebells
Add kettlebell swings into your weekly programming and experience the “What the Hell Effect”
If you want more from your Kettlebell Training check out The Graft IV, the most complete Kettlebell Program ever created. This program contains 3 cycles, strength, mass, and power, all designed to give you the biggest bang for your buck possible. Every workout has a conditioning piece to end with which ensures every single box of the total fitness wheel is ticked.
Just keep moving…
About Luke Downing
“NASM Certified Personal Trainer Minimal Kit specialist, Daddy to Luca & Roma Ray. As a father and business owner, I’m well aware that not everybody has hours each day to spend in the gym. I believe that you can do a lot without a lot, which is why I’m a lover of the single Kettlebell workout. I like to keep things as functional as possible, which means I do not waste time with unnecessary movement’s. Everything I do with my athletes has a purpose and a carryover to sports, activities and everyday life.”
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