The Russian kettlebell swing: How to do it, common mistakes, and are they good for weight loss?

Russian kettlebell swing

In today’s article we’ll cover more than just how to do a Russian kettlebell swing. Read the entire post or skip ahead using the table of contents below.

Either way. Swing your little heart out.


What muscles do Russian kettlebell swings work?

The Russian kettlebell swing is a great low impact exercise that strengthens many muscles and does not put a ton of stress on the joints. 

Because of the hip hinging movement pattern in the exercise you’ll be able to train the glutes and hamstrings. 

hip hinge gif

As you drive the hips forward to bring the kettlebell up, the hips will get involved.

From there, the shoulders, back (mostly lats) are used to help bring the kettlebell to chest height. After a brief pause occurs here, it’s at this point the traps and lats are really engaged.

Your grip and entire core are also trained throughout the exercise.

Is the Russian kettlebell swing good for strength, cardio, or both?

The Russian kettlebell swing can be both aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen). 

Because kettlebell swings may elicit cardiovascular, neuromuscular, and metabolic responses sufficient for improvements in strength, aerobic power, and overall physical fitness. The Russian kettlebell swing can be used for strength and cardiovascular health.

In one study conducted researchers compared thirty minutes of kettlebell swings and deadlifts to walking on a treadmill at a slight incline. They looked at how each workout affected respiration, heart rate, calories burned, and rate of perceived exertion.

The kettlebell workout and treadmill cardio had similar VO2, blood pressure, and calorie burn markers, but the kettlebell workout had a higher rate of perceived exertion (it felt harder) and heart rate. What this tells us is that kettlebell workouts (and swings) could be a good method for cardiovascular training.

The Russian kettlebell swing can also be used to improve strength. The results of one study compared the effects of weight lifting and kettlebell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition. Results showed that short-term weightlifting and kettlebell training were effective in increasing strength and power. However, the gains in strength using weightlifting movements were greater than that during kettlebell training.

Kettlebell training (swings) can be a great supplement for developing strength, power, and speed in other movements with similar movement patterns.

  • Deadlift
  • Cleans
  • Jumping power

Just keep in mind that to build strength in the Russian kettlebell swing you need progressive overload. For example, one way you could do this would be by swinging a heavier kettlebell.

In the first 3 to 6 months and sometimes as much as 12 months. You’ll notice that your strength may increase rapidly. Then all of a sudden it gets harder and harder to get stronger. Leaving you all like 🤯 and 😩 and 😕.

This is totally normal and is creatively called “beginner gains.” Almost anything you do is progressive overload at this point and your body responds very quickly to it. 

How do you do a Russian kettlebell swing

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  1. Grab the kettlebell with both hands and stand up using proper deadlift form.
  2. Start with the feet just outside the hips.
  3. Slightly bend at the knees.
  4. Keep the kettlebell close to the groin. It will come back to this position after the swing.
  5. Maintain a straight torso and back
  6. Slightly bring the shoulders back to engage the lats
  7. Your core will stay braced.
  8. Begin to push your hips back while maintaining a flat torso.
  9. Use the hips and glutes to thrust forward and drive the kettlebell up
  10. Maintain relaxed arms as you are doing this.
  11. As the kettlebell approaches chest height keep the shoulders from shrugging to the ears.
  12. Knees and hips will lock out as the bell reaches chest to chin height. There will be a brief pause here.
  13. As the kettlebell beings its decent, maintain a flat back, drive the hips back, and keep the kettlebell close to the groin.
  14. As you’re swinging the kettlebell you will want to inhale on the decent and exhale as the kettlebell rises to chest height.

A few exercises for practicing the hip hinge

You may not have a ton of experience practicing the hip hinge. Without this the kettlebell swing can be a challenging exercise.

  • To hip hinge start by standing with your feet about shoulder width apart. toes pointed straight ahead or slightly out
  • Keep a slight bend in the knee and maintain this bend throughout the hip hinge. It will not increase very much from here.
  • Shift your weight to the heels and push your hips back. Pretend there is a target behind you that you’re trying to tap with your butt. Maybe even someones hand… AIYO!
  • Continue driving the hips back until your torso is parallel with the ground. 
  • Reverse the movement and stand up by contracting you glutes and pushing your hips forward.

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Below are a couple of exercises and progressions to help level up your hip hinge game.

What is the difference between the Russian and American kettlebell swing?

The biggest difference between the Russian kettlebell swing and American kettlebell swing is in how high (the apex) you bring the kettlebell while swinging it. In a Russian kettlebell swing the kettlebell is brought to chest height. During an American kettlebell swing the kettlebell is brought overhead.

Russian kettlebell swing and American kettlebell swing

Because the shoulder is a very vulnerable joint. The closeness of the hands and overhead position in the American kettlebell swing can put the shoulder in a precarious position. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it. I only mention it to be mindful of it.

A few other differences between the Russian and American kettlebell swing.

  • Russian kettlebell swings are quick and efficient. The American kettlebell swing takes a longer period of time to complete which can inhibit power output.
  • Because the American swing goes overhead it usually requires a lighter weight for the swing. This might not develop as much strength through the glutes, hips, and posterior chain. If you have healthy shoulders, good range of motion, and don’t have heavy enough kettlebells at home or where you train. The American kettlebell swing can be a good option.

Now this is where someone usually asks which one is the best.

One argument for the American kettlebell swing is that you get a greater range of motion. I’m not looking for range of motion when doing a kettlebell swing. If I want to work on range of motion there are much better options.

Russian swings allow me to use heavier weight and are easier for me to maintain my form so I do those. Are they better… I don’t know and I’m not sure it matters. I enjoy doing them more and they work for me an my goals.

Which one do you enjoy doing and which one is working for you and your goals?

Benefits of kettlebell swings

As mentioned earlier kettlebell swings are low impact on the joints. But one of the greatest benefits of the Russian kettlebell swing is that it can strengthen many muscles in the core and posterior chain. The posterior chain includes the hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, traps, and posterior deltoids. These muscles are usually weak in our sedentary society.

Some studies are even showing that regular kettlebell training can help reduce pain in the neck, shoulders, and back as well.

Posterior chain
Photo: Jewell Chiropractic

Kettlebell swings can also be a great way to burn some calories. According to this study a 20-minute kettlebell workout burned 272 calories (1). Which is cool, but like mentioned I in this article, if weight loss and fat loss is your goal don’t focus on calorie burn from workouts. Creating a calorie deficit through diet is going to be much more efficient. Use your training as just that. To train your cardiovascular system and muscles to be stronger. 

The kettlebell is also great for those that train at home. It requires little space, time, and equipment.

Common mistakes when doing Russian kettlebell swings

Kettlebell swings are simple in theory but can be more difficult in practice. There are a lot of moving parts. But don’t let that scare you from giving them a go. Below are a few common mistakes and how to work on them.

Mistake #1: Rounded spine (shifts load to the back and shoulders).

Russian kettlebell swing

Because high reps are often used in kettlebell swings the rounded spine can be troublesome. The hip hinge is tough for a lot of us. Work on some of the drills mentioned above or master the kettlebell deadlift first.

Mistake #2: Squatting during the decent

Russian kettlebell swing

This is typically because the weight is too heavy and it may feel like the legs are needed to get enough power to get the kettlebell up. A simple solution is to reduce the weight. The squat could also simply be a lack of practice.

Mistake #3: Letting the kettlebell get away from the groin

Russian kettlebell swing

Usually there are two things going on here. First, the weight may be too heavy. Second, it could just be a matter of misunderstanding form, it might feel like you need to let the kettlebell get away to get it up. Just like the squat above, lightening the load and revisiting form should do the trick.

Mistake #4: Using the shoulders and arms to swing the kettlebell in stead of the hips

This is primarily due to not generating enough power through the hips. Continue practicing deadlift form, work on keeping your shoulders back and down, and use mini reps to help get comfortable using the hip hinge.

Russian kettlebell swing workouts

man and woman doing russian kettlebell swing

Below are a few ways you could train using the Russian kettlebell swing.

HIIT – Tabata style Russian kettlebell workout

How to do it.

  • Complete 20 seconds of Russian kettlebell swings followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat for 8-16 sets

Strength (sets and reps with longer rest)

How to do it.

  • Choose a weight you know you can get 7 to 8 swings with. Complete 5 reps. Rest 90-120 seconds and repeat for 4 to 5 sets. The following weeks see if you can use a heavier kettlebell. 

Kettlebell and bodyweight workout

Grab your free 20-minute kettlebell amrap here or try this simple kettlebell and bodyweight workout.

Frequently asked Russian kettlebell swing questions

Kettlebells

Below are a few commons questions I’ve received from coaching clients about kettlebell swings. 

Question: How much weight should I use?

Underestimate if you have not done them before. But a good place to start for most people is 15 to 20 pounds for women and 25 to 35 pounds for men.

What the hell does pood mean?

It is a Russian unit of weight equal to 36.11 pounds. When you hear 1 ood used to describe a kettlebell that means it weight 36.11 pounds. 

  • 1.5 pood is equal to 54.16 pounds
  • 2 pood is equal to 72.22 pounds
  • 3 pood comes out to be 108.34 pounds

How many reps should I do?

If you’re starting out you may notice the back getting tight. Focus on form first as a way to decrease risk of injury as you start swinging it at higher volumes and more often. A few practice reps every couple of days is a great place to start.

Once form, strength, and conditioning is built up the reps can vary depending on the individual. Sets and reps of 5, 10, 20, 30, or even more can be done. I’m pretty sure I’ve done 150-200 in a row before. This will all vary depending on the skill and physical limitations of the individual.

Can you do them every day?

Yes.

Do you want to? 

I don’t know 😁

Do kettlebell swings burn fat?

A calorie deficit is the only thing that contributes to fat loss. Kettlebell swings uses calories but your best bet is to use your diet for fat loss. 

How long does it take to see results from kettlebell swings 

It depends what kinds of results you’re looking for. Beginners will experience rapid results while those that have been training for a while will see much slower progression.

Are kettlebell swings good for abs?

Kettlebell swings do require you to use the abs and entire core. However, if you want to see your abs losing body fat is the key.

How many kettlebell swings per day for fat loss?

I have no idea. Fat loss comes down to creating a consistent calorie deficit over time.

Can you get ripped from kettlebell swings?

Yes and no. It depends on if you’re creating a consistent calorie deficit over time and reduce your body fat levels enough to be “ripped.”

Dude. You keep talking about calorie deficit. What gives?

Yes I do.

It’s because you keep asking me about weight loss.

You can learn more about it here.

Are American kettlebell swings bad for you?

I hate putting things into a box like this. Good food, bad food. Good swings, bad swings. Do you like doing them? Then do them.  Do they feel shitty when you do them? If so, don’t do them.

Awesome kettlebell training resources

I’m no kettlebell expert, more of an enthusiast. If you’d like to learn more about kettlebell specific training here are some great resources for that.

Cheers,

Justin

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Photo by Taco Fleur on Unsplash – Photo by Ivan Pergasi on Unsplash

Resources:

Vancini, Rodrigo Luiz et al. “Kettlebell Exercise as an Alternative to Improve Aerobic Power and Muscle Strength.” Journal of human kinetics vol. 66 5-6. 27 Mar. 2019, doi:10.2478/hukin-2018-0062

Chan M, MacInnis MJ, Koch S, et al. Cardiopulmonary Demand of 16-kg Kettlebell Snatches in Simulated Girevoy Sport. J Strength Cond Res. 2020;34(6):1625-1633. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002588

Otto WH 3rd, Coburn JW, Brown LE, Spiering BA. Effects of weightlifting vs. kettlebell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(5):1199-1202. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f233e

APA Thomas, James F.; Larson, Kurtis L.; Hollander, Daniel B.; Kraemer, Robert R. Comparison of Two-Hand Kettlebell Exercise and Graded Treadmill Walking: Effectiveness as a Stimulus for Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: April 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 4 – p 998-1006
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000345

Jay K, Frisch D, Hansen K, et al. Kettlebell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health: a randomized controlled trial. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2011;37(3):196-203. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3136

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