Proper Swing Set-Up

Perfecting The Kettlebell Swing | Correcting 3 Common Errors

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Hi everyone,

After seeing countless people perform the Kettlebell Swing poorly, I think it’s about time to tackle this exercise again!

The Swing is not only a great exercise for conditioning and strengthening the posterior chain (back, glutes and hamstrings), but it is the basis for advanced exercises such as the Clean and the Snatch, so it is very important to master the technique. Just because it’s one of the basics, does not mean you should skip the fundamental teachings.

The Kettlebell Swing is what’s known as a Hip Hinge (Hip Flexion and Extension, with a neutral spine). To me, this is the most important movement for people to master, not only to allow proper swing technique, but also any deadlift variation, squats, lunges; I would even argue that understanding the importance of the hip extension portion of the movement is essential to learning how to properly perform Planks, Push Ups, Pull Ups, even Military Presses (basically most exercises).  What I mean is, being able to distinguish the difference between hip flexion/extension verses lumbar (lower back) flexion/extension will ultimately reduce your chance of lower back injuries, and dramatically increase your power production and strength.

The problem is that most people never know the difference and many trainers simply don’t understand the importance of teaching it.  But not all hope is lost; this post will take you through 3 of the most common problems I see in relation to the Kettlebell Swing. However, points 1 and 2 can easily be applied to many other exercises.

Let’s begin:

1) You’re Squatting, not Hinging (using the knees, not the hips)

This is a very common, but easily (in general) corrected error.  Typically, we use our anterior (front) muscles more, and the knees dominate many lower body movements.   This technique is incorrect because the hips are much more powerful than the knees and it is from the hips that we should seek to absorb added load; if we absorb load through our knees, we are headed for trouble down the road, both in our knees and our backs!  During the swing, beginners often squat down to absorb the weight of the Kettlebell, rather than sitting the hips back.

Take-Away Tip A great clue to whether you are using your knees more or your hips, is where you FEEL the exercise working most. If your Quads are burning and fatiguing quickly, then chances are you’re doing a squat-swing – which is inefficient.

Instead you should feel a stretch in the Hamstrings, and even the glutes.

2) Incomplete Hip Extension (your hips fail to follow through)

Because most of us “modern” folk sit a lot and walk very little, we have lost a lot of hip mobility and core stability.  Basically we sit in hip flexion and we are slowly evolving into human-chairs :( This problem becomes even more apparent when you try to exercise and then wonder why you are getting a sore back.  The problem is not your back, the problem lies in your hips. More specifically, they cannot fully extend (straighten) because the end range of this movement has been lost.

Normal Hip extension, should be performed primarily by the glutes, however, due to the “human-chair situation” these great muscles have become inactive and weak.  In addition to dormant glutes, the muscles at the front of your hips become short and tight (or weak, or both) and often the core muscles are very weak as well.  The only way your body can compensate for this incomplete extension of the hips, is by picking up the LACK with the lower back (hence the constant back ache). The back often hyper-extends to make up the difference.

In relation to the Kettlebell Swing, if you lack that end range of hip extension, then you are missing out on one of the most important parts of the swing – the HIP SNAP! You will never be able to properly propel the Weight forward, if your Hips can’t fully extend.

Not only is full hip extension vital for the KB Swing, but it is an essential part of stabilising and grounding the body during other exercises and every day activities … such as standing and walking!

Take-Away Tips: Improve Hip Extension

As part of every warm up, and throughout each day, you should try to fit in the following:

  • Hip Mobility Drill
  • Glute Activation Drill
  • Strengthen your Hip Extension by strengthening the Hip Extensors … the Glutes
  • Become more aware of what you are doing!

There are many drills out there to help achieve this, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

This is one I put together about a year ago to show a basic Hip Mobility and Glute activation drill.  To be honest this is enough for most of my clients and they see great improvement in their squat depth and hip extension because of it.

This next video shows an even more advanced hip mobility drill by Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD. I have tried this myself and, yes, it was very challenging, but IT WORKS A TREAT!

Finally, Hip Flexor Stretches are equally important and should be added into your warm up and cool down.  Here are a couple of examples of methods:

Next, to strengthen your hip extensors, enter the Glute Bridge and Hip Thrust.  Below is my Tutorial on the basics, but you can also check out the full article HERE.

3) Arm-Body Disconnect

This final error can be simply as a result of point number two, however, often it is a timing issue as people prematurely hinge back with the hips, before the arms have made contact with the body.  The problem that arises from this premature hinge is that the weight of the Kettlebell pulls you down toward the floor, rather than swinging back through the legs towards (with the hips).  The downward force causes the upper back to strain and may even turn your Swing into a Squat (depending on the weight of the Kettlebell).

To correct this:

It’s not that you let your arms bang into you on the way down, but you have to time it so you can “catch” your arms as your hips sit back – it should all happen simultaneously (and the Kettlebell should always remain at least half way up your femurs). Then on the upward phase of the swing, you must allow the hips to push the arms forward so the momentum can carry the KB forward.

If there is a gap between the arms and the body, you will load your spine, not your hips (on the downward phase of the swing) and you will likely use your arms to pull the Kettlebell at the top of the swing, because you have not been able to propel the weight properly using the hip snap.  This is very inefficient use of energy.

The KB should feel weighted as it loads your hamstrings and you are snapping the hips forward; the rest of time the KB should feel WEIGHTLESS.

Take-Away Tips: Catch and release the weight at the Hips, not in mid air and not half way down the legs! Sometimes a very light Kettlebell works against you and makes you want to cheat! Get the weight right: Most women should use at least 12kg; most men, at least 16kg (for the two-handed Kettlebell Swing).

Even if you have been performing the Kettlebell Swing for a while and think you are performing it correctly, have an honest look at your form and see if any of these pointers will help.

If you’re a beginner and you find your lower back starts to ache, then focus on all 3 points to ensure you are loading and unloading the hips properly. Often it can simply be a lack of full hip extension at the root of this issue. With some hip mobility and glute activation drills, the back ache should stop :)

The Kettlebell Swing is an awesome exercise; learn to do it right and your body will love you for it!

Thanks for taking the time to read this rather long article.

Cheers

Marianne

PS – I will be back ON MONDAY with a new workout … by me :D :D :D

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61 Responses

  1. Ricky says:

    Still on the sick and injured list but this will be reviewed prior to starting training .Cheers
    PS looking forward to the new workout

  2. [...] kolla in Myomytv när Marianne visar på vanliga fel när man svingar. Dela det här:TwitterFacebookGillaGillaBe the first to like this. Postat i Allting/Något | [...]

  3. Mary Kate says:

    Thank you so much for this! I have started teaching my clients the KB swing and this has given me so much more knowledge to work with! I already have a page full of notes and only 1/4 of the way through the post!

  4. noel says:

    this is a good blog :) i been using KB for more than a year but i only attended a class once, learn the basics drills and learn the rest form the net. i basically do have a correct form but when i fatigue i lose it.

    question do you really have to reach deep ,the bell, when you load up for a swing? coz i dont reach as deep as you did in your vid?

    p.s. can you do the same correction vid on clean and jerk thanks :)

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Noel, I am just wondering if one of the reasons you are fatiguing is that you don’t reach back enough? Some people won’t reach as far back as me, but I like to try and imagine if I let go of the KB, it would fly horizontally for a while and not just drop to the floor. Some days, if I am tired, I won’t reach so far – so I think if you are still loading the Posterior chain, this shouldn’t be a big issue.

      The only other thing is, sometimes my grip fatigues quicker if I don’t reach as deep through my legs. I think this is due to me having to stop the hinge and the force of the KB pulls more on my hands. Just a random thought :)

  5. chrysta says:

    wow!!!! great timing! I just started recording myself doing some swings (so I can send ya soon hopefully to critique) and this is the best info ever. Totally made my day. Kinda want to practice my swings again even though I just got done. Always tomorrow I guess.=)

    This post has such amazing info. Thanks so much for putting it all together and breaking it down. Seriously, awesome. These were all questions I had in the back of my mind so the info just answered everything. So really cool. Plus all the stretching techniques are great. I definitely learned some new things and cant wait to implement them into my routine.Rock on!

    • Marianne says:

      Great Chrysta! Glad this was good timing. It’s only recently I have really turned a lot of focus to hip mobility and I can tell you that some of that MWOD stuff is amazing and my SIJ is feeling nearly 100% after implementing it along with a few different kinds of lifts (which I will include in Monday’s workout).

      Thank you for the feedback :)

      • chrysta says:

        oh awesome!!! so glad to hear it helped. I can definently use some work on loosening up my hips so Im looking forward to Monday. Have an awesome weekend!

  6. Emily says:

    Great post Marianne! I am sharing this immediately on my page! My peeps ears will be burning because everything you discuss in this post about the swing they hear again and again and again from me. ;-) Always glad to know that I am on the right track with my coaching! Thank you!!!!

    Emily :-)

    • Marianne says:

      Awesome Emily, thanks for sharing! There are a few other points I could mention, but they are generally only an issue if these things aren’t corrected. Plus 3 things is easier to remember than 5 or 6 :D

  7. Laurie says:

    Awesome job!!! I sure appreciate your time and energy!!!

  8. Laurie says:

    Also, it’s funny you should recap this. This month I challenged myself to do at least 3500 proper form KB swings. So far so good, 800 done;) Thanks for updating and refeshing!

  9. Sarah says:

    Hi Marianne,

    thanks for this very interesting video: this is high-quality fitness advice.
    Regarding the first point (hinging and not squatting) I remember a very useful video from Steve Cotter, who recommended to place a kettlebell between your feet: if you are doing hinging correctly, the kettlebell you are swinging should never hit the kettlebell on the ground.

    Keep these sorts of videos coming. Corrections are very helpful.

    Cheers
    Sarah

  10. This is great! The KB swings I saw people doing at the gym in Salt Lake City the last few months were cringe worthy! YIKES!
    I watched the videos and followed along with you! haha! This really helped me and I’m sure it will help others, too!
    Wonderful job!

  11. Tony b says:

    Great, Great, Great break down of the swing, Marianne!! Cant say enough good things about it. The swing truely is the king of all power excercises. Its the staple for the deadlift, squat and everything else…well maybe not curls in the squat rack…but besides that, you can break down so many lifts and lead it back to the kb swing. You really opened my eyes to tweak a few things, especially the shoulder placement and where i should focus my view.
    Great glute analysis and just how important it is to really engage them to get the max air on the bell…call that booty to duty!!! Great job…oh man..great job

  12. Mickela says:

    hi marianne glad I checked your website. I was having trouble coming up with ideas for my workout today, this was very inspiring. I did the following workout which includes lots of swings

    3 x3 pull ups
    40 hip thrusts 10 of them holding a 16kg kb
    3×5 turkish get ups with 12kg
    renegade rows 3×5 each side with 16kg
    5×3 goblet squats with 20kg (inspired by Bret to go heavy)
    16 rounds of 15 rest and45 second effort
    alternating rounds
    with fast pace skip and kb swings with 16kg doing single handed and double handed swings

    big sweat

    • Marianne says:

      Wow! what a workout! Glad you went heavier on your squats! :D He’ll be proud of you!

      I’m excited to be doing a new workout on Monday – I have missed them so much :)

  13. amazing tips!! When I was first learning the swing I fell into some of these categories. As much as we think we are experts…I still try to perfect the swing each and everytime I pick up a KB. It requires so much power and to be 100% in tune with the body. <3 it!

  14. Amelie says:

    Thank you Marianne! Your tutorials are something I revisit with regularity and this one will definitely get added to the list! I get the low back ache with my swings. After watching the videos, I did 400 swings without any nagging pains in my back. You mentioned your grip in one of the comments above which was my main problem starting around the 250th swing. I will try a deeper reach. Any other recommendations on improving grip strength and endurance? Thanks again!

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Amelie,

      For your grip endurnance, specifically for the KB swing, it’s a great idea not to grip with the whole hand (so your forearm never gets pumped). Instead, let the handle rest across you 4 fingers and lightly place the thumb over the first 2 fingers. Without full grip, your forearm will fatigue less and you’ll swing for longer.

      Another cool way to save the grip during the Two-Handed Swing is to loosed or even let go of your grip on the KB while it’s at shoulder height (just for a split second). At this point of the swing the KB is weightless and will “hover” there for a second. That means for every rep, your grip gets a break :)

      Try both :D

  15. Cita H. says:

    Thanks so much for the advice.I think it’s ok to go back to your basics every once in a while. By watching some of your older videos i’ve learned that adding some of these warm ups & tips (on the swing)back to my schedule will only allow me to perfect this excersice. I can always tell when i’ve not had a proper warm up,I’m unable to snap correctly which leads to poor activation. And you are so right, glute activation is sooo important in ALL excersices. I even get upset when I’m working upper body & my glutes are not activated lol. I’m sorry but I’m learning how to include them in everything I do. Thanks again

  16. Clea says:

    Thanks for this Marianne, great tips…very thorough article :) I am currently training in Ireland to become a personal trainer and was wondering where you got your qualification from.. are you self thought or are there any irish courses you recommend?? I feel Ireland is a bit behind when it comes to their personal trainer qualifications,haha! You are extremely knowledgeable and I am learining loads from you, but just wondered if you had any hints or tips for me to become the best trainer i can become? Any books or blogs for somebody wanting to learn or courses i should attend?

    Thanks so much for all you have thought me already? I really enjoy reading your blog posts and watching your videos =)

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Clea,

      I totally understand your frustration with finding good courses. I normally wait until I hear of someone like Steve Cotter coming over.

      With regards to my qualifications, I am self-taught. Although I do have my fitness instructor, Kettlebell Instructor and Olympic WeightLifting Courses. I have learned from many of my more experienced fitness friends. To be honest I am very reluctant to spend £1500 on a PT course, when I can spend a fraction of that on UK Strength and Conditioning Workshops and KB Training with Steve Cotter.

      It depends where you want to work, and how you need to get insured and market yourself. Because most of my Personal Training remains online and in the USA, I don’t need the standard PT course. If I wanted to work in a commercial gym and get insured through REPS, then I’d need to go the normal route. I have just been very lucky to have met the people I have.

      Some website resources for you (I’d also recommend checking their links if they have a links page):

      T-Nation
      Bret Contreras
      Ben Bruno (check out his Good Reads Posts for loads of reading material)
      Mike Robinson
      Nia Shanks (female fitness specialist and all round awesome person)
      Kellie Davis
      Molly Galbraith (this is becoming an awesome resource; Molly has so much knowledge it’s unreal … and she’s only 27/28 I think)
      Neghar Fonooni
      Julia Ladewski
      Jen Keck
      Alli McKee

      There are probably more resources that interest me, but this will be plenty to get you going. In the next few weeks Girls Gone Strong will launch our Female Fitness Authority Website, and it will be a singular resource that will provide loads of info in one place :)

      • Clea says:

        Thanks for the response Marianne. I am plannning on attending a workshop in September with Mike Mahler and Lauren Brooks, I am also working on getting a PT qualification, but only so i can get myself some insurance as i want to work for myself, maybe doing some classes and also hopefully have some personal training clients.

        Can i ask where you go for the strength and conditioning workshops in the UK, this is something I am also interested in?

        Thanks so much for the websites, i am already following most of these, so fingers crossed i learn from you all :) looking forward to girls gone strong website….it’s gonna be AMAZING =)Best of luck with it and your bright career in the future!!

        Thanks again, for the awesome info :)

        • Marianne says:

          Awesome Clea! When in September is Lauren Brooks and Mike coming over? I’d love to go to that and meet them!!

          The UK Strength and Conditioning Association offer workshops and courses, and they are coming to The University of Ulster in Jordanstown (about 30 min outside Belfast) in November. I’m thinking of going to it.

          I have also been to 2 coursed by Optimal Life Fitness. I did my Kettlebells and Oly Lifting with them. Great group! And I think they come to Dublin for some courses.

          Good luck! And I might see you along the way :D

          • Clea says:

            They will be here the 15th and 16th of September Marianne – here is the link http://www.d8fitness.com/mike-mahler-seminar/

            Oh sounds great, thanks for letting me know..I could definitley attend that :) might see you there!!

            Thanks for all the SUPER advice…I look forward to reading your fantastic blogs and watching you in the future!!

    • Roq says:

      I would like to add to Marianne’s respond that an excellent kettlebell instructional source is “Encyclopedia of Kettlebell lifting” DVD by Steve Cotter. It has 7 hours of kettlebell instruction and sample programs.

      I would also like to mention the book “Starting strength” by Mark Rippetoe. The book focuses on the squat, bench press, deadlift press and power clean. Apart from the power clean, the instructions are brilliant and VERY thorough. I would definitely look for other resources for the power clean though, like the Olympic weightlifting book series.

      The good thing about owning your own resources is there are a lot of exercises which you can refer back to again and again without any additional cost. It’s hard to get all of the finer points when taking classes. Mark Rippetoe has some great videos on youtube as well.

      • Marianne says:

        Great recommendations, love them both! I especially admire Steve and hope to be training with him again soon. I have so much still to learn and I consider him one of the best. And, funny, I JUST bought “Starting Strength” the other day! :D I’ve yet to get into it, but I am looking forward to it greatly!

        • Clea says:

          Thanks for the super recommendations guys, I will be sure to check them out =)

        • Roq says:

          Congrats on your purchase :) I have no doubt you will love it! I’m almost jealous if you got the 3rd edition since I understand it’s even better then the 2nd edition which I own. Even though he focuses on barbell training, which I don’t really do anymore, I still find it an invaluable resource.

  17. Roq says:

    I’ve just recently started to follow your blog and have been very impressed by you. Quality form is of such an importance for me and it irritates me to no end to see people performing most exercises with horrible form. Sometimes even with a trainer or in a group setting where the instructors are not paying attention or don’t know any better. All of your instructional videos are really great but the instructional videos you posted in this post in particular are phenomenal. I am so happy to have found your page!!!

  18. marcel karre says:

    rebonjour,
    probleme de traduction,
    très bonne pédagogie et bonne analyse biomécanique du mouvement ceci est très important pour éviter les blessures
    bien a vous
    marcel karre
    head-coach

  19. marcel karre says:

    hello,
    merci d’avoir répondu ,vous avez beaucoup de courage et d’humilité ,
    techniquement vos gestes sont impeccable et vous avez de l’élégance dans le mouvement.
    quand je coach les clients la premier exercice que je fait faire son
    les trois positions du bassin
    1) rétroversion
    2) antéversion
    3) position neutre,dans la position neutre ,il faut contracter le
    périnée afin de faire remonté le planché pelvien ,rentré le ventre et actionné le transverse
    j’espère que ceci peut éventuellement aider les pratiquants de kettlebell afin de protéger leur dos
    bien cordialement
    marcel karre
    head-coach
    .

    • Marianne says:

      Marcel said:

      “hello,
      thank you for responding, you have a lot of courage and humility,
      technically impeccable and your actions are you elegance in movement.
      When I coach clients the first year I made her do
      the three positions of the basin
      1) retroversion
      2) anteversion
      3) neutral position, the neutral position, it is necessary to contract the
      perineum in order to back up the plank pelvic, back and belly pressed the transverse
      I hope this can possibly help practitioners kettlebell to protect their backs
      cordially
      marcel Karre
      head coach”

      Thank you! This makes sense :)

  20. Derico says:

    Awesome! Simply awesome! This is by far the most educational and best instructional video i have seen on the kettlebell swings! Thanks so much!

  21. Juli says:

    Hi Marianne,

    I got my first kettlebell this summer and attanted a course some month prior I actually got my hands on my own cannonball :-) so am obviously just on the beginning of a loooong journey. I started to browse the deep waters of internet and found great sources as Pavel, Steve, Mike …Tamer…and many more known..all of them are good and has their way how they explaining the techniques and than you…I like your way, too – sometimes you learn some detail from there sometimes form elsewhere and you do lot of practise and practise and there you go ….your explanation of swing squat vs. hams. helped me to get the “info” to my brain…so thank you and keep up the good job and this site :-)

    Also I “used” you as an example that girls can be strong (and it seems can kick most of men butts with these all exercises) and the weight do not destroy the beauty in them.

    Julius
    A fan from Prague

    • Marianne says:

      Hey Julius,

      These guys are all great and I think it’s good to listen to what advice others have to offer too. As you said, it creates a more complete picture and also shows that differences are okay too :)

      Thank you for sharing my material!

      Cheers,
      Marianne

  22. These vids are great. Thanks so much for the thoughtful presentation!

  23. Melly says:

    Hi Marianne.
    This is my corner this week. This morning, before my workout, I came here and took hints on perfecting my KB Swing. It is helping, I am not feeling lower back pain this week. I don’t think I am near perfecting it, but I do feel I am making progress. I thought the portion of the first video where you spoke over the filming, was brilliant. It is great to see good form and bad. I am aware of ‘squattiness’ now. Now I will watch the rest of the videos.
    I love your site, thank you.

  24. Rita H says:

    Hi Marianne

    I’m starting to follow and consult your website a couple of weeks now, and find it great that you offer so many different videos for Kettlebell workouts. (I need variation! :-)) I checked out a lot of them and recognized a range of exercises being relisted.

    I’ve read your blogs and know now that it is better to try out a couple of exercises per muscle group, not changing all the time. I must say that learning the Kettlebell throughout internet sites and tutorials was indeed a challenge because of the information/variation overload. :-) So I stick to your plan. ;-)

    However I wanted to suggest if it would be possible to list all your common excercises per muscle group under the tutorials. As I’m living in Belgium and do not speak English as my mother language some terms often keep sounding like ‘Chinese’ :-) It would therefore be great to consult the tutorials per exercise/per muscle group.

    It is just a suggestion of course :-)
    Thank you anyway. I’m gonna start using a interval timer and doing interval workouts in stead of repeating the exercises I know now for just 10 rep over and over again :-)

  25. Liam says:

    Excellent post! Now I know what my instructor is doing wrong…

  26. [...] The Kettlebell Swing – Correcting 3 Common Errors [...]

  27. [...] she also has some other important videos on her page that explain some other aspects in helping to master the kettlebell swings form…Part 1 – Hinging (using the knees, not the hips) Part 2 – Incomplete Hip [...]

  28. Rohit Gupta says:

    Thank you for the best tutorial on the correct swing .. The 3 areas helped me identify and correct mistakes I was making .. The best part is the detail you go into before any of your videos .. This helps give a clear understanding of what you need to do before you see it .. I am suggesting your page to all my KB friends and now finally and hopefully I can get this simple looking but complex exercise right .. I am hooked to all your videos and will come back again whenever I want to know how to do it right .. Thank you for your time and effort and extreme attention to detail .. Beginners need everything explained just like you do to help get things right
    ..

  29. martin d says:

    hi

    good tips. also you could place a spare kettlebell between your legs; if you squat-swing you tend to swoop lower and will clank your spare bell. Swing properly and you go right over the top.

    also try doing 300 reps (20 per set) with a heavyish bell and see where your pain in the next day…..its how i learned, or more correctly made me think and try and learn

    • Marianne says:

      First idea: good. Second tip: not so good.

      I would not advise anyone to “see where their pain is the next day” because you cannot control that experiment and you cannot say that it *was* the swings. If you feel your back *during* the swings, then you need to correct it, but the reason could simply be that you are doing too many – so you just need to progress the volume along with good technique.

  30. Katie says:

    Thank you for the clear explanations of technique. I just bought my first kettlebells and want to get the movements right from the start. Your descriptions and demonstrations demonstrated to me clearly how what I was doing would injure my knees and back – neither of which can afford injury! Thanks!

  31. Tanja says:

    Hi, how do I know if I am doing the swing right? I’ve been doing 100 swings a day for the past 2 weeks. I am really out of breath and sweating a lot but nothing hurts and I’m not stiff the next day. I exercise in front of the mirror to check if I have the right form. I do bend at the hips. I have lost weight, I am also eating healthy. So I must be doing something right, but I feel that I must hurt somewhere! What could I be doing wrong?

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