Russian Kettlebell Swing Tutorial, Benefits, and How to Correct Common Errors

By Matt Walter
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Learn how to correctly perform the Russian kettlebell swing

The Russian kettlebell swing is the foundation on which all kettlebell movements are built. You want to work with kettlebells? This is the movement you master first. It is a ballistic movement that is used to develop strength, power, and endurance. It is a great exercise for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone looking to improve their fitness levels.

In this article, we will provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform the Russian kettlebell swing. We will also provide pictures and video demonstrations of the movement. Additionally, we will discuss some common errors that people make when performing the swing, and we will provide tips on how to program the movement.

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Table of Contents

Video: Russian Kettlebell Tutorial

How to Perform the Russian Kettlebell Swing

The Setup

Step 1: Place a kettlebell on the ground in front of you, with the horns up toward the ceiling.

Kettlebell Swing Setup Position

Step 2: Stand 1 to 2 feet away from the kettlebell with a shoulder-width stance. Bend your knees slightly, keep a slight arch in your back (neutral spine), hinge at the waist, and squat down as far as necessary to grab the kettlebell by the horns. You should be fully extended in front of you at this point.

Form Tip: Maintain a flat back, shoulders down and back, and chest and head up throughout.

Step 3: Drive your hips back, begin to extend your knees, and swing the kettlebell from the floor backward between your legs. Almost as if you are hiking a football.

Russian Kettlebell Swing Hike Position

Now you’re ready for your first rep.

Step 4: Drive your hips forward, forcefully extending your knees and hips. This will force the kettlebell away from your body and up toward your head. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows and do not shrug your shoulders. The bell will swing up to eye level, and then begin to fall.

Russian KB Swing Finish

Coach’s Tip: Think of your arms like ropes. They are just there to keep you attached to the kettlebell. Do not pull with your arms. Your hips do all the lifting.

Step 5: Allow the bell to fall back between your legs. Maintain a slight arch in your back, drive your hips back, slightly bend your knees, and feel a strong stretch in your hamstrings.

Russian Kettlebell Swing Finish Position

Coach’s Tip: Gravity will pull the bell back to the ground. It’s your hinge motion that will guide it back between your legs. Don’t go loose and just let it fall. This is like doing a very fast Romanian deadlift.

Points of Performance

A full repetition ends when the kettlebell is between chest height and eye level.

Maintain a flat back, neutral spine throughout the entire movement

Actively engage your core muscles

Keep your chest up and head in line with your spine

Extend your knees and hips at the top of the swing

When the kettlebell reaches full height your glutes are contracted, quads are engaged, your core is tight, and your lats are actively pulling your shoulders down and away from the ears.

Benefits of the Russian Kettlebell Swing

Benefits of the Russian Kettlebell Swing

The Russian kettlebell swing is a full-body movement that has a ton of benefits, including building muscle mass and increasing stamina. High-intensity kettlebell exercises are also a great way to burn calories and are much more fun than traditional cardio work.

The Russian kettlebell swing requires very little space and only one piece of equipment, making it a great choice for home workouts. It’s easy on your joints, very easy to learn, and can improve coordination, mobility, balance, and motor skills.

Here are a few other amazing benefits of the kettlebell swing.

Phenomenal Posterior Chain Recruitment

The Russian kettlebell swing activates your glutes, hamstrings, lats, abs, core, shoulders, and back. This makes it one of the most powerful posterior chain exercises out there.

Your posterior chain is crucial to most athletic endeavors. Most of the power for any forward movement is generated by your posterior chain. This exercise will help improve your performance in any athletic activity.

Stimulates Both Aerobic and Anaerobic Pathways

The fast-paced, high-intensity nature of the swing elevates your heart rate into the aerobic range and offers you a fantastic anaerobic exercise thanks to simultaneous muscle activation.

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), during a 20-minute kettlebell workout, people burn 13.6 calories aerobically and 6.6 calories anaerobically each minute. (1)

Researchers likened these results to running a 6-minute mile! So you get the cardiovascular benefits of running a 6-minute mile without all the joint stress that causes, and while building muscle!

Improves Muscular Endurance

Kettlebell swings are excellent for developing muscular endurance. This is especially true when using a lighter weight with higher reps since it extends the amount of time under tension.

Strengthens Your Low Back

The muscles that surround the spine help to protect it from unwanted motion and harm. Strengthening them helps to keep the spine in its proper alignment. And you need a strong back! No matter who you are! If you’ve ever thrown your back out or helped a grandparent that can no longer get their groceries out of their car, you know exactly why.

Increases EPOC

Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption refers to the number of calories your burn after a workout.

High-intensity exercise increases EPOC because it requires the body to restore oxygen levels and repair muscles, all of which contribute to a greater calorie burn after we leave the gym.

The intensity of kettlebell swings is ideal for increasing the EPOC value.

ACE’s 2010 study that looked at the effectiveness of kettlebell exercise concluded that “kettlebells provide a much higher-intensity workout than standard weight-training routines and offer superior results in a short amount of time.” (1)

The same study went on to say that the benefits of kettlebell training extend beyond strength and stamina by helping people “burn calories, lose weight, and enhance their functional performance capabilities.”

Common Errors With the Russian Kettlebell Swing

Because the Russian swing is a foundational KB movement, errors left unchecked will limit your ability to learn other, more advanced KB exercises. They could also lead to unnecessary muscle, tendon and ligament, or joint strain or injury.

Pay attention to and correct any of the following errors in performance.

Rounding Your Back

Rounding your back, especially when picking up or putting the kettlebell down, is a recipe for a back injury. Your back should be arched, maintaining a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.

Correction: Practice the kettlebell deadlift. Hinge at the waist, flex at the knees, and reach down to grab your kettlebell. Make sure your back is arched, chest up, and eyes looking straight ahead. Slowly deadlift the KB to a standing position The KB should be hanging between your knees with your arms fully extended. Slowly lower the KB back to the ground.

Kettlebell Deadlift

Now practice just “the hike.” Approach your kettlebell as if you are going to do a Russian swing. Make sure your arms are extended, your hips are slightly higher than your knee, your chest is up, and your gaze is forward. Hike the kettlebell back and between your legs and then right back to the floor where it started. Do this several times and make sure this initial phase of the movement is perfect.

Correct the First Pull in the Russian KB Swing

Use a mirror if necessary to make sure your back stays arched throughout the entire movement while you’re practicing these corrective exercises. Pay attention to how it feels to do these movements correctly.

Leaning back

The Russian KB swing ends with a powerful hip drive and a mostly vertical torso. You will slean slightly back, but once your hips have reached full extension, there’s no need to extend your back any further. Overarching your back is not only inefficient, but it can also lead to an unnecessarily sore back or injury.

Correction: Set up an obstacle that your back cannot extend beyond when you are in a fully standing position. A great way to do this is with a resistance band. Extend a band between two points (possibly the pins on a power rack) at the height of your shoulder blades. Stand tall so that your back hits the band when you are standing tall, shoulders over your hips. Now complete a KB swing, letting your back just touch the band. Try this until you can feel where to end your back extension without the supports.

Bending your knees too much

The kettlebell swing is a hinge movement. It’s more like an explosive Romanian deadlift than a squat. The purpose is to develop a powerful hip drive and stretch your hamstrings, not to work your quads.

Your knees are going to bend slightly to get the kettlebell between and behind your legs without bending your back, but keep the knee bend to a minimum.

Correction: Secure a resistance band to a structure, like a power rack pillar. Step into it and place it right at your hip crease. Step away from the rack so that there is a good amount of tension on the band. Let the band pull your hips toward the rack. Keep your back straight and feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. Now, explode back to standing by driving your hips forward. This will teach you how to feel your hips and not bend too much at the knee.

Swinging the Bell Too Low

The bell should swing between your legs just below your hips and crotch. You don’t want to hit your butt with the kettlebell, but you should be close. Swinging too low (down by or below your knees) is going to put a lot of unnecessary stress on your low back.

This is likely caused by using too much weight or bending too much at the knees.

If you’re struggling to get the kettlebell that high the weight is likely too heavy. Or you’re trying to use your arms to swing the bell up, instead of driving explosively with your hips.

Correction: Use the same corrective exercise as for bending your knees too much, or choose a lighter kettlebell.

Hitting Your Butt

Like I mentioned above, your kettlebell should be close to hitting your butt on the backswing, but not actually make contact. This is usually caused by not hinging forward or deep enough.

Correction: Focus on pushing your hips back, like you’re trying to hit an invisible wall behind you, and sit a little deeper. Your wrists should land just below your crotch in this position.

Pulling With Your Arms

This is a hip movement, not a front shoulder raise. This of your arms like ropes that are just there to hold the kettlebell. All momentum is caused by an explosive drive from your hips. Your arms just hold the bell.

Correction: Focus on your hip drive, and only your hip drive. Don’t even try to get the bell very high. Just hold it and do some partial reps, focusing on feeling your hips push the bell forward.

Not Fully Extending Your Hips

Russian Kettlebell Swing Eye Level
Notice how the hips are not fully extended in the finishing position. We call this a muted hip.

We call this “muted hips.” The kettlebell swing is caused by an explosive hip thrust. Muted hips are usually caused by trying to pull too much with the arms.

Correction: Practice glute bridges on the floor. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Drive through your feet, flex your glutes, and push your hips toward the ceiling. Get your hips as high as possible, squeeze your glutes like you’re trying to crush a walnut, and hold for 3-5 seconds. Lower and repeat for 10 reps.

Fully Extended Arms

Your elbows should actually have a slight bend in them, which is held throughout the entire movement. It almost looks weird because we tend to think the elbows should be locked and the arms fully extended. This places stress on the elbows and can cause the kettlebell to swing too low on the backswing.

Correction: Keep a slight bend in your elbows and focus on driving with your hips. Your arms should just hold the kettlebell, not initiate any movement.

Muscles Worked by the Russian Kettlebell Swing

This kettlebell exercise targets the hamstrings, glutes, lats, abs, and core. It also activates the shoulders, pecs, and quads to a lesser degree. Swinging the kettlebell also builds grip strength.

Russian Kettlebell Swing Tips and Notes

Russian Kettlebell Swing Notes

The Russian kettlebell swing was brought to mainstream popularity in 2001 by Russian strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline. He introduced kettlebell training methods in his book Enter the Kettlebell. If you are new to kettlebells, read this book!

The goal of the Russian kettlebell swing is to increase hip hinge power output. Much more so than the American version. Because you are not worried about trying to get the kettlebell overhead, you can use a lot more weight, with a shorter rep duration.

Focus on technique, not intensity when learning the Russian kettlebell swing. Strength, power, explosiveness, speed, and intensity will come with time and are a byproduct of precise movement.

Using proper technique, at all times, is the key to avoiding injury.

The kettlebell swing is a posterior chain movement. Your posterior chain is made up of the major muscles on the backside of your body including your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

The posterior chain is your body’s powerhouse. Ever look at sprinters? Their hamstrings are huge! These muscles are big movers, capable of moving heavy weights and burning calories.

Programming the Russian Kettlebell Swing

Keep the following in mind when designing your own Russian kettlebell swing workout.

How Much Weight to Use

Kettlebells used to come in few weights. The standard unit of measure was the pood. 1 pood is equal to about 35 pounds. Kettlebells, therefore, came in large weight increments, the most common being 1 pood, 1.5 poods (53 pounds), and 2 poods (72 pounds)

Today, kettlebells come in a variety of weights ranging from five pounds up to over 200 pounds! So what weight should you start with if this is a new movement?

Start very light if you are a beginner, with something in the 15-20 pound range if possible. If the gym you are at doesn’t have kettlebells that low, start with the lowest you can find. For the Russian kettlebell swing, a 35-pound kettlebell is likely still light enough for most people to learn with.

Regardless of the weight you choose, make sure you are maintaining proper form. If your form begins to break down, find a lighter bell.

How Many Reps Should I Perform Per Set?

For an amazing cardio workout that burns fat and builds muscle, aim for high reps with low weight. Try an AMRAP (As Many Rounds and Reps as Possible). Roll a pair of dice and use the combined number for your time. Say you roll a 5 and 3. See how many swings you can get in 8 minutes.

Or set up a For Time workout, with a set number of reps you want to complete. Maybe you want to shoot for 75 reps. Set a clock and see how fast you can complete your 75 reps. Break your sets into manageable chunks, and always perform reps with perfect form.

Or use the kettlebell swing to build muscle.

Russian Kettlebell Swings may also be excellent for muscle growth by using a heavier weight and fewer reps for anaerobic exercise. The anaerobic process uses brief, powerful sets separated by longer rest periods. This technique forces your muscles to adapt by breaking down their tissues.

Choose a heavier kettlebell and perform sets of 6-8 reps with 90-120 seconds of rest between efforts.

Who Should Use Russian Kettlebell Swings

If you’re new to kettlebell training, the Russian swing is a great place to start. They may appear basic, but they will take time to master. Before moving on to the more technically challenging American kettlebell swing, you should go through that process with the Russian swing.

That isn’t to imply that the Russian kettlebell swing is less sophisticated than the American swing. All levels of Strength athletes can profit from the Russian kettlebell swing. Grip strength, overall body strength, lat strength, hip hinge mechanics and power, and hinging practice are all improved by this exercise. If any of these things are part of your goals, you should include Russian kettlebell swings in your training.

Why Choose the Russian Swing Over the American Swing?

Both the American and Russian versions of the kettlebell swing are beneficial. Here are some reasons to choose the Russian version over the American.

Better for General Strength

You can add significantly more weight to Russian kettlebell swings than to American swings. This gives them an edge in terms of strength development. The extra weight lends greater momentum to all of your major lifts. Because Russian swings utilize your lats to brake and stabilize the weight at chest level, they’ll get much stronger. Your grip will grow stronger as a result of being able to load more weight.

Safer for Conditioning

The American swing requires the weight to be raised to the overhead position rather than stopping at chest/eye level. The extra overhead component necessitates a great deal of shoulder mobility and scapular stability. Because American swings need a longer range of motion, some believe they are more difficult overall and are better for conditioning.

However, Russian swings may also be used as an incredible conditioning tool, with less potential for injury, especially for those with poor core control and overhead mobility.

Better for Overall Power

Due to greater loading and explosive force through hip extension, the Russian swing has a wider application in power sports. If you’re looking to improve your ability to generate a lot of power from your posterior chain, Russian kettlebell swings should be at the top of your list.

Russian Kettlebell Swing Alternatives

While a kettlebell is obviously ideal, you can perform the same movement with other pieces of equipment. Try loading up a backpack or small-handled back, swing a water jug or heavy rock, or try a dumbbell.

Put a dumbbell on the ground standing on one end. Squat down and grab the top with both hands, treating the dumbbell head like the horn of a kettlebell. Then swing away!

Titan Fitness Cast Iron Kettlebells – These are my favorite style of kettlebells. If you are just getting into kettlebells, start with a 16 kg (35 lb) or 24 kg (53 lb) bell. I bought my 35-kg kettlebell from Titan Fitness and I love it.

Rogue Fitness Iron Kettlebells – These are great, high-quality kettlebells. I have two 16-kg and one 24-kg from Rogue.

Rogue Fitness E-Coat Kettlebells – These are slightly cheaper than the cast iron kettlebells but are of the same quality and are shaped from the same mold as the cast iron. I have one of these and I use it often with my cast iron version. They are the same height, weight, and feel, which is important if you are doing dual kettlebell work.

Conclusion: The Russian Kettlebell Swing

The Russian kettlebell swing is an excellent exercise to improve overall strength, power, and conditioning. It can be performed with a variety of weights and equipment, making it versatile for all levels of athletes. Whether you’re new to kettlebell training or an experienced Strength athlete, the Russian swing should be part of your routine.

Learn how to correctly perform the kettlebell thruster
Learn how to perform the kettlebell halo
Learn how to perform the kettlebell row, along with multiple variations
Learn how to perform the kettlebell figure 8

References

  1. Kettlebells – American Council on Exercise. https://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/Kettlebells012010.pdf.
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AUTHOR

Matt has been a personal trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.

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