Whether you’re a gym newb or a seasoned CrossFitter, you can benefit from adding kettlebell swings to your strength training routine. This ultimate all-in-one workout helps with everything from spine strength and hip flexibility to cardio and calorie burn.
So, how can one little piece of equipment do so much for your body? Let’s break down the benefits of kettlebell swings — plus how to safely add kettlebell swings to your existing workout.
What are the benefits of kettlebell swings?
Kettlebell swings are good for pretty much everyone because they:
- Build muscle
- Provide a full-body workout
- Boost your cardio fitness
- May help with weight loss
- Strengthen weak muscles
- Are easy on your back
- Build functional strength
- Improve your posture
- Are super convenient
- Improve your flexibility
- Boost your balance
- Build power and athleticism
- Improve heart health
- Are low impact
- Are versatile and approachable
Kettlebell swings are one of many exercises you can do with a kettlebell. This type of free weight looks like a cannonball with a handle and is usually made of cast iron or steel.
Kettlebells come in a variety of sizes and can be used for presses, cleans, swings, curls… really any move you can do with dumbbells or a barbell.
The kettlebell swing is thought to have originated in 18th-century Russia, where folks started lifting counterweights for fun. You’ll often find kettlebells measured in Russian poods (~16 kilograms or 36 pounds), and the classic kettlebell swing is also known as the Russian kettlebell swing (the more you know… 💫).
The two-handed Russian swing is an ideal entryway into kettlebell exercises. Here’s how it’s done:
- Stand straight and tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold the kettlebell in front of your body with both hands.
- Engage your core, squeeze shoulder blades together, and keep arms long and loose.
- Bend knees slightly, shift your weight into your heels, and push hips back.
- Drive through your heels and explode forward with your hips. Squeeze core and glutes as you thrust your hips to help you swing the kettlebell to chest height, with arms extended.
- Make sure you keep your upper body relaxed as you swing. Avoid lifting the weight with your arms and instead push with your hips and let the kettlebell swing from your shoulders.
- Shift hips back as the kettlebell descends (like pushing your hips to the wall behind you). Hinge at your hips, letting hamstrings and glutes carry the weight.
- Let the kettlebell gently swoosh back between your legs.
- Drive through hips and heels to repeat. Your arms should act as a pendulum that the kettlebell swings from.
To prevent injuries and accidents, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t swing too high or low. Swing the kettlebell to shoulder height or below.
- It’s all in the hips. Power the swing with your legs and hips, not your arms! Think of it as a thrust, NOT a squat.
- Don’t lean back. Keep your core tight to avoid getting bendy and straining your lower back.
So, why add this exercise to your next workout? Here’s how kettlebell swings can up your fitness game.
1. Build muscle
New lean muscle mass, who dis? Kettlebell swings are a form of weightlifting that can help you build muscle.
Like barbell and dumbbell workouts, kettlebell swings are a type of anaerobic activity that uses a bunch of energy in a short amount of time to help you get buff.
A small 2013 study also found that a 10-week kettlebell training program helped improve power and strength for weightlifting and powerlifting.
2. Provide a full-body workout
So, what muscles are you actually working? Kettlebell swings work your entire posterior chain in one fell swoop. This series of large muscles runs from your neck to your heels on the back of your body, including upper- and lower-body muscles like your:
3. Boost cardio fitness
Why do strength training and cardio when you can do both at once? Research suggests kettlebell swings may help increase your aerobic fitness — the way your body uses oxygen to increase breathing and heart rate.
A 2010 study of athletes performing 12 minutes of kettlebell swings found that the workout was more challenging for the cardiorespiratory system than traditional circuit weight training. The authors concluded that this style of kettlebell workout can improve cardiorespiratory fitness.
Another 2012 study found that folks performing kettlebell swings and treadmill running had similar average heart rates and ratings of perceived exertion.
Research from 2014 also found that kettlebell swings produced a greater cardiovascular response than Tabata or traditional resistance training.
4. Help with weight loss
If you’re on a weight loss journey, kettlebell swings can help you burn fat and build muscle at once. The folks at the American Council on Exercise (ACE) believe kettlebell workouts may help you burn twice as many calories as other strength training exercises.
According to ACE’s 2010 research, kettlebell workouts can burn a whopping 20.2 calories per minute, which is equal to what most peeps would burn running at a 6-minute mile pace.
5. Strengthen weak muscles
Sitting at a desk all day can tighten up your hip flexors and weaken your back. And if you’re already lifting weights, most workouts target only the front of your body, which can lead to muscle imbalances.
Kettlebell swings can help you loosen up your hips and strengthen any weak posterior muscles like your glutes, hammies, and lower back.
6. Go easy on your back
While more research needs to be done before we can declare that kettlebell swings can cure back pain, the exercise may be a relatively low impact way to build strength and mobility in your back.
According to a small 2012 study, kettlebell swings may create strain on the spine in the opposite direction of traditional lifts. This *might* be why some folks think kettlebell swings help improve their back function and health.
A 2017 study on hip and low back pressure pain thresholds found that folks performing kettlebell swings had reduced muscle sensitivity in that area.
This doesn’t prove that the workout reduces back pain, but researchers noted it’s worth looking into how kettlebell swings could help with low back pain or muscle soreness after a workout.
7. Build functional strength
Kettlebell swings strengthen parts of your body you use every day. Gripping the handles of a kettlebell during swings or any other kettlebell exercise can help improve your grip strength.
Plus, the swinging motion creates a functional movement pattern that mirrors bending down and lifting. Because you’re working those posterior muscles, you’ll be nice and strong for everyday lifting and bending.
8. Improve your posture
To do a kettlebell swing properly, you’ll need good posture throughout — and you can carry that into other workouts and everyday life.
When you properly perform a kettlebell swing, you keep your spine straight, your core and glutes engaged, and your pelvis neutral. Instead of straining your back, this simple adjustment can help train your bod to use your core and hinge at the hips (hello, functional strength!) for excellent posture.
9. Convenient AF
Kettlebell swings don’t require a gym membership or clunky equipment. You can simply keep some kettlebells in your living room or home gym.
You can easily perform kettlebell swings while you watch TV for a quick cardio and strength training workout. No treadmill or gigantic home gym setup required.
10. Improve flexibility
We’re not saying to skip your stretching routine, but thanks to working that posterior chain, kettlebells may help you get bendy.
The swinging motion and hip thrusting used in kettlebell swings can open up your hips, elongate your spine, and strengthen your back muscles to create more flexibility.
11. Boost your balance
Good balance isn’t just for ballerinas — it’s for anyone who wants to avoid tripping over their own feet.
In a small 2013 study, participants who worked out with kettlebells twice a week for 8 weeks showed improvements in dynamic leg balance.
A small 2020 study also found that ballerinas who completed kettlebell training (including swings and get-ups) improved jump performance and balance more than dancers who took traditional jump and balance dance classes.
We need more research to know just how effective kettlebell swings are for balance, but they *might* help you hold those tricky yoga poses.
12. Build power and athleticism
The kettlebell swing’s explosive movement mimics many of the motions needed to run, lift, or jump effectively. According to a 2012 study, kettlebell swings can improve explosive strength.
Basically, this is a total power move. So if you want to boost your athletic prowess, kettlebells swings can help.
13. Improve heart health
You probably already know that cardio can benefit heart health thanks to its ability to use oxygen and boost your heart rate. Since kettlebell swings count as cardio, they can keep your heart going strong too.
A small 2021 study found that kettlebell exercises may also help lower blood pressure, but more research is needed in this area.
14. Low impact
Traditional barbell training or high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts can subject your joints to extreme pressure and loads that you won’t find with kettlebell swings.
So if you’re dealing with injuries or weak joints, kettlebell swings can provide a low impact strength training option.
15. Versatile and approachable
Compared to other strength training exercises, kettlebell exercises like the swing may be safer and more versatile across ages and skill sets. (Plus, they’re way less scary than powerlifting if you’re new to resistance training.)
In a 2021 study of 35 adults (men and women ages 59 to 79), researchers found that 17-pound kettlebell swings had a similar effect to 52-pound deadlifts. As a result, the authors suggest that kettlebell swings may be an “easier, more convenient, and more appealing” option.
Though the study sample size is small, really anyone can benefit from using kettlebells.
How will kettlebell swings benefit *your* fitness?
- Yogis can gain flexibility and strength.
- Weightlifters can increase power and conditioning.
- Runners can up their cardio fitness in a low impact way.
- CrossFitters can improve functional strength and power.
- Newbies can get an all-in-one cardio and strength training workout with minimal equipment.
Here’s how to get started with kettlebell workouts:
- Choose your weight. To stay safe and prevent injury, pick a weight that’s challenging but not so heavy that it wrecks your form. If you’re a kettlebell beginner, manufacturers often recommend women start with about 18 pounds (8 kilograms) and men start with 35 pounds (16 kilograms). Over time, you can slowly work your way up to heavier weights.
- Pick your kettlebell. Not sure where to kick-start your kettlebell shopping list? Check out our recs for the best OG kettlebells and adjustable kettlebells if you’re tight on space.
- Start strength training. Add kettlebell swings to a weightlifting plan twice a week. Start with 2–3 sets of 10 reps. As you get more comfortable with the move, you can add more reps.
- Try HIIT. Complete kettlebell swings for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat for up to 8 sets and you’ve got yourself a HIIT routine.
- Add a warmup. You can also use lighter weights (kettlebells come in 4-kilogram increments) as a warmup or activation exercise before other lifting routines.
Craving more kettlebell? Try these workouts
There’s a lot more to kettlebells than just the basic swing. Here are a few more workouts to try:
Kettlebell swings are an effective all-in-one cardiovascular and strength training exercise. Doing the exercise regularly may provide a number of benefits like muscle growth, weight loss, and better balance.
If you’re new to kettlebell swings, start with a weight that’s challenging but still lets you maintain good form and perform 2–3 sets of 10 reps just twice a week.