START WITH THE FINISH
There are two positions you need to become familiar and comfortable with if you want to maximize the significant benefits of the swing. It may sound backward, but the first position is the finish position. Here’s how you perform it:
THE FINISHING POSITION
- Stand with your feet placed outside your shoulders, either pointing straight ahead or turned slightly out, whichever is more comfortable to you.
- Clench your hands into loose fists. Hold your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground, with elbows locked and hands touching.
- Pull your shoulders down into your waist, away from your ears. You should feel some tightness under your armpits. Those are your lats. You may never have felt them like that before, but this sensation is crucial to the swing, so remember it.
- Tighten your abs like you’re bracing for a punch. Don’t bend forward, though. Just try to lock your ribcage to your pelvis.
- Finally, squeeze your glutes as tightly as you can, like you’re pinching a coin between your cheeks. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders through your hips and knees down to your feet.
Practice holding this position for about 6-10 seconds, and then relax. Repeat for 3-6 sets, or until it feels comfortable.
This is a tense position, but make sure not to hold your breath. Your face shouldn’t turn red, and you should be able to maintain this position while keeping your muscles relatively tight. Doing so protects your shoulders, neck, and lower back during the swing.
If you hit the finish correctly, even without weight, you’ll feel not only your lats, but also your abs, glutes, and maybe even the muscles in your legs. This should give you an idea of why the kettlebell swing can be such an amazing fat-loss movement. Some of your most powerful muscles work together, work hard, and work fast.
BACK TO THE START
The backswing isn’t just how you get the kettlebell from one point to another; it’s how you load this explosive movement. The kettlebell passes under your body and between your legs, building tension throughout your powerful posterior chain.
The simplest way to understand this position is to set up for a vertical jump, so let’s use that stance as a reference point.
THE STARTING POSITION
- Set your feet in the same position they were for the finish position.
- While your eyes look forward—head up and chest out—push your hips back. Fold into your hips, keeping your weight over the middle of your foot, slightly toward your heels. As you do this, your knees will bend to some degree. This is OK, but if you do it correctly, you’ll feel your hamstrings, not your quads. Now hold that position.
- Think about performing a vertical jump. But instead of placing your arms outside your legs, move them between your legs. However—and this is crucial—keep the angle of your body steady. Only move your arms.
- Find your hamstrings, and by that, I mean feel them stretch. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The more stretch you can get on your hips and hamstrings, the more powerful your swing is going to be.
- Find this position repeatedly, at least 3-6 times, and just like the finish position, hold it about 6-10 seconds each time. When you do it correctly, you’ll feel it.
GROOVING THE SWING
Performing a proper swing is as simple as putting together the two movements you just practiced. Don’t pick up a bell yet, though. Keep pretending for now.
First, load up the backswing. Hold it for a split second. Then stand up, find your finish position, and hold it for a second. Backswing, stand-up, and finish. Backswing, stand-up, and finish. Do this repeatedly until you’re comfortable with the positions and the transition between them.
Now add the crucial missing element: explosion. When you snap your hips from the stretch of the backswing, your hips—and hands, and eventually the kettlebell—should explode outward like a gunshot. This explosive hip snap generates large amounts of power. And the more power you can produce, the more work you can do. And the more work you can do, the more calories you’ll burn. And the more calories you burn, the more fat you’ll lose. Pretty simple formula really.
A key point to remember: Your arms and the kettlebell move as a result of the hips being loaded correctly. You are not assisting the hips with some weird looking quasi-shoulder front raise.
SWING TO BURN
If you found the positions correctly, you may have noticed that you were warm and maybe even slightly out of breath after just a few reps and holds. That’s normal, because the swing motion—even unweighted—burns energy quickly.
Once you start exploding through with your hips, the energy burn becomes especially evident. The high power of an explosive swing makes use of your fast-twitch muscle fibers—Type II-b and some Type II-a fibers. These are the biggest muscle fibers you have, and they use a lot of energy, particularly the fibers in your legs (which the swing definitely works).
The harder you can contract your muscles in the finish position, the more you can load the backswing, and the faster you can stand up to get your kettlebell to the finish position, the more explosive you will be, the more you’ll use those energy-hungry Type II-b muscle fibers, and the more calories you’ll burn. Need it put even more simply? Explosive training licks the fat off your body, like fire through a paper mill.