Tip: The Exercise Most People Screw Up

Even many so-called experts teach it incorrectly. Let's set things straight.

You Might Be a Bad Swinger

The kettlebell swing is the exercise most people screw up. Whenever someone comes to me saying how much swings hurt his or her back, almost inevitably it goes like this:

  1. Someone tells me swings hurt their back.
  2. I ask that person to show me their swing.
  3. My eyes bleed.
  4. I inform them that swings don't hurt their back, but that what THEY'RE doing is hurting their back. And the "experts" like Jillian Michaels aren't helping:
Jillian Michaels
Jillian Michaels

Most people squat their swing rather than making it a "hip snap." The bell should never drop below knee level. Ever. When it does, you're increasing the arc of the swing and placing more stress on the lower back.

  1. People need to "control slow" before they "control fast." If someone is unable to perform a basic hip-hinge pattern – dissociating hip movement from lumbar movement in the presence of a stable spine – then adding speed and load and reps will hurt more than help.

  2. Piggy-backing on the above, you also need to stay upright for as long as possible on the return swing – essentially playing chicken with your nether region. The groin (or hips) should catch the bell. Again, the idea is to not have the kettlebell travel below the knees in order to spare the back.

Here's a drill I like to use with people to help them understand the concept:

American Kettlebell Swing

I'm not a fan. Why? Because more ROM doesn't necessarily mean better. And anyone who argues that it's a more powerful way to swing doesn't understand physics.

Plus, many people lack the shoulder flexion – due to stiff/shortened lats and/or lack of anterior core strength – to perform this variation in the first place. What ends up happening is people end up in excessive lumbar extension to make up for lack of shoulder flexion and then they wonder why their lower back hurts.

Stick with the "hard style" swing, where the bell doesn't go above chest or eye level (you should always be able to see above the bell). This is a more powerful swing and doesn't require going overhead, which most people aren't going to do well with anyways.