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You Don’t Know A Thing If You Can’t Do A Swing!

jer-swinging

My son Jeremy at the first HKC certification course 2009

Ok, maybe I was a little over to top with my title… But you’ve got to admit, it’s catchy!

The purpose of this post it to recommend the kettlebell swing as a valuable addition to your combative workouts.

I consider it to be one of those “maximum-results-minimum-effort” exercises. (not that it’s “easy” but because it produces results fast)

No matter how I mix things up with my own training, the kettlebell swing always seems to find it’s way back into my workouts.  If time is tight, and I need to whip off a quick workout, the swing is my go-to exercise.

It’s also one of the first exercises I recommend to others when they ask for training suggestions.

If you’re already familiar with this awesome exercise please don’t take it for granted. The swing provides significant benefits to your health, fitness and fighting ability.

If you’re not already doing kettlebell swings on a regular basis, I hope you’ll re-consider after reading this.

kettlebell swingWhat Is A Kettlebell Swing?

The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that uses an explosive drive from your hips to propel a kettlebell, held at arm’s length, along a path in front of you up to shoulder-level and then back between your legs like hiking a football.

The movement is repeated for time or repetitions and is a phenomenal form of conditioning, fat loss and movement training.

The Kettlebell Swing And Fighting Performance

“Kettlebell Training… the closest thing you can get to fighting without throwing a punch.” – Federal Counterterrorist Operator

The exertion associated to the kettlebell swing is reminiscent of sparring, fighting or the intensity of impact work on a heavy bag or focus pads.  You know that lung-searing, gasping-for-air, total-body-exhaustion feeling that feels so good?  That kind of feeling!

Combative traning should incorporate explosive, high-intensity bursts of activity with lower-intensity periods of recovery and movement.

The conditioning and exertion of a good kettlebell swing workout will build performance qualities consistent with your ability to fight.

Kettlebell Swings Develop Striking Power

“Hitting does not mean pushing. True hitting can be likened to the snap of a whip – all the energy is slowly concentrated and then suddenly released with a tremendous out-pouring of power.” ~ Bruce Lee

That quote reminds me a lot of the “snap” at the top of a kettlebell swing. It teaches you how to generate stored energy from your whole body and convert it into powerful and explosive action.

Unlike traditional resistance training with weights or machines, the ballistic nature of the kettlebell swing simulates the whip-like action that I belive Lee was referring to.

Punches aren’t thrown with the arms and kicks aren’t isolated leg movements. The key to generating tremendous power in your strikes, kicks and other combative movements is learning how to “snap or whip” your hips into the movement.

The ability to explode with your hips generates energy from the ground to your target using your entire body in the process.

The primary action in the kettlebell swing is learning to “hinge the hips” backward during the backswing and then driving the feet against the floor while thrusting the hips forward to propel the kettlebell forward and up.

This skill is conducive to developing explosive strikes and kicks.

Kettlebell Swings Balance A Fighter’s Body

The kettlebell swing is a “pull exercise” that strengthens and conditions the “posterior chain.

The posterior chain refers to the muscles along the back-side of your body from you heels to your head. I’m talking calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back right up to your shoulders.

This is of particular benefit to martial arts and self-defense practitioners because most of what we do develops “pushing” or forward-facing movement patterns.

Punching and kicking a heavy bag, sparring, as well as common body weight exercises like push ups and sit ups associated to martial arts workouts, trains forward movement patterns but does little for pulling actions.

This can result in muscular imbalances that can hamper strength, impede skills development and can lead to injuries.

Adding the kettlebell swing to your workouts will balance and compensate for the other activities in your combative workouts.

Kettlebell Swings Are A Superior Form Of Cardio

More and more research supports the fact that high-intensity exercise, done in short bursts or intervals, is more beneficial than low-intensity exercise sustained over an extended period.

Interval training has been proven to strengthen your heart and lungs, burn more body fat, and even strengthen your immune system and emotional resilience far better than steady-paced exercise.

Regardless of what other types of training you choose to do, adding the kettlebell swing to your workouts will add a valuable cardio and fat burning component to your workouts.

Travel Light/Train Anywhere

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m an advocate of functional, minimalist and portable workout solutions.

The kettlebell swing can be performed just about anywhere and will provide superior results to expensive and cumbersome equipment like treadmills, ellipticals and rowing machines.

I doubt that you’d want to take a kettlebell on vacation in your carry on luggage, but if you spend your summers at the cottage or prefer to train in your yard or at the park, kettlebell swings are an excellent solution for you.

Kettlebell Swings Are Easy On The Knees-ies

It’s no secret that those who have been involved in the martial arts for many years, or people who have done a lot of high-impact exercise like running or contact sports often end up with knee problems.

Another beauty of the kettlebell swing is that it’s easy on the knees. In addition to being a “zero-impact exercise,” the movement involves hinging at the hips as opposed to squatting. As a result, there is minimal flexion of the knee joint, so the swing is less likely to create or aggravate knee problems.

The Swing Is The Foundation For Advanced Kettlebell Exercises

If you plan on incorporating a vareity of kettlebell exercises into your combative training (which I highly recommend), the kettlebell swing is the place to start.

Mastering the kettlebell swing will develop important movement patterns that are crucial when performing more advanced movements like the snatch, the clean, and the jerk.

If you can’t already perform a near-perfect swing, you shouldn’t even attempt these more demanding and advanced exercises

Where to Start

Obviously this post doesn’t  teach you how to perform a kettlebell swing.  It explains the reasons to learn and do it.

I’ll be writing more on the blog about kettlebell training as well as specific “how to” posts that will teach you the proper execution of the exercises.

The best way to get started with kettlebell training, is to track down a certified instructor for a class or some one-on-one instruction.

I’ve got to warn you though, there are a lot of “ham-and-eggers” out there that don’t have a clue about what they are doing. Many unqualified “personal trainers” are flogging inferior kettlebell instruction because it’s popular and trendy.

A quick, online search produces some brutal kettlebell instruction videos that provide not only incorrect but negligent advice.

When evaluating instructor credentials, RKC & HKC, (www.DragonDoor.com) and the new SFG (www.strongfirst.com) are examples of high-quality certification programs that come to mind.  (In case you’re wondering, I was certified as an HKC kettlebell instructor through Dragon Door in 2009)

There are also several excellent self-study books and DVD’s on the subject that I will be including on my “Resource Page” and in future posts.

In the meantime, here’s a detailed explanation of how to perform a kettlebell swing by my friend Master KB Instructor Geoff Neupert that will help you out:

http://kettlebellsecrets.com/swingsecrets2.html

(You can find out more about Geoff’s programs at www.kettlebellsecrets.com )

Do you use kettlebells in your combative workouts?

About Randy LaHaie

I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.

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6 Replies

  1. Bill Rush

    I’ve been ‘swinging’ for a few weeks now Randy and I can already feel more power in my lower back. I love the fact that I can get a workout in a corner of the spare bedroom and chuck my bell back into the bottom of my wardrobe when I’m done. When would you say is a good time to up the weight? I initially bought a 16kg bell. I could swing it well enough, but it seemed to aggrevate a couple of old injuries, so I got a 12kg bell and mothballed my 16 for a while. I can now throw the 12 around like a cheerleader and have added a few more advanced lifts/exercises. Do you think I should go with that for a bit longer before dusting off the 16? I did the same thing with indian clubs (they’re fun-Like the ‘yin’ to the ‘yang’ of the kettlebells, as a mate described them) and my club teacher advised me to stick with the lower weights for some time because connective tissue grows more slowly than strength gains and needs a bit of time to catch up. Seemed to make sense. I know that listening to your body is the best measure, but is there a set of benchmarks that signal a need to step up the weight with the kettlebells? Do the strength gains stop if you don’t step-up? Any advice welcomed -Bill

    1. When should you move up to a heavier bell? Well that’s a pretty invidual process Bill… A simple answer would be to try the heavier bell out, now that you’re confident that your swinging technique is solid, and see how it feels. Often, using a heavier kettlebell can REDUCE the chances of inury. A heavier bell “forces you” to use better body mechanics… Things that you can get away with with a lighter bell, are not so easy with a heavier one.

      For example, I was rehabbing a sore shoulder using the turkish get up. I found that I had more twinges and pain in my shoulder with a light kettlebells than when I moved up to a heavier one… I spoke to my son about it (studying to be an athletic therapist), and he suggests that the heavier bell may be activating more stabilizer muscles improving the strength and integrity of my shoulder movement.

      Another standard I use when determining what bell I should be using, in particular to swings… is to time my work-to-rest intervals. Using a “Gymboss timer,” I set up a 30/30 pace (30 seconds of swings/30 seconds of rest or active recovery like jumping rope).

      The next workout, I up the work period to 35 seconds, leaving the recovery phase the same… Every other workout, I return to 30/30. Every second workout, I bump the work cycle up by 5 seconds… So it looks like this 30/30, 35/30, 30/30, 40/30, 30/30, 45/30 and so on, until I get up to 60/30. Then I move up to a heavier bell and start back at 30/30. Make sense? The reason I go back down to 30/30 every second day is to build a “light day” into the pattern so that I’m not overtraining.

      Another great way to determine the weight of your “primary kettlebell” is the use the “Rite of Passage” workout that Pavel writes about in his book “Enter The Kettlebell.” He starts with a KB that he can do a clean and press with for three sets of a “three rung ladder.” (a ladder is a strength protocol where you add a rep on each subsquent set). Using a combination of light, medium, heavy and variety days, the protocol works its way up to doing 5 sets of a 5 rung ladder. When you can do that, it’s time to move up to the next heavier kettlebell. Make sense? If not, let me know and I can go into more detail.

      I came across a good blog post that might be useful on the subject:
      http://www.strongfirst.com/blog/a-leap-of-faith-between-kettlebell-sizes/

      Indian clubs is a bit different story… I use them primarily for my shoulder mobility. Because Indian Clubs are a joint mobility tool, as opposed to a strength tool, there’s not much need to move up to heavier clubs. The weight of the club is just required to create some leverage and momentum to get a full range of motion. I think I the ones I use are the two pounders, and I’ll probably stay there. I use the kettlebell and body weight exercises for strength training.

      I hope that help. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Bill Rush

    Just watched Geoff Neupert’s video that you posted there. I think my tech was reasonable good (safe at least) but he’s certainly improved it with F.O.L.D. Thanks for the link.

  3. I’m glad you like the link Bill. It was nice of Geoff to send it my way. I also like the way he broke things down in his delivery.

  4. Bill Rush

    It cerainly did help Randy-Thanks a lot for that. The bigger bell forcing more stabaliser muscles makes great sense. I might get Pavel’s book. I was holding out because of the price (It’s a 20 quidder!) but it sounds like it might be worth it. Anyway, thanks again for the help.

    1. No problem Bill… Good luck with your training… If you have trouble tracking down Pavel’s book, I just set up a link to it on the resource page of my blog. Keep me posted…

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