Kettlebell Swings (originally published July 19, 2011)
With many thanks to Christine Petty, Randy Hauer, Marc Cameron, and others, I'd like to write about the kettlebell swing. The biggest thanks go to Dan John, who recently wrote this article for T-Nation: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/the_metabolic_swing
I will not explain the technique of this swing, as Dan did so in his article with an eloquence and attention to detail I lack. What I will do is endorse this swing as the primary non-bar based conditioning tool I use for Olympic lifters, especially older lifters (over 18) who have learned bad technique. Also, this swing is awesome for throwers, and will go a long way to helping you make big things go far. The repetition of this swing teaches folks to use their hips efficiently and explosively. High rep swings are easy on the CNS, and can therefore go a long way to "greasing the groove" for someone learning how to bring the bar and their hips together. They also burn tons of calories and fat. I show the swing in my clinic for lifters and throwers, and I always distinguish this swing from the overhead swing.
For a general population, the swing teaches people to protect their back and use their hips to properly move something. We often hear the cliché "lift with your legs", but people cannot replicate the actions needed to move heavy things. Swing away, folks, and learn how your legs and hips work together to lift heavy stuff, be it your printer, your dog, or your next clean and jerk.
Using the correct weight on the swing is imperative to avoid injury and strain on the lower back. The men I train use a 16 or 20 kg kb, the women anywhere form an 8 to 20 kg kb depending on their strength. People should use the heaviest weight they can and keep good form; sometimes, I have people use a heavier weight to slow them down. Why would you do 20 swings in 20 seconds with an 8kg kb when you can do 12 with a 20? I do my one-arm swings with Olga, my 32 kg kb, and I do two arm swings with this torture device: http://store.sorinex.com/Hungarian_Core_Blaster_s/76.htm loaded to 100-125 pounds. The core blaster will force you to swing properly, since you cannot put it over your head or get it going without the proper hip action. It's also adjustable and cheaper than a bunch of different sized kettlebells.
As always, use caution when swinging. If you have a bad back or cannot keep your back arched, do something else and swing later on in your training career. If you don't feel you get anything from the swing, check your form, change weights, or find something that works for you.