What’s the first exercise you think of when you see a kettlebell? Most people would say its the swing. While the swing certainly is the foundation of any kettlebell ballistic, if you don’t have the basic movement pattern mastered before you swing, you’re going to be in trouble.
A swing is a hip hinge, NOT a squat. The FitBit Super Bowl commercial was a perfect example of a squatty swing of awfulness. The swing was pictured for MAYBE a second, but it was enough to make my eyes bleed and ruin my evening probably more than it should have. If you want to witness it, the “swinging” starts at 0:40.
If you don’t have control of your hip hinge, your swing will be bad at best, and downright dangerous at worst.
How do we gain control of the hinge? We deadlift. The Kettlebell deadlift is a fantastic tool both to build strength and allow you to master the hip hinge. If you’re working with me and you don’t own the Kettlebell deadlift, you won’t be swinging. Thankfully, the deadlift should be an easy move to learn. Let’s get into it.
The Kettlebell Deadlift
Compared to a barbell deadlift, this drill is easier to learn and a bit safer for beginners. It’s easier to keep your shoulders packed. By letting the weight finish between your feet, there isn’t much change to your center of mass, and the leverage on your lumbar spine is decreased. It places a priority on the hip hinge, but also allows some knee and ankle movement-just like a swing.
The Set Up
-Stand directly over the kettlebell. The kettlebell should be even with the center of your feet, or slightly behind the midfoot. It should NEVER be in front of you. Your feet should be roughly shoulder width apart, with your toes turned slightly out. (Everyone’s stance is a little different. Play with it a little to find the one that’s comfortable to you.)
-Keeping your back straight and sit back until your arms find the kettlebell handle. Keep your arms long. Do not bend them. Keep your eyes on the horizon without cranking your neck into extension.
-Once you have grabbed the handle, try and break it in half. (Obviously you won’t, unless you are a mutant or have a shitty kettlebell.) This will help increase lat activation and create stability through your torso.
-At this point, you should be ready to stand up. Look for balance here. Your hands and feet should feel equal amounts of tension. If it’s only in your hands, your lower back will hate you. If it’s only in your feet, you are more “squatty” then you need to be.
-Stand up straight. Don’t think about lifting or pulling the weight up. Instead, imagine you are pushing the ground away from you. Apply force through your heels. Visualize “wedging” your hips between the weight and the ground. On the way up, your back should remain straight. At the top, you should form a straight line. Glutes and core are tight. Knees are locked.
-To repeat the movement, hinge down and back like before. The kettlebell will want to touch the ground in front of you, but keep your lats tight and guide it down to between your feet.
For the visual learners out there, here’s a quick video:
If you do not have a kettlebell, you can use a dumbbell.
If you want to incorporate this drill into your movement practice, I would recommend doing 2-4 sets of 3-5 repetitions. It would fit well in a lower body strength training session, or even as a warmup for other movement practice. Start lighter than you would need, then progress. If you do something poorly, does it matter how heavy you get? Quality of movement should be the most important thing.
As always, if you have pain during this movement, stop doing this and see the appropriate medical professional.
If you struggle with the form, find a qualified instructor in your area to clean it up.
For the curious folks out there, there are ways to add challenge to the Kettlebell deadlift. Before you move to these, make sure you have a thorough understanding of the basic two handed deadlift.
1 Arm Deadlift
Double Kettlebell Deadlift
Explore the deadlift. If you’ve got a good handle on this movement, a solid swing will come very quickly to you.
Interested in learning more about kettlebells? If you’re in the Chattanooga area, I teach a Kettlebell Class Thursdays at 6pm at Scenic City Strength and Fitness.
The Kettlebells for Climbers program launches Monday, March 21. I collaborated with Kris Hampton over at Power Company Climbing with the program. It will be a simple, efficient, and effective way to build the foundational level of strength climbers need. You’ll be able to find it here.