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What muscles do kettlebell swings work?

I have been a lifelong fitness student and enthusiast ever since winning the gold at conference in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM back in my “glory days.” I am also a writer and the marketing wizard here at My Top Fitness.

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Kettlebell Swings and their Targeted Muscles:

There were times in history when Kettlebells were nothing but modes of measuring weights and weighing things against them. No one found them amusing, nor did the gym enthusiasts think of them as effective training equipment. However, Kettle Bells became crucial, impactful, and greatly helpful exercise equipment as the tide turned. Today, they are among the world’s most popular forms of workouts, as the kettlebell swing is arguably the most important kettlebell exercise, and can easily be done at home. Kettlebell swings have a plethora of benefits, such as improved cardiovascular fitness, strength, and power. There is also a 2012 study that found kettlebell swings can reduce back pain, and it is a very efficient exercise that involves your whole body.

There is two types of kettlebell swings; the American kettlebell swing, and the Russian kettlebell swing. The Russian kettlebell swing is known as the traditional kettlebell swing. The Russian kettlebell swing involves swinging the kettlebell to about chest or eye level, whereas the American kettlebell swing involves the kettlebell being swung up overhead with the bell pointing straight up. Because the American kettlebell swing requires a greater range of motion in the shoulder, it should only be performed by advanced or experienced exercisers.

There is also the single arm kettlebell swing, and two arm kettlebell swing. The single arm kettlebell swing will challenge your core more than a two handed kettlebell swing. It will also help you improve stability and balance.The alternating kettlebell swing is essentially a single arm swing but rather than doing one side at a time, you alternate sides with each rep, challenging both sides of your core at the same time.

Being able to perform the kettlebell swing with good form requires that you know how to do a hip hinge. A hip hinge movement involves bending forward at the hip while keeping the back flat. There is no rounding of the spine during a hip hinge. Instead, you should be able to hold a stick or rod against the spine and have it touch the top and bottom of your back the entire time.

What is the best Kettlebell Weight?

For beginners, its best to choose a lighter kettlebell. We usually recommend 10 to 20 lbs for women and 25 to 35 lbs for men. Anything lower than 10 lbs, probably isn’t worth it.  Start with something that gives you a little challenge but isn’t too heavy — so you can learn how to use it properly. And then as you get stronger, you can increase the kettlebell weight. Due to the complexity of this movement, there are a lot of ways to perform the kettlebell swing incorrectly. Not maintaining control using momentum to lift and lower a weight increases the risk of injury. Avoid the American kettlebell swing if you have a shoulder injury or limited range of motion in this joint.

What are the different muscles that get targeted as a result of Kettlebell Swings? Which muscles does the exercise work and strengthen? 

Generally, we see workouts that are specified to target specific muscle groups. Some workouts focus on lower body muscles, while others strengthen the upper body. In addition to that, some specific workouts and exercises focus on core strength and mobility. 

Unlike these common forms of exercises and workouts, Kettlebell Swings provide a huge advantage that they are a proper full-body workout that enhances the body’s overall strength while also improving the mobility from the core. 

Though this full body exercise puts most emphasis on the glutes, hamstring, and core, here are the exact muscles that are targeted with Kettlebell Swings.

Glutes:

Glutes are the primary muscles that get targeted due to Kettlebell Swings. What actually happens is that your spine shows a certain degree of flexibility during the motion and transmits the power needed to lift the weights and perform the muscles. The origin of this force lies in your gluteal muscles. Heavier weights can result in stronger glutes (Contreras, 2013). 

These muscles are located in your hip area. As you perform the kettlebell swings, his extension occurs, which is primarily responsible for the force needed to lift the weights and cause movements. In addition to that, the glutes also support your spinal movement. Thus, directing the motion of arms and shoulders. 

So, if you are someone who wants to develop gluteal muscles and strengthen them, Kettlebell Swings remain the best possible workout as they strengthen your glutes and keep you a good shape.

Hamstrings:

The importance, impact, and role of hamstrings cannot be emphasized enough in kettlebell swings. Kettlebell swings are one of the most helpful exercises if you want to target the hamstrings (Set for Set, 2021). While your glutes and hamstrings work very closely to generate the motions, one major difference is that you can control their role in the exercise and target them according to your requirements. 

Basically, the Hamstrings are involved in Hip extension and knee Flexion. Therefore, the whole hip extension process directly targets the glutes and hamstrings. In addition to that, hamstrings stabilize the knees by countering the forces of the quadriceps.  As it was mentioned earlier that you could control your hamstring activation by making small changes in your kettlebell swings; here is how it happens. In one powerful movement, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as hard as you can to rise to an upright position.

If you bend your knees more, you do not directly target your hamstrings. As a result of that, the overall hamstring activation is lesser than usual. Similarly, you can directly target the hamstrings by keeping your legs straight while performing Kettlebell Swings.  

This shows how a marginal change in exercise can be used to target a specific muscle group. At the same time, it is important for you to perform the exercise in the best possible way. Only then will you be able to target the right group and set of muscles. 

Quadriceps:

Quadricep muscles are located on the top of your thigh and are responsible for knee extension. Thus, their role and job are entirely opposite to that of Hamstrings. 

Therefore, the quadriceps will be most active when your knees are most bent (The exact opposite of hamstring muscles). 

For those of you who want to target both quadriceps and hamstrings, you can find a fine balance in your range of motions to target both groups. 

Trapezius:

For those of you who are reading this name for the first time, Trapezius is the muscle that starts at the bottom end of your neck and extends to both of your shoulders and lower back. So all that talk about working on one’s back and having a good-looking and strong back revolves around this particular muscle. 

The muscle acts to retain the natural position of the shoulders and upper back. Thus, it is important to maintain your shoulders in a neutral position if you want to exercise these muscles well. 

Rhomboids:

Rhomboids are also located in your upper back and work very closely with the Trapezius muscles to maintain the neutral position of your shoulders and neck. 

The muscles are particularly active towards the end of your motion as they resist the pulling effect of Kettlebells in each direction. 

While you may think that it’s the force of your arms that keeps the motion of kettlebells within the specified range, Rhomboids are the muscles that actually work to keep your shoulders in a neutral position. 

Abdominals:

It is obvious and apparent that Abdominals play a key role in controlling the motion of your spine. What happens during the course of exercise is that the range of motion and added weight of kettlebells can cause hyperextension of your spine. This can not only damage your spine but may also severely dent your posture. 

Abdominals act to resist this hyperextension of your spine and control the range of motion (Brookes, 2015). Abdominals are most active at the top of your motion because of the high momentum at that point. 

Kettlebell swings can work wonders for those who want a strong core. 

Concluding Remarks:

These are the major kettlebell swing muscles that are worked when using the kettlebell swing. Other muscle groups include upper body, such as Biceps, Chest, and Abs. Slight variations can be made while doing this exercise to target additional muscles. That is probably the best part of the exercise. It takes very little time to perform the exercise, and almost all the muscle groups can be targeted through it. 

If you are someone who has been thinking about adding kettlebell swings to your workout routine, here is a very strong recommendation to do it as soon as you can. In addition to targeting these muscle groups, there are so many other advantages linked with the exercise. These include better postures, higher levels of confidence, better respiration, and Cardiorespiratory fitness. 

It is important to keep in mind that Kettlebell workouts are high intensity, but they can burn a lot of calories in a short time. Most kettlebell workouts can be completed in as little as 10–15 minutes and require only a kettlebell to get started. The kettlebell swing overloads hundreds of muscles eccentrically as you actively absorb the energy from every swing movement. Look out though, eccentric movements are what make your kettlebell swing muscles feel sore the next day! Give yourself some space to perform the kettlebell swing—four or five feet in front and a couple of feet behind. You may also want to make sure there’s nothing breakable (like a mirror or TV screen) directly in front of you. While it would be unusual to lose your grip on the kettlebell and send it flying, it’s not unheard of.

Brookes, G. (2015). Learn Proper Kettlebell Swing Form and the Muscles Worked. Retrieved from https://kettlebellsworkouts.com/teaching-points-for-the-kettlebell-swing/#:~:text=The%20core%20and%20abdominal%20muscles,going%20past%20the%20centre%2Dline.

Contreras, B. (2013, August 22). Kettlebell Swings: Go Heavier For Greater Glute And Hamstring Activation. Retrieved from https://bretcontreras.com/kettlebell-swings-go-heavier-for-greater-glute-and-hamstring-activation/#:~:text=Heavier%20loads%20during%20kettlebell%20swings,thereby%20creating%20greater%20hypertrophic%20stimuli.

Set for Set. (2021, December 24). 23 ALL-TIME BEST HAMSTRING EXERCISES. Retrieved from https://www.setforset.com/blogs/news/best-hamstring-exercises



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