The kettlebell swing is a fascinating exercise.
It’s hard to think up another exercise that delivers so many benefits in one shot.
The next best thing are probably deadlifts or thrusters.
Multiple birds are killed with one stone, that stone being the kettlebell swing.
Despite what magazines and news media will tout, there really isn’t just one exercise that a person should base an entire workout program around. It’s not fair to the exercise and it’s not fair to you, the trainee. Although, there are some programs that revolve around the kettlebell swing.
One that comes to mind is: The Swing!
If you’re a beginner that needs to develop the basics of bodyweight strength and conditioning, then exercises like push-ups, squats, crawling, pull-ups and chin-ups is where you should spend your time.
Animal Flow may be a bodyweight oriented program to consider.
Bodyweight exercise will transition you into kettlebell swings with a sound foundation of strength and conditioning.
Now, if you have a handle on all of those movements, experience with lifting weight and you’re looking for a refreshing movement to throw into the mix, kettlebell swings are for you.
Kettlebell swings have been a staple exercise in my workouts for the past 7+ years.
The impact on my performance and body composition was immediate.
For my own purposes, kettlebell swing have been magic.
I haven’t found a tool (the kettlebell) or an exercise (the swing) that can maintain or build lean muscle in a comparable way.
Swings stripped fat off of my body while building functional strength and cardiovascular conditioning I didn’t previously have.
Swinging kettlebells has improved my running, particularly power I’m able to generate from the hip extension.
Kettlebell swings are a total body activity. Few muscles are working during a set of swings.
Swinging kettlebells has also improved my work capacity, or my conditioning.
A few years ago, I rarely swung my 28kg bell beyond the 15-20 rep mark. In reflection, that was both stupid and smart on my part.
Many so-called experts were throwing out cautionary tales of that high rep swings were pointless, or potentially dangerous.
I bought into it. Foolishly.
Until I read a book from Bud Jefferies where he described how he burned loads of fat from his body (without losing much strength) using high rep kettlebell swing workouts.
Since that time, I have explored the higher rep ranges of swings myself and had great success.
—> Here is a short list of my observations and findings during that time<—
1) High rep kettlebell swings will expose any weaknesses in your grip endurance and make your forearms burn like crazy.
2) Building off of #1, you may find that the limiting factor to higher rep swinging is in fact… your grip and your ability to hold on to the kettlebell.
3) Soft tissue work on the forearms using a lacrosse ball, trigger point therapy ball or something similar is crucial to avoid the development of range of motion restrictions in your wrists.
4) You’ll get lean quick… “quick” as in a matter of 3+ sessions you’ll notice drastic increases in your metabolism, hunger and visual changes in the mirror (think 2-3 weeks time for visual change).
5) You’ll need to use a foam roller (or other soft tissue tool) to smash and iron out your low and mid back. The eccentric and concentric stress placed on muscles (not the spine) is aggressive when swinging for high reps multiple days per week. You’ll feel soreness after the early sessions and stiff over time if you don’t take time to roll and massage your back.
6) Hip power, and the ability to repeated produce athletic-like hip extension increases dramatically in time. This is ideal for success in any athletic endeavor.
7) Work capacity increases significantly, and has great carry over other athletic activities.
8) 10-20 minute swing workouts are enough to provide a MED (minimum effective dose) response and initiate noticeable fat loss while retaining lean muscle.
9) There is potential for overuse and injury if adequate rest, recovery and repair tactics are not employed.
These are just observations.
I’m not here to broadcast kettlebell swings as the end all be all. Too many swings can be bad if you’re reckless with your approach.
Structuring a workout, you’ve got several options.
First, I would consider “high rep swings” to be any quantity over 100+ in a single training session. If you’ve never swung a kettlebell before and consider yourself a beginner, 40-50 swings might be considered high rep for your experience level. If you’re advanced, 200+ might your ticket. It just depends on your conditioning level and familiarity with swinging.
A classic benchmark swing workout for beginners and intermediate alike would be:
(100 reps total)
A workout like this is deceptively challenging.
The rest periods can make it feel like you’re hardly working, yet in the later rounds, the fatigue snowballs and each swing is a grind.
By the numbers, in 10 minutes you’ve completed 100 swings.
If you’ve chosen an appropriate weight for a workout like this, 24kg for men and a 16kg/20kg for women are good starting points, there’s no doubt you’ll be feeling this workout in the days after.
This type of workout uses a traditional work:rest model.
Rest is plentiful enough to avoid sloppy swings for the duration of the workout, even after heart rate begins to climb and muscle fatigue sets in.
Speaking of a heart rate monitor, if you want to be more precise with the length of your work and rest periods, a heart rate monitor can be used to track recovery heart rates which will initiate the next set of swings.
Commonly I’ve used 130 bpm as the trigger for the next set of swings. When you see 130 on the watch, you’re swinging.
I’ve toyed around with many other workout structures, some good and some bad. I discuss some of those in this article right here.
Workout design options for high-rep kettlebell swings are endless.
It’s important to swing heavier bells if you want to maximize the training effect of each workout.
Especially with 2-handed swings. A lot of people make the mistake of swinging kettlebell that aren’t heavy enough to challenge their hip hinge pattern.
The hips are the most powerful set of muscles in the body, so sizing up your bell is advised.
As great as swings are, your body adapts to the training stress extremely fast. What once felt like a heavy kettlebell to swing will soon feel easy.
Adding more volume to your swing workouts is not always the right choice. At some point, you’re wasting your time by swinging 500 reps every workout.
Instead, swing 100 reps with a kettlebell two sizes heavier and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
It’s basic progression, the same kind of progression that you would use with more traditional strength training or cardiovascular training.
Swinging heavier kettlebells naturally demand more hip snap to move the weight through the arc of motion.
Lighter kettlebells can influence a person to lift the kettlebell instead of hiking, hinging and snapping it through. We want hip snap, not lifting.
If we’re going to lift, we will deadlift. Kettlebell swings are a ballistic movement, snap those hips!
After increasing the weight of your kettlebell, expect to decrease the reps, which makes logical sense doesn’t it?
If you add 75lbs to your barbell back squat, you’re probably not going to hit the same number of reps as you did before adding that weight. Same for swings.
For example, if you can swing a 24kg bell for 50 consecutive (“unbroken” if you’re a familiar with Cross-Fit lingo) reps no problem and you bump up to a 28kg/32kg bell for an added challenge, don’t be surprised if you can hardly manage 30 reps.
Grip may fail you before your hip extension will.
So, after all of that rambling… should you work high repetition kettlebell swings into your fitness endeavors?
Well I will say this: I’m a fan of high repetition kettlebell swings.
If you can “swing it” (pun completely intended), they are fantastic. Both from an body appearance (fat loss + lean muscle retention) and sports performance standpoint, kettlebell swings deliver.
There are advantages and disadvantages (as there are with everything in life), but at the end of the day, kettlebell swings are well worth the time investment to learn and practice.
If you swing consistently and eat properly… you’ll lean out, fast.
It wouldn’t feel right ending an article implying kettlebell swings are the answer all of body transformation.
Swings are a valuable exercise to help initiate fat loss and lean muscle gain, but nutrition is the grandaddy of body transformation.
You won’t be able to out swing a poor diet.
If there was any #truth in this post, it is this:
You can exponentially increase the visual impact (fat loss, lean muscle gain, “the shrink wrapping effect”) of your swing workouts if you include effective eating habits.
Even an ounce of nutritional effort, coupled with smart exercise, will result in fat loss.
Proper pre-workout nutrition will give you the energy needed to crush your workouts.
Post-workout nutrition will help re-fuel and repair the body afterward, setting the stage for nutrient partitioning and readying the body for the next workout.
I know for a fact most people don’t know where to start with nutrition. It’s overwhelming. I’m confident these statements will resonate with many readers, because I was once the confused/overwhelmed guy. I had no friggin clue where to start with nutrition.
One important tip is this: your nutrition doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s nutrition.
Why? Because they aren’t you!
What worked for them might not work for you, and the moment you presume that it will, as soon as it doesn’t, you’ll be crushed.
If there was only one way to eat, there would only be one nutrition book on Amazon.
However, that being said, if you’ve never considered Intermittent Fasting and your goal is to lose fat while gain or maintaining muscle, I suggest you take a look at:
“Eat Stop Eat” author Brad Pilon is on his 2nd or 3rd edition of this landmark guide to Intermittent Fasting. Why? Because the research on Intermittent Fasting is being published in droves.
Take a look as some of the before and after photos on the website. It’s crazy. Most people are stripping fat with minimal physical exercise.
Why transitioned to Intermittent Fasting…
Personally, I leaned out beyond my already low body fat while on I.F., but it wasn’t my goal. I don’t like being freakishly lean. Just being lean is good enough for me. Besides, I drink a lot of craft beer.
Anyways, the reason I tested Intermittent Fasting was because I used to get terrible cloudiness after eating food in the afternoon. I’d eat and then immediately feel like I had to peel my eyes open while at work. It sucked, more annoying than anything. Especially when you’re motivated to be productive with your time, but you’re stuck in food haze.
Roughly 7-10 days into my first experience with Intermittent Fasting, and I had tweaked my eating schedule to avoid the afternoon food daze altogether. It turned out to be a really great solution to a ridiculous problem.
Toss some kettlebell swings in the with some clever diet patterning, and you’re going to lean out in a hurry.
So far, Intermittent Fasting has not affected my workouts at all. If anything, I feel better during my workout.
Again, there are many ways to peel an onion, make sure you find the way best for you.
Cheers to “swinging it”!