Men and women have been swinging kettlebells since the 1700s. Though many people see this exercise as trendy, it is not. Rather, it is a fantastic exercise that is fun, nonintimidating, and quite effective for targeting the posterior chain.
In this article, we will discuss what the posterior chain is, why it is so important to strengthen your posterior chain, how the kettlebell swing enables this conditioning, and finally how to properly execute a kettlebell swing (without harming yourself or others).
What is the Posterior Chain?
Posterior refers to the backside of the body. So, the posterior muscles of the body will be those running from the base of your neck down to your ankles. These muscles (just like your anterior muscles) function both independently and as one link in a kinetic chain. What this means is that while the strength and flexibility of each muscle is important to overall health, the function of the entire chain operating as one is vital to your ability to move, and to do so without pain or injury.
Why Should You Worry About Strengthening Your Posterior Chain?
The anterior and posterior muscles influence one another as they operate in an agonist-antagonist relationship. For example, when you flex (contract and shorten) your biceps, your triceps will automatically switch off (reciprocal inhibition) and lengthen. They balance one another and work together to create functional movement. This is true of every skeletal muscle in your body … each agonist has an antagonist.
The common activities of modern daily living tend to inhibit and weaken our valuable posterior muscles. For example, constant sitting (whether at a desk or in a vehicle) causes tight hip flexors and weak posterior chain muscles. Moreover, the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” tends to be true, and muscle training is no exception. Walk into any fitness center or gym and look around. You will find most people performing exercises that they can see themselves performing in the mirror. We tend to favor exercises that we can see while performing them, and that we can see the results of in the mirror as well.
This is great for the muscles of our anterior chain, but not so cool for those of our posterior chain. Moreover, this imbalance, whereby our chest muscles, abdominals, biceps, and quads are being activated and strengthened while our back muscles (particularly the erector spinae), glutes, hamstrings and calves are being neglected, will lead to poor posture, joint dysfunction, back pain, muscle atrophy, pain, and ultimately decreased quality of life.
How do Kettlebell Swings Benefit Posterior Chain?
There are many exercises that activate the muscles of the posterior chain. We can target back muscles with a properly executed bent-over row. We can target our glutes with the exceptional muscle isolation of the hip-thrust. Stiff-legged deadlifts are among some of the awesome strength exercises for the hamstrings. And, last but not least, calf raises will strengthen their namesake.
Yet, it is the performance of exercises which strengthen the entire chain as one that are so important here. The ability of these muscles to work effectively together is the goal. Kettlebell swings achieve this goal while so many others fall short.
How Do I Properly Perform A Kettlebell Swing?
There are several approaches to the kettlebell swing. The simplest is the double arm swing whereby you will be gripping the kettlebell with both hands. There is the obvious progression of using first one arm then the other. And also, progressions using a lateral step as well as a hand-to-hand swing. Any of these progressions can be found on YouTube. (Remember that every video is not equal. If you are going to learn from YouTube videos, please stick with videos produced by authorities on proper weight training form, such as NASM, ACE, and Brookbush Institute.)
For the purposes of this article, we will deal strictly with the double grip kettlebell swing as defined by ACE (American Council on Exercise).
Proper Form Recommended By ACE
“This exercise is a foundational movement. Once you master this exercise, you can proficiently move to other movements such as the single-arm swing, snatches and cleans.
Set up: Start with a kettlebell on the floor, centered in front of your feet. Assume a deadlift position. Grasp the kettlebell and extend and hike/pull the kettlebell up and back through your legs. As the kettlebell reaches the end of its arc, use an explosive sharp movement and extend your knees and hips.
Follow up: Contract the glutes as you extend the hips, and keep the biceps close to the rib cage. The kettlebell should travel up to approximately mid chest height.”
Kettlebell Swing: Fun and Effective for Posterior Chain
The kettlebell swing is an enjoyable and effective workout whether you are new to fitness or have been working out for decades. The kettlebell itself is not intimidating (as a 7’, 45-pound barbell can often be). The movement is complex, but still easy to master. The exercise targets the posterior chain which is often neglected and a cause of poor functionality and pain. Moreover, this exercise will have you breathing hard and maybe even SMILING, as it is a fun and versatile workout with many progressions.