Kettlebell training can be roughly split into two categories of exercises – Ballistics and Grinds.
Grinds are generally strength exercises such as Presses and Squats while Ballistics are the faster, cyclic exercises such as the Swing, Clean and Snatch.
Most importantly, if your Swing is no good I can guarantee that your Clean and Snatch will not be either. In fact, the ties between them are so close that in the RKC manual the first point for the Clean and Snatch states that “all the points for the Swing minus the straight-arm position at the top” are part of the standard. Yet somehow as soon as the bell needs to be directed somewhere other than directly in front of them with a straight arm everyone gets excited and starts pulling on the bell with their arm in a misguided attempt to make the lift easier.
Often, instead of working on fine-tuning the lift that has gone awry I simply go straight back to the Swing and we re-groove the hip snap and drive. Preventing teaching these lifts to people for a substantial period of time usually solves the problem in the first place. Allowing clients to progress to the other Ballistics before having a very good Swing is just asking for trouble down the road.
The sad part is that many feel the Swing is “too easy”, or simple, to really bring results. The funny part is that if you speak with Senior RKCs you will find plenty of examples of how they have done nothing for periods of time other than focus on Swings in their training. Brett Jones spent almost a year working on patterning his movements with nothing more than a 16kg bell. Team Leader Tommy Blom spent a month doing nothing but One hand Swings with the Beast (48kg). And Senior RKC Shaun Cairns often watches Rugby games with his trusty 32kg bell by his side and does sets of twenty every ad break. Master RKC Mark Reifkind and his wife now have two DVDs out on nothing but the Swing! And in Tracy’s case often do nothing else at all in their training other than countless reps of Swings – adding up to over 100lbs of weight loss!
If it was so simple and easy, why are these great trainers spending so much time on it?
Here’s some of the reasons why:
- Repetitive loading of the posterior chain helps to improve posture - perfect for those who spend all day sitting down!
- Dr. Stuart McGill has found in his ground breaking spinal research that the primary factor in back injury is not maximal strength but lack of strength endurance. Repetitive Swings greatly improve the strength endurance of the back.
- They improve grip strength. Grip is a key factor in many aspects of fitness as well as having a direct link to shoulder health. Kettlebell Ballistics are unmatched for their massive increases in grip strength and endurance.
- Improving posterior chain strength will actually lead to improvements in other exercises such as the Squat. The Swing will strengthen the glues, teach how to weight the heels and help to relax tight hip flexors.
- The American Council of Exercise has found that kettlebell Swings can burn up to 1200 cals/ hour. That exceeds running, rowing and any other activity other than Cross Country skiing uphill! Master RKC Dave Whitley has found in his own practice that he can burn as much as 1600 calories an hour (although he is immensely strong and able to use weights most mortals can’t, accounting for his 25% extra work rate).
- Swings will improve running via increased stride length and turnover due to strengthening the posterior chain. As well they help to improve strength in hill running.
- For boxers and fighters the Swing will help to teach cyclic breathing, force production, grounding for better power in punches and the ability to work at high heart rates. The Swing really is the start and end point for all your kettlebell training questions. If you’re having trouble with your Clean or Snatch I guarantee that going back and focusing on your Swing will fix it. If your fitness is lacking or you are looking to drop weight – the Swing will manage that too as evidenced in Tim Ferriss’s book the Four Hour Body. It’ll even help your grip strength if you find yourself fading in a set of Pull Ups!
The Swing really is the “centre of the universe”. Spending more time on it will add greatly to your other training.