T Nation

The Kettlebell Swing


I love Dan John's ideas on barbell training but I do not agree at all with the way he teaches the KB swing. What he says is a "squat swing" is the original KB swing, the one used for hundreds of years. Not in Russia, not by Pavel, because KBs aren't Russian (which is a VERY common misconception), they come from the Scotland area (see the highland games). His swing is a newer style swing popularized by RKC, AKC and Crossfit.

Also from what I have learned, football players are taught to get as low as possible when they tackle, so if anything, deep squat swings (real swings) would be more beneficial than his style.

Thoughts on old style swings vs. new style swings? I would love to hear some points on why the new style is possibly better than the older style.


I don't like his version. I think the swing is a great posterior chain movement and he doesn't put that at the forefront like he should. It's just "plank hard" and "throw the KB at your pelvis".

And he mentioned that his version shouldn't hurt the lower back, which I thought sounded like he was implying that the original version did. "I finally found a swing that doesn't make my back hurt"
Eh, if you do the original correctly, that won't hurt your back either.


I agree completely.


i prefer his version, helps me warm up for deads


Well, like all lifts I think you can make an argument for both versions...

I like accentuating the posterior chain by focusing on hip thrust (like a sprinter rising up at the beginning of a sprint) because I think that is a more "natural" athletic movement. he's basically saying this anyway, as the point is to get to the plank position in an explosive fashion, right?

But yes, Nikki I agree with you the posterior involvement should trump all in the exercise focus.


I live in Denver, and train at Red Rocks amphitheatre. I had a guy berating me over my kettlebell swing form, as he swore that you are supposed to keep your legs pretty much straight the whole time and "snap" your core into position. Sounded pretty dangerous to the lower back...any thoughts on that?


I think about it this way. The point of most hip movement in the swing is to generate force, to build strength. The deeper you go in a swing, the more muscle use your recruit and the more power you generate, the stronger you get, and as an added bonus you get a full range of motion. So it seems like a win win.


I tried this whole "throw the KB towards your pelvis" thing and I wonder if I'm doing it wrong. Because it seems to target my hamstrings and glutes even more.

Maybe the original video didn't state how this version of the swing was good for the posterior chain like it should have, but I think it gets the job done quite nicely. Or maybe I'm doing it wrong.
My lower abs were also sore the next day after trying the variation.


Bringing more glutes and hams into the movement is the whole point of why Dan teaches it this way, and it's why I pretty much do it the way he is showing. Who among us couldn't use more glute activation, strength, and muscle? Not many I would guess. You also get more snap out your hips this way. Strange he doesn't mention it in this video. Maybe due to it being "common knowledge" to him now, he just forgot to talk about it.


Here you go:

I'm going to tell you about the single most powerful movement pattern you can perform. Sadly, most people have no concept of how to do it.

It's the hinge.

What's the hinge? It's a basic human body movement that few athletes and bodybuilders bother to train. It's the tackle and the check in hockey. It's that dynamic hip snap involved in the kettlebell swing, the snatch, and the clean. It's also the vertical jump and the standing long jump.

It's not a squatty, slow move, but rather a dynamic snap. The truth is, the hinge, in its own right, is more "powerful" than the squat.


Yeah he didn't mention it AT ALL in the video, hence the skepticism. Once you do it though, I think anyone can come to love the movement.


Dan John is teaching the Hardstyle kettlebell swing. The purpose e of the swing, or any ballistic movement for that matter is the projection of force. The hardstyle swing should indeed be a hinge, not a squat, and the force should be projected outward (think broad jump), rather than upward (say vertical jump).

Knee flexion is an afterthought of hip flexion when it comes to the swing, but that's not to say we want those "drinky bird" looking swings. For girevoy athletes a utilize a higher a hinge with more flexion in their back for the purpose of keeping the load primarily on their extensors which fatigue at a much slower rate than your prime movers. But since the purpose of the hardstyle swing is force production over energy conservation, then we want to take full advantage of our prime movers and you have to find that nice middle ground where the optimal hinge position lies.

There are a few points of concern that I see with Dan John teaching the swing. I only skimmed the video, but I noticed he had his participants spiking the bell and overloading the eccentric before most of them were able to maintain a neutral spine - perhaps I need to rewatch the video in its entirety, but I would certainly never have a client overload their eccentric until they are able to hinge properly with a neutral spine.

Another note that must be considered with the swing, or any hinging movement for that matter (specifically deadlifts) is head position. Contrary to popular belief, cervical extension in the context of an aggressive hinging movement is not a great idea, as the effect trickles down to your lumbar spine. Extension in the neck leads to greater lumbar extension, and when they bones are in closer proximity this sends a signal to your saying "Hey we have structural (boney support) down here, so we don't need as much inner core activation".

This is concept often ignored that simply cannot be any longer. From my understanding, Dr. Stu McGill will be publishing some work very soon that demonstrates the enormous amount of shearing force on the lumbar spine during hinging movements performed with cervical extension.

The proper way to hinge is to maintain perfect crown to coccyx alignment through cervical retrusion and mild capital flexion. This may feel unnatural at first but with enough practice will be greatly beneficial to the health of your spine in the long run.


Why not? why not a squat? I do "hardstyle" swings all the time with a deep swing, in fact I would argue you get more hip activation with depth. More of a stretch, and then to absorb the force of the KB that you pulled down and reverse that force into the swing.

You gotta be careful with the words you use. Saying something should be done a certain way and "not" another is dangerous language.


That is why it's coined as "hardstyle" - meaning there is a standard as to what it is and what it is not. The standard for the "hardstyle" swing is exactly what I stated above. If you do not meet that standard, then you are not performing a "hardstyle" swing.

You do not get more hip activation with depth. You get more hip activation and more of a stretch from more hip flexion. If you are trying to argue that you get more of a muscle spindle reflex than again - take a look at GS athletes who rely heavily upon that, and you will note that they have incredibly high hinges with minimal amounts of knee flexion.

If you want to work an explosive squatting movement - then do an explosive squatting movement - which the "hardstyle" swing is not


What is more of an explosive movement between the kettlebell snatch and the kettlebell swing???


This is a very interesting topic, I have done both styles. I began using the version with the squat but now I hinge and swing more, I find it targets my posterior chain better and gives me a great pump in my glutes. I don't think there is a right and wrong version necessarily but now I'm more in favor of the way Dan its teaching. I think the key to this movement is to thrust the hips.


Could you dumb this down for me, I think I know what you mean but I'm not sure thanks!


They are both equally explosive - at least in the context of a hardstyle swing and hardstyle snatch - as the goal is always to explode of the ground with maximum force production in mind. The context and execution however are what differentiates the two movements. The snatch has an additional component of force redirection ( through that horizontal abduction - initiated by the lat) which I think is an imperative skill for just about any athlete. The force is not being directed vertically as opposed to outward.


If you are going to perform an explosive squatting movement - I can think of a lot more appropriate exercises to do rather than butcher the Hardstyle kettlebell swing.

Am I saying that its wrong? No, it's fine and it's usually safe. What pisses me off is when people do not adhere to standards. The hardstyle swing is the hardstyle swing - Just like a horse is a horse - it has it's set standards and if you do not adhere to them then you are not performing a hardstyle swing, it's as simple as that. What would the world be without some sort of standard to adhere to?

Marcus Aurelius - "What is it in itself"

The hardstyle kettlebell swing is a HIP (not knee dominant) - power/ballistic hinging movement.

Here are a few standards that I make all my clients adhere to when learning and performing the hardstyle swing

  1. Neutral spine
  2. Heels stay planted at all times
  3. Knees must stay in line with the toes (there may be some increasing ankle flexion and an angled tibia - but again this is an after thought of deep hip flexion)
  4. Lats are engaged, shoulders are packed, the arms are straight and the kettlebell forms an extension of your arms at the top of the swing
  5. Biomechanical breathing match

This is not an all inclusive list, but gives you an idea of the importance of having standards



I'm talking about optimal spinal alignment for just about any movement - but specifically the swing and deadlift.

A neutral spine is optimal - this means that we have perfect crown to coccy alignment and maintain the natural lordotic and kyphotic curvature of our spine.

However, often when people deadlift or squat they tend to enter into hyper lordosis (over arching/extension of the lumbar region), and what I'm saying is that this is wrong and is often a consequence of cervical extension (looking up).

A couple reasons why this is "less than optimal"

  1. Boney proximity - the discs in your back are now closer together when you perform a movement with hyper-lordosis. What this signals to your brain is that you have structural (boney) support and it inhibits the function of your inner core for stability. So now you have gone from a state of authentic stability (neutral spine) to structural stability (hyper lordosis) - this leads to a great deal of shearing force on your spine - especially when it comes to squats and deadlifts

  2. When hinging with cervical extension you have now put the neck under load - the muscles of the neck - specifically your sternocleinomastoids are not made for this type of work - they are designed for quick changes in head position - not bearing excessive amounts of weight. By doing this you have now shifted tonic muscles into a phasic role which is just a silly idea.

I have an entire blog post on this if you are interested in learning more as to why this is so important and should not be overlooked