The Metabolic Swing

by Dan John

One simple exercise can help you build more power and athleticism than any other. Oh, and it'll get you ripped too. Here’s how to do it.

The Unknown Movement Pattern

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.

The Explosive Snap

The hinge is simply achieved by pushing the butt back.

Think about it: your upper body isn’t sitting on top of your legs like a shack on stilts. Rather your body is “slung” between the legs. Here’s the issue: most people, at first, will excessively bend the knees. You need minimal knee bend. Here’s the formula:

  • Squat: Maximal knee bend and maximal hip bend
  • Hinge: Minimal knee bend and maximal hip bend

The Benefits of a Powerful Hinge?

  1. Just learning to do the move correctly can open up your hamstring flexibility.
  2. Doing it slowly with a massive load will impress your friends for generations.
  3. Learning to have symmetry in the movement can jumpstart your injury-free career.
  4. Doing it fast? It’s a one-stop shop to fat loss, power, and improved athletic ability!

Swings: A Metabolic Hit

Swings are the top of the food chain in hinge movements. They’re also the most underappreciated exercise in life, sport, and your gym. In fact, if all I could do for an athlete is teach him a proper swing and encourage some form of deadlift, I’d be making a huge impact.

The metabolic hit of a correct set of swings is going to be shocking. It’s one of the best conditioning exercises I know. And according to a new study coming out of the University of Wisconsin, the kettlebell snatch – which is quite similar, metabolically speaking – is “equivalent to running a six-minute mile pace” and “burns as many calories as cross-country skiing up hill at a fast pace.”

So what’s the best way to perform a swing? First, you pattern, then you grind, and finally, you swing!

Patterning: The Wall Drill

“Patterning” – learning and engraining the hinge movement correctly – is important. That might sound odd because the hinge is such a natural human movement. But, when load is added many people cheat themselves by not pushing the butt back and trying to use the quads as the focus.

So, first we pattern using the wall drill:

  1. Stand next to a wall facing away. Hinge so your butt touches the wall. Step about six inches from the wall and repeat the butt touch.
  2. Now, simply move an inch or two more and repeat. Keep doing this: touch the wall and scoot out a little more.

When you feel your hamstrings burning and shaking, you have it right. Like a bow and arrow, those strings can deliver an unbelievable amount of power.


After patterning, I work on grinding. Grinding is simply slow strength moves that can work wonders for your patterning while delivering a lot of metabolic work and improving your strength.

Using either a heavy sandbag, a kettlebell, or a weight plate, hug the weight to your chest. I suggest keeping the weight over your sternum and upper abs. (Think of the waiter’s bow exercise, only with the weight held a little lower.) Now, repeat the hinge movement.

I usually do a set of five, then repeat the wall drill.

This movement, which I’m now calling the Bulgarian Goat Belly Swing, is an excellent way to slow down the hinge and teach the keys to the more dynamic work: pressurized breathing, the correct feeling of the swing hip, and the abdominal tightness that insures stability.


Before I move on to the million-dollar move, I always take a few minutes to check symmetry.

I use a mirror and a single kettlebell. Hold the 'bell in one hand and practice the hinge feeling. Again, if you have to re-pattern the hinge with the wall drill and some Bulgarian Goat Belly Swings, that’s fine.

I look for the “CSZ” line. That’s the “chin, sternum and zipper” line: all three should remain in a single vertical line. Holding a kettlebell in one hand like you would a suitcase, do several hinges.

I’m a big fan of single-arm moves, but this one really helps you tie down the “opposite side.” If you see yourself pulling “off line,” re-pattern the first two drills.

The Perfect Swing

If I had to pick one move that will burn fat, loosen the hips and legs, and raise the buttocks to an eye-pleasing height, it would be the swing.

The swing can be taught horrifically. One TV expert came out with a DVD on kettlebells and the swing technique is immoral. The swing is a simple move to watch, but a little more complex to learn.

Michael Perry, a Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor, offers an excellent summary which I’ll borrow from below:

Start with a symmetrical stance and bend the knees slightly. This knee bend shouldn’t change much throughout the movement.

Find the crease at your hips, put your hands in that crease, stick your butt behind you, and feel your hands fall into that crease. Make sure your spine is neutral while sticking your butt back. Breathe in and fill your diaphragm. This is the bottom of the swing.

Place your forearms on your inner thigh/top of quad with a straight arm. Push your arms into your legs and envision yourself holding two sheets of paper underneath your armpits. Keep your armpits tight and arms close to the ribcage. This is how to stay connected at the bottom of the swing.

Bring your hips forward quickly, keep the arms tight to the ribcage, but allow the kettlebell to float to the 3 or 9 o’clock position. Snap your hips and clench your glutes while shortening the distance from your ribcage to your pelvis. This is you bracing at the top of the swing.

Exhale but stay tight at the top of the swing. Keep your hands on the kettlebell to control it, but don’t hold on too tight.

I also like the gas pedal/brake analogy:

  • Hip-snap and pop the glutes = gas pedal
  • Tighten the lats and brace the abdomen = brakes

Make sure that you don’t use too much gas or too much brakes; balance them out to make the drive nice.

Okay, ready for some sore glutes and hammies? Here are some favorite workouts using the swing.

The X-Swings-per-Day Method

Set a rep goal. It might be as little as 75 swings performed three days per week.

I made a goal of 250 swings per day in January and everybody asked me about my diet. It was awful and I ate and drank too much. But I started looking pretty good from the 250 swings. Yes, swings work that well.

So, one simple route is to come up with a number: 75 swings is excellent for beginners. Break it into bite-size sets like 20 or 25.

I Go/You Go

If it’s true that we need to teach our hearts to climb up and recover quickly (i.e. waving the heart rate), well, here’s my contribution. This is my best swing workout.

The rep scheme 5-10-15-15-10-5. Get a partner and alternate sets. That’s sixty reps, and the rest period is only a few seconds between sets. Although you can do this up to five rounds, try one or two first, then make plans.


Another rep scheme, 30/30, also works well. Thirty seconds of swings, followed by thirty seconds of rest, is a marvelous way to get a lot of work into a short period of time.

If all you have is ten minutes, try 30/30. Toss in a set of farmers walks and you’ve taken care of business.

As Good As It Gets

The hip-hinge is as good as it gets for the human body in terms of performance. Take the time to learn the basics and make this a big gun in your training arsenal!