The Russian kettlebell swing is a very effective functional movement which elicits muscle and strength gains, along with aerobic benefits as well.
It’s not your typical compound exercise by any means but that’s a good thing. Variety in your training offers many benefits beyond just looking aesthetic.
Now, the two common variations of the kettlebell swing are the Russian kettlebell swing and the American kettlebell swing. But we’re going to discuss both and explain why the Russian kettlebell swing is the better option for most people…
WHAT IS A RUSSIAN KETTLEBELL SWING VS. AMERICAN KETTLE BELL SWING?
These variations are similar through the lower half of the movement but the difference is the range of movement with the American variation.
The Russian Kettlebell swing is pretty much what we know the kettlebell swing to look like. The swing consists of swinging the weight between the legs and raising it to about chin level, using the hips as a hinge to move the weight.
It’s highly recommended to start with the Russian Kettlebell swing before even attempting the American.
The American kettlebell swing, swings higher than the Russian. Instead of snapping the kettlebell to chin level, you’re raising it overhead.
he hips are still a focal point for this movement to ensure the back stays out as much as possible.
You need to have mobility and flexibility in the upper body to do this variation effectively.
Now, does the American swing work the traps and deltoids more than the Russian swing?
It could definitely be argued that the extra range of motion activates these muscles further. However, any differences would likely be very insignificant overall, except for strength benefits from the overhead part of the movement.
Let’s go over the techniques for each exercise. It’s always important to use good form to optimize the movement and prevent injuries.
RUSSIAN KETTLEBELL SWING
Start with the kettlebell on the floor directly in front you for each variation. You want to make sure you’re using your hips as a hinge and not your back to swing the weight up. This will ensure you avoid pain and injury.
- Bend your knees and keep your torso upright with your back straight.
- Grip the kettlebell with both hands and swing it between your legs until it reaches slightly behind your body. Your back should be leaning forward almost parallel to the floor.
- Then hinge your hips upward and swing the kettlebell up at the same time so that it snaps up. Your arms should end somewhere around parallel to the ground, and you should drive upward through your heels.
- Allow the kettlebell to drop back down between your legs and repeat the movement.
AMERICAN KETTLEBELL SWING
- Maintain a straight back and bend your knees, then grip the kettlebell with both hands.
- Now, swing it between your legs as far as you can and use your hips to hinge the kettlebell upward while swinging it overhead.
- Allow the kettlebell to drop back down controlled and repeat the movement by using momentum.
- Master the Russian kettlebell swing before trying the American.
- Focus on hinging from your hips to snap the kettlebell upward during the Russian swing.
- Never use your back to execute the movement.
- Do not perform the American variation if you don’t have complete mobility of the shoulders and/or full thoracic extension.
The differences between both versions of the kettlebell swing come down to the range of motion. The bottom half of each movement will start with the swing between the legs. You’ll use your hips as a hinge and then snap the kettlebell upward.
But the kettlebell reaches chin level with the Russian variation and the American style swing will require more shoulder mobility to get the kettlebell overhead.
PROS OF RUSSIAN KETTLEBELL SWING
- Safer for most people
- Less shoulder mobility required
RUSSIAN KETTLEBELL SWING BENEFITS
The Russian kettlebell swing is ideal for athletes who want to incorporate KB swings into their training sessions, but may not have very good shoulder or thoracic mobility.
The Russian KB swing has less range of movement than the American swing, causing greater resistance and tougher workouts.
This is naturally more beneficial for hypertrophy due to the potential for more frequent progressive overload. Although, we definitely don’t believe that it’s all about the weight used during an exercise.
Good form is essential and functional movements are best done through a larger range of motion.
However, range of motion is different for each individual.
CONS OF THE AMERICAN KETTLEBELL SWINGThe American KB swing is not ideal for those with limited shoulder and thoracic mobility
American KB swings require a close grip in a overhead position, which increases stress and mobility, which can then lead to injury with improper technique.
COMMON QUESTIONS + ANSWERS
Q: WHAT MUSCLES DO RUSSIAN KETTLEBELL SWINGS WORK?
A: Kettlebell swings work several muscles which is why it’s such an effective and preferred movement.
Your posterior chain (Backside of the body) is a large target area for this exercise, plus your core and other supporting muscles.
The chest and arms are also involved to an extent during the kettlebell swing but they are not exactly the target muscle groups. You would need to do exercises for these muscles separately for best results.
- Back (Trapezius, erector spinae, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi)
- Shoulders (Anterior and lateral deltoids mostly)
- Hip flexors
- Legs (Quadriceps, hamstring, glutes, calves)
- Core(Rectus abdominis and obliques)
Q: ARE DUMBBELL SWINGS AS GOOD AS KETTLEBELL SWINGS?
A: The kettlebell is the better option for maximizing the intended purpose of the swing. However, a dumbbell will do just fine if it’s all you have. It’s really all about the weight being used for safety and maintaining optimal form throughout each repetition.
You’ll simply grip the dumbbell in a vertical position and perform the swing as you would with a kettlebell.
Now, the weight will be distributed a little differently, of course. But it’s not going to be a significant difference since the weight is still in hand. You can even alternate which way you stack your hands to ensure equal distribution of the stimulus.
Q: DO KETTLEBELL SWINGS WORK CHEST?
Slightly… but don’t expect the same results as you would from doing a press or fly. The dumbbell is raised up in front of the chest so naturally it’s engaged since the shoulder fibers are attached to the pectoralis muscles. But it’s not nearly enough stimulation to supplement your chest exercises with.
But there are many kettlebell exercises dedicated for working the chest muscles specifically.
Q: WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE KETTLEBELL SWING?
A: There are many great benefits which justify including the kettlebell swing in your training arsenal.
The kettlebell swing requires a lot of posterior-chain involvement but the legs must assist to hinge the hips upward. Plus, the arm muscles are working to help swing the weight up and the core group of muscles is stabilizing the body for an effective movement.
Strength gains are achieved through a consistent increase in weight or repetitions. The more advanced you are, the heavier you can train safely while steadily increasing the poundages and/or reps. But, of course, there’s a limit and it’s best to perform higher reps to complete the movement efficiently.
HIP FLEXOR DEVELOPMENT
Since the hips are doing a lot of the movement, the assisting muscles are highly involved, while the kettlebell swing is also a great strength-building exercise. The hips should be prime movers for the bending and thrusting the kettlebell upward.
The kettlebell swing is naturally a cardiovascular exercise due to the swinging action. You’ll probably get a lot more exhausted than normal but it’s a great heart-building exercise. Now, the more active you are; the more calories you’ll burn.
And we know that more calories burned, eventually equates to weight loss. So, if you’re in a consistent caloric deficit overall, then the pounds will drop. It takes 3,500 calories either way to lose or gain a pound which is something to be mindful of, even when planning your diet for weight loss.
One study concluded that kettlebell training is a viable option for weight loss. 13 subjects performed 10 minutes of kettlebell swings above 85% of their maximum heart rate with short rest periods in between, and the average calories burned was 375 kilocalories.
Now, although kettlebell training does burn a decent number of calories, it’s not a substitute for doing pure cardio. That’s because it will not burn a comparable amount of calories in the same amount of time when compared to high-intensity cardio like running, elliptical, etc.
INCREASED AEROBIC CAPACITY
In one American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science; tested the effectiveness of kettlebell training.
50 participants performed kettlebell training for eight weeks with all variables being equal. And the findings were very interesting but good news for those who train with kettlebells.
The volunteers experienced significant improvements in aerobic capacity, core strength, and dynamic balance.
“When most people think of resistance training, they don’t think of being able to increase the aerobic capacity. Yet, we saw a 13.8 percent increase in aerobic capacity,” explained John Porcari, Ph.D., head of the University’s Department of Exercise and Sports Science.
But core strength was increased by 70 percent from the kettlebell workouts, along with VO2 max as well.
CORE STABILITY AND DEVELOPMENT
The core is the center of every physical movement but strong abs and obliques protect the lower back during weight training. These core muscles allow you to maintain your balance and they keep your torso upright which is crucial.
And the previously-mentioned study was quite surprising for the core strengthening benefits of kettlebell training.
“I think that’s huge because the stronger people are through the core, the less low-back pain they are going to have,” explained Porcari.
SAMPLE RUSSIAN KETTLEBELL WORKOUT
Always warm-up properly and sufficiently before jumping into your working sets. Do the movement with very light weight and work your way up to the main sets using the heaviest weight. These exercises can be performed in one workout or you can do them separately.
But, this is a sample routine you can do when you’ve mastered the technique for the Russian kettlebell swing.
Choose 2-3 of the following exercises per workout based on your level of training experience. Rest 45 seconds to one minute between sets, and adjust the number of sets/reps you do for each exercise.
TWO-ARM KB SWING
Perform this movement following the instructions provided above. Then, all other variations should involve the same body mechanics with slightly different variations.
- 2 sets x 12- 15 reps
ONE-ARM KB SWING
This variation is pretty much the same as the two-handed swing but you’ll do one arm at a time and use less weight overall.
- 2 sets x 12 reps
ALTERNATING KETTLEBELL SWINGS
You’ll do the swing with one arm at a time like the previous exercise, however; you’ll also switch hands at the highest point of the swing.
- 2 sets x 12 reps
SINGLE-LET, ONE-ARM KB SWING
This is a more advanced movement but it’s a great addition to your kettlebell workout. Plus, it’ll improve unilateral (Affecting one side) strength and function.
Place your left foot in front of your right with a hip-width stance. Grip the kettlebell with your right hand and perform the swing as normal but drive upward using your left leg while using your hips to hinge the weight upward. After your set, place your right foot in front and repeat using your left arm for the swing.
- 2 sets x 12 reps
Both the Russian and American kettlebell swing are viable options for a functional and effective, full-body movement.
But the Russian kettlebell swing definitely has its advantages and is the better option for most people. It’s simpler with a smaller range of motion which is ideal for those with limited shoulder and thoracic mobility.
So, try out the different variations, but first, make sure to get the proper technique down to optimize the movement.
The Russian kettlebell swing is a fantastic all-around exercise!