Well, to answer the question in the title, it's because swinging a large cannonball-like object at maximum velocity is absolutely badass. The kettlebell swing is a simple and sexy yet ridiculously powerful exercise when performed correctly. It not only helps you burn fat, increase stamina, and develop explosive hips but it will also help you function better, improve your posture, and develop your hip hinge..... and as you may or may not know: nothing is sexier than a properly executed hinging exercise!
Although there are no absolutes and no exercise is the end-all-be-all in the fitness world, the kettlebell swing would rank pretty high on the list as far as efficiency is concerned. It is also the gateway exercise to many of the other fancy kettlebell moves where momentum is produced from the hip hinge.
Yup! It all starts here so in the first installment of our swing series I am going to break down the benefits of the kettlebell swing!
1. Crazy Fat Loss
Lots of fat loss! A powerfully swung kettlebell should be a staple of anyone looking to get absolutely shredded and I'll briefly explain why.
Studies have shown kettlebells to be effective at burning calories both aerobically (via the lungs) and anaerobically (via the muscles) since your working the muscles hard through a powerful hip hinge and total body tension. In fact, studies show that you burn upwards of 13kcal/min aerobically and 7kcal/min anaerobically for a total of 20kcal/minute! Put simply, that's insane!
That would be the equivalent of cross country skiing uphill...with 50lbs of coal on your back...in a blizzard. As my grandpa would say. That's nuts!
You obviously wouldn't swing continuously for 30 minutes but when done as intervals or HIIT (interval training) along with other exercise that would be roughly 600kcal even with short rest periods! That is roughly the same as running a 6min mile pace for 30min. Just sayin'.
2. Improves Work Capacity
Work capacity is a much less fun way of saying conditioning or as most people call it, cardio. As I mentioned above, swinging a kettlebell viciously either by itself or as part of high intensity intervals jacks up the heart rate and can be as intense as running a 6 minute mile.
In the long run, increasing your work capacity will not only make your life easier but it will allow you to work harder when you train while you provide the same exertion. What this means is you can work more in the same amount of time. Moar results!!!
3. Targets the Posterior Chain
In personal trainer speak, posterior chain means 'all the musculature on the backside of the body'. This includes everything from your calves up to the back of your neck, all of which is interconnected through myofascial (fascia a.k.a. soft tissue) connections.
Why is it important to work these muscles, you ask?
Simply because all of these muscles tend to be longer and weaker mainly due to overuse of the muscles in the front as well as the deleterious effects of spending too many hours sitting. The swing (as well as deadlift variations) target the calves, hamstrings, glutes and upper back quite nicely.
Important note: You do NOT necessarily want to strengthen the low back muscles as these already may be spending too much time under tension. Training the muscles above and below (glutes and upper back) as well as the deep core will help these muscles relax helping you move and feel better.
4. Develops the Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is one of the most fundamental human movement patterns and can also be one of the most powerful when trained and done properly. The problem, from what I have seen, is that most people can't hinge well or in some cases hinge at all. VERY few people tend to have a solid hinge pattern who have not had some sort of coaching which is why it is a staple of what we teach and AMP Fitness.
Losing your ability to hinge properly at the hips means that when you go to pick something up off the ground chances are you are bending from the spine. This causes a lot of wear and tear on low back and eventually can lead to chronic inflammation and pain. Grooving the hinge pattern sooner rather than later will be amazing for long term back health. Fact.
A great way to think of the hinge is 'minimal bend in the knees and maximal bend in the hips'. It is okay to slightly bend at the knees but you want to keep the angle as low as possible. A greater angle at the knee joint indicates more of a knee-hinge which is more squat-like.
5. Fill training gaps
Even when you focus on training the hip hinge and muscles of the posterior chain it will be a challenge to counteract being forward dominant. The anterior musculature tends to be short and overpowering compared to that of the back, again, mainly due to daily sitting and overuse during both daily activity and even exercise.
One way to balance this out is to focus a larger amount of your training time on doing things like deadlifts, rows and of course, kettlebell swings. And even then it can be a challenge if you only train 1-3 hours in a 168 hour week considering most of that time is spent rounded forward. You end up like a dog chasing it's tail but in this case it's not as cute.
Kettlebell swings are great to fill in these gaps since they can be done frequently, at any point in the workout, and even on most days since they are simple to execute and require minimal equipment. Buy a single kettlebell for the home for the win!
6. Power and Explosiveness
Studies have shown that as we age your power (ability to create strength quickly) declines at a rate that is almost 10-20% faster than strength! What this means is that you will lose the ability to hop, skip, jump and more importantly move fast enough to catch yourself if you trip or fall.
The kettlebell swing when performed correctly is quite the vicious movement and allows you to train power safely and efficiently since your feet remain rooted to the ground. Traditionally, power has been trained by movement drills such as hops, skips, jumps and activities like sprinting which tend to be a little less safe for non-athletes. Not to mention that powerful glutes are the ultimate weapon in any athletic or non-athletic endeavor ;-)
7. Fab Ass!!!
I'm not sure if you're aware but glutes are the new biceps or abs. Seriously, members of the opposite (or same) sex will always stop to admire a fantastic booty!
The kettlebell specifically trains the tuchus so it should be your go-to on your quest to tighten, tone and firm. Having strong, muscular buns will make your backside look rounder, lifted and give you those cute little butt dimples. And who doesn't want cute little butt dimples?
And remember, if you don't squeeze your glutes, neither will anyone else!
So is the kettlebell swing perfect?
As I mentioned before, there are no absolutes and there is no such thing as perfect but as far as exercises go it comes pretty damn close. BUT it does offer more bang-for-your buck and is pretty damn efficient when it comes to a single exercise that provides so many benefits. It will be a greater return on investment (time and effort) and all-in-all it's simple, safe, easy and can be performed pretty much anywhere with minimal space and equipment.
Let us hear below if you have any questions, comments, or post-kettlebell swing training booty pics. Also, stay tuned for Part 2 where I will break down the various components of the swing to ensure you are performing it safely and getting the most out of it!