Friday, 7 October 2011

Which Way Do You Swing?

Understanding two different styles of the kettlebell swings

When performing Kettlebell swings in front of my friends and peers, the issue of proper swing technique had always come up. It was not necessarily that they or I was doing them wrong, but simply because there is more than one standard to base them off of. Although there may be more styles of swings floating around, the two I present here, the American and Russian swings, are by far the most common and represented. Let's analyse both these styles of swings:

'Crossfit' American kettlebell Swing

Some defining features are:
- Overhead swing
- More knee bend & drive (quads), knee dominant
- Upward projection of the kettlebell, "vertical" force 

 and then there's the
'Hard-style' Russian Kettlebell Swing

which has a different flavour:

- Chest level swing
- Hip bend/drive, Hip dominant
- Horizontal projection of the kettlebell, "forward" force 

Here's another example of the swing for your learning pleasure:

"Girevoy" Sport kettlebell swing. Note the fluid pendulum motion and relaxed nature.
Why I choose the Russian Swing

Janda's lower cross syndrome. Hardstyle swinging definitely helps with that. 

First of all, I fully admit that I am entirely bias as I have been an RKC fanboy for a while now. Based off fundamental movement patterns, the American-style swing is an explosive squatting motion versus the explosive deadlifting (hip hinging) movement of the Russian Swing. The former uses more flexion at the knees and a more vertical upright torso during the absorption phaste of the swing. The latter has a more horizontal torso angle and minimal knee bend. There are pros and cons to both, however most beginners default to a knee dominant swing to begin with. The only reason why the American style swing goes "up" is because they squat it, thus producing more vertical force necessary to get it up there as opposed to the  "horizontal" projection of the Hardstyle swing. When you put the kettlebell above your head for multiple repetitions, you have no choice but to revert to squatting it. With the common musculo-sketletal imbalances such as Janda's lower cross syndrome, our society could definitely use a bit more posterior chain work - the Russian swing delivers. Most importantly, all sporting movements basically draw from the ability to 'load' the spring of the hamstring and release it and this style of swing teaches just that.

Loading the hamstrings with the hip hinge. Notice the vertical tibia and more horizontal torseo angle.

Having many other (and perhaps superior) methods for implementing explosive vertical squatting force such as barbell cleans and jump squats, the American kettlebell swing doesn't seem to do justice in this sense. The overhead arm motion simply reinforces shoulder involvement. From what I see, Crossfit has a way of making things full body for the sake of being full body (kipping pull-ups, Sumo deadlift-High pull and thrusters anyone?). With that said, the American style kettlebell swing still has great merit as a simple way to teach begniners how to develop explosive power. If you are unable to snatch and need some added upper body development, this style of swing may be just the one for you.

One style of Kettlebell swing which I don't recommend u try... oh Jillian Michaels, what to do with u?

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