When different fitness trends become popular, it is very easy to get caught up in fitness routines and programming that make no sense or, worse yet, that are harmful for your body. One of the most popular trends in the early 2000s was the “kettlebell” trend. Kettlebells have been around for centuries, since the early 1700s if my memory serves me correctly, but, to this day, they still are not used correctly in certain areas of exercise programming.
Besides TRX training, kettlebell training is my favorite type of training. Kettlebells were originally intended to be used with one hand; using them that way creates an unstable working environment that demands isometric abdominal contractions (in other words, you have to use your abs to stabilize your body). I know exactly what you’re thinking—“But, at Next Level Training, I have used a kettlebell with two hands for swings!”
You’re absolutely right. There are a few different types of kettlebell swings: single-handed swings, alternate-handed swings, or two-handed swings. However, we are just going to focus on the two-handed kettlebell swing today.
The two-handed swing can be performed two different ways. The traditional method is the one in which you squat down and, on the way up, complete your hip extension (hip thrust) while the kettlebell is raised to about your chest level. In the “American Style” kettlebell swing, you go through your hip extension motion, except you let the kettlebell travel all the way over your head until your arms are almost next to your ears.
Personally, I use the traditional method of the two-handed kettlebell swing with all of my clients. It is safer and makes the most sense physiologically. As I was stating earlier, the kettlebell swing is completed when you reach full hip extension and when the kettle is elevated to about chest level. That is the full range of motion (or ROM). As you may or may not know, when you pass the point of full ROM, you then get into the dangerous area of hyperextensions, strains, pulls, tears, etc.
When performing the “American Style” two-handed swing, you put your lower back, knees, and shoulders in a lot of potential danger. When both hands are that close on the kettlebell, you limit the range of motion that you have. By forcing the kettlebell over your head, you put a tremendous amount of stress on your AC joint (the joint at the top of your shoulder). Performing the American Style swing with enough force can also force your knees backwards and can possibly hyperextend your knees. Finally, on top of everything mentioned previously, when the kettlebell is over your head, it can cause an extreme amount of compression on your vertebrae, as well as can cause an excessive amount of spinal extension. This can lead you to pull something and/or can bring about a lower back injury, which is, in my opinion, the worst of any injury. Anyone who has previously experienced a lower back injury understands what a nightmare it is for your everyday life.
Writing this has brought to mind the old saying, “Leave well enough alone.” While the fitness industry has made leaps and bounds in the last 10-15 years, sometimes the best way to train consists of—and the best benefit to our bodies comes from—taking a look back at what generations before us did at the gym. The two-handed traditional swing is a perfect example of this: it not only works, but it does so safely and effectively.
As always, send any questions or comments to me at Bill@nextlevelnj.com.