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Building Better Kettlebell Swings Part 2

The last two posts we made have had great carryover to our idea of building better kettlebell swings (you can read “building from the ground” HERE and “pelvic control foundations” HERE). What inspired me doing this series was all the times that I had people come to me to learn kettlebells and all the kettlebell courses I taught with people having low back pain when they did their kettlebell swings.

I know, you are probably thinking, “Josh, they probably had bad form.” You know what, MANY times their form was actually pretty darn good. Even a tweak here and there often wouldn’t fix the issues they were having in their kettlebell swings. That issue led me to realizing that there were things happening in their body that I just couldn’t see and make corrections upon.

Like what? It is hard to know the timing in which muscles fire, how much a group of muscles works compared to another, how and where are they absorbing force. Of course having great technique is part of it, but often we don’t know how their body is programmed to function. In order to solve such issues I started using other drills to give me more information and help them identify where issues could lie.

That is why the hip bridges that were in our Part 1 are so important and the concepts we discussed in the pelvic control article give us such valuable information and foundations. Of course, we don’t want to live on the ground though. Remember, the ground is just our starting point to easily identify movement issues and if we struggle to perform on the ground when things are stable and much slower, we can know that there are far more issues in happening in a dynamic exercise like kettlebell swings.

kettlebell swings

Enrique Ceniceros shows building those foundations doesn’t mean it is easy!

So, where do we go if we aren’t just going to hip bridge all day? Moving to more challenging environments means getting more upright. When we do so we often find ourselves in a half kneeling position. This is absolutely one of my favorite positions to teach many functional training concepts and get tons of feedback as a coach. It isn’t too unstable where people can’t learn quickly, but JUST unstable enough where if they get off in their movement there is immediate feedback.

Hold on though, WHY would half kneeling have ANYTHING to do with kettlebell swings when they don’t look anything a like? A lot of issues I find with people in their kettlebells swings is that they just don’t really know how to stabilize their hips and trunk. All the verbal cuing in the world doesn’t help them because kettlebell swings are just the wrong environment for them to learn how to actually accomplish these actually tough strategies. In half kneeling we can teach them how to stabilize their core much more effectively, evaluate potential issues in each hip separately (this could give a lot of information on why people feel their low backs on kettlebell swings), and how to create ground forces. A favorite half kneeling drill in our DVRT system to teach a lot of these concepts is our half kneeling lift/chop. Turn up the volume (probably all the way) and see how I teach why and how this is so important.

We can take these ideas and progress them in more dynamic actions once we have the foundations in place. Such drills like the one below is so great for building better kettlebell swings. How so? Again, how does such a non-relevant looking exercise have an impact? We have to stop looking at exercises in only how they look but the qualities that make them up. In order to do kettlebell swings well we need that connection from lat, core, and glutes, we need to create strong ground forces from our feet up, we need to be able to stabilize our trunk as our hips create that powerful extension, we need our core to “brace” at the right time to help not have our backs bother us. So, guess what this DVRT drill does?!

There are MANY drills we can do from half kneeling but this gives you some good ideas on why they are so essential in establishing foundations of kettlebell swings. Where do we go from here? A common solution that I think we can upgrade. That is the deadlift. Oh, kettlebell deadlifts make sense. Nope, I am going to recommend Ultimate Sandbag deadlifts to start. “Yea because you want us to buy Ultimate Sandbags!” Well, yes, but because it solves our needs better.

While I will use kettlebell deadlifts just to gain familiarity with the kettlebell and some of its nuance, I don’t love it as a strength training exercise. Trust me, this is from a coach that did thousands of repetitions with clients in kettlebell deadlifts back in the day. However, my biggest issue was that the grip of the kettlebell deadlift brought people’s hands inside their shoulders. So? While possible it was SO much more difficult for people to properly engage their upper body to create the plank in the torso needed to really own that hip hinge. Once we were able to put people’s hands wider and gave them an easier way to create tension, the speed in which they learned proper hip hinging went way up.


In fact, I get emails and messages from coaches telling me they found the same thing all the time. They are nervous to say it is better because they don’t want some kettlebell zealots coming after them. I never said the kettlebell deadlift was bad, this is just BETTER. If you had your choice in anything in life would you choose better when possible?

What learning deadlifts in this manner does is open the playbook where we can start hip hinging in different directions and patterns. Why does this matter to your kettlebell swings? The more stability and mobility you have through the hips and trunk the more force you will produce WITH the right muscles in your kettlebell swings. If you have “energy leaks” you are not only less powerful, but more likely to have issues in your low back. What physical therapist, Jessica Bento shows are how we can change the direction of our movement while keeping the tension Cory Cripe discussed and then altering our holding position to create more intensity but also better connection between the core and hips.

If your cynicism is still creeping up on you, then let me give you some peace of mind. These are patterns we eventually will use with kettlebells as well! Our system would start with the Ultimate Sandbag grabbing the neutral grip handles, then in the front load, then incorporating kettlebells. Why? We can create tension with kettlebells to help our core by squeezing the handles, but the tension is less than the Ultimate Sandbag so we have to be more reactive with our strength. This is important because in kettlebell swings we can’t rely on tension through the whole movement, we have to balance tension and relaxation. What would that look like?

DVRT master, Cory Cripe shows you with our Sprinter Stance deadlifts. Because he can’t create the same tension you see him incorporate (if you swipe through) a mini band around his feet. This gives him more feedback to the lower body. So, our progressions COULD be going heavier, but if we want to challenge strength and stability we could use off-set weights (two different size kettlebells that has the heavier one on the rear leg side), and eventually single kettlebell which really forces us to resist rotation and lateral flexion which are HUGE concepts of core strength with need for better kettlebell swings.

Hopefully what you are seeing is a much deeper thought process about creating success. It is important because if all you have are exercises (and only a few) then when that doesn’t work for someone you don’t know where to go or where to even look. In giving you a system, it guides you through a larger process of understanding how to problem solve. Can’t wait for our final part in this series on kettlebell swings coming this week!

We want to be a part of you re-starting your success. That is why we are still offering 25% on our DVRT Ultimate Sandbags, DVRT Online Educational Programs (including our Progressive Kettlebell Movement Certification), and DVRT workouts with code “save25” HERE