What Your Trainer Might Be Getting Wrong About Kettlebell Swings

Some exercises have been a core part of gym routines for decades. Moves like the pushup or the sit-up are as familiar to many fitness enthusiasts as their favorite pair of running shoes. Other, newer exercises are also making their way into the general awareness of the gym-going population. And among those is the now-ubiquitous kettlebell swing.

There are a few variations to this move, some with specific names and some without. They all start with the kettlebell between a person's feet, the handle grasped in either one or both hands. The person then swings the kettlebell up and out (via BarBend).

One variation known as the "American" version aims to get the person's arms straight out from their shoulders on each swing. Another version widely known as the "Romanian" style involves very little motion through the knees. Both versions change how the exercise affects the body. And both are widely suggested by trainers. But as the fitness director of Men's Health makes clear in the magazine's deep dive on kettlebell swings, both options can carry serious risks for the person involved.

Changing form risks injury

Men's Health is one the most widely acknowledged magazines and websites dedicated to the health and fitness of men. So when Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S and the company's fitness director, gave his input onto a hard look at kettlebell swings, he didn't hold back.

Known as Eb throughout the article, he made it clear that most trainers seem to forget that kettlebell swings are meant to be a lower-body exercise. He specifies that it is supposed to be a movement that hinges at our hip joint and creates an explosive hip extension. This motion, as described by the ACA Rehab Council, strictly involves the lower back and lower body. So when trainers add in a secondary emphasis on the height of the kettlebell, explains Eb, they're putting strain on their client that can lead to injury.

Rather than focus on getting the kettlebell up high, Eb suggests focusing on the form and flow of the motion. The height of the weight should be determined by the explosive energy given off the lower body, he says. A person's shoulders shouldn't be involved in the motion at all. Similarly, a person's knees need to bend when the kettlebell is down low so that they can get enough energy into the hip extension. Trainers who suggest a Romanian variation are reducing their client's potential energy output and shifting strain to the client's back, again risking injury.