There are few exercises I like as much as a good kettlebell swing. For a mountain biker, few exercises can come as close to riding your bike on a tough trail as a hard set of swings. You’re working your back, core and grip while building strength and high tension cardio. Add in the fact you are using one of the most important movement patterns we use on the bike and you have a “must use” mountain bike exercise if there ever was one.
If you are a fan of kettlebell swings then I hope you also agree that while swings are a great exercise, how you do the exercise is a lot more important than pounding out a bunch of mindless reps. Just grabbing a kettlebell and going for it can result in a lot of bad form, injuries and missed potential. If you are not 100% sure how you should be doing your standard kettlebell swings to get the most out of them as a mountain biker then be sure to check out this post where I detail how to do an MTB-specific kettlebell swing.
But let’s say that you’ve been practicing your swings for a while and you have them down pretty good. For a man this would mean being able to crank out 5 sets of 20 perfect reps with a 24 kg kettlebell and for ladies this would mean 5 sets of 20 perfect reps with a 16 kg kettlebell. Riders who can do this are ready to introduce some specialized swing variations into their routine.
If you’re ready for a new challenge with your kettlebell swings here are 5 cool swing variations for you to try…
– Single Arm Swing: This is the first variation most people learn. It is the same as a regular kettlebell swing except that you are going to hold the kettlebell with one hand while doing your reps. You’ll probably need to lighten the load a bit and you will definitely need to focus on keeping your shoulders square in the process. This variation for building symmetry between your upper body and the hip hinge, which is important for being able to pull up the front end evenly.
-Pass Off Swing: This one is starts out like a single arm swing except that you let go of the kettlebell at the top and grab it with the other hand, which results in a “pass off” to the other hand. Just repeat the process of letting go and passing it off to the other hand at the top of each rep. This is a great variation for using a slightly heavier kettlebell for single arm swings or for doing a lot of reps in one set. Doing a couple sets of 50+ pass off swings will certainly give you a cardio hit that will get you ready to pound up just about any climb.
– Deadstop Swing: The main difference with this variation is that you park the kettlebell between each rep. The way I explain this one to my clients is to imagine doing a single kettlebell swing – get set up, swing the kettlebell back, pop the hips drive the kettlebell up, catch it with your hips and park it in front of you. Now repeat that single rep 7 more times. The main goal of this one if to minimize any movement or weight shifting you might be doing when starting your swings. Use this exercise to help you keep the core locked down tight and learn how to stay grounded.
– Double Kettlebell Swing: This is another common variation that I really like to use myself. You basically grab a kettlebell with each hand and do your swings with two kettlebells at once. Think of it as a double single-arm swing…if that makes sense. You have to widen your legs a bit and you’ll get pulled deeper into the bottom by the extra weight, meaning you’ll need to be on point with your form and really pull yourself into the bottom. This swing variation is great for building higher levels of strength with your swing and hip hinge movement. You can also grab different size kettlebells to give it a unique core training effect as well.
– Single Leg Swing: I’ve seen this variation called a few different names but this was the first one I learned and so I stick with it. For this one you’ll do a regular swing, except when you come up you will finish off on one leg. You can do all of your reps finishing out on the same side or you can alternate each rep. Start light and focus on finishing with good, strong form at the top. While it does require more balance and coordination than a standard swing, just like riding your bike down a set of stairs you’ll realize that it isn’t that hard once you get the hang of it.
You can check out this video to see me showing how each of these swing variations look in action as well as hear some of the common mistakes and how to avoid them…
Adding these 5 swing variations to your toolbox will give you even more ways to focus your training on the things that are holding you back on the trail. I’d suggest giving each one a try and seeing which one gave you the hardest time and focus on it for 4-6 weeks. Alternate workouts using regular swings with one of these specialized swings variations and you’ll be on your way to the ultimate goal of any training program – filling in the gaps that are really holding you back on the trail.
Until next time…