Since 2005 I’ve been using Kettlebell Swings in my own program and to help my clients ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail. And after 12+ years they are still one of my favorite exercises because they build mountain bike specific fitness in a very efficient way.
First, they are a great way to build hip power, grip strength, and cardio. They also help teach you how to move from the hips on the bike instead of just pushing and pulling with your arms, which is an essential skill for balanced movement on your bike.
In that time, I’ve also seen the Swing go from a little-known exercise to one of the most popular exercises in the world. This is great for mountain bikers everywhere who are now easier than ever to take advantage of its ride changing power.
However, with this surge in popularity has come a down side…there are A LOT of bad Swings being done. These bad Swings are doing little but increasing risk of injury and teach you bad movement habits.
When showing riders how to do a proper Kettlebell Swing I cover a lot of things but these 5 tips are the ones that can make the biggest impact on the results you get from this exercise.
1 – Make sure you can Hip Hinge like a pro.
By far the #1 mistake I see riders make is rushing into Swings before they can Hip Hinge properly. The Swing is a dynamic, explosive Hip Hinge which means you need to be able to do it slowly first.
Remember that Swings don’t make you a better rider, moving better makes you a better rider. If you are doing Swings but moving all wrong you are wasting your time and setting yourself up to get hurt.
2 – Don’t rush the set up.
They have a saying in powerlifting that “if you make the start hard the finish will be easy”. What this means is that if you take the time and effort to get set up and started properly then the rest of the lift will be much easier.
For the Swing this means taking a second to really make sure that you have your feet planted and balanced, your spine is long and your core is engaged. Rushing through the set up and missing one or more of these things will throw off the first rep and make it harder for you to do the rest of them.
3 – Be patient at the top of the Swing.
Most people I see doing Swings look like perpetual motion machines because they never stop moving during the entire set. As soon as they get to the top of the Swing they are bending their knees and
dropping down with the kettlebell, but this isn’t the right way to do it.
There should be a “pause” of sorts at the top of the swing as you let the arms float up (the hips should be locking out before the kettlebell gets to the top if you are truly driving with the hips) and then as you let the kettlebell start to drop back down.
You don’t want to move until the kettlebell is almost at your hips/ groin, at which point you quickly pop the hips back to “catch” the weight before reversing direction to come back up. This sense of timing is important to train since it helps us better use our legs to absorb impacts on the trail.
4 – Remember to breathe.
It is amazing to me how many people can rip off a set of 10-20 Swings without breathing. Or, if they do breathe, it is a haphazard breathing pattern than doesn’t synch up with how they are moving.
Both of these will rob you of power, endurance and make it harder to move efficiently. Breathing is the essence of your cardio fitness and not focusing on it while training is one of the worst things you can do so if you really want to get the most out of your Swings then focus on proper breathing habits.
5 – Stay focused from the time your hand touches the handle to the time it leaves the handle.
Believe it or not, most people don’t get hurt while doing an exercise…it is when they are done with a set and putting the weight down that they are actually in the most danger.
This is because they view the last rep as “the end” and they lose focus, reverting back to bad movement habits that open them up to injuries.
I preach to all my clients that you must have the mindset that the set isn’t over until your hand leaves the handle of the kettlebell. Really, you need to respect the kettlebell anytime you are touching it, such as when moving them around or racking/ unracking them.
The kettlebell is a powerful tool but you need to handle it with focus and intention. Otherwise you can waste of lot of time and energy instead of improving your mountain bike specific movement and fitness.
Remember that not all Kettlebell Swings are created equal. Follow these 5 tips and you’ll be sure to avoid a lot of the common mistakes that plague so many people when doing Swings and help you get more transfer to the trail.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems