Two Tips to Instantly Improve Your Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is one of my favorite exercises for mountain biking for one simple reason – they are as close to a trail ride as you can come without throwing a leg over your bike. The hip action, core strength and grip strength demands of the swing are all very similar to what you need on your bike over the course of a tough, technical ride, plus you can safely do a high volume of them, making them a much better conditioning choice than other power exercises like the Olympic lifts and plyometrics. This is one of the reasons they are featured prominently in a lot of my programs, including the MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program.

Kettlebell swings have become a very popular exercise (you can now buy kettlebells in Wal-Mart) but along with popularity comes a lot of really bad form. Most people end up doing a squat with a front raise, missing the hip action and specific core strength we are looking for. They also drive the movement through their arms and lower back, gripping the kettlebell handle far too tightly and missing the subtle “on-off” grip strength action we need on the trail.

Here are two tips to help you clean up your kettlebell swing. The first one shows you how to time the fall of the kettlebell to force more hip action out of the movement and the second one shows you how to use the Towel Swing to ensure that you are using the hips and not the arms and/ or lower back to power the movement.

If you find yourself having trouble applying these tips then you may need to back up and focus on your basic hip hinge exercises, like the kettlebell deadlift, before trying to apply it to a higher level exercise like swings. The biggest reason that people struggle with swings is that there is no systematic way to teach the exercise, which is one of the reasons my MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program doesn’t even include swings in the first phase of the program. As a rider, how you do your swings is far more important than how you many/ how much weight you do – if you aren’t practicing the movements you need on the trail don’t be surprised when you don’t feel much of a difference on the trail.

Hope you’ve found these tips helpful, use them to master the swing and get everything you can out of this essential mountain bike exercise.

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  1. VScM says:

    Great to put up the corrective tips James. The front squat with shoulder raise is slightly more frustrating to see than the near scraping of the KB on the floor because the arc is way too low at the bottom. Dan John’s comment in a workshop about “… try hit yourself in the junk…” to create the self preservation hip hinge is a must for the low swingers. And as Marty Hansen taught me the forearms need to hit the inside of the thigh.

    Excellent follow up post James; coming back to clean up a topic previously introduced – that is why we love you. Those KB swings (and Single Leg KB squat) are so necessary for everyone needing more hip and core strength when it comes to amount of time/efficiency spent standing pedaling – without argument. The benefits are immense.

    Kudos on the switch stance work the other day too that you presented! Even with 3/3 on Active Straight Leg Raise and 3/3 or 2/2 in Rotary Stability on the Functional Movement Screen that switch stance riding can be humbling when it comes to cleaning corners in switch!!

    Reply • May 11 at 4:08 pm
  2. Griffin says:

    Great beginner tips for kettlebell conditioning.

    I’d also like to add that no matter what, never bring a kettlebell swing above your head (Or higher than your chest for that matter)

    Reply • May 21 at 3:06 pm

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James Wilson
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James Wilson