Student Club Lesson Plan
1) Introduce the kettlebell, it’s role in rehab/exercise, introductory movements, and common exercises.
2) Explain concepts of hinging, tension and force production.
3) Practice implementation of hinging, tension, and force production through progressively advancing movements.
4) Discuss resources for additional kettlebell training and certification (e.g. StrongFirst, Onnit Academy, CrossFit Kettlebell certification, Kettlebell Kings).
Dr. John Rusin, Kettlebell Swing Progression:
Kettlebell Swing Errors and Corrections:
Advanced Kettlebell Swing Drills:
5 Key Points on the KB Swing:
Hardstyle vs Girevoy Sport:
The kettlebell is one of the best tools for the rehabilitation of various injuries, through the development of postural control (1), as well as the development of strength and power in a healthy and functional people. The movement that is most associated with the kettlebell is the swing. This movement may be performed with one or two hands and can be further classified into the Russian swing and the American swing. The difference between the two swing styles is the height that the kettlebell is swung to. In the Russian swing the apex of the swing is at the level of the eyes, whereas in the American swing it is overhead.
Today we will discuss the Russian kettlebell swing. This exercise is called the “Russian” swing, because the implement itself and training methodology was introduced to Western audiences by Pavel Tsatsouline from the Former USSR. In its present form, this style of training is currently termed “Hardstyle” and represented by StrongFirst, founded by Pavel in 1998.
The kettlebell swing is categorized as a hinge movement. The hinge is considered to be a primal movement pattern by Paul Chek (2) and a basic human movement by Strongfirst (3). The kettlebell swing differs from other hinge movements, like the deadlift, notably in the dynamic effort required to generate power, decelerate and redirect force and the load used. Kettlebell loads increase in 4-kilogram intervals, with 16, 24, and 32 being the most commonly used loads in gyms. Whereas other hinge movements, like the deadlift, can have relative loads exceeding double bodyweight.
From a rehab standpoint the teaching of dissociation of lumbar flexion from hip flexion is an important lesson to learn for those in need of spine sparing strategies. The proper execution of a kettlebell swing can accomplish just that (4). In addition, the glutes are a common target of strengthening exercise, during the execution of kettlebell swing the glutes achieve 76% of max voluntary contraction (4). The kettlebell can also be used in a unilateral fashion to challenge or address any asymmetrical faults in the upper erector spinae or rectus abdominis with the one-armed swing (5).
The proper execution of the kettlebell swing will teach patients how to hinge at the hip rather than flex at the lumbar spine when bending. It can be used to strengthen the glutes and functionally lengthen the hamstrings. The unilateral use of the kettlebell can activate contralateral muscles in the trunk and ipsilateral muscles in the upper extremity, which can be used as a tool for potentially addressing issues in various posterior trains/slings/lines.
(Example: The one-armed kettlebell swing increases the activation of contralateral upper erector spinae and symmetrically at the lower erector spinae and external obliques.)
The kettlebell is not formally used as an assessment tool due to its learning curve and dynamic nature. That being said, observation of an untrained person’s approach to performing the kettlebell swing for the first time may uncover some movement faults. Depending on the patient and the degree of dysfunction, the issues observed can be addressed on their own and the kettlebell swing revisited during re-assessment or addressed in the process of teaching the swing itself.
(Example: How the patient picks the kettlebell up off the floor and assumes the swing start position can tell the clinician about the patient’s ability to hip hinge, maintain neutral spine position, maintain balance, and stabilize the shoulder girdle.)
Students in their clinic rotations may not have access to a full gym. The kettlebell may be used as a substitute for barbells and dumbbells with patients in need of active care. The additional unique use of the kettlebell can create a stimulus that is hard to achieve with traditional exercise implements.
At UB Clinics we have used kettlebells to demonstrate a hinge pattern with the kettlebell deadlift, addressed trunk asymmetries with front rack, overhead, and suitcase carries, and proved to kinesiophobic patients that they are stronger than they think.
The kettlebell is an appropriate implement for the use with any range of patients, from athletes to seniors. The scalability and diverse applications of the kettlebell make it perfect for this use.
The progression to the kettlebell swing begins with an unloaded hip hinge pattern. This pattern is then used in the creation of tension in the body with the kettlebell hike. The hike is then transferred into the dead-stop swing with horizontal hip drive, vertical knee drive, and a packing of the shoulder to accelerate the kettlebell to arc upwards then decelerate and return to start position. Finally, once tension can be demonstrated throughout the movement, the deceleration is then followed by a redirection of the kettlebell back upwards.
(Example: The kettlebell swing may be progressed with increased weight or adding bands to the kettlebell. The swing can also be peeled back by decreasing the weight or lowering the apex of the arc.)
Wisdom from Pavel Tsatsouline:
You can be anything you want… But you must be strong first. – Pavel Tsatsouline
If you think you are only strong if you can lift a certain number, whatever that number is, you will feel pretty weak most of the time. Strength is not a data point; it’s not a number. It’s an attitude. – Pavel Tsatsouline
The kettlebell is an ancient Russian weapon against weakness. – Pavel Tsatsouline
1. Lyons BC, Mayo JJ, Tucker WS, Wax B, Hendrix RC. Electromyographical Comparison of Muscle Activation Patterns Across Three Commonly Performed Kettlebell Exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2017;31(9):2363–70.
2. Chek P. Primal Pattern Movements: Bend-Dead Lift [Internet]. C.H.E.K INSTITUTE. 2016 [cited 2019Apr10]. Available from: https://chekinstitute.com/blog/primal-pattern-movements-bend-dead-lift/
3. Ross D. The Seven Basic Human Movements [Internet]. StrongFirst. 2017 [cited 2019Apr10]. Available from: https://www.strongfirst.com/seven-basic-human-movements/
4. Mcgill SM, Marshall LW. Kettlebell Swing, Snatch, and Bottoms-Up Carry: Back and Hip Muscle Activation, Motion, and Low Back Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012;26(1):16–27.
5. Andersen V, Fimland MS, Gunnarskog A, Jungård G-A, Slåttland R-A, Vraalsen ØF, et al. Core Muscle Activation in One-Armed and Two-Armed Kettlebell Swing. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016;30(5):1196–204.
Author: Dan Gifeisman, DC, is a kettlebell enthusiast and is currently a resident in the Community Health Centers in Connecticut.