Squat Swing vs. “Hip Snap” Swing

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You’d have to have been living under a rock for the past five years or so not to notice that kettlebells are all the rave nowadays.

It seems you can’t walk more than ten feet in any commercial gym and not witness some trainer taking his or her client through a KB workout, or notice signs for a new class that’s being offered. What’s more, with the advent of their popularity, it’s also almost impossible to actually see someone performing the swing the correct way.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll be the first to admit that I am in no way a kettlebell authority. While I’d like to think that I know a thing or two, I’d be kidding myself if I said that I’m an expert with the kettlebell. 90210 trivia on the other hand? You’re bringing a fart to a shit fight my friend.

I’ll be the first to admit my form isn’t perfect, and I’m sure there’s someone out there who can break down my technique and show me how much I suck at life. Just realize that I’m just trying to share information here and help make people better. Just because I have abs of steel and eat lighting bolts for breakfast, doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings, ya know. I hope you’re happy. LEAVE ME ALONE!!!! *slams door*

Okay, moving on.

Admittedly, it took me a while to hop onto the kettlebell bandwagon. I’m not one of those people who views them as the panacea of everything fitness. Rather, I view them as a valuable tool in the toolbox. Once I got past the “much ado about nothing” mentality, however, I started to realize that there were a lot of different ways I could incorporate them into a well-rounded program. The most obvious, of course, the two-arm swing.

Without getting too off track, I think the two-arm kettlebell swing is a superb way to train power and explosiveness – and, unlike the olympic lifts (which are very coaching intensive) can be taught to just about anyone at anytime.

Still, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be coached….. a lot. As an example, I asked one of my distance coaching clients, Deb, to send me a video of her performing the two-arm swing. Knowing that she had been working with a trainer prior to starting with me (three months ago), I knew she had been coached to some degree, and for all intents and purposes, knew her way around the gym. I mean, we’re talking about a woman who actually went out and purchased her own trap bar to carry with her to the gym on her deadlifting days – how badass is that?

Even so, my intuition kicked in, and I had her send me a video anyways:

All in all, to the casual eye, this may seem like a legit swing. And, to be honest, it’s not too bad. Of course, I could sit here and break down every nook and cranny of her swing, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I just want to bring to light a very (read: VERY) important point: the squat swing vs. the “hip snap” swing.

In his DVD, Perfecting Your Kettlebell Form, Dan John goes into great detail on what he calls the Hip Displacement Continuum.

Cliff Notes Version (but I HIGHLY suggest you read the link above): the squat is not a swing, and the swing is not a squat. Watch most people perform a kettlebell swing and you’ll notice that they tend to do more of a squat pattern rather than a hip hinge (hip snap) pattern. If you watch Deb’s video above you’ll notice that with every rep, she’ll initiate by pushing her knees forward in more of a squat pattern. As a result, the kettlebell is further away from her body, which in turn will place a lot of undue sheer stress on the spine. Does this look familiar? Chances are, this is exactly what you’re doing.

To fix this, Dan John would tell her to “attack the zipper.” Literally, she wants to pull the kettlebell down towards her “girl down there part” and keep it closer to her body. Much the same, when coaching guys, I just tell them to try to hit themselves in the balls. In doing so, they’ll automatically get the concept of pushing their hips back and grooving that nice hip hinge/hip snap pattern we’re looking for. Somewhat like this:

Yes, I need to “tame my arc” a bit at the top. And yes, I’m pretty sure I lost the ability to have kids anytime soon, but I think you get the general idea.

You should notice that with every rep I initiate by pushing my hips BACK! While I do bend my knees slightly, it isn’t much. Moreover my back stays nice and tight throughout the duration of the set – there’s very little lumbar flexion (another mistake that many trainees make, but I don’t want to get into here).

Summing up, the kettlebell swing – while being one of more easily coached movements – is probably one of the one’s I see butchered the most. Just remember that it’s not a squat, it’s a hip snap. I’d highly suggest you try to film yourself doing them, I think you’d be surprised at what you see Mr. Perfectpants.

PS: I’m still mad at you, but I love you. Wanna hug it out?

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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