How to do kettlebell swings: Form tips, techniques, and common mistakes

How to do kettlebell swings to undo the damage of lots of time sat at your desk, according to an expert strength coach

woman learning how to do kettlebell swings
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ever wanted to learn how to do kettlebell swings? It’s an exercise that incorporates your shoulders, arms, core, glutes, and legs, making it a great way to engage your whole body, especially the lower half. Sedentary lifestyles have become the norm for many of us, and this can do lots of damage to our bodies. Sitting down more means we're moving less, expending fewer calories and likely eating more as a result. 

Sitting down too much has obviously been linked with metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, but it can also lead to back pain, poor hip mobility, and more. However, all you need is one of the best kettlebells to improve your glutes, hips and legs with the kettlebell swing, a great total-body compound move that has made our list of the best exercises for weight loss due to its potent metabolic effect. 

Strength coach Rogan Allport said: "If there was one exercise I would take on a desert island and do for the rest of my life, it would probably be a heavy kettlebell swing. It’s a total body exercise that emphasizes the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors, otherwise known as the posterior chain.”

"These are super important for developing a strong posture and lower back, especially into old age."

Rogan Allport
Rogan Allport

Personal trainer Rogan Allport is an expert weightlifting coach based in Cardiff, UK, covering everything from training plans, to mobility, to nutrition. He's coached everyone from busy moms to national strength athletes. 

Why do kettlebell swings?

So why are kettlebell swings so good for people who spend a lot of time sitting down? Allport said: "People who spend a lot of time sitting down spend a lot of time with their hips in a flexed position, which is when your hips are at 90 degrees. The kettlebell swings take you through what’s called 'flexion' and 'extension' at the hip, which will help loosen off your hip flexors by engaging your glutes and hamstrings."

Research from the University of Chichester found practicing kettlebell swings improves 'explosive strength' in athletes, so they're great for building strength for HIIT-style moves such as burpees, in addition to supporting people who enjoy doing barbell squats, deadlifts, and other muscle-building movements with a heavy emphasis on your posterior chain.

However, kettlebell swings aren’t just good for your legs and butt: it can also develop core strength by more than 70%, according to research from the American Council on Exercise (opens in new tab), and lengthen muscles that weaken and contract when we spend lots of time sitting at our desks in the office. This makes kettlebell swings the perfect move for anyone with a currently sedentary lifestyle. 

Check out our guide for how to do a kettlebell swing below:

How to do kettlebell swings

Classic hand swing

(Image credit: Future)
  • Stand tall with a kettlebell between your legs on the ground, feet shoulder-width apart, and slightly bent knees.
  • Hinging at your hips, grab the kettlebell before swinging it back between your legs.
  • Thrust forward with your hips, using the momentum to bring the kettlebell to shoulder height as you stand up.
  • As the weight starts to fall, keep your core engaged and return to a squat as the kettlebell swings between your legs.

How to do kettlebell swings: Tips and common mistakes

The kettlebell swing is a great move to do at home, as you don't need a lot of space and it's reasonably low-impact, all done from a standing stance. However, some expert form tips are required if you're doing this exercise for the first time.

Allport said: "One of the most common mistakes is people take too wide of a stance. You should be trying to keep your feet flat and push back into your glutes, so you feel a small stretch on your hamstrings." 

"Two, you should not be squatting down [too far], with your knees over your toes." Instead, as in the image above, keep your knees bent without lowering your bum into a full squat position. 

Also, if you’re learning how to do kettlebell swings at home, don’t let go of the kettlebell at the apex of your swingyou might break your TV!

One potential mistake is going too heavy when first learning how to do kettlebell swings, especially if you’re just starting out on your fitness journey. Research published in the Korean Journal of Sport Biomechanics (opens in new tab) examined how the body reacted to different kettlebells (30%, 40%, and 50% of the participants’ body weights, respectively). The researchers found that “for beginners who start kettlebell exercise, swing practice should be performed with 30% of body mass”, with higher weights being more likely to lead to injury in even highly trained individuals. 

In addition, heavier kettlebells usually mean the angle of the swing isn’t as high, so the rep won’t always be completed with the correct form. 

So, now that you know how to do a kettlebell swing, and what weight to use, how should you fit it into your workouts? Allport says: "I love using them as a warm-up, as they work on my coordination and make sure my posterior chain is engaged". However, you could also do them as part of our kettlebell workout for beginners.