American Kettlebell Swing: The Foundations of the American and Russian Kettlebell Swings

Home » Blog » American Kettlebell Swing: The Foundations of the American and Russian Kettlebell Swings

Disclaimer: Our content doesn't constitute medical or fitness advice. We may be earning money from companies & products we review. Learn more

I’ve been working with kettlebells since I began my career as a trainer nearly 12 years ago. While I appreciate all gym equipment, from barbells to resistance bands, my love for kettlebells has only grown with time.

Kettlebells are the most consistent tool I use for my clients’ training due to their functionality, versatility, and compactness. That’s why I teach both the American kettlebell swing and the Russian kettlebell swing to virtually all my clients.

Kettlebell swing training has surged in popularity for its high functionality and versatility, suitable for both strength and conditioning, and its compact nature, offering a killer workout in a short amount of time.

Originating in 1700s Russia, kettlebells have evolved significantly. They are prized for their functional aspects, enhancing both strength and conditioning in the following ways:

  1. Full Body Integration

Kettlebell exercises are compound movements, engaging multiple muscle groups, mirroring real-life activities requiring coordination. 

  1. Dynamic Nature

They’re dynamic, involving explosive movements like swings, snatches, and cleans, which challenge and improve the body’s agility and reaction capabilities. 

  1. Range of Motion

Kettlebell movements require a wide range of motion, demanding stability under stress, enhancing flexibility, and joint mobility. 

  1. Stabilizing Force

The asymmetrical shape of a kettlebell adds an element of instability, activating stabilizing muscles. Unilateral training balances the body, preventing muscle imbalances. 

  1. Cardiovascular Exertion

Many kettlebell exercises are cardiovascular in nature, testing endurance and strength, making training time-efficient for improving both fitness aspects.

How to Perform Kettlebell Swings (American & Russian) 

Now that we understand why kettlebells are so effective, let’s explore if they are safe and how to use them correctly.

Kettlebell training comes in two styles: Sport and Hardstyle, each with unique approaches and objectives.

Sport Kettlebell Training 

The primary goal of sport kettlebell training, also known as girevoy sport or GS (short for Girya Sport), is achieving maximum repetitions within a set time, emphasizing endurance, pacing, and efficiency. The standardized design of sport kettlebells allows consistent grip and technique. 

The fluid, continuous technique minimizes energy expenditure, while controlled breathing and relaxation help conserve energy during sets. Competitions involve performing a specific number of repetitions within a set time, using a predetermined weight.

Hardstyle Kettlebell Training

Hardstyle kettlebell training emphasizes building maximum strength and explosive power. Traditional kettlebells vary in size and handle diameter. Techniques involve explosive, powerful movements with an emphasis on generating maximum force. 

Creating tension throughout the body and using a “hard” exhale enhances stability and power. Hardstyle training is common in gyms, including CrossFit, though not typically used in competitions.

Choosing between the two depends on individual preferences and goals. 

Sport training suits those interested in competing and rhythmic, continuous movement.

On the other hand, Hardstyle is ideal for building explosive power and strength, making it more suitable for the average person.

Strength and Conditioning Benefits of Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebells effectively build strength with traditional and unconventional exercises, like presses, goblet squats, cleans, and Turkish getups. They demand strength, coordination, and stabilization, ideal for strength-focused workouts. 

The dynamic nature of movements, especially in exercises like swings and snatches, suits high-intensity interval training, improving cardiovascular fitness while incorporating strength elements. Kettlebells’ versatility allows tailoring workouts to specific goals, with lighter kettlebells enhancing endurance and heavier ones building strength.

Always start swinging by tilting and hinging, engaging the back, and avoid stopping mid-swing. Change hands during single-arm swings only when the kettlebell is weightless.

How Do Kettlebell Swings Improve Strength and Conditioning? 


Kettlebells can be used effectively for traditional strength training. Some examples are the press and the goblet squat. They can also untraditionally test and improve strength with exercises like kettlebell cleans and Turkish getups. 

These complex movements demand significant strength, coordination and stabilization which contribute to muscle hypertrophy, making them perfect for strength-focused workouts.


The dynamic nature of kettlebell movements, especially in exercises like swings and snatches, lends itself well to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and metabolic conditioning. 

They are effective in getting the heart rate soaring while not actually impacting the joints in any way since you’re not running or jumping. These workouts focus on improving cardiovascular fitness while incorporating strength elements.

Versatility and Efficiency

Kettlebells can be tailored to meet specific fitness goals easily with the right program. Lighter kettlebells with higher repetitions can enhance endurance and metabolic conditioning, while heavier kettlebells with lower reps contribute to strength development. 

Because kettlebell workouts often involve compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups and test your heart rate and stamina, it’s really easy to only store this small piece of equipment in your own gym. This efficiency allows individuals to achieve both strength and conditioning benefits in a relatively short amount of time.

Are Kettlebell Swings Safe? 

Yes, both Russian and American kettlebell swings can be performed safely—and they usually are. The caveat here is they are technical. But what movement do you know of that is not? 

Even a squat can be technical when you are first learning, even though you technically hinge or perform air squats 300 times a day. Kettlebell training takes a little bit of practice, a lot of patience and listening to your body to see how it feels. 

The best part about kettlebell training is they will let you know if they are being used incorrectly pretty quickly. In my gym, when our kettlebell cleans were sloppy and left bruises on our forearms we would call them “kettlebell kisses.” They can be testy little guys! That’s for sure. 

My main advice is don’t rush the reps or the weight, take time to study the movement and seek advice from coaches that have certifications in StrongFirst or RKC if you’re having trouble figuring it out on your own. 

A few rules to live by when it comes to kettlebell swings:

  1. Never pick up the kettlebell and start swinging, always tilt and hinge, engage the back and hike the bell toward you to create momentum and begin your reps. 
  2. Always rack the kettlebell back down where you found it, don’t just stop in the middle of a swing! 
  3. If you’re changing hands in a single arm swing, make sure to do it when the kettlebell is weightless and with the “patty cake” method or “hand over hand” method. 

Now, let’s take a look at the basic kettlebell movements.

Russian Kettlebell Swings

The Russian kettlebell swing is a fundamental exercise that forms the backbone of many kettlebell routines. It primarily targets the posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. 

The movement starts at a hip hinge, where the hips go back to grab the kettlebell at rest or in the “racked” position on the floor, then hiked between the legs, and then the hips are forcefully thrust forward to propel the kettlebell to eye level.

Finally, the kettlebell is pulled down back between the legs and then to the floor, back in the racked position.

The Russian Swing (Step by Step): 

  1. Stand at feet about hip distance wide, or a little wider 
  2. Step back from the kettlebell so it’s in front of you
  3. Hinge down, push your hips back and tilt the handle of the kettlebell toward you 
  4. Pull the kettlebell through your thighs and towards your crotch, almost like a football hike, while maintaining a hip hinge position
  5. Thrust your hips forward, standing up straight with a neutral spine, letting your hips drive the kettlebell to eye level
  6. Pull down on the kettlebell into your crotch and push your hips simultaneously as you do so 
  7. Finally, rack the kettlebell in front of you to complete a Deadstop Swing (where you found it) or continue with another hip thrust to keep the swings going.   

Common Issues with Russian Kettlebell Swings

Lifting Arms Rather than Pushing Hips: Allowing the arms to take over the movement can strain the shoulders, back, and diminish the effectiveness of the exercise altogether.

Poor Hip Hinge: Insufficient hip hinge can lead to lower back strain. The kettlebell swing is a pendulum, and you should feel like you’re throwing the kettlebell forward and pulling it back rather than picking it up towards the ceiling.

Remedies for Russian Kettlebell Swing Problems

Find your Hamstrings in the Hip Hinge: Emphasize the hip hinge as the driving force, pushing the hips back and forth and therefore the kettlebell. If you start to feel your quads, you’ve most likely lost your hinge, reset and start again. 

A good way to think about it is if you had two headlights under your buttcheeks, they should be shining behind you, not at the floor. A good drill is to stand in front of a door and push it closed with your butt! 

Engage the Core: Keep the core engaged to prevent excessive arching or rounding of the lower back. The breath plays a major role in this as every exhale should reinforce your core stability. 

Place your tongue at the roof of your mouth and exhale hard, making a “SHH” sounds should help you engage your core, all the way down to your pelvic floor. It’s a super powerful piece of the swing! 

Muscle Groups Targeted

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Core muscles

Benefits of Russian Kettlebell Swings

  • Develops explosive hip power
  • Enhances cardiovascular endurance
  • Strengthens the posterior chain

Choosing the Right Weight for Russian Kettlebell Swings

Start with a weight that allows you to perform 10 to 15 reps with proper form. Stop and assess your mid back, your lower back and your quads and hamstrings. You should be feeling your hamstrings and glutes, not your quads and your lower back. 

If you can successfully get through 10 to 15 reps and feel the spiciness in your posterior chain, you can progress to a higher weight. A good way to build strength is the following workout called the “breath ladder”

Breath Ladder Technique for Russian Kettlebell Swings 

  1. Start with 1 swing and place the kettlebell down in the racked position again, then take a deep breath (these are called Dead Stop Swings)
  2. Then do 2 swings, pause 2 breaths 
  3. Then do 3 and 3 breaths
  4. Go all the way up to 10 reps and 10 breaths
  5. Finally, work your way back down the ladder

This is a great way to build endurance in a new weight that you’ve never used before. 

Fun Historical Nugget about “Russian” Kettlebell Swings

The roots of the kettlebell can be traced back to 18th-century Russia. Originally used as counterweights for goods at markets, kettlebells eventually found their way into the hands of strongmen and became a staple in Russian military training. 

The Russian swing, a foundational kettlebell exercise, draws from this historical strength tradition. Can you imagine a bunch of guys just throwing around kettlebells after work to blow some steam? Seems like the perfect way to relax! 

American Kettlebell Swings

The American kettlebell swing is a variation that takes the traditional Russian swing to new heights—literally. In this version, the kettlebell is swung overhead until the arms are fully extended. Unlike the Russian swing, which stops at eye level, the American swing requires greater shoulder mobility and engages the upper body more intensively. 

Activating the core is important on the way back down as well as you should be in a hollow position rather than letting gravity just pull down the kettlebell. This variation adds an extra layer to think about.

American Swing (Step by Step)

  1. Stand at feet about hip distance wide, or a little wider 
  2. Step back from the kettlebell so it’s in front of you
  3. Hinge down, push your hips back and tilt the handle of the kettlebell toward you 
  4. Pull the kettlebell through your thighs and towards your crotch, almost like a football hike, while maintaining hip hinge position
  5. Thrust your hips forward, standing up straight with a neutral spine, letting your hips drive the kettlebell above your head, locking out your arms at the top, biceps next to your ears 
  6. Pull down on the kettlebell into your crotch and push your hips simultaneously as you do so
  7. You can continue with the next swing or place the kettlebell down on the floor for a Dead Stop American Kettlebell Swing 

Common Issues with American Kettlebell Swings

Overextending the Lower Back: using your arms to lift kettlebell overhead rather than creating force with your bigger muscles (glutes, hamstrings and core) can strain the lower back.

Lack of Shoulder Mobility: Limited shoulder mobility may result in discomfort or improper form during the overhead extension. This shows up if your arms don’t lock out completely at the top, breaking the chain of joint-stacking for the strongest positioning.

Remedies for American Kettlebell Swings

Controlled Motion: Fire up the hamstrings, glutes and make the arms the last part of the equation so you’re utilizing the biggest and strongest muscles first. Also make sure to end with joints stacked on top of joints i.e knuckles over elbows, elbows over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, knees over ankles. 

Stacking the joints and keeping that control creates the best possible outcome for the kettlebell to follow your body rather than your body following or losing control of the kettlebell. 

Shoulder Mobility Exercises: Incorporate shoulder mobility exercises and a proper warm up before you begin your workout and increase weight slowly to improve range of motion. 

Muscle Groups Targeted by American Kettlebell Swings

  1. Posterior chain
  2. Shoulders
  3. Core 

Benefits of American Kettlebell Swings

  • Full-body workout
  • Increased shoulder mobility
  • Intensified cardiovascular engagement

Choosing the Right Weight for American Kettlebell Swings

Begin with a weight you can comfortably handle for 10-12 reps. Focus on maintaining control during the overhead extension. As you gain strength and confidence, increase the weight gradually.

Fun Historical Nugget on American Kettlebell Swings

The American kettlebell swing was popularized in the early 2000s by CrossFit, a sport that utilizes both American and Russian kettlebell swings in their competitive workouts. Both within CrossFit and outside of it, there is still a longstanding debate about which swing is best. 

How Do You Know What is the Best Swing for You?

Personally, I always introduce the Russian Hardstyle kettlebell swing first. Once my client has the basics down, I teach the other versions (American and Sport) based on their preferences and goals. 

Here is how I do that:

  1. First I show the hinge, make sure our hamstrings are fired up and active
  2. Then, I place the kettlebell between the feet, right at the arches and ask that my client pick it up like they would a deadlift and place it right back down where they found it. 
  3. Once they can successfully do that and still feel their hamstrings, I ask that they take one big step back from the kettlebell and tilt the kettlebell towards them.
  4. Then I teach them to hike the bell. 
  5. Then we learn how to thrust the bell forward like they would in a forward broad jump. 
  6. And if that all goes well and they know how to safely return the bell back to that hinged position, we get into the “swing” of things and work unbroken repetitions. 

In conclusion, there are so many reasons to add kettlebells to your home gym because they are compact, a great metabolic and strength-building workout and you can never stop perfecting the skill. 

There will always be more to learn with these little bells! Once you have the foundation of swings down, you can expand into:

  • Turkish Getups
  • Kettlebell Halos 
  • Kettlebell Cleans 
  • Kettlebell Snatches 

The world is your oyster with these versatile tools! Get started today by trying out kettlebell swings—including the American and the Russian kettlebell swing—under the supervision of a qualified coach. For a direct, one-on-one consultation with a certified calisthenics coach, book a free 30-minute consult with Gymless today. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *