Kettlebell Swings: Straight or Bent Arms?
We'll bet you learnt kettlebell swings with straight arms... right? Yeah, we did too. And so did every other person who has ever done a kettlebell swing.
Let us get this straight - we aren't saying there's anything wrong with straight-armed kettlebell swings. In many cases, it simply depends. But at 100Strong, we teach you to bend your elbows on the upswing. Here’s why.
Take a look at your kettlebell handle and notice how narrow it is compared to your shoulders – even more so if you’re of broad build. For people with wider shoulders or kyphosis (hunched upper back), keeping straight arms during swings may encourage further kyphosis and less than optimal form
If we keep the arms slightly bent, this can encourage good back and shoulder alignment. The chest can stay more open, and the risk of rounding the back is reduced.
Progression in Weight
Straight-armed kettlebell swings involve taking the kettlebell further away from the body. That’s no big deal if the kettlebell weight is low (or at least low relative to your strength) – they’re light, making them easy to swing around.
But as the weight of the kettlebell increases, it becomes more difficult to control the kettlebell the further it is from your body, especially if your core isn’t used to that sort of weight.
If you initiate a slight shoulder retraction and bend the elbows on the upswing, the kettlebell will stay closer to the body and tighten what we call “the bell curve” (more on that later). This makes your movements in higher repetition lifting much more efficient, allowing you to swing heavier weights eventually.
Trajectory and Progression in Movements
If you locked your arms in a swing, you’d be pushing the kettlebell forward, creating a larger “bell curve”, as represented by the orange curved lines.
What we actually want to shoot for is pulling the kettlebell backwards. Yes – the kettlebell swing is actually a pull! Take a look at the photo bellow – if the elbows are bent, the bell curve is tightened.
But so what? Why do we need the “bell curve” to be tight?
When you progress in your kettlebell journey, you’ll start to explore movements like cleans and snatches. These movements involve moving the kettlebell along a vertical line, while keeping it relatively close to the body as you move through each repetition.
As a beginner, if you learn the kettlebell swing with slightly bent arms from the get go, imagine how much easier it will be to move on to cleans and snatches – you would have essentially learnt the first half of both those movements in your swings!
But the arms shouldn't be bent the whole way
Take a look at this guide below.
As you start the swing – when the kettlebell is in between the legs and the forearms are in contact with the legs – the arms should be totally straight.
Then, when the kettlebell swings out from between your legs and upwards towards chest level, there will come a point where your forearms lose contact with the body. That’s when you should start to bend the elbows slightly, powering the kettlebell up using the glutes and hips.
The elbows remain bent at the very top of the swing, continues in the bent position as it lowers, and once the forearms make contact with the body again, the arms should straighten back out.
There you go! The kettlebell swing is a great hip-mobilising, glute-strengthening, full-body exercise that counters all that sitting we do throughout the day. Not only is it fuss-free (all you need is one kettlebell and a small space), it is also one of the most time-efficient exercises - burning 20 calories per minute, but only if done correctly.
If you want to learn or refine the basic techniques of kettlebell training, sign up for the 100Strong Kettlebell Foundations program here.