The Kettlebell Swing Isn't Everything (But This Workout Is)

Andrew Read

Contributor - Master RKC, Athletic Adventurer

Melbourne, Australia

Endurance Sports, Kettlebells, Strength and Conditioning


I normally hate those "what exercise would you do if you were stranded on a desert island" type questions. I don’t like being pushed to use just a single tool. My gym has many fun toys that all serve a distinct purpose, and using the right one at the time can catapult a client from good to great overnight.


The problem with removing choice is you often end up with a single tool or exercise that works well for a time - until suddenly, it doesn’t. Humans aren’t designed to do just a few things, insects are. The moment you start to head down the path of specialization with sport training or exercise selection you start to risk injury and burnout from the lack of variety.



The Kettlebell Swing Isn't Everything (But This Workout Is) - Fitness, workout, Kettlebell, kettlebell swing, kettlebell deadlift, suitcase deadlift, single leg deadlift, progressions


But then again, sometimes all those choices can lead you to overthink your training. More choice often equals more time spent second guessing yourself as to what you should or shouldn’t be doing. Whittling away choices can be quite liberating.


The Kettlebell Swing Isn't Everything

This is one of the times kettlebells come into good use. Kettlebells can be an amazingly varied tool that you can use for everything from corrective exercise to strength and power. With so many possible options, don’t buy into the swing being the center of the kettlebell universe. Swings may be the best place to start learning how to use kettlebells, but with so many choices available you’re just hurting yourself in the long run by reverting to this one exercise.


The mistake most people make with strength training is to go directly to loading. They focus only on the quantity – how many, how heavy, how fast – and forget that without movement quality you’re really just an accident waiting to happen.


Let’s use the most commonly performed kettlebell exercises to show a smart progression to loading.


Step #1: Developing Range

Normal range of motion for hip flexion is a toe touch. When I look around at many of the people who come through the doors at RPT, I see the majority unable to perform this simple test. So the first thing has to be the development of adequate range.



I like taking the best from all worlds rather than being dogmatically tied to one line of thinking. The Jefferson curl would be one of the first exercises I would pick to help develop a normal ROM toe touch.



The FMS has a fantastic drill that forces the body to learn how to hinge – a necessary requirement for swinging. So we add the FMS toe touch progressions with both the heels raised and with the toes raised for even faster progress. A set of ten reps in both positions works well here.


Step #2: Teaching the Hinge Pattern

Once we develop range, the next thing to do is teach the hinge pattern. The deadlift fits perfectly here – if you can’t do it slowly, you won’t be able to do it fast. However, if you’re in a minimal setting and don’t have the luxury of having an FMS screen done, you need to make sure that your movement and strength on both sides is symmetrical. So what we really need is a unilateral deadlift, not a bilateral one. The advantage of the single leg deadlift over the normal deadlift is that it teaches better rooting and upper body stability as the demand is higher.





Step #3: Maintaining Packed Shoulders

The next step in developing a sound swing is being able to maintain packed shoulders while the joint angle changes. The suitcase deadlift reinforces everything we learned about the hinge in the single leg deadlift while forcing the shoulders to stay packed.


Step #4: Putting It All Together

The final step in this process should be performing the swing, as it is a speed and power version of the deadlift.


Here’s a fun way to put it all together:



  • 1 set of Jefferson curls with feet flat (10 reps)
  • 1 set of Jefferson curls with toes and heels raised (10 reps each side)
  • 1 set of single leg deadlifts (5 reps each side)
  • 1 set of Jefferson curls with toes and heels raised (10 reps each side)
  • 1 set of single leg deadlifts (5 reps each side)
  • 1 set of Jefferson curls with toes and heels raised (10 reps each side)
  • 1 set of single leg deadlifts (5 reps each side)
  • 1 set of suitcase deadlifts (5 reps each side)
  • 1 set of Jefferson curls with toes and heels raised (10 reps each side)
  • 1 set of single leg deadlifts (5 reps each side)
  • 1 set of suitcase deadlifts (5 reps each side)
  • 1 set of one-hand swings (10 reps each side)
  • 4 sets of one-hand swings increasing the weight on each set (Reps of 15, 12, 9, 6 each side)


Finish with 5 – 10 minutes of back bends, Jefferson curls, and brettzels to loosen up the back and posterior chain.


Kettlebells are a varied tool that can be used singularly.


If you want bonus points, substitute a kickstand suitcase deadlift instead of the normal suitcase deadlift to train the body in a split stance too.


This Workout Covers It All

This simple workout covers all the underlying movement skills of hip flexion and extension, midline stability, anti-rotation, and shoulder stability, as well as training the body in two of three lower body patterns (single leg and bilateral stance).


A well thought-out training plan won’t just go for the jugular with set after set of monotonous swings. Instead it will weave its way through similar but different movements to challenge the hips for both mobility and stability, as well as the shoulder’s ability to stay packed while the joint angle changes.


And at the end of the training session you’ll have a better swing and a body that moves better thanks to the variety you trained with. By patterning the movement and gradually progressing, you’ll have overcome all the common flaws in the swing.


More on training with kettlebells:

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