A Deep Dive into the Hardstyle
As with any revolutionary concept, there are bound to be variations. Here is a deep look into the Hardstyle swing.
The kettlebell swing has been called the center of the kettlebell universe. Dan John said, “the swing is a fat-burning athlete builder.” The benefits of the kettlebell swing read like a snake oil sales ad. Along with the Turkish get-up, the swing is considered by many kettlebell enthusiasts to be the only true exercise needed by many people.
Beyond all the hype, at the very least, the kettlebell swing is a fundamental kettlebell exercise with enormous benefits that safely work the anterior and posterior chains while also helping to build incredible forward force.
The following article will explain the basic benefits of the hardstyle swing, drills for properly learning the swing, how to swing, and some example practice programs and workouts. While this article is a “deep dive” into the swing, it is still just a beginning point. Literally, we could fill an entire magazine with content about the swing.
The Benefits of Hardstyle Swings
Given the fact that two out of the four major kettlebell certifications have some variation of the word strength in them, this seems obvious.
Regardless, swinging a heavy kettlebell is one of the best ways to build total body strength.
Again, this seems pretty obvious, but high reps of kettlebell swings are an excellent way to get rid of fat.
One of the surprise benefits of the kettlebell swing is improved grip strength due to both the fact that you are holding on to a fast-moving cannon ball and to the added neurological benefits from the constant tension and relaxation required for kettlebell swings.
The kettlebell swing is a go-to for conditioning, especially in combat sports. This is due to the tremendous amount of conditioning it provides along with its relative safety and short learning curve as well as all the other benefits it offers.
The kettlebell swing is great at teaching you to root and produce ground and forward force.
The kettlebell swing and its big brother, the deadlift, may be the two best exercises for practicing the good standing posture known to man.
Enhances Vertical Jump
With little modification (a focus on the downward movement of the swing), the kettlebell swing has been shown to improve vertical jump. This is most likely a result of improved force production through the ground.
Harder to Kill/What the Hell Effect
In all fairness, this is the catch all for all the kettlebell swing benefits: we either cannot explain it yet or we haven’t taken the time to. Many athletes find increases and improvements in areas not directly related to the swing when they begin consistently practicing it.
Before beginning the swing there are a couple of things to point out. First, everything in this article is specific to the two-hand hardstyle swing. There are other variations of the hardstyle swing such as the single arm swing, hand-to-hand swings, and double kettlebell swings.
All of these work off the same principles.
The other thing to think about before starting is what size kettlebell you should begin with. A long time ago your choices were very limited, but now you have several options. The best choice is the one that lets you practice properly and safely. Generally for females this is somewhere between 18-26 lbs (8-12 kg) or 35-53 lbs (18-24 kg) for men.
The Hardstyle Plank
Before swinging a kettlebell for the first time, practice the hardstyle plank. This is done by assuming the top of a push up. From here pull the shoulders down towards the glutes, drive the heels back away from your head, suck the knees up toward your abdomen, and squeeze your glutes.
This will create a good deal of tension in your lower body. At the same time, brace your stomach as if someone was about to kick it, pull the shoulders away from your ears, squeeze your armpits as if you were trying to hold onto a towel with them, and try to tuck your shoulder blades into your opposite hip pockets— this should help engage the lats.
Finally, get tall through the neck. This is what we want the top of your swing to feel like.
Chop and Pop
Now that we have an idea of what the top of the swing should feel like, the next part of the swing we want to program is the hinge (in this a case a ballistic hinge). The easiest way I found to do this is by learning the “Chop and Pop” movement which I believe Brett Jones came up with.
The Chop and Pop is a simple way for most people to practice the hinge pattern before using a bell. First, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Next, bring your hands up like you are catching a pass. From here, sling the hands back, brushing the hips.
At the same time, let the hips go back as far as they can and then allow the knees to bend. Again, sending the hips back is key. You want the hips to go back, not down. From here, you should feel as if you are loaded to perform a jump.
Instead of jumping, however, drive the feet through the floor, suck the knees up towards the hips, squeeze the glutes, brace the abs like you are about to get spartan kicked, get tall through the spine, allow the hands to come together with the back of one hand slapping the palm of the other out in front of your body, stay wide through the chest, and pull the shoulders down and back.
You should find this top position feels very similar to the hardstyle plank. Now rinse and repeat until you feel you have it.
The final drill we are going to cover is the kettlebell hike and it is exactly what it sounds like. To begin, you want to get about a foot to a foot and a half away from the kettlebell. This will vary based on your size and the size of the kettlebell you are using.
Next, perform the “chop” portion of the Chop and Pop (I have been training with kettlebells for almost a decade and I still use the “chop” to set up with my swings). From that position, reach forward with both hands and grasp the kettlebell handle.
Tip the bell back until almost 80-90% of the base is off the ground. Now try and snap the handle by rotating your elbows in towards your body. This helps engage the lats.
If you actually succeed at snapping the handle, you need to buy better bells. Squeeze hard on the handle to help fire the triceps, pull the shoulders away from the ears, and again try to stuff your shoulder blades into your hip pockets.
Pull hard on the bell keeping the arms locked and hike it back behind you. You should feel this mostly in the lats. Now simply take a step or two back behind where the bell is and rinse and repeat. This can actually become its own exercise if you want.
In theory, if you have dialed in the above drills the swinging should just be a simple matter of putting it all together. Do not, however, be surprised if it is not, and understand that the swing is one of those exercises you can always refine.
To begin the swing, first hike the kettlebell back between the legs. Before the bell touches the ground stand up hard and fast just like in the Chop and Pop.
Now, driving the feet into the ground, pulling the knees up towards the hips, squeezing the glutes, bracing the abs, keeping the shoulders away from the ears and the shoulder blades back and down in your hip pockets, try to create the same effect at the top of the swing as in the hardstyle plank.
From here, it is just a matter of, as they say, playing chicken with the bell. Let the bell swing between the legs, send the hips back to avoid getting hit by it, and let the knees bend returning to the “chop” position. When finished, simply park the kettlebell back in front of you where you hiked it from. Congratulations if all went well–you have just performed a hardstyle kettlebell swing!
Breathing during the swing is pretty straightforward: inhale on the down swing and exhale forcefully on the way up. One of the easiest ways to do that is by counting the rep out loud at the top of the swing while also remembering to get tight at the top.
Common Swing Mistakes
- Squatting instead of hinging | hinge at the hips! Don’t Squat.
- Using the arms. Don’t use your arms to lift the weight. With the exception of firing the triceps and packing the shoulders, the arms don’t do much on the way up or down.
- Doing too many reps when you start. Doing too many swings in the first session is a mistake. Start slowly, or you’ll regret it.
- Failing to squeeze. Not squeezing and tensing the glutes and abs. This often leads to lower back pain along with squatting.