Many gyms, especially those that practice CrossFit, perform kettlebell swings so that the swing ends with the arms completely overhead. We do not. We prefer to teach what is known as a Russian kettlebell swing. The high swing is characterized by an end point where the kettlebell is completely overhead at the top of the swing and the knee and hip opened completely. This is referred to as an American kettlebell swing within the fitness community. It’s motions is longer and smoother. In contrast, we teach what is known as a Russian kettlebell swing. This is characterized by a high point right with the kettlebell directly in front of the eyes. The movement is shorter, faster and more compact. We feel very strongly that this kettlebell swing variation is superior to its American counterpart. It’s not only the original and most widely practiced version of the swing around the world, it’s also safer and a better training method than the American version. While the American version of the kettlebell swing moves the kettlebell through a greater range of motion, it places the highly unstable shoulder joint in a compromised position at the top of the swing. The shoulder joint is the most unstable joint in the human body and bearing a load overhead in a close grip position is not orthopedically sound. Furthermore, despite claims that the greater range of motion associated with an American swing increases work (Work = Force x Distance) and therefore power (Power = (Force x Distance) / Time)), we are certain this is simply not the case in actual application. Although the range of motion in an American swing is greater than its Russian counterpart, this also requires the athlete to make a compromise in either Force or Time that easily negates any increase in range of motion. If the swing is brought totally overhead, the athlete must use a lighter kettlebell (which will likely lead to decreased Force output) to ensure they can move the kettlebell all the way to the overhead position. This somewhat obvious point is actually even greater than one might think because once the arms and kettlebell are moved beyond parallel with the ground the athlete is at a distinct mechanical disadvantage (read up on lever systems for details if you’re not a biomechanist or engineer). In fact, the kettlebell slows substantially once it passes the chest on the upswing due to this mechanical disadvantage. Basically, if you have enough hip power to get the kettlebell all the way to the American standard position overhead then you should be using more weight (or actively forcing the kettlebell down to increase the effective load of the kettlebell). The other consequence is that the time to complete the swing is significantly longer which reduces the power output. So while the American swing is the de facto technique for CrossFit competitions, we do not feel it is the best variation to be used in training outside of training specifically for CrossFit competitions. If you’re interested in learning about additional exercises you can perform with a kettlebell we encourage you to check out this page.

Mike Young

Mike Young

Director of Training
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting & a CrossFit Level 1 coach.
Mike Young

@mikeyoung

@AthleticLab Owner. Strength/Speed Coach. Former MLS Fitness Coach. Sport Scientist. Entrepreneur. Coach Educator. Fitness Enthusiast.
3 reasons why elite #sprinters can apply so much force to the ground: https://t.co/2tCtX9HZCA #training #speed #sprinting - 8 hours ago
Mike Young
Mike Young