Just in case you don’t remember the 90’s or are but a wee babe who was not yet thrust from your mother’s womb, Juvenile is a rapper whose claim to fame was a romantic love ballad entitled, “Back dat Ass Up”.
Now, ignoring the way this song objectifies women to an insane degree, this song can provide us some wisdom with regard to Kettlebell Swings as well as any other movement in the Hip Hinge(read:deadlift) category. I mean, the woman in the thumbnail is basically performing a perfect hip hinge.
The truth of the matter is that most folks I see doing KB swings aren’t even making an honest attempt to back their ass up! Or if they are trying they are doing it unsuccessfully. And, truth be told, backing that ass up is the key to a glorious Swing or Deadlift.
Error #1-Squatting: Now I don’t take a super hard line stance on this one and Jordan Syatt has a wonderful counterargument in favor of including Squatty-Swings. However, when I program Kettlebell swings it is to strengthen and groove the hip hinge movement pattern. Furthermore, the knee dominant swings he argues for are a bit different than what I discuss here; if you compare the stills of squatty swings, notice he still pushes his hips back a decent amount.
Error #2-Too much spinal flexion: In non-nerd speak this means that your back is rounding during the swing with the result being a less back friendly exercise as well as one that doesn’t achieve our goal of performing a full body lift that builds explosiveness, a strong metabolic effect, and hams and glutes that won’t quit. Yes, “kettlebooty” is a thing.
In both of these instances, no one’s ass is being backed up and the result is at best an exercise that doesn’t fulfill the purpose behind doing said exercise, and at worst and injurious lift which continues to perpetuate the myth that kettlebell swings will wreak havoc on your back.
With that in mind check out the following pictures and pay close attention to what my ass is doing ;p
Let’s take a look at what backing one’s ass up looks like. Warning: the following section will contain numerous lines pointing to my ass. Haters gon’ hate. Pay close attention to where my ass is in relation to the wall in both pictures.
The first picture is just meant to be a point of reference for my ass position; I am not actually performing a swing during although my hip position is the same as it would be during a swing. Note the length of the red line in both pictures. This line is the distance from my ass to the wall. In the second, the line is way shorter as I have backed my ass up toward the wall.
Notice that as I hinge in this picture, I back dat ass up and my butt gets closer to the wall. During this transition, I maintain a rigid neutral spine. The torso muscles will definitely get some work during this lift but the back should not create movement, that’s your butt’s job.
This technique will help ensure that your hips are loaded like a slingshot and that your back stays in neutral throughout the lift.
Now after I back my ass up, the next part of the swing is the pop my hips forward into the standing position squeezing both my quads and my glutes simultaneously. Sorry, no picture 😦 My camera doesn’t do action shots well.
Now let’s look at a swing with a rounded back.
Spinal Flexion. For swings, no bueno.
Ass is not backed up. It’s slightly closer to wall, but not by as much as the “Proper Hinge” photo. In fact, you can’t even see my ass–it just looks like it’s part of my back. You not only want to bring your buns closer to the wall, but you want to showcase that shit like you’re talking a #belfie.
Now, let’s look at the squatty swings. I’m going to show them in the way I see them done most often and not the way Jordan Syatt does in the article linked to above.
Note that in this picture my ass does not get much closer the the wall, especially compared with the second picture; it just goes up and down. Juvenile would be bummed. This results in no horizontal power, which is what will propel the kettlebell upwards. That means that when people do “swings” this way they end up using their arms to get the kettlebell to chest level. THE SWING IS NOT AN ARM/SHOULDER EXERCISE. Your ass and hammies should be the muscles that snap the weight forward and up.
The swing is a pretty complicated exercise. I can’t cover all of the nuances in this post, however listening to the conventional wisdom of juvenile is a great start to making the swing a more effective and safer exercise.