“Yeah, that looks cool. But what muscles are worked from doing kettlebell swings?” After teaching kettlebells for over a decade, this is a common question I’ve heard from many people. The easy answer is, “it’s a total body exercise”. But it’s time to clear things up and define the exact muscles worked during kettlebell swings.
Let’s break it down into Primary, Secondary and Other muscles worked to get a clear picture of why the Kettlebell Swing is often referred to as “one of the best total body exercises”.
Primary Muscles Worked
The kettlebell swing is powered by your lower body. Specifically, your glutes and hamstrings. These muscles help you bend at your waist and stand up straight. They are very large muscles and use a tremendous amount of energy. So, doing kettlebell swings can burn a lot of calories. Strengthening these muscles will also improve your athleticism because most athletic movements come from the hips.
Clients have often told me that they feel like they’re getting cardio and strength from swings. My response is always, “You’re correct! Your kettlebell swings muscles worked so hard that it’s unnecessary to do extra cardio after lifting weights. Additionally, your heart rate is elevated like you’ve been sprinting. Furthermore, your legs are spent, and you’d be running on wobbly legs. So, go eat and refuel!”
Secondary Muscles Worked
While the glutes and hamstrings are the main muscles worked by the kettlebell swing, there are MANY other muscles worked. Your quads assist your glutes and hamstrings and help you stand up powerfully. So, the kettlebell swing can tone and define your legs and butt.
Let’s turn our focus to the muscles of the arms. Specifically, your forearms, biceps, and triceps. Since you must grip the kettlebell and hold onto it, your forearms get worked quite a bit. Therefore, the kettlebell swing is seen as an excellent exercise for developing grip strength. Since your forearms and biceps are connected and often work in unison, it’s no coincidence that your biceps receive some work too. This is apparent after doing heavy swings. You’ll be surprised at how pumped up your biceps will feel.
Lastly, we have your triceps. The triceps’ main role is to straighten out your elbow. Since your elbows are straight throughout the entire exercise, your triceps are worked as well!
Traveling up the arm we reach the shoulders and upper back. Some people make the mistake of turning the kettlebell swing into a shoulder raise and place too much emphasis on their shoulders, which can result in neck tightness. THIS IS NOT A SHOULDER RAISE. However, properly aligning your shoulders by “packing” them, works your upper back and shoulders without stressing your neck.
Packing your shoulders means pulling them down away from your ears and back, so your shoulder blades squeeze together. This will promote better posture and prevent you from rounding your upper back and tensing your neck. When this is done, your upper back and shoulders will get thoroughly worked.
When the kettlebell swing is done right with the proper breathing technique, your core is engaged! Learning how to “brace” your abs will engage your core and protect your lower back too. Whenever you lift weights, especially kettlebells, your core is ALWAYS working. So, you can cut out those neck-bending crunches.
Your lower back muscles are worked too. However, they are not responsible for moving the kettlebell. Their job is to stabilize your spine and keep it straight while doing Swings.
Here’s where things get interesting…
If you train barefoot or wear minimalist shoes, you are doing wonders for your feet and lower leg muscles. Your feet have muscles too and allowing them to feel and grip the floor will fire them up and give you more stability. More stability creates more power. When your feet are more engaged your lower leg muscles will also contract harder. So, the kettlebell swing works all your lower body muscles.
Your chest also gets some work. Do this experiment:
- Raise your arms straight out in front of you.
- Bring your hands together while your arms are out in front of you (like holding a kettlebell).
- Do you feel your chest muscles (pecs) contract?
The answer should be “yes”. So, the kettlebell swing works almost all your muscles making it a true total body exercise.
Health Benefits Of The Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is one of the best exercises you can to do work all your muscles. It’s a fascinating blend of power and endurance that’s tough to duplicate. It quickly raises your heart rate and metabolism, so you burn calories well after you’re done working out. Finally, the swing strengthens the backside of your body, which will improve your posture. And that will counter a lot of the desk and computer work you do.
However, one major aspect to consider is learning the right form. Bad form will greatly increase your chance of injury and stop your progress. So, take the time to practice this exercise and gradually build your strength and endurance. You’ll have better workouts and see more progress. And if you need a workout routine to follow that shows you how to use the right form, allow yourself to consider downloading my FREE 5-Day Kettlebell Plan.
When you download this FREE plan, you’ll discover time efficient, total body workouts. And you’ll be given the secrets to mastering the basic kettlebell exercises. Download this FREE kettlebell plan right here.