Russian KB Swing and Crossfit KB Swing

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I’ve been using kettlebells since 2004 when I discovered Dragondoor and Pavel, the “Evil Russian”.  I learned one way to swing a Kettlebell, how it was taught by Pavel on the Russian Kettlebell Challenge VHS tape. That was before young Freeman discovered Crossfit, and well before the American Swing was the Crossfit standard.

Since then I have studied under the Iron Tamer Dave Whitely during the Hardstyle Kettlebell Certification through Dragondoor. I also attended the Crossfit Kettlebell Trainer course with Jeff Martone. Both great instructors, and they taught me a lot! I have also gained “ninja level” knowledge teaching people to use KB’s that are even more “learning challenged” than myself 😉 As a coach you never get better teaching natural athletes that can replicate a movement just by watching it once.

Just so we are clear on my standing in the matter. 10 times out of 10 I will program the Russian Swing. Why, because it is superior? Hell yeah. But the bigger reason is almost nobody can do the American Swing correctly. Not shitting you. Just look around sometime at a high level Crossfit competition. Scary! Keep in mind these are the “upper echelon” of Crossfit athletes. To me it is scarier than watching some of the Deadlift form you see at your local globo-gym.

With all that being said if you are going to Swing how you want anyway, you might as well learn to do it correctly. I can help.

First lets discuss the highlights of the Russian swing.
1. Set-up and set down
2. The Hip Hinge

3. The Hike Pass
4. Hip Extension

Benefits of the Russian Swing

  1. Good medium to teach athletes how to break at the top with the abs, lats, and glutes. It’s a great idea for you as a coach to give an athlete a bang for your exercise that can teach your athletes how to move there bodies in the most efficient manner.
  2. More lat recruitment on the bang swing and at the top of the swing that controls the height of the KB.
  3. Happy and healthy athlete or trainee because they will be stronger, healthier, and have more energy to develop sport skills, etc.

Next let’s discuss how to perform a proper American swing
1. The overhead position – arms locked, abs/glutes/lats locked in tight
2. The Lean Back – head and shoulders back, arms relaxed
3. The arm bend

Potential implications of the American Swing

  1. Compromising your “braking system”
  2. Presenting another mechanism to “wind up” the traps and down-play the recruitment of the lats
  3. Propensity to finish with lumbar overextension vs hip extension and neutral spine
  4. Lack of control on the downswing could lead to more stress on the lower back

A proper swing, no matter the style, is sharp and efficient.  You should be sore in your glutes and hamstrings primarily the day after (provided you did enough ;).  You SHOULD NOT be sore in your traps, front delts, or one focused point of your lower back.  When you are programming swing variations for your clients or athletes, always consider WHAT they are training for. For most the Russian swing will provide the safest and most effective way to achieve the desired training effect. Swings can be utilized to build the posterior chain, for energy systems training; I even use them for recovery and restoration purposes.

Kris Freeman, RKC, is a Recon Marine and Personal Trainer based out of Lexington, KY. 

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