Tag Archives: kettle bell swings for a nice butt

Russian vs. American

3 Mar



The Russian swing starts with the kettle bell on the floor, between your legs.


Bend over with a neutral back (no back arch, or as I like to call it, “stripper butt”) and grip the kettle bell. Stand with the kettle bell, just like a deadlift. Begin to use your hips to thrust the kettle bell forward in a swinging motion. Once you get a little momentum going and you are ready to do the full swing, the kettle bell should come back between your legs and should be tucked just below the groin, with your legs slightly bent (knees are not locked but your legs are not bent like a squat.) Your head should be looking down toward the kettle bell between your legs.

Think of hiking a football.


The bell is then propelled forward to chest level, perpendicular to the torso. Your head comes up with the swing, and at the height of the swing, you should be looking directly in front of you at the bell. At the height of the swing, the bell should feel a though it is floating; like you can let go and it would stay floating in front of your chest without flying forward or behind your head.

Your hips and glutes should be doing the work, not your arms.

Meg Crossfit Beacon KB Swing

Meg E.
Cross Fit Beacon
Portland, ME

The movement is quick, explosive, short and stays within a relatively short range of motion; it is a hip-hinge movement, with minimal bend in the knee. The power of the swing is generated from the hips and glutes while the spine maintains a neutral position. At the height of the swing, the bell is at chest level (again, perpendicular to the chest) and your glutes are contracted, quads are engaged (pulling the knees up), torso/core is solid, tight and braced for impact. Your lats are engaged, pulling the shoulders back to support your posture and your neutral spine.

The Russian swing should be performed with rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing – filling your diaphragm with a deep breath on the down part of the swing and exhaling while bracing the core at the top of the swing. Oftentimes, you may hear someone performing this swing with a “tssss” sound, as you often exhale through the teeth at the top of the swing.



American Swing has the same basic mechanics as the Russian swing, only the bell is brought overhead on the swing up. You will likely see this lift performed in a Cross fit setting. In theory, the bell is “pushed” overhead; the momentum from the swing (glutes, quads and hamstrings) drives it up. In reality, most people who perform this lift, especially for heavier reps or when form starts to break down due to fatigue, use their chest, traps and deltoids to get the bell directly overhead; they lack the mobility to execute this movement safely, and shouldn’t do it.

One way to determine your mobility with respect to the American swing, is to lay flat on the ground, on your back, with your legs about shoulder width apart.


Note in the picture above that my pelvis is tilted and my lower back is not on the floor. This needs to be fixed in order to maintain a neutral spine. In order to do this,  roll your pelvis forward so your lower back is touching the ground; there should be no space between your lumbar vertebrae and the floor. Tuck your chin close to your chest, in order to minimize the arch in your neck and to straighten your spine- this will help the lumbar curve, too.

km swing 2 ground

Once you have your posture in a neutral position, put your hands together, straight out in front of you, as if you are holding a kettle bell at the height of a Russian swing. This should feel normal, comfortable and your posture should be nice and flat with minimal effort.

Now, raise your hands to overhead while maintaining the neck pack and your lower back to the ground. Can’t do it? You lack the mobility to execute this lift safely. It is quite likely that your lower back is now tilted (anterior tilt) and/or your head is tilted upward and you have dis-aligned your spine.

KM swing ground 4

At this point, it is your deltoids and traps that are bearing the load of this lift. Your shoulder joint is in an unnatural position. Add weight to this, and you will have injuries in your shoulders, chest and lats.

In short, the Russian swing is a safer movement. It is fast, explosive and moves within a relatively limited range of motion. This allows the swing to focus on the glutes with protecting the natural range of motion of the shoulders, neck and back. If you’re training for a Cross fit event and the standard is the American swing, you should practice laying on the ground and completing the exercise, above, in order to improve your mobility. If you’re training to be stronger, to lose fat, to increase overall athletic performance or you just want to look good in yoga pants, stick to the Russian.


Further reading: Check out THIS ARTICLE by Bret Contreras.

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