I got this great question yesterday from a reader:
(I always appreciate readers’ questions. Let’s me know
what’s on your mind. And for the most part, I answer
So feel free to send me yours – I’ll answer it. )
I’m a former HKC certified trainer and currently
the strength and conditioning coach for my local
high school. We’ve had our wrestlers working w/
kettlebells for three years or so now. There has
been a huge ‘Crossfit’ trend among our guys lately.
I’m fine with them looking for other avenues of
training but…..bear with me here…..the “American
swing”!!!! I share your emails and knowledge with
these guys with much respect. So……..you’ve never
touched on why we swing “Russian” and not the crossfit
“American” swing style. Could you give us some pros
and cons for each to educate the masses? – Tom Beckes
Hmmm… Pretty sure I not only touched on it but skewered
it a couple months ago.
But for those who missed it, I’d be happy to cover it
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the American
It’s a fine exercise *IF* you can do it correctly.
In fact, before it was known as the American Swing
it was just the Swing – as published in Pavel’s original
“Russian Kettlebell Challenge” book.
(So maybe we should really call it the “Russian
Swing” since most Americans can’t do it correctly?
More on that in a minute…)
My very first set of Swings were done that way with
a 32kg for 20 reps –
Sucked all the air out of my lungs, left me gasping
for breath and started my KB journey over 10 years
So, is it really bad for you?
Well, it certainly can be for most Americans.
Let me tell you why *we* no longer teach people to
(*We* = Most of the people strongly affiliated or
associate with Pavel.)
See, when that bell passes chest height (parallel
to the ground) most people’s lats become disengaged.
The lats are lower back stabilizers and when that
KB goes up over head, the lumbar spine can be put
at risk – and here’s the fun part –
ESPECIALLY if you have poor shoulder mobility /
flexibility / stability.
Because you have a narrow grip (we’re talking 2H
Swings here) it’s harder than snot – technical term –
to get your shoulders overhead without –
1. Leaning back from the lumbar spine.
This causes compressive and shearing forces on your
discs. Not real healthy, Cletus…
2. Disengagement of the abs.
As you lean back, it’s very hard to keep your abs
compressed cause you have to open your ribcage
to get the bell overhead.
(Unless of course you have the prerequisite shoulder
And finally –
3. The shoulders.
As your arms go overhead, the shoulder blades tend
to elevate and protract – which of course they’re
designed to do.
But at the top of the American Swing, the upper arms
are internally rotated.
Combine this with shoulder blades that are elevated
and protracted and you have a potential shoulder
(Again, not to mention lower back disaster.)
Cause you’re banging one of the rotator cuff tendons
(the supraspinatus) against the bony structures that
(It can also get pinched off between the bony structures
cause in most people, that gap where the tendon
inserts is only 2mm – not very much space, is it?)
The upper arm is no longer “anchored” by the lat and
the shoulder is no longer “packed” – or centered in
So yeah, I’d say that for 99% of people doing Swings,
the American version is a bad idea.
And that’s of course why *we* changed it.
(*We* = Pavel.)
Cause most Americans / Westerners have poor shoulder
mechanics, poor hip mobility, and hypermobile lower
(Not to mention soft, squishy abs.)
So the way Pavel did the Swings in the Motherland
weren’t fit for us soft Americans. (Or any of us hard
charging, heavy bench-pressing Americans…)
So Who Should Do American Swings?
You have to have great hip mobility…
… great ab strength…
… great body awareness…
… and great shoulder health.
What Should YOU Do?
Just practice your Swings so they’re parallel to the
ground and keep those shoulders packed and safe.
(Notice I said “practice?”)
Here’s a great program that allows you to do just
that. It’s called “Swing Season” and it’s found inside
It doesn’t take long to practice – only about an hour
And the best part about it is you’ll get in better shape
doing it – stronger, leaner, and definitely better
(The whole program lasts 60 days, plus there’s another
4 months if you do “Swing Season 2″ and “Swing
In the mean time, I’m off to teach a “Becoming Bulletproof”
seminar in Atlanta with my good buddy, Tim Anderson.
Lots of good shoulder and hip stuff in there too.
Have a great weekend.
P.S. Don’t forget to let your KB “float” up. Your Swing
should be crisp and look almost effortless – not some
ugly shoulder front raise and squat combo.
Use your hips to drive and let your arms guide…
P.P.S. I just realized I haven’t been publishing a
“Becoming Bulletproof” workshop schedule. We’ve got
more than a few booked for this year.
The next one is March 2nd.
Go here to learn more about it: