The 2 Most Common Errors in Kettlebell Swing Set-up

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”—John Wooden

There is an old proverb about the devil being in the details. I usually tell my students that not only is the devil in the details, but the benefits are usually in there, as well. The line to walk is to not get lost in the minutiae (majoring in the minors, as discussed in another article), while also not missing the little details. Because, as Mr. Wooden said, “Little things make big things happen.”

How Do You Set Up for the Swing?

…or the clean or any other kettlebell ballistic? This is the little detail I would like to focus on for this article. The swing begins when you address the kettlebell. (“Well, hello, Mister/Miss Kettlebell” is not what I am referring to, by the way.) Just like the set-up for any skill, the set-up for the swing is critical. Before the hike, we need to be in proper position for the hike.

In my article The Perfect Kettlebell Swing: Is There Such a Thing? I broke down the “blueprint” for the swing. The hinge position is detailed, along with other essential aspects. But as Fabio Zonin instructs, “Your first rep is not your first rep. Your set-up is your first rep,” and, “Your last rep is not your last rep. Your set-down is your last rep.” So, with that in mind, the set-up for the swing should be prioritized and the set or rep should end in that same set-up position.

The 2 Most Common Errors in Kettlebell Swing Set-up

The 2 Most Common Errors in Kettlebell Swing Set-up

The errors I see students making most often in setting up for the swing are:

  1. Standing too far away from the kettlebell
  2. Reaching for the kettlebell first

These two errors feed off one another and can create a less-than-ideal setting for the hike to begin a swing. By standing too far away from the kettlebell, the student will likely have to over-extend the arms and body. By reaching for the kettlebell first, the student will be forced to “find” his or her hinge with the arms and upper body already in an extended position increasing the chance for the lower back to be loaded first.

The purpose of the hike in the swing is to connect the lats into the swing as soon as possible, not to create an exaggerated “loading.” A proper hike allows the first rep to have the benefit of the lat connection for the stability of the lower back and power production. Without the connection of the lats making the body more of “one unit” (lats become thoracolumbar fascia become glutes, etc.) the lower back may be inappropriately loaded and you cannot be as powerful.

A Demonstration of Proper Swing Set-up

Begin standing about a foot behind the kettlebell, and instead of reaching for the kettlebell first, you should find your hinge first. Sit into your ideal hinge position, then reach for the kettlebell without losing the ideal hinge. (The kettlebell may tilt toward you slightly.)

Then, begin the rep by hiking the kettlebell so the upper arms connect to the ribs (activating the lats during the hike) and the forearm(s) connect with the upper inner thighs. This is the “trigger” for the hip extension of the swing.

At the completion of the desired number of repetitions, you should sit into the ideal hip hinge allowing the kettlebell to come back fully to the loaded eccentric position. The loaded eccentric position is where you “catch and redirect” the kettlebell at the bottom of the hip hinge/swing and is a unique benefit of kettlebell ballistic drills. While you are still holding the ideal hinge position, the kettlebell can be allowed to swing back to the ground where the rep/set began.

Please note that breathing is also coordinated into this sequence by sniffing air into the “tight” midsection before you hike the kettlebell.

Kettlebell Swing Set-up

Precision in Every Rep

Precision is one of the three pillars of rational training discussed in another article. Fabio’s advice highlighting the precision in beginning and ending a set is an embodiment of this pillar. We need to be present during every rep. Every rep (even the start and finish reps) should have their moment of emphasis.

“Do not think of performing one set of ten repetitions, but rather think of performing ten sets of one repetition.”—Me

This attention to detail in setting up for the swing and finishing the swing will allow you to begin and end each set powerfully and safely.

Brett Jones
Brett Jones is StrongFirst’s Director of Education. He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching—e-mail him for more info.

Brett is the author of Iron Cardio.

Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones.
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7 thoughts on “The 2 Most Common Errors in Kettlebell Swing Set-up

  • So true!
    Also, I have noticed that hip positioning is a BIG problem for many people when setting up. They are all usually able to hinge easy when tought properly with many reps and drills. But the feeling of height of the hips (compared to knees and shoulders) confuses them when there is a KB handle to hold on. When I tell them to feel the weight a bit more on the heels or to pack their shoulders and squeese the lats they usually sit down into a squat (orclose to it)… And when I try to tell them that is too low and to lift the hips a bit up they usually lose the tension in the upper back and lean towards the toes. So, I have a big problem :)…
    I have noticed that also happens with students that are introduced with the swing (and kettlebels in general) for months or even longer…
    Anny suggestions or tips?

    Thank you very much for all the great info and cues!

  • Your concern is to stay in quality is excellent, it will help me a lot to improve my technique to re-address to my students. Thank you Brett!

  • Great article, thank you! Your one-minute video is the perfect visual demonstration of the points you make in the article. Fantastic.

  • Brett, you are consistently helpful. Thanks for helping us get the most out of training while being as safe as possible.

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