all posts post new thread

Kettlebell Returning to the swing (Prerequisites)

Closed Thread. (Continue Discussion of This Topic by Starting a New Thread.)


Level 4 Valued Member
I'll start with the crux of my question and add a detailed background later to save folks some time.

Question: Other than range of motion and clearance from a doctor, what benchmarks would you want someone to be able to meet before they return to swinging after a back injury?

I'm currently working with a good physical therapist (after 5 years of looking for a doctor/chiropractor/physical therapist that could identify the cause and appropriate rehab for my back issues --Pinched Femoral Nerve with radiating pain/numbness and localized pain in lumbar spine and hip).

I'm a 38 year-old former college athlete and competitive weightlifter. I am out of shape, weigh 270, but have good mobility and reasonable baseline strength. I don't have any other major issues, although my thoracic mobility leaves something to be desired and a contributing factor to my back/nerve issue is overactive lats/underactive diaphram (which is part of the focus of my PT). I'm currently rebuilding my deadlift under the close watchful eye of my physical therapist using elevated deadlifts (and several other hinge variations like one arm/one leg KB DL's and Suitcase DL's), and plan to introduce swings when its appropriate. I realize that eventually, I'll just have to start swinging to see whether swings hurt or help my back, but before then, I'd like to plan out some benchmarks to hit before I try them.

Some notes: I won't do any swinging until my PT gives me the green light. I will share with her the benchmarks I'm aiming at in order to talk through any potential contraindications. My PT and I have discussed it and she's open to swinging and wants me to have a major say in when I feel ready for them, so I'm trying to put together a plan for her to review.

So far, I think it makes sense to have a minimum dead lift # and maybe a minimum plank or side plank duration. I like the idea of being able to pull 400lbs off the ground with perfect technique before I start ( I was closer to 600lbs before my injury). That puts me to pretty close to a 1.5 x body weight dead lift before swinging. Are there any other obvious (or not so obvious) benchmarks? For example, 30 second plank duration, or 10 perfect push ups?

Generally, I don't like the idea of starting with anything under a 24kg bell, since I'm likely to want to use more arms with that (which is another reason I want the DL to be pretty high before starting to swing). Also, I'll start with pretty short sets of swings (4 or less maybe).

Thanks for your time and info.
@maurice197, welcome to the StrongFirst forum.

It sounds to me like you're getting good guidance from your PT. While I wouldn't hurry things, but neither would I wait until you have a 400 lbs. deadlift to start kettlebell swings.

In your place, I would follow your PT's advice, but I would add an important secondary focus on, if this is an issue, improving body composition (and it's usually an issue if someone weighs 270 but not always).

To be more specific, you need a solid deadlift with a kettlebell from the ground of some reasonable weight, e.g., at your size, a 32-48 kg bell. That accomplished, you can put a pair of 25 lbs. bumpers on a bar (same diameter as standard 45's) and start deadlifting a bar if you wish.

As to what weight you start swings with, start light and allow an instructor to tell you if you're using your arms or not, and also when to go up in weight.

Last but not least, I will posit that for most people with lower back issues, hip mobility and hamstring mobility are at least as important, if not more important, than thoracic spine mobility.

Thanks Steve! Are you calling me fat? ROFL I definitely have some room to improve my body composition and I'm working on it. Oddly, my hips and hamstrings are very mobile.

My issue seems to stem from excess mobility in my lower back and excess rigidity in my T-spine. This means that all my spinal movement comes at the base instead of evenly throughout my back. My goal is to be as sure as possible that i can keep a stable lumbar during swings to manage the shearing forces on it...that's why I was aiming for such a relatively high DL number, since I know the DL puts more compressive force on the spine and the swing puts more shear force.

Thanks again for your input and time!
Where are you located? and does your PT use the FMS?
Clearing the FMS would be a good first step IMO
Thanks Brett. I'm in Massachusetts and my PT does use the FMS (which I actually have passing scores on). Once I'm done w/ PT, there are a couple of great SFG trainers near me that I will reach out to also.

Other than being fat and out of shape, the only limiting factors I seem to exhibit/experience is not being able to tolerate torque or sheering forces on my lumbar spine.
Prerequisites for the swing (IMO):
No pain -> FMS score of at least 2 in all tests -> demonstrate the ability to do a proper plank -> demonstrate the ability to do a solid (KB) deadlift -> swing
Prerequisites for the swing (IMO):
No pain -> FMS score of at least 2 in all tests -> demonstrate the ability to do a proper plank -> demonstrate the ability to do a solid (KB) deadlift -> swing

Thanks! What weight ratio do you usually start people with on the swing vs the dead lift? For example, if someone came in and could properly dead lift a 60kg bell x5, would you use the 24kg for the swing...and similarly, if another person could properly DL a 30kg bell x5, would that person start at 12kg?

Sorry if this is getting too my current state I'm doing way too much thinking relative to working out.

Thanks again everyone.
Thanks! What weight ratio do you usually start people with on the swing vs the dead lift?
That's probably a better question for experienced instructors like @Brett Jones .

I just taught the swing to a couple of people and most of them have been properly barbell deadlifting prior to this, so I could start with the swing.
The only other people were my parents. I had my mother DL the 12 and later the 16 and my father used the 24.
When we ventured into swings I used a 8 for mother and a 12 for my father. The 12 for my father was quickly replaced by a 16. I probably could have started with a 12 for my mum and a 16 for my dad, but they are my parents, so better safe than sorry :)
For the others I used either the 16 or 24 and those are guys that DL in the 1.5-3x bodyweight range.
IMO most guys should start with a 16. You can always increase the weight if it feels too light, but practice the movement first -> build a strong foundation.

The KB DL weight shouldn't feel heavy IMO. Most adult males shouldn't have a problem DLing the 48 or even heavier.
It's about practicing the hinge and deeply integrating it into your brain while using a bit of weight. So a 24 or 32 are enough.
What I want to see (and that's exactly how I did it with my parents) is you DLing without thinking about it.
We can have a conversation and during the conversation I ask you to bring me a KB. That's when I look how you pick it up, because if you do it right then (without thinking about it) then you can definitely do it in other situations aswell.
Closed Thread. (Continue Discussion of This Topic by Starting a New Thread.)
Top Bottom