Swing form check (for neck pain)

4-bit

Level 5 Valued Member
About one month ago, I posted the following thread to ask about advice for my persistent neck tension (+pain) that often follows my KB workout sessions.

I got some great advice in the thread that I'd like to try out, but I wanted to post a video of my swings before I start experimenting (the reason why it took me 1 month before I created this video is that I have avoided swings completely because of those neck issues)

It feels a bit awkward to post a video like this here, because I'm able to see so many mistakes in my form, but I'd be so grateful if you could give me some feedback.
  • Am I doing any obvious consistent mistakes that you think could cause neck issues (or any other pain)?
  • Do I ever come close to doing a decent swing? I personally think that some of the last swings in the video come quite close, but I still feel like a total beginner.
  • Any advice on how I can improve? :)
20_kg_swings_neck.mp4
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
All in all not bad. You could maybe be pushing your hips back more at the bottom. Also is tough to tell because of your shirt but you might be rounding your back at the bottom - probably just the clothing making it look that way.

Stand straight up and hold your arms out like you're checking the sleeve length on a jacket. Maybe take a quick pic of this for your own reference. Then compare to your neck and head positioning at the top of the swing. Your head is craned forward relative to your shoulders (a very common misalignment for swings) and I believe this is what is causing your neck issues.

Tough to say but it almost looks like you might be hauling a bit with the traps just as you are coming up from the bottom hike - over time this is going to cause problems too - if that is what's happening.

I'd say you're doing more right than wrong overall, aligning your head more neutrally over your shoulders should help. If you do another video try to get all the way to the feet.
 

Bret S.

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
About one month ago, I posted the following thread to ask about advice for my persistent neck tension (+pain) that often follows my KB workout sessions.

I got some great advice in the thread that I'd like to try out, but I wanted to post a video of my swings before I start experimenting (the reason why it took me 1 month before I created this video is that I have avoided swings completely because of those neck issues)

It feels a bit awkward to post a video like this here, because I'm able to see so many mistakes in my form, but I'd be so grateful if you could give me some feedback.
  • Am I doing any obvious consistent mistakes that you think could cause neck issues (or any other pain)?
  • Do I ever come close to doing a decent swing? I personally think that some of the last swings in the video come quite close, but I still feel like a total beginner.
  • Any advice on how I can improve? :)
20_kg_swings_neck.mp4
Looking at the video in slow settings I would say a couple of things. First what @North Coast Miller said about craning the neck is true, that coupled with near hyper-extension of the lower back simultaneously at the beginning of the plank position at the top of the movement. It looks like your elbows are pointing more to the sides at the top of the swing which I believe is from trying to help the bell inertia after the launch from the hips, this is unnecessary. Try keeping the elbows more neutral at the top as in pointing down at maybe a 45 degree angle or so. Doing this should loosen up your traps, enable you to clamp the lats down tighter and relax the neck forward pressure your probably feeling as you try to plank, right now your near a 'hollow position' rather than a tall plank at the top.
Don't despair as you look good and strong, just a few minor tweaks and you'll be happily swinging with a pain free neck. Also try to provide a full head to toe video with your form revisions. There are probably some lower position tweaks needed.. One thing at a time though and right now the neck thing is the #1 priority.
 

rickyw

Level 7 Valued Member
Like others said, it looks like you have forward head posture to begin with so when you swing you are going from lower cervical flexion at the top of the swing to extension instead of from neutral to some extension. Don’t let the chin jut forward at the top.
 
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Keep Lifting

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
definitely more good than bad - one thing i'm seeing is that you seem to hold a lot of tension in your face - one thing i do at every set up, before hiking back in swings, snatches, cleans, is to assume my starting position and then give my head an easy shake and exhale, to loosen my face and neck and make sure that my head is relaxed. you are performing an aggressive movement, but even when we get aggressive with our lifts we have to be conscious of un-necessary tension - at the top of your swing, where we should see a float of the bell and a general easiness of the head, neck shoulder and arms, in a plank, before guiding the bell back into the groin before pushing the hips back, you still look tense, part of which is due to your torso leaning back at the top, part could also be not engaging you abbies, but mostly you look angry and not relaxed. I think back to Franco Columbu, stating that he always wanted to maintain a very relaxed look at the top of his lifts, that partial exhale and release of head and neck tension at the top of the squat, deadlift, swing, clean, snatch resets your mind for the next rep and will benefit you greatly when you get into high rep swing workouts. watch some videos of competitive kb athletes, i recognize it's a different style and you are performing a hardstyle swing - but look at their faces, the best stay relaxed. good luck!
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Good feedback and suggestions above.

I'll add: Practice building tension in your body while keeping tension out of your face and neck. I have to focus on this myself because I definitely have a tendency to have too much tension in the upper traps and neck.

Most people don't need this in-depth of a focus to eliminate the tension, but for you and others who do, it may help.

This is what I have students do when I teach tension in the standing plank and the hinge (usually as part of teaching the kettlebell deadlift, prior to swings), and then to swings:
  1. Stand tall with good posture; crown of the head reaching up, ears above shoulders, proud chest, neutral pelvis, natural stance.
  2. Start to build tesion from the ground up: Corkscrew the feet into the floor with a slightly outward turn, pull up on the kneecaps (tight quads), squeeze the glutes and try to widen the hip bones in front, brace the abs like someone is about to punch you, pack your shoulders by anti-shrugging hard and squeezing your armpits, and make fists with your hands. Maximize the tension. At the same time, keep your neck and face relaxed. Smile... (really!). (Note: This is all basically paraphrased from the book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister).
  3. Hold the tension for 5 seconds or so, then shake it out and relax. Practice a few times.
  4. Now move to a hinge position with your hands between your legs as if you're in the backswing with a kettlebell. Tense all the same things -- feet, quads, glutes, abs, shoulders -- and in this position your hamstrings will also feel tension. Here also, keep your neck and face relaxed, though your neck will have enough tension to maintain it in line with your spine as you're bent foward in the hinge.
  5. Hold the tension here for 5 seconds or so, then shake it out and relax. Practice this a few times.
  6. Now practice moving back and forth between these two positions. Pay attention to the tension in your body and the lack of tension in your neck and face.
  7. Speed it up so that you're moving at the cadence of the swing.
  8. Now add the kettlebell and do your sets of swings. Pay attention to the tension in your body and the lack of tension in your neck and face. You don't have to maximize the tension in the hinge and the standing plank, but it's a good thing to strive for max tension, and then learn to dial it back to the necessary amount for the weight that you're swinging (the volume knob referenced in S&S).
As you practice over time you'll find that you're more able to localize the tension where you want it and keep it away from where you don't.
 

Smile-n-Nod

Level 5 Valued Member
  1. Start to build tesion from the ground up: Corkscrew the feet into the floor with a slightly outward turn, pull up on the kneecaps (tight quads), squeeze the glutes and try to widen the hip bones in front, brace the abs like someone is about to punch you, pack your shoulders by anti-shrugging hard and squeezing your armpits, and make fists with your hands. Maximize the tension. At the same time, keep your neck and face relaxed. Smile... (really!). (Note: This is all basically paraphrased from the book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister).
I'm learning to do this with my swings, and am finding that it adds a whole new dimension to them (meaning, in part, that I'm much more tired afterwards).

What is the reason for all of this tension? Is it done just to add some full-body isometric tension at the top of the swing, or are there other reasons?
 
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Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
What is the person for all of this tension? Is it done just to add some full-body isometric tension at the top of the swing, or are there other reasons?
As Master SFG Jason Marshall told us at the barbell course (applies to kettlebell and bodyweight also), "Strength is tension. Tension is strength."

Or to use another backwards-forwards phrase, it lets you be the boss of the kettlebell, instead of letting the kettlebell be the boss of you.

Plus, safety. You want your muscles to bear the load, and to to this they must be tense. When you lose tension, what is left to hold the weight? Joints, ligaments, other things that aren't going to take kindly to it.

So many reasons! Those are just a few.
 
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crazycanuck

Level 8 Valued Member
Everyone has made such good points up above, and they are right, you have good things going about your swings. We all need to tweak them, even people who have done swings for years still find little things to work on or have "off" reps. And don't feel shy to post video....it's a very friendly bunch on the forums here who are very helpful.

For the standing tall part and the tall plank/neck craning forward, one tip I have found helpful for myself personally is to assume the position you would at the top of a swing, with no bell used, arms out as if the bell was in hand. Lock down your lats and drop your traps and have a nice tall neck, chin up ever so slightly, neck not cranked back. Notice where your eyes naturally go. If you have a dedicated area you practice in, you can put some colored tape on the wall on that spot. At the top of the swing, look there, with a tall upper body, face and eyes forward, not with chin lowered and up from under your brow.

Hope that helps, and welcome here!
 

4-bit

Level 5 Valued Member
Wow, thanks for the great feedback, this is extremely helpful. I've written down all your comments and will address each of the points you've mentioned during the weekend. Hopefully, I'll be able to film an improved video in the beginning of next week.

I had no idea that I was swinging with so much facial tension! I often record myself when working out, but I never watched it fullscreen, so I was completely unaware.

(The depth of the movements in Kb training never cease to amaze me. You start out wanting to improve fitness/strength/endurance/whatever and you end up fixing your posture, breathing, and self-awareness as a side-effect).
 

4-bit

Level 5 Valued Member
@Anna C I'm practicing the tension techniques that you mentioned, and just wanted to check: Is the slight "outwards corkscrewing" of the feet something that should be incorporated into the real weighted swings, or is it just a cue to activate tension in the legs?
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Great question. I've had it taught to me by StrongFirst instructors, but not all teach this, and it's not in my SFG manual or S&S. I'd say keep it if it works for you. The main thing is you want your feet to be planted and well connected to the floor. Some say grab the floor with your feet, or "grip the ground with your toes" (SFG). I like to practice the slightly outward corkscrew because it engages more muscles in my legs and helps give me more power in the swing, especially moving from hinge to plank. It can also help the goblet squat. It's similar to the corkscrew we often use with the hands on the floor in a get-up or push-up to help connect the arm to the torso through the shoulder. As far as the feet though, you do want your knees tracking your toes as you hinge, so don't focus on it too much for that part of the movement.
 

Fyreman

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Referring to Anna...Think the root of the tree or foundation of the house grasshopper. Without them the tree and house are weak. Respect to all, Fyreman
 

Bret S.

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
@4-bit to further confuse and overwhelm you with details.. another thing that helps stabilize me, especially during heavy swings is pressing the big toe into the floor. It gets rid of any rocking back and forth sensation (for me).
 

4-bit

Level 5 Valued Member
Again, thank you SO much for your great feedback. I've been working on the cues/exercises you mentioned quite obsessively the past two weeks, but without adding weights. Now I'm trying to transfer the movements into my real weighted kb swings. I'd be more than grateful if you could check the new video at the bottom of this post and see if there are any other form issues that may cause neck (or back) pain. Any other feedback is also appreciated of course :)

@North Coast Miller Wow, you're right, I've now realized that I've been doing heavy hauling with my neck when doing the swings. When I manage to "turn off my neck" and only swing with my hips, the kettlebell almost feels weightless.

@Bret S. The cues with the 45 degree angle with the arms to activate the lats became an aha-moment for me - I've read a lot about how the lats should fire during the swings but I never managed to "get it" before I isolated the movement. Do I still have the tendency to "help the bell inertia" as you mentioned in your previous post?

@Keep Lifting @Anna C I think I've had a lot of success eliminating facial tension/neck tension when doing unweighted swings. But I still find it hard to do the rapid exhalation at the top of the swing without tensing up. That needs more work. The tension building exercise that @Anna C mentioned is absolutely awesome, I've also been trying to transfer the tension in my neck down to my lats and upper back. Are there any risks of using such a cue?

@crazycanuck The cue you mentioned has been very useful to align my chin at the top. It's quite surprising to realize how far away from the "tall plank" my top position has been.


The video:

20kg_swing_2week_follow_up.mp4
 

Bret S.

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
@4-bit You've improved a bunch, good work! Maybe try the nose exhale all the way through to see if it helps you relax the neck a bit. If the neck pain is gone then you're on the right track. Keep going and get more swing practice in as long as it doesn't bother you.
Whatever you did for the first three reps I like, it's more nose breathing and relaxed, after that you seem to progressively tense up and start with the more vocal grunt, the cadence goes from relaxed confidence to a faster almost frantic, tense pace and from there the tension just escalates. Review the video closely and you can pick it up.
Looking good!
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
I agree, great improvements. You're a good student. :) Keep swinging heavier, and relax just a bit, you're definitely on the right track.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
If your neck feels healthy, you're on the right track.

Swing form looks good - I always say "go a little deeper and push the hips back further" but I'd say that watching a video of my own form.

You're on the right track, as long as the neck pain is on the wane.
 

Abdul-Rasheed

Level 6 Valued Member
Good feedback and suggestions above.

I'll add: Practice building tension in your body while keeping tension out of your face and neck. I have to focus on this myself because I definitely have a tendency to have too much tension in the upper traps and neck.

Most people don't need this in-depth of a focus to eliminate the tension, but for you and others who do, it may help.

This is what I have students do when I teach tension in the standing plank and the hinge (usually as part of teaching the kettlebell deadlift, prior to swings), and then to swings:
  1. Stand tall with good posture; crown of the head reaching up, ears above shoulders, proud chest, neutral pelvis, natural stance.
  2. Start to build tesion from the ground up: Corkscrew the feet into the floor with a slightly outward turn, pull up on the kneecaps (tight quads), squeeze the glutes and try to widen the hip bones in front, brace the abs like someone is about to punch you, pack your shoulders by anti-shrugging hard and squeezing your armpits, and make fists with your hands. Maximize the tension. At the same time, keep your neck and face relaxed. Smile... (really!). (Note: This is all basically paraphrased from the book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister).
  3. Hold the tension for 5 seconds or so, then shake it out and relax. Practice a few times.
  4. Now move to a hinge position with your hands between your legs as if you're in the backswing with a kettlebell. Tense all the same things -- feet, quads, glutes, abs, shoulders -- and in this position your hamstrings will also feel tension. Here also, keep your neck and face relaxed, though your neck will have enough tension to maintain it in line with your spine as you're bent foward in the hinge.
  5. Hold the tension here for 5 seconds or so, then shake it out and relax. Practice this a few times.
  6. Now practice moving back and forth between these two positions. Pay attention to the tension in your body and the lack of tension in your neck and face.
  7. Speed it up so that you're moving at the cadence of the swing.
  8. Now add the kettlebell and do your sets of swings. Pay attention to the tension in your body and the lack of tension in your neck and face. You don't have to maximize the tension in the hinge and the standing plank, but it's a good thing to strive for max tension, and then learn to dial it back to the necessary amount for the weight that you're swinging (the volume knob referenced in S&S).
As you practice over time you'll find that you're more able to localize the tension where you want it and keep it away from where you don't.
Great practice drill mentioned here. I have been away from KBs a bit and started swinging lately again.

I have a question here. So it seems that we need tension (or max tension) at the top of the swing (plank) and at the bottom of the swing. Do we not relax the tension at any point during the swing? Perhaps, in-between? If we do, at what point? I am thinking of Pavel's karate kiyaah analogy. The yin/yang in the swing? (I am writing from memory, paraphrasing it, hence there could be mistakes here).

Thanks.
 
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