What to Do With Your Free Hand During a One-arm Swing

It is one of the enduring questions of inquiring minds. What do I do with my free hand during a one-arm swing? (That, and if you are doing nothing, how do you know when you are done? But I digress.)

While the activities of your free hand may not seem to be a matter of much consequence, it is worth considering. The free hand can pull you off course during a swing, its behavior can indicate form issues, or its movement can shift the emphasis of the swing. So let’s look at where the free hand can go, where it shouldn’t go, and what the benefits of the different options may be.

Free Hand in One-Arm Swing

Moving From the Two- to One-Arm Swing

Talking about what to do with your free hand means you have progressed to the one-arm swing from a good two-arm swing. The squared-off shoulders of the two-arm swing are still a requirement during the one-arm version, so establishing that base is important. Note: Once you move up to swinging a heavy enough kettlebell, the shoulders will appear “off center,” but this is not an actual twisting with the kettlebell.

Once you begin practicing the one-arm swing, then the issue of what to do with the free hand promptly arises. There are a few options:


  • Tap the handle
  • Mimic
  • Guard
  • Behind the back
  • To the side


  • Excessive swing
  • Hand on the thigh

Acceptable Options for the Free Hand in the One-Arm Swing


1. Tap the Handle

This option is just like it sounds. You will tap the outside of the handle with the palm of your free hand at the top of the swing. This has the benefit of demonstrating the shoulders are squared off at the top of the swing. If your swinging arm has disconnected forward, then you will miss the side of the handle when you go to touch it with the palm of the free hand.

2. Mimic

With this option, you simply allow the free arm to be a mimic of the arm swinging the kettlebell. The free arm may not travel the same size arc as the swinging arm, but it should approximate the path. This option encourages an efficient flow during the swing, but should not twist the shoulders off of square.

3. Guard

The guard position means bringing the free hand up beside the face with that arm staying close to or connected to the ribs. This looks similar to a boxer protecting his or her face. This option can enforce having square shoulders and seems to recruit the “middle” more during the swing. It can be combined with tapping the side of the handle.

4. Behind the Back

By placing the free hand comfortably across the curve of the lower back, you should be able to feel:

  • If there is a loss of the lumbar curve
  • If there is any twisting during the swing

This places a fairly significant restriction on the positioning of the body during the swing and should only be used if you can comfortably get the free hand across the lower back. If you experience any discomfort or shoulder pain, then this isn’t an option for you.

5. To the Side

The free hand is simply held out to the side.

Unacceptable Options

1. Excessive Swing

When the mimicking of the swinging arm becomes an exaggerated swing that twists the shoulders and body, then we have lost the benefit of feeling efficient flow and crossed the line into making the free arm a “driving force” in the swing. This can introduce a torque and torsion into the swing that we do not want.

2. Hand on the Thigh

By placing the free hand on the same-side thigh during the downswing a breaking action and rotational force are introduced into the swing (and potentially the clean and snatch). This can be an indication of the kettlebell being too heavy or of a lack of confidence in the stability of the back.

Deciding Which Option Is for You

Experiment with the options for where to place the free hand and avoid the unacceptable options. You may find a new favorite or at least find ways to encourage being more squared off during the swing or having more flow during the swing.

The one-arm swing can progress to the hand-to-hand swing, where the hand holding the kettlebell is switched during the float at the top of the swing. Here being squared off and having your arm stay connected while swinging the kettlebell is essential. For a successful transition to hand-to-hand swings, practice the options for the free hand before progressing—especially tapping the side of the handle.

The best way to make sure you are using proper technique, no matter which version of the one-hand swing you choose, is to spend some time training with an SFG in your area. They can provide invaluable assistance on the swing, as well as any other form of tune-ups you may need.

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 “What to Do With Your Free Hand During a One-arm Swing

  • Perfect, quick, sound advice Brett, I had fallen into the habit of swinging the freehand and thinking that a more excessive swing of that arm would be beneficial because, well, it feels kind of good because it adds momentum. Thanks for setting me back in line.

  • It seems as thought you are bending too deeply at the hip – butt goes higher in the air (which places an excessive strain on lower back) rather than going into a squat, dropping the butt down while keeping the torso more upright. Would you tell someone to pick up a heavy box using your form? I prefer keeping the torso more upright. Good prompts on the free arm, though.

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