When I first fell in love with lifting weights, the gym was a simpler place. There were treadmills and ellipticals for cardio, barbells and dumbbells for people (mostly men) who wanted to build muscle, and resistance-training machines for people who wanted to do some lifting without devoting months to learning proper technique (and injuring themselves in the process).
Then, little by little, strange new tools started showing up in the weightroom.
BOSU balls and foam rollers catered to the functional fitness crowd. There were push sleds and strength bands for former high school athletes. And for those who wanted to blend strength training with conditioning, kettlebells offered a medieval-looking way to get strong.
There’s lots to love about kettlebells—especially if you train at home. But most kettlebell movements are dynamic and complicated. They take patience and proper instruction to learn. Even the simplest, most foundational kettlebell exercise, the swing, is butchered beyond recognition every time I’m at the gym.
Let’s fix that.
Because the kettlebell swing is a beautiful movement that helps generate power while honing your glutes. And it deserves better.
So to fix your ugly swing and help you make the most of this simple, effective exercise, here are five rookie swing mistakes that I see constantly.
You’re turning it into a squat
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This is the most serious issue with swings. Because it’s not just that squat-swingers get the swing wrong—it’s that they’re doing an entirely different exercise.
When you turn your swing in to a squat, you’re dropping your butt at the bottom of each rep instead of shooting it back. That’s not good.
The purpose of the swing is to generate force from the posterior chain (your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back), and you do this by hinging at your hips and then forcefully propelling them forward with each rep, not by dropping your butt down and then squatting it back up.
The cue to fix your “squat swing” is to focus on forcing the kettlebell forward with your hips through each rep. Imagine you’re doing a standing broad jump, not trying to jump high in the air.
You’re swinging too high
I blame this one on CrossFit. We have those crazy CrossFitters to thank for bringing kettlebells to the North American masses, but they mangled the simple kettlebell swing in the process.
Why? I think it’s because the CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman, was obsessed with making everything EXTREME. And that includes the range of motion of every exercise he embraced.
By raising the kettlebell high overhead at the end of every rep (instead of stopping at chest-height, which is the traditional Russian way), you’re moving a heavy object farther, thus doing more work. And doing more work is always good, right?
Not when your limited mobility in the overhead position forces you to overarch your back. That’s a dangerous, ineffective place to be.
When you’re swinging, you want a tight core, not a hyperextended spine.
That extra overhead emphasis is also the reason a lot of swingers turn this hip-hinge movement into a squat, because they’re thinking “up and down” instead of “back and forward.”
Your back is rounded
The overarched back from the overhead version of the swing is bad, but the rounded back (when your shoulders hunch forward and your spine curves) is even worse.
Squatting or deadlifting with a rounded back is a recipe for lower-back injury, and swinging is no different. You might be swinging with less weight, but the dynamic, explosive nature of the movement means you’ll be asking for trouble if you don’t keep your back flat and your core tight.
The simple cue to fix your rounded-back swing is to have a “proud chest.” Keep your shoulders back and stand like Superman at the top of every rep.
Be proud of how beautiful your swing is!
You’re using your arms instead of your glutes
One of the consequences of the “squat swing” is that swingers don’t generate enough power to propel the kettlebell forward (or up, in the unfortunate case of the squat swing), so they let their shoulders do the work.
If you want to work your front delts, that’s totally fine. Grab a weight plate, hold it like a steering wheel, and lift it to face-level with straight arms in a controlled motion. There’s no need to get the swing involved.
But if you find that your delts are doing more work than your glutes when you swing, here’s the fix: imagine that your arms are just straps. No muscles, no joints—just lifeless straps attaching the kettlebell to your shoulders.
Because if you’re swinging correctly—meaning you’re using your glutes to drive the bell forward—that’s really all your arms are doing. They’re “meat hooks.” And they shouldn’t be involved in the movement beyond gripping the kettlebell’s horn.
If you’re still having trouble removing your arms from the movement, grab a heavier kettlebell. Your posterior chain is far stronger than your front delts (unless you’re a meathead from the 80s who’s only ever done bench presses), so you’ll be forced to use your glutes to get the kettlebell moving.
You’re too darn slow!
Combine the dreaded “squat swing” with letting your arms do all the work, and you end up with a swing that’s not just ugly—it’s pointlessly slow.
Remember that this is supposed to be an explosive, athletic movement. You’re trying to generate force from your posterior chain, not work your delts through a set of slow reps.
That’s why the swing is better for performance and conditioning than it is for bodybuilding. (Though it can still be a great glute builder!)
My favourite cue for fixing a slow swing comes from legendary strength coach Dan John, who tells his athletes to “attack their zipper.” It sounds a little extreme, but he’s telling them to bring the bell back toward their hips forcefully with each rep. This helps push the hips back, and if you do it right, you’ll be far more likely to explode forward to initiate the next rep.
Hoping the kettlebell swing will help hone your booty? Find out how training with me can give you showstopping glutes!