JP Mullowney
JP Mullowney

If we, at JKC, have had the pleasure of having you as a client for any amount of time, it is likely you have been introduced to the kettlebell swing. As you are standing there, violently swing that bell, you may be wondering a couple of different things. What is the point of the swing anyway? Is this really doing anything for me? Where should I feel this? And likely many more. Well, I am happy to say that after this article, you will have all the answers to these questions and more!

First though, a brief history of the kettlebell itself. Interestingly, kettlebells actually date to 1700’s Russia where they were used by farmers for weighing crops. Then, around the turn of the 20th century, kettlebells became the tool of choice for Russian and European strongmen. From there, the kettlebell became the favourite tool of Russian Red Army for their gruelling exercise regimes (Tsatsouline, 2001). The usage of the kettlebell however, took much longer to catch on in North America. In fact, it was not until 2001 that they were really introduced to the North American masses by renowned Russian strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline. Tsatsouline, a former Special Forces trainer in Soviet Russia, first published his training manual “The Russian Kettlebell Challenge” that year, awakening the fitness community to this invaluable training tool.

KB swing vert 3The reason that the swing enjoys so much popularity with us at JKC is because of the host of benefits which it yields. First, the swing is the foundational exercise for most other kettlebell exercises which you may learn such as the clean, snatch or front squat (Lake & Lauder, 2012). Simply put, most other exercises which you may learn are based around the swing motion. Also, the kettlebell has been said to simultaneously develop both strength and flexibility of the shoulder and hip joints (Tsatsouline, 2001), a benefit not seen with traditional barbell or dumbbell exercises.

In addition to the firsthand accounts by those such as Tsatsouline, several, peer-reviewed research studies have noted the benefits of the kettlebell swing. For example, in a 2012 study, McGill and Marshall noted that the kettlebell swing resulted in rapid muscle activation-relaxation cycles substantially improving the ability of the user to generate muscular power, the ability of the muscles to generate force quickly. In a practical sense, this ability to quickly generate muscular force is the difference between slipping and catching yourself and slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk. Secondly, the authors credit the unique muscle activation patterns in the glutes and low back when swinging for self-reported restoration and enhancing of back health and function in those with previous low back injuries.

In another study, Lake and Lauder (2012) noted that proponents of the swing suggested that it simultaneously improves muscular strength, endurance, power and cardiorespiratory fitness. To investigate claims like these, Lake and Lauder (2012) designed a study which compared kettlebell training to traditional strength and power training. The results of their study clearly demonstrated the power of the kettlebell swing with the authors reporting average increases of 9.8% and 19.8% respectively for maximum muscular strength and explosive strength over a six week training program.

The bottom line: Kettlebell swings are great! Not only are they are the base move for more advanced techniques such as the clean, snatch and front squat but they have been anecdotally and scientifically shown to increase muscular strength, endurance, and power. In addition, the unique patterns of muscle activation which occur during the swing provide relief for those who experience pain during traditional back exercises. So next time you are standing there, swinging away, just remember that you are swinging for a purpose!

Prepared for the JKC blog by coach Thomas.

Photo credit: JP Mullowney & Mark Burnham Photography

References:

Lake, J.P., Lauder, M.A. (2012). Kettlebell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2228-2233.

McGill, S. M., Marshall, L.W. (2012). Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms up carry: Back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(1), 16-27.

Tsatsouline, P. (2001). The Russian Kettlebell Challenge: Xtreme Fitness for Hard Living Comrades. Little Canada, MN: Dragon Door Publications

I had spent a fair bit of time in gyms in my teens and twenties but I turned away from the gym to focus on activities that I enjoyed more. What keeps me at JKC is that I do really enjoy it. I always feel that I’ve accomplished something when I leave at the end of my workout. The environment is really positive and focused on challenging yourself whatever your level of comfort and fitness. I’ve also seen results that I’m really happy with; having someone who really knows what they’re talking about to guide your workouts makes them way more effective and focused than just “going to the gym”.

Shortly after I started at JKC, I sustained a fairly major injury that took me off my feet for several months. When I started to get back to activity, it was very difficult. Jon and Thomas worked hard to tailor my workouts to my goals and what I could do. With their help, I’ve been steadily building back strength and function.

I chose JKC originally to help prevent rowing injuries. I’m a rower and we won the St. John’s Regatta in 2019 but I rowed through a rib stress fracture and missed significant time in the boat during the racing season. Training at JKC consistently since the pandemic helped me stay injury free this year and made me the strongest I’ve ever felt, which helped me help my team win the 2021 St. John’s Regatta! Jon adds variety and mixes the exercises up well so that the workout goes by quickly and strength is gained. The gym is very personable and I like the eclectic mix of people that are there. JKC is much more intimate and personal than other gyms.

I’m 30 — started at JKC Aug 2016. I moved to NL to open lululemon and we chose Jon as one of our store’s ambassadors, did one workout and have raved about it ever since! The JKC team can adapt a workout no matter what the situation — injuries, new goals, you name it! The trust and expertise can’t be matched!

JKC was recommended to me by my good friend Casidhe Dyke. Cas had been training with JKC for a while, and both he and his father had seen great results from the personal training that Jon and Thomas were giving them. I was and still am primarily a triathlete and I’ve always struggled with injuries. I was talking to Cas about incorporating more strength training in my program to try and prevent injuries going forward and Cas suggested that I give JKC a try. I reached out to Jon not long after, and the rest is history! After working with Jon and Thomas for a few months, I was getting stronger, faster, and most importantly, I was staying injury-free. I ended up being able to train the whole season without significant injury and posted a personal best at Ironman Copenhagen in 2018. A big part of that was due to the strength training and coaching I received at JKC.

Not having much if any experience with professional gyms I though it would be along the lines of going to a facility and doing your own thing, getting some instructions from time to time, if you asked for it, and for most part working out on your own, in a large impersonalized setting. I was a bit apprehensive as I figured I’d be standing around a lot looking at all this equipment wondering what to do with it, or worst doing something to hurt myself. Well I couldn’t have been more wrong. Both Jon and Thomas are very attentive, professional trainers, who lay-out an exercise program, from start to finish, for you. They demonstrate the exercise they want you to do and then watch you do it to make sure you got it right. Jon and Thomas are very thorough, patience and non-assuming.

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