Why the Swing is King

Master RKC mark Riefkind has been famously quoted as saying that the “swing is the centre of the RKC universe” and that the swing “is applicable to 99% of our clients 99% of the time”.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why:

It strengthens the posterior chain – this is a fancy way of saying that the muscles it strengthen are important for posture, athleticism and force production.

It can be used for both  strength and fitness– one of the main benefits of kettlebells, is the simultaneous combination of strength and conditioning that we can get from them. The swing can be trained for heavy for low reps and strength (try swinging double 40s and see if you need to be strong for that) or light and for high reps (try 10 sets of 20 one handed swings with a 24kg to see what kind of cardio workout you get).

It is possibly the single greatest fat burning exercise on the planet – the swing is one of the central exercises in author Tim Ferriss’s outstanding new book “The 4 hour body”. He speaks of how as little as 100 swings each morning gave him massive changes in body composition and he also shares Tracy Riefkind’s amazing fat loss transformation of over 100lbs that all centred around her twice weekly, 20 minute swing workouts.

With no natural resting point possible the swing becomes cyclic in the same manner as running, swimming, riding, etc. The benefit it has over these bodyweight exercises is that the kettlebell can be used to add resistance once adaptation has taken place. Normal aerobic training typically sees fat loss stall after a period of early loss due to the body’s ability to quickly become efficient at an exercise.

However, unlike normal unweighted forms of cardio, the addition of resistance allows the body to undergo additional beneficial adaptations. Normal aerobic training only sees the heart change in volume, allowing more blood to enter the left ventricle. This allows a lower heart rate, which is useful. But, the heart itself doesn’t increase in strength to pump this blood effectively around the heart. However, when undergoing weighted activity the heart does undergo this adaptation (the only other exercise to see both of these adaptations take place is rowing). A bigger, stronger heart is a very beneficial effect of exercise and one we should all be aiming for as it lowers heart rate and blood pressure and increases blood oxygenation.

Further more the swing does not allow you to coast. On a bike you can slow down, when you swim you have to push off the wall and can glide. But in the swing there is no coasting possible – you have to work for every single rep. Even the kettlebell snatch, which is largely seen as the best all around kettlebell conditioning exercise, has a natural resting point at the top of the movement. The swing does not – it is all work, all the time.

I have worn a heart rate monitor during interval swing sessions and have seen in excess of 900 calories burned during a 40 minute workout. To put that in perspective, running is around 700 cals/ hour. However, due to the anaerobic nature of the swing, having used added resistance, the afterburn of calorie burning is much greater than after aerobic training. Once you finish running, as soon as your heart rate returns to normal you are done as far as fat burning goes. However, after a session involving resistance the fat burning, caloric expenditure goes for a lot longer – up to three days longer. Experts have placed this after effect at as much as 50 cals/ hour for 72 hours which equals another 3600 cals burned, or the potential to melt another half kilo of fat off your thighs!

Here are some other reasons to consider the swing the king –

  • It increases grip strength.
  • It is just as effective as an upper back builder as a hip and thigh exercise.
  • It can be done in almost any environment with little need for space.
  • There are enough variations – two hand, one hand, hand to hand, doubles – to keep you busy for a long time.
  • It spares the hands – one of the biggest problems many face when learning kettlebells is how to hold the bells properly to sav their hands from becoming torn up. The swing won’t damage your hands like the clean and snatch will, yet is more effective as a fat burner anyway.

When I teach beginners how to use kettlebells we talk about swings. When I teach intermediates they want to know about cleans, presses and snatches. When I work with advanced clients we talk about swings. Just like most things in life it is the first things learned, the basics, that reap the biggest reward. I rarely have to use calculus or trigonometry in my day to day life, but I use addition and counting every single day. The swing is the building block for all the other ballistic kettlebell movements but it is also the most important of all.

If you want to learn the ins and outs of the Swing the best place to learn is the HKC. The next Australian HKC is March 19, Melbourne. Go here for more information.


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