Kettlebells are one of the best tools we have to build a strong, resilient body. Unfortunately, they are often used with poor technique and poor programming which can cause pain. Like any piece of gym equipment, it is not the tool that is bad, but rather the way we are using it.
The kettlebell swing is a ballistic motion that requires mobility of the hips and the posterior chain. It also requires strength and stability of the hips and pelvis. Often people will swing a kettlebell without knowing if they have the mobility to perform the exercise.
A common fault of the kettlebell swing that can cause back pain is not having the correct amount of hip mobility to keep the spine neutral. If we don’t have enough movement in the hips we cause a compensatory motion at the lower back. This ‘overuse’ of the lower back can cause pain and possible injury.
Below is a simple self-screen to test if you have the mobility to perform a kettlebell swing without compensatory motion.
**If there is pain in any of these positions you need to sort that out before swinging a kettlebell. See a Chiro/physio/osteo who understands kettlebells.**
If you don’t have pain but lack the mobility to perform any of the 4 tests, you will need to do some form of mobility or stability work to gain the required mobility before you swing your bell. This may be as simple as doing some warm up work to loosen up just prior to swinging or it may involve peeling right back to basics to finding the deeper underlying cause of your lack of mobility (find a great Chiro/Physio/Osteo/Coach who understands movement and kettlebells to help you)
If you can perform these tests without pain and with adequate flexibility and you still have pain, it is not due to your mobility. It is most likely due to either;
- Limited Hip/spine stability
- Poor form
- Poor programming
Below are 4 simple mobility tests to try before you next pick up a bell and swing it. For each test, ask yourself 2 questions;
- Is there pain/excessive tightness (a small amount of tightness is ok)
- Do I pass the minimum required mobility demands of the test? (outlined below)
1. Flexion Pattern
Aim: To assess for pain and for limitations of the posterior chain (Calf, Hamstring, Glutes, Back muscles)
- Simply stand with your feet in your swing position, keep your legs straight and bend forward to touch your toes.
- Does this hurt? Y/N
- Can you at least get 2/3rds down your shins? Y/N
2. Extension pattern
Aim: To assess for pain and anterior chain tension (quads/abs)
- Stand with your feet in your swing position. Raise both arms above your head and bend backwards, pushing your hips forward
- Does it Hurt? Y/N
- Can you bend backwards whilst pushing your hips forward? Y/N
3. Hip extension (Thomas test)
Aim: To assess hip extension.
- Lay on the edge of table/bench/bed with one leg hanging off the edge and one leg squeezed to your chest.
- Does it hurt? Y/N
- Does your knee drop below your hip? Does your knee bend to around 90 degrees? Y/N
4. Kettlebell starting position
Aim: To assess if there we have enough mobility in the start position of the kettlebell swing.
- Stand in your starting position with the kettlebell on the ground
- Does it hurt Y/N
- Can you maintain a neutral spine position? Y/N
For a full video with explanation check out our Instagram account @scopechiropractic.
If you are looking to learn how to train properly with Kettlebells check out Piers @ Queensland Kettlebells