The kettlebell swing is an excellent exercise to develop lower body strength, power, speed, coordination and general athleticism. Unfortunately, many personal trainers, coaches and practitioners fail to understand and implement appropriate cueing, progressions and regressions. In conjunction to this, they also fail to understand how the kettlebell fits into a performance or general well being exercise program.

The swing is an exercise that is classified as a ‘hip dominant’ power exercise and will develop the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and back) and as such it will load these tissues. Interestingly, the current research suggests that technique on its own is not necessarily a risk factor, rather, injury may occur when the load applied to the back exceeds what the tissues are prepared for. For example, some people may perform a kettlebell swing with ‘poor form’ however do not injure their back. This may be because their body has learnt to adapt and cope with that technique over a long period of time. While I certainly am not advocating for poor form or that coaching is not important, the point is that injuries are more likely to come from ‘too much to soon’. Good technique allows our body to be more efficient in force transfer through the system. Our muscles, ligaments, joints and bones take time to adapt and often it is the lack of respecting this timeframe that causes pain and injury.

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.

MASTER THE KETTLEBELL AND INTRO TO OUR PROGRAM

SIMPLE SELF MOBILITY ASSESSMENT

**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 tests, you will need to do some form of mobility or stability work to gain the required mobility, HOWEVER, dont avoid starting the swing as this will help you gain the specific mobility required. 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.

If you can perform these tests without pain and with adequate mobility and you still have pain it is essential to see a professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Below are 3 simple mobility tests to try before you next pick up a bell and swing it. For each test, ask yourself 2 questions;

  1. Is there pain/excessive tightness (a small amount of tightness is ok)
  2. 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 start on hands and knees with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Flex your spine, including tucking your chin to your chest.
  • Does this hurt? Y/N

2. Extension pattern

Aim: To assess for pain and anterior chain tension (quads/abs)

  • Lay on your stomach with hands undershoulders. Straighten your arms to full extension.
  • Does it Hurt? 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

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Daniel Rothenberg

Daniel Rothenberg is a Sports Chiropractor with a Masters of Chiropractic and Masters of Exercise Science majoring in Strength & Conditioning. He works closely with a range of athletes in Brisbane and Ipswich.