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What Is the American Kettlebell Swing And Is It Dangerous?

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

You’ve seen plenty of kettlebell exercise options. You’ve probably seen both the American Swing and Russian Kettlebell Swing at your local gym. So, is the overhead position of the American Swing dangerous? Should you avoid this movement at all costs?

We cover everything you need to know about the American and Russian Kettlebell Swing in the article below. This article will ensure your kettlebell training goes as smoothly as possible without injury and bad form.

A woman doing the American kettlebell swing exercise
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The American Kettlebell Swing or Overhead Kettlebell Swing isn’t just used in the United States and can be seen in gyms across the world. 

The beginning of the American Swing is identical to the conventional one-arm or two-handed swing, but the weight is extended overhead instead of stopping at chest level. The idea is to incorporate more explosive power and strengthen the legs.

Unfortunately, the exercise can activate other muscles that aren’t meant for movement, like the shoulders and lower back. This causes a higher chance of injury and strain. The exercise has a more compromised position, limited shoulder mobility, poor color control, and doesn’t follow proper body mechanics.

A woman doing american swings outside
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What Are the Risks of the American Kettlebell Swing?

So, the American Kettlebell Swing isn’t effective—but what are the actual dangers of the exercise? 

High Chance for Injury

The American version has a higher chance of injury compared to the Russian Swing and other movements. Why? The movement is explosive and jerky and requires lifters to overcompensate with other muscles. 

Lifting the kettlebell overhead at the end of the movement typically requires individuals to use other muscles like the shoulders and back. The extra muscles are utilized to maintain stability but are prone to injury and strain

The traditional kettlebell swing doesn’t have this issue, as it uses primary muscle groups like the legs and glutes to generate force. 

Shoulder Complaints

The shoulders have to work much harder when your arms are extended overhead. Adding weight requires much more stability, mobility, and control. Novice lifters can have difficulty with overhead presses, as they haven’t built stabilization strength. 

However, experienced lifters can also experience issues from poor shoulder mobility and unnatural positions. The American Swing is unnatural and increases the stress on the shoulder joint, increasing the risk of injury. 

Low-Back Issues

Lower back issues are common complaints for many individuals. Many people live mostly sedentary lifestyles and experience mobility issues with the shoulders, thoracic spine, and back. 

Swinging the kettlebell overhead with tight shoulders and back can cause you to overcompensate with other muscle groups. Repeating the movement often will continually cause you to overcompensate and aggravate the lower back. 

Poor Form and Bad Technique

The traditional KB swing isn’t mastered on the weekend by beginners. The proper technique and body mechanics takes a long time to learn. 

Novice lifters need to perfect essential hip hinge movements, learn how to isometrically hold the back flat, and avoid overextension in the lower back. They must do all this while executing a dynamic movement and coordinating timing. 

The American Kettlebell Swing needs even more hip drive than traditional variations, causing overcompensation in the arms. Lack of power in the hips can also cause strain in the lower back from overcompensation.

A group of people doing american kettlebell swings at the gym
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Less Cardio Benefits

You might think that the American KB swing requires more cardio than a traditional two-arm kettlebell swing—but you would be mistaken. 

The American Swing has to move a longer distance than a traditional swing, as it stops overhead instead of at chest range. 

This causes more time between repetitions, especially at the top of the movement. You also need greater hip power to move the kettlebell overhead, but you end up performing fewer reps than traditional two-handed swings. 

These factors make the overhead swing less effective for cardiovascular strength training and burning calories. The aerobic benefits are much higher with the regular swing. 

Less Load and Lack of Power

The Overhead Swing requires more power to drive the kettlebell overhead. Because the movement requires more strength, lifters can’t use as much weight as conventional swings. If lifters use too much weight, they risk bad technique and overcompensation. 

Loading the glutes, hamstrings, and core is crucial to building strength. The heavier weight you can use that’s manageable and safe allows you to develop these muscles faster. The classic swing can be loaded heavier, making it a more effective movement for building strength.

Why Do People Like the American Swing?

So if the Overhead Swing has a high chance of injury and isn’t as effective as other movements, why do people love it so much?

The Overhead KB Swing is popular because it requires more effort and explosive power than traditional kettlebell swings. It’s also common in group fitness classes and interval programs as a way to exert a lot of effort in a short period of time.

Unfortunately, more work isn’t always better. The American KB Swing has a high risk of injury and doesn’t use the body’s mechanics well. When you perform this movement with heavier loads or without focus, you can overcompensate and strain other muscles. 

So, what movement can you perform instead of the American Swing?

An athlete doing russian kettlebell swings instead of american kettlebell swings
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Try the Russian Swing Instead

Instead of the American Kettlebell Swing, we recommend performing the Russian Swing. The two-armed swing is the variation you’re probably used to seeing, as it’s very common. 

The movement is similar to the American variation but stops at chest height and isn’t as dangerous.

How to Do the Russian Kettlebell Swing

It’s tempting to grip the kettlebell and start swinging haphazardly, but this will only lead to injury and strain. Instead, learning the proper execution will ensure you develop the most strength and avoid accidents. 

Here’s how to perform the Russian Variation:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart behind the kettlebell. Keep a slight bend in your needs and tilt forward to grip the handle with two hands. 
  2. Pull the shoulder blades down and back. Ensure your spine is neutral, and lift the weight between your legs. Aim to keep the bottom of the kettlebell above your knees throughout this phase. 
  3. Tighten the glutes to propel your hips forward. Straighten the knees until you’re in an upright stance. Keep the elbows soft but sturdy. 
  4. Do not hyperextend the back, and maintain a vertical body stance as the kettlebell moves to chest level. Do not overextend past chest height. 
  5. Stabilize your body by tightening the core and guiding the kettlebell down between your legs again to complete repetitions. 

Remember the idea to keep the kettlebell below the groin instead of near the ground. Placing the bell too close to the ground can cause overcompensation and strain on the thoracic spine. 

It’s best to use lighter weights that allow you to focus on the proper technique when learning a new movement, especially with the Russian Swing. Overdoing it and using heavy loads can cause injury or strain.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Is the Difference Between Russian Kettlebell Swings and American Kettlebell Swings?

The Russian and American Swings are similar movements, but the American variation extends the weight overhead instead of stopping at chest height. This movement requires more hip power and can be dangerous if performed incorrectly. The Russian Swing is recommended for beginners. 

What Do American Kettlebell Swings Activate?

The American Kettlebell Swing activates muscles in the core, glutes, hamstrings, quads, back, delts and arms. It’s a compound exercise that targets several muscle groups. However, a bad form can lead to compensation in movement, strain, and injury. 

Is the Russian Kettlebell Swing Good for Belly Fat?

Yes, the kettlebell swing is a versatile movement that can be excellent for burning calories and shedding pounds. The exercise increases heart rate and requires several muscle groups, meaning you’ll burn more calories faster. Many individuals use the movement as a low-impact cardio replacement.

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