Welcome to Modify This Move, the continuous series where you’ll discover everything you require to alter a standard exercise to fulfill your objectives, your body, and your mood. Each story dissects how to execute a foundational fitness move, and afterward offers different adjustments based on your current fitness or energy level, present or previous injuries, or the muscles you want to target most. So put your ego aside and ensure that every workout meets you where you are today.
When you’re pressed for time but still in the mood for a training session that makes you feel powerful (and unsteady) all over, full-body workouts are usually the way to go. However, you don’t have to push through numerous exercises, each of which focuses on just one or two muscle groups, to achieve an effective, all-inclusive strength workout.
Instead, make the kettlebell swing, a move that engages your entire body by hiking the weight from behind your buttocks and explosively swinging it up to shoulder height, the main attraction. “You’re using your entire body from the ground up,” says Joanna Castro, a NASM-certified personal trainer and certified functional strength coach in New York. Specifically, you’ll work your glutes, hamstrings, adductors, quads, forearms, lats, triceps, biceps, deltoids, and core just with this one move, according to the American Council on Exercise. Essentially, the move can be seen as a vertical plank, adds Castro. “All parts of your body are invited to the party and are working together,” she says.
And this statement holds true for both the traditional kettlebell swing and its variations. In turn, you should feel comfortable using a progression or modification of the move that feels optimal for your body and aligns with your fitness goals. If you’re a novice looking to establish the foundation for proper form (or a pro hoping to correct any detrimental habits you’ve developed), you can use a scaled-down kettlebell swing alternative that assists you in focusing on mastering the movement. Or, you can experiment with different kettlebell swing variations when you’re in the mood for a workout that challenges your core or cardiovascular system. No matter your reason, don’t feel embarrassed to tweak the exercise so it meets you where you’re at. This adaptability is just one reason why kettlebells are one of our preferred pieces of CrossFit equipment.
Ready to give the strength-building exercise a try? Follow the instructions below to master the conventional kettlebell swing, then observe as Castro demonstrates how to diversify the exercise with four different kettlebell swing alternatives that are suitable for all abilities and fitness goals.
How to Execute a Kettlebell Swing
4 Kettlebell Swing Substitutes
If you try the traditional kettlebell swing and feel it’s not the right fit for your body, abilities, or fitness level, you have other options. To ensure you achieve your desired results from this strength-building exercise, consider trying out an alternative kettlebell swing.
Within this article, you will discover alternatives to the kettlebell swing that can be scaled up or down, as well as options that target both your core and cardiovascular system. As you complete your repetitions, remember to continuously assess how your body and mind feel, and don’t hesitate to experiment with a different variation if you don’t feel comfortable with the current kettlebell swing.
Kettlebell Swing Alternative for Scaling Down: Goblet Clean
If you find the movements involved in a kettlebell swing overwhelming, you can scale it down with a goblet clean. This variation allows you to practice pressing into the floor and lifting the weight without the vigorous swinging motion. According to Castro, in this alternative, the kettlebell will be positioned directly beneath your hips instead of in front of them. She explains that anything closer to your body’s center of mass will be easier and safer if you still feel unsure about being more dynamic and explosive during the kettlebell swing. It’s an effective method for helping individuals gain comfort and better ground themselves.
A. Adopt a stance with feet positioned hip-width apart, hands resting at your sides, and a kettlebell on the floor between your feet.
B. Slightly bend your knees and sit back into your hips to lower your arms towards the floor. Use both hands to grab the kettlebell handle.
C. Push through your heels and propel your hips forward to raise your torso and lift the kettlebell off the floor. As the kettlebell approaches your hips, bend your elbows and allow it to continue its upward motion until it reaches chest height.
D. Just before the movement reaches its peak, lower both hands to the sides of the kettlebell handle, holding the weight in a goblet position in front of your chest.
Kettlebell Swing Alternative for Leveling Up: Kettlebell Swing Complex
Once you’ve mastered the traditional kettlebell swing, you might feel prepared to elevate your workout. One way to accomplish this: Give the kettlebell swing complex a try, which combines four exercises – a swing, clean, squat, and shoulder press – into a single movement, according to Castro. “You’re getting more value for your effort,” she adds. More specifically, this exercise will intensify the challenge on your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, as well as your deltoids, thanks to the included squat and press.
A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands at sides, and a kettlebell on the floor roughly one foot in front of toes. Slightly bend knees and hinge at hips to lower arms towards the floor. Grasp the kettlebell handle with both hands and tilt it towards the body.
B. On an inhale, hike the kettlebell back and up between thighs. Then, on an exhale, press feet into the floor, squeeze glutes, and drive through hips to swiftly stand up and forcefully swing the kettlebell forward and up to shoulder height. Maintain extended arms with a slight elbow bend throughout the motion.
C. Hinge at hips, slightly bend knees, and guide the kettlebell back down and between thighs.
D. Complete one more kettlebell swing, then at the peak of the movement, lower both hands to the sides of the kettlebell handle, holding the weight in a goblet position in front of the chest.
E. Sit back into hips and bend knees to descend into a squat until thighs are parallel or nearly parallel to the floor, keeping the chest up and preventing the back from rounding.
F. Push through the feet to straighten the legs and return to a standing position. Then, promptly press the kettlebell above the head towards the ceiling until the arms are fully extended.
G. Lower the kettlebell back to the chest and shift the hands back to the top of the kettlebell handle. Then, hinge at the hips, slightly bend the knees, and guide the kettlebell back down and between thighs to perform the next repetition.
Kettlebell Swing Alternative to Build Core Strength: Alternating Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
Swinging the kettlebell explosively with just one arm will put your core stability to the test, according to Castro. Throughout this movement, your core will have to work harder than usual to maintain stability and prevent rotation of your trunk towards the working side, which is crucial for protecting your spine from injury, she explains. As you try out the alternative kettlebell swing, remember that your free arm should mirror the movement pattern of your working arm; as you hike the kettlebell back, your free arm should also extend behind your body, says Castro.
A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands at sides, and a kettlebell on the floor approximately one foot in front of toes. Slightly bend knees and hinge at hips to lower arms towards the floor.
Seize the handle of the kettlebell using the left hand and incline it in the direction of the body.
B. On an inhale, hike the kettlebell backward and up between thighs, with right arm imitating the movement pattern on the exterior of the right thigh. Then, on an exhale, push feet into the floor, contract the glutes, and propel through hips to efficiently stand up and explosively swing the kettlebell forward and up to shoulder height. Maintain an extended left arm with a slight flexion in the elbow throughout the motion. The right arm continues to mirror the actions of the left arm.
C. At the peak of the motion, grasp the kettlebell handle with the right hand and release the left hand. Hinge at the hips, slightly bend the knees, and propel the kettlebell back down and between the thighs. The left arm should imitate the movement pattern on the exterior of the left thigh.
Alternative Kettlebell Swing for Maximum Cardio Burn: Double Kettlebell Swing
By doubling the weight, you will also intensify the cardiovascular challenge, as you will need to exert twice as much effort to forcefully thrust the kettlebells, according to Castro. “It is a great way to simulate sprints without actually running,” she explains. “If someone has a problematic ankle or is unable to flex their toes, they can still achieve that burst of cardio while ensuring the safety of their feet with this exercise.” When positioning yourself, note that you will need to spread your feet further apart than usual to allow enough space for the bells to swing between your legs without making contact with your body.
A. Stand with your feet wider than the width of your shoulders, hands at the sides, and two kettlebells on the floor approximately one foot in front of your toes. Slightly bend your knees and hinge at the hips to lower your arms towards the floor. Take hold of each kettlebell handle with one hand and tilt them towards your body.
B. On an inhale, hike the kettlebells backward and up between thighs. Then, on an exhale, press your feet into the floor, contract your glutes, and propel through your hips to rapidly stand up and powerfully swing the kettlebells forward and up to shoulder height. Maintain fully extended arms with a slight bend in the elbows throughout the motion.
C. Hinge at the hips, slightly bend the knees, and propel the kettlebells back down and between the thighs.
Photography: Anthony Cunanan
Art direction: Jenna Brillhart
Model and fitness expert: Joanna Castro
Hair and makeup: Tee Chavez
Activewear: Girlfriend Collective
Workout bench: Ignite by SPRI