Kettlebell swings are a classic exercise for building lower body strength, power and athleticism, but what muscles does kettlebell swing work? And how can you get the most out of the exercise? In this article we’ll be covering:
- What Muscles Do Kettlebell Swings Work?
- Kettlebell Swing Muscles Worked Diagram
Let’s jump straight in.
What Muscles Do Kettlebell Swings Work?
Kettlebell swings are a movement that mainly works your posterior chain muscles, specifically the muscles worked by KB swings are:
- Your hamstrings
- Your glutes
- Your spinal erectors
- Your lats and rhomboids (to a lesser extent)
Kettlebell Swings Benefits
The main benefits of kettlebell swings are that they can help to improve strength, power and force absorption through your posterior chain, i.e. your glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors
Kettlebell Swing Muscles Worked Diagram
Kettlebell Swing Muscles Not Used
Some key lower body muscles are not especially used during kettlebell swings. For a balanced training programme I recommend incorporating exercises to address these missing areas. Some of the biggest lower body muscles not used in kettlebell swings include:
Do kettlebell swings work all muscles?
No, kettlebell swings do not work all muscles, they are primarily a lower body posterior chain exercise, which means that they do not work most upper body muscles, nor do they work anterior chain (front of body) leg muscles such as your quads.
Do kettlebell swings work your abs?
Kettlebell swings will work your abs to some extent as they need to be switched on to hold your torso position. However, there are lots of better ab and core exercises.
Kettlebell Swing Variations and Alternatives
There are plenty of kettlebell swing variations and alternatives that you can use, here are three of my favourites, plus which muscles they work, as well as why you might use them in your own training.
Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift (KB RDL)
What muscles do kettlebell rdl’s work?
With kettlebell RDL’s you’ll still be using your hamstrings and glutes, but you’ll be doing so with far more control and a much slower eccentric. This allows you to use more weight and provide a greater stimulus for muscle strength and size development.
Personally, I’m a big fan of performing kb rdl’s right after I’ve finished my regular kettlebell swings. The kettlebell swings give me the explosive power stimulus, whilst the heavier kb deadlifts provide the strength and hypertrophy (size) stimulus. Win win.
Banded Pull Through (Or Cable Pull Through)
What muscles do cable pull throughs work?
Cable Pull throughs (or banded pull throughs) are a great alternative if you don’t access to a kettlebell but still want to replicate the movement pattern. Pull throughs will target the exact same muscle groups (hamstrings, glutes and erectors), and you can still train explosively.
Personally I’ve found that the even tension throughout the movement helps me to build a good min muscle connection, making cable pull throughs a decent muscle building option.
What muscles do clean pulls work?
Clean pulls work your hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors, whilst also adding some extra work for your quads, calves and traps.
In my own coaching experience, clean pulls can be considered the advanced or progressed version of kettlebell swings, as they allow you to lift FAR heavier loads (I’ve performed them explosively up to around 145kg) The drawback is that some people find them a little trickier to learn, and the extra load generates more fatigue, so use them sparingly.
Other Kettlebell Swing Variations
- Dumbbell swing
- Double kettlebell swing
- Single arm kettlebell swing
- Kettlebell clean
- Kettlebell snatch
Quick Training Recommendations for Kettlebell Swings
How many reps should I do for kb swings?
The amount of kettlebell swings you should do depends on your training goals, sensitivity to training, and load selection:
- For top end power, I recommend 3-6 reps
- For general strength and hypertrophy, I recommend from 8 to 20 reps
- For muscular endurance, I would recommend 20-30+ reps
How many sets of kettlebell swings?
I recommend anything from 1 to 5 sets of kettlebell swings within a single workout. The amount of sets you do will depend on where you are in your training cycle (e.g. week 1 versus week 4) how sensitive you are to training volume, and how well you recover.
I recommend starting on the low end, as you can always add more sets of swings the next week.
How many times a week should I do kettlebell swings?
“I recommend using kb swings in your training 1 or 2 times per week.”
Trust me, less if often more when it comes to hamstring training.
How heavy should a kettlebell swing be?
Your kettlebell swings should be only as heavy as you are able to use with good form. That means maintaining a flat back, braced abs and explosive swing.
The exact weight will vary based on your own ability, as well as the rep scheme that you’re using, for example:
- You might use 24kg for sets of 8-20 reps for general strength and hypertrophy
- But you might use 12kg for sets of 20-30+ reps for muscular endurance
Is 10kg kettlebell too heavy for beginners?
Whether or not a 10kg kettlebell is too heavy or not depends on your own ability and training background. For example, if you’re new to kb training but have a decent sports background or have been in the gym a while, 10kg is probably going to be fairly easy. On the other hand if it’s your first time in the gym, then 10kg might be too heavy for you.
*Top Tip: You can always start with one weight and then go heavier or lighter during your workout.
Kettlebell Swing Muscles Worked Frequently Asked Questions
Does kettlebell swing build muscle?
Yes, kettlebell swings will absolutely build a decent amount of muscle. However, they are not the best tool for the job, and other exercises with slower eccentric portions would be better suited (for example rdl’s)
Do kettlebell swings build big legs?
Whilst kettlebell swings will certainly add some size, if building big legs is your main goal, I highly recommend exercises like squats and rdl’s instead.
What kind of physique will kettlebells give you?
Kettlebells will give you an athletic, somewhat muscular physique, with decent legs, shoulders and back. You’ll probably find your chest and arms end up lacking somewhat though, as these are hard to train with kettlebells.
Are kettlebell swings better than squats?
Kettlebell swings and squats are both great exercises, but they serve very different purposes. KB swings are better for for power, strength and force absorption in your hamstrings and glutes, whilst squats are better for strength and hypertrophy (size) in your quads and glutes.
In short, comparing squats and kb swings is sort of like comparing apples and oranges.
Should you do kettlebell swings fast or slow?
You should do kettlebell swings fast as their primary goal is to train a powerful and aggressive hip extension, as well as the ability to absorb force on the way back down. Performing kb swings too slowly changes the technique into a sort of weird looking upright row, and reduces their effectiveness as a power exercise.
What happens if you do 100 kettlebell swings a day?
Doing 100 kettlebell swings per day will most likely end with you feeling very sore, overtrained, and increasing your likelihood of injury. There’s no good reason to perform loaded hamstring work every single day, as this does not give you enough time to recover.
How long does it take to see results from kettlebell swings?
You will likely start to see results from kettlebell swings within a few weeks of starting to perform them. These results could be improved power, strength, muscle size or muscular endurance depending on how you’ve trained.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…
1) Get in the gym and start using some kettlebell swing variations to build strength, power and endurance in your legs. Or if you need a bit of help planning your training, consider having a look at my custom programme options
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.