From Russian Kettlebell Swings With Love

Allow me to make a case for the Russian kettlebell (KB) swing and why it should replace the American swing in CrossFit.

In CrossFit, when a KB is used, 99% of the time it is used for swings - particularly American swings. An American swing is where the bell travels overhead. With a Russian swing, the bell only needs to travel to chest level. Bigger isn’t always better.

In a CrossFit competition the standard for a KB swing has been to finish with the bottom of the bell facing completely upward and directly overhead, which can cause quite a debacle. This movement has digressed the swing to a two-armed snatch, and takes most of the hip snap out of the movement. The whole point of the swing is to use that hip snap to drive the bell up and build power in the glutes, hamstrings and hips. A Russian swing is not an arm movement. The American swing is a partial arm movement. The CrossFit Competition Swing (CCS) is mostly arms. Does CrossFit need yet another overhead movement? I’m going to have to say Hell Nyet.

Another factor is the safety issue. Going overhead with the American swing can get a little dicey especially as the weight gets heavier. Add in the strict judging standards of the KB swing in CrossFit competitions and the CCS becomes a shit show. Whatever it has become - an upright row to a snatch - it’s no longer a KB swing.

The second safety issue is that a lot of people tend overarch at the top of their swing, some even come up onto their toes, and all the while putting unnecessary stress on the lower back by compressing the spine. Whereas if you stuck with the Russian swing, you can stay rooted in your heels, with your ribs down, and your trunk tight. This is a much safer position for the back and shoulders, and you actually get to take advantage of the power in your hips during the movement.

Take a look at the picture to the right of the guy in the blue t-shirt. Now, I don't know who this guy is and I'm not trying to make him look bad. I found this image on a Google search and it just happens to fit with what I'm trying to explain. As you can see in the image, the bottom of the bell is facing up to the ceiling, directly overhead. If this were in a CrossFit competition we could give this guy the rep. Now, back to the safety concerns. His back is arched putting the discs in his lumbar spine (low back) into a state of compression. He does appear to be firmly footed with the weight in his heels. So he's got that going for him, which is nice. But he's pushing his head forward under load and straining his cervical spine (neck). Compare this to the picture below of Lance Armstrong doing a Russian swing. His ribs are down so there's no arch in his back, and his head is neutral so there's no strain on his neck. The bell is at the peak so no need to worry about damage to the shoulder girdle. The bell stays out in front of him where it belongs, keeping this a hip-dominate movement as it was intended. 

Other than the practical reasons of safety and maintaining proper form, by switching to the Russian swing you get to use much heavier weights. And isn’t that what it’s really all about?


  1. Larry, you are dead right brother!
    The snatch, press, sumo dead lift high pull, thruster, and all the other numerous movements are projections up. What about forward? We have that movement while horizontal for the bench press or a push-up; but we are neglecting that motion vertically.
    One more negativism about the American swing would be the comprised position of your shoulders at the top of the movement. When you press a kettlebell or barbel over head the strongest and most natural position of the hand is straight above the hip. In a two handed swing the thumb and index finger are most likely touching or very close to it. That forces us to either bend at the elbows or have the shoulders be pulled out of the socket to make room for the head. During a chest height swing you can retract your scapula and thicken your lats to keep your shoulders in place and safe because you do not need to create the space to pass the arms around the head.
    Love it Larry!
    God Bless America, but man those Russians know how to swing!
    Chris Foehl RKC

  2. Starting with the first move, complete each exercise back-to-back without resting. Rest for one to two minutes, then repeat for a total of two or three circuits. kettlebell set


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