Optimizing The Kettlebell Swing Part 2: Finding Your Hinge
Welcome back to Part 2 of our 10-part series on Optimizing The Kettlebell Swing!
Last week we dove into why you should want to train the swing and what you can expect from learning, training, and mastering the swing.
In short we shared how the kettlebell is essentially a gym with a handle on it; giving you the ability to develop life-changing strength while at the same time delivering fat-burning conditioning.
If you missed that post you can check it out here.
Today we’re diving into the foundation of the Kettlebell Swing; your hip hinge.
For many people learning how to properly hinge your hips can be a difficult task. Often times new members come to us with very little awareness as to what a hip hinge is vs. a squat.
And this is where most people go wrong!
Should you decide to start swinging a kettlebell without properly learning how to hinge your hips - to mastery degree - then you are without a doubt asking for a back injury at some point in time.
Knowing how to hip hinge is absolutely critical to the safety and effectiveness of your Kettlebell Swing; there’s simply is no wiggle room...
The good news however is that the handful of variations we’ll show you today will help you learn how to properly hinge your hips so that you’re primed for success in Part 3 of the series; Training The Deadlift.
Reach For Your Hinge
At Evolution we reverse engineer just about everything, and the Kettlebell Swing is no exception.
Many coaches will break the swing down all the way to it’s beginning position; the deadlift.
However as we mentioned just now, we strongly feel that there’s a step that proceeds even the deadlift, and that’s learning how to properly hinge your hips in the first place.
No weight. No risk. No injury!
Here’s how you want to find your hip hinge:
First, take a stance roughly as wide as your hips, perhaps a little wider than hip width.
Now imagine your arms and hands are the tips of a bow and arrow while your hips are the string that’s being pulled back.
Soften your knees so that they bend slightly as you “pull back your bow while reaching forward with your arrow.”
You should end up in a position like this:
If you’re new to strength training entirely then its very likely that you aren’t in this position, which is totally fine and again why we practice learning the hip hinge with no weight.
If you’re struggling, use one or both of these variations of the reaching hinge below to fine-tune your hip hinge.
Use A Wall For Feedback
External feedback is always a welcomed aspect of coaching when it comes to learning a new skill.
Here, the wall behind you will give you something to reach for with your hips.
Stand close to a wall, roughly a few inches away.
Take your stance as we mentioned above, and begin to practice your Reaching Hinge only NOW you have the wall - a target - to reach for
Now the goal is simply to tap your butt against the wall.
If you reach it, take a small forward.
If you reach it again, take another small step forward.
Notice how each time you take a small step forward you naturally have to sit back further and further.
The wall is a GREAT tool for helping you learn how to safely and effectively hinge your hips.
If you happen to step too far away from the wall, simply take a slightly smaller step backwards until you can reach the wall again.
You can continue to use the wall as a coaching cue throughout your training until you feel as if you’ve mastered the hip hinge.
At that point we’d also recommend adding some speed to your hinge, as the Kettlebell Swing is a little faster than your comfortable with.
Additionally, when we speed a new skill up the body tends to revert back to “default.”
We want to make sure that whether your hinge your hips slowly or quickly that you’re still maintaining a great hip hinge.
Use A Stick For Feedback
Sometimes the wall helps the hips but doesn’t help the knees.
In these instances as coaches we’ll take a small PVC stick - you can use a broomstick - and place it a few inches in front of the students knees.
Similar to the wall cue of “sit back until you hit the wall”, we use more external feedback by simply saying, “bend your knees as you reach back with your hips but don’t let your knees hit the stick.”
Inevitably you hit your knees the first, second, and sometimes the third time… but by the forth, fifth, and sixth time you’ve got the idea that you need to sit back with your hips and allow the knees to BEND not track forward.
Your allowed to have a small degree of forward traction of the knee (knee’s moving forward) in the Kettlebell Swing, but the movement is again a hip-Dominant lift.
There are special instances where some of you will have a greater degree of forward knee movement but for the vast majority of you, that’s not the case.
Similar to the wall drill, once you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it, add some speed to your hinge and see if it still holds up.
If it doesn’t, that’s ok; there’s no need to rush the learning process.
Some of you will learn at a faster rate than others, what’s important is that regardless of how long it takes you to learn and master the hip hinge… you do just that!
Pour Your Foundation
The hip hinge is the foundation to your Kettlebell Swing.
In fact, it’s the foundation to EVERY Hardstyle ballistic exercise you’ll do, including the
Kettlebell skills are very much built like a pyramid where your hip hinge is the base of the pyramid with more advanced skills such as the snatch, double snatch, and clean and jerk being the tip of the pyramid.
One of the many Kick Ass moments we share at Evolution is when a new member learns how to properly snatch a kettlebell for the first time.
It’s invigorating, empowering, and there’s often a look of pure elation on our members’ faces when they finish their first set of snatches.
At this point they’ve usually been a member for at least 3 months, usually upwards of 5-6.
They’re often surprised how easy it was for them to snatch - an exercise that when they first start training with kettlebells looks incredibly intimidating with a high risk of injury for their back.
However what they aren’t aware of is that they’ve been training for the snatch since they joined!
From learning the hip hinge
To their first set of 2-Handed swings
To learning the 1-Handed swing
And finally learning the snatch.
Everything starts with your hip hinge.
So take your time here, because the quality of your Deadlift, 2-Hand Swing, 1-Hand Swing Clean, and Snatch depend on it.
A Kettlebell Swing Alternative
As we said at the very beginning, when you’re learning how to hinge your hips you want to do so without a weight.
This ensures a safe, minimal risk environment where you can explore beyond the boundaries of a “right” hip hinge and a “wrong” hip hinge.
Being able to make mistakes and explore more in the learning process of a new skill is the best way for you to, not only learn how to do it properly, but also to do so in a way that your body remembers for next time.
We’ve played around with sets of Reaching Hinges done On The Minute in a conditioning format, and while it was somewhat effective, it was also incredibly boring…
So if you’re brand-spankin’ new to the hip hinge, then the Ball Slam might prove to be a great training alternative for you.
It’s our go-to for new members who haven’t learned how to properly swing a kettlebell yet.
Here’s how it works:
Place a slam ball directly under your feet (roughly 10-20 pounds).
Now forget it’s there...
Do a Reaching Hinge and while holding the end position of your hinge reach down (without looking) and grab the slam ball.
Congratulations by the way, you just did your first deadlift!
Once you’ve stood up with the ball, extend the ball over head and begin to slam it down towards the floor - sitting back with your hips like you’ve been practicing with your reaching hinge.
Repeat and add speed to your ball slam as you feel comfortable.
Don’t forget about your wall and stick drill.
If the ball slam throws you out of wack - which it tends to do to people - then practice a set of Reaching Hinges before you get ready for your next set of slams.
Explore, have fun, and above all, be safe.
What To Look For Next Week
Make sure you check back next week when we dive into Part 3: Learning The Deadlift and Static Stomp Deadlift.
As we said earlier, kettlebell skills are built much like a pyramid.
If your hip hinge is the foundation, than the deadlift is next in line taking up a wide portion of that kettlebell base..
A great deadlift is critical in learning and mastering the Hardstyle Kettlebell Swing and we’ll show you what you need to know next week...
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