Optimizing The Kettlebell Swing Part 4: Creating & Mastering Your Pre-Flight Checklist

Welcome back to part 4 of our 10-part series on Optimizing The Kettlebell Swing!

Last week we shared two fantastic exercises that will not only help you develop a stronger swing, but give you strength that carries over into other lifts you train as well.

Those two exercises were the Kettlebell Deadlift and Static Stomp Deadlift.

We broke down why you’d want to train these two lifts in order to learn and master the Kettlebell Swing as well as;

  • What they are

  • How to do them properly

  • And ways you can insert them into your programming

If you missed last week’s post you can check it out here.

Today we preparing for liftoff by establishing your “Pre-Flight Checklist.”

Also known as your setup…

Your setup often times will be the “make or break” factor in whether or not you develop the strength to become the strongest version of yourself or wind up with an injury.

It’ll lower your risk of injury and open the doors to heavier weights and greater strength to follow.

With that being said there are a number of action steps you need to think about prior to hiking a bell back between your legs.

By the end of today’s post, you should have a clear understanding as to what those steps are and why you should practice them to ensure your Kettlebell Swing is fully Optimized.

Your Pre-Flight Checklist

You don’t have to have flown a plane to know that before a plane takes off there are a series of steps and processes that MUST happen in order for flight to actually take place.

This ensures everything is double checked and is in the “optimal” position for takeoff.

In the event something is out of place and/or needs adjusting, it can be handled before the plane is in the air.

Processes like a Pre-Flight checklist save lives.

In the case of your Kettlebell Swing, it’ll significantly lower your risk of injury.

Not to mention set you on the path to a stronger, healthier, happier version of yourself.

Step 1: Stance

Find a stance that’s far enough behind that bell that it requires you to have to reach for the bell in order to hike it.

Your feet-width should be at the position you found back in Part 2 of the series with your Reaching Hinge.

Step 2: Rib Cage Position

Once you’ve got your feet set and are a proper distance away from the kettlebell, take a big exhale and let your rib cage “drop” into place.

A forward protracted rib cage - think a rooster puffing up its chest - places unwanted load on the spine and can actually lead to you feeling less grounded during your swing.

A good way to see if you assume this position is to simply take a big exhale and let your rib cage “drop” down toward your pelvis.

If it’s done anything for you, you should notice more contact between your feet and the floor.

This is one of the many reasons it’s a VERY good idea to train without shoes when doing Kettlebell Swings.

Soak up that contact with the floor and ROOT yourself into the ground.

Rooting helps fire the lower leg muscles and generates tension that begins at your feet and works its way up towards your hips and core.

Rooting your feet into the ground is perhaps the most common skill we see beginners struggle with and it’s usually because they simply have little - to no - awareness of where their feet are on the floor.

Again, you’ll miss out on this step entirely if you swing with shoes on - not to mention a handful of other benefits for the muscles in your feet and lower leg.

Step 3: Set Your Hinge

Once you have your feet in position, you’ve set your rib cage and rooted your feet into the floor, next it’s time to set your hinge.

This part is simple, though often neglected.

As we’ve said throughout this series, we use the Reaching Hinge to help teach members how to properly hinge.

By the time someone masters the Kettlebell Swing they might not feel the need to practice the Reaching Hinge anymore, which is fine.

However, the Reaching Hinge exercise is two-fold.

  1. It allows you to learn the hinge pattern in a safe, non-loaded environment.

  2. It PRIMES your hinge by creating tension throughout the hips, backs of the legs, and even your core.

So even if you’ve been swinging for years… place a Reaching Hinge here in your setup routine and notice how much more tension you generate prior to hiking the bell back between your legs.

Step 4: Grab & Tilt

Once you’ve set your hinge, reach for the bell - again, you should really have to reach for it.

Once you have the bell in your fingers, drag the bell towards you so as to load your lats (the muscles around your armpits) and tilt the handle of the bell towards you.

Another frequently missed step in the setup for a strong Kettlebell Swing is the act of titling the bell handle towards you.

If you think of the swing from a physics standpoint, the handle of the kettlebell should point towards the trajectory that the bell wants to move.

Its seems harmless, but you’re leaving tension - and strength - on the table if you start your swing with the Kettlebell handle facing the ceiling.

One of the reasons why you learn and master a setup routine is to make sure you and the bell - or bar - essentially become “one”.

Insert Spice Girls soundtrack…

With the bell handle tilted towards you, you should now have tension that

  • Starts from the floor at your feet

  • Radiates up your lower legs into your thighs and hips

  • Through your core

  • Up your torso

  • Into your armpits

  • Down your arms

  • And into the tilted handle of the kettlebell

Step 5: Pressurize

At this point you’re ready for liftoff, the only thing left is to “sip” or “sniff” to increase your intra-abdominal pressure and TRULY optimize your swing.

Right now, grab the sides of your stomach with your hands… really dig in there and squeeze so you can get your hands as close together as possible.

  • Now try this; “sip” air through your mouth quickly and sharply.

  • You should have felt your core engage as your stomach pushes out on your hands.

  • If that didn’t work, set up again but this time take a sharp hard “sniff” through your nose.

  • Again you should have felt your core engage to the point where your stomach pushes out on your hands.

This pressurizing effect is like putting a weight lifting belt around your waist prior to Attempting a heavy lift.

The intra-abdominal pressure you create by practicing this drill connects the tension between your upper and lower halves to an even GREATER degree, further lowering your risk of injury and increasing your ability to develop strength - safely.

It should be mentioned here that the act of creating intra-abdominal pressure is a skill and should be practiced often before you can expect to tap into this “strength secret”.

If when you sip or sniff your chest inflates, reset and try again.

Again, squeezing your hands against your stomach will provide you with the feedback you need to properly generate the intra-abdominal pressure you desire.

Taking it up a notch; the heavier you’re swinging the sharper and harder you’ll need to sniff or sip.

A harder, sharper sip leads to greater intra-abdominal pressure…

And when you’re swinging heavy kettlebells you’ve got to fight power with power. Your breath can and will act as a performance enhancer prior to liftoff.

Step 6: Liftoff

You might be thinking to yourself, “who has the time to go through all these steps before every set of Kettlebell Swings they do?”

To be clear, these steps should be taken regardless of whether you’re swinging, cleaning, or snatching.

In our opinion, this Pre-Flight Checklist should not only be practiced and mastered, but implemented anytime you train a ballistic kettlebell exercise.

Other lifts will have slightly different setup routines, but a setup routine nonetheless is required.

once you’ve mastered all these steps your setup routine will take a matter of seconds - probably somewhere between 3-5 prior to actually hiking the bell back between your legs.

Inevitably some of you might think to yourself, “I’ve got 4 of the 5, I’m ok” and forget to practice all 5 of these steps.

That’s ok.

If you practiced 4 out of 5 of these Pre-Flight Checklist steps you’d probably still get very strong and have a great swing.

But if you’re looking to truly OPTIMIZE your Kettlebell Swing, all 5 are absolutely necessary - not to mention if you train the swing consistently you WILL reach a point where you’ll need all 5 steps in order to reach your true strength potential.

With great strength comes great responsibility.

Don’t abuse it Hero!

What To Look For Next Week

Make sure you check back next week when we go into Part 5 of the series: How to Create & Use The Hardstyle Lockout.

If the ballistic component to the swing is your conditioning, than the lockout component - and the intent to lockout - is your strength.

The strength you develop here will transfer into a variety of other exercises, such as your Deadlift, Squat, Pull-up, Push-up, Military Press, and Getup.

If you’re making a conscious effort to become the strongest version of yourself this year, then make sure you follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with each post. You can check out some of our latest Instagram posts below!


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