arrowA video of a client doing the American swing is floating around. One of our trainers did a good job saying what’s wrong with it, but I want to address some of the points specifically. The trainer that taught this client said that the client’s hamstrings were so loose that she could not feel the swing with the hip in the normal position so he made a mistake by teaching her the swing with the knees locked into position. Apparently this client had come to our kettlebell seminar twice.
First of all, I appreciate everyone’s effort to learn and get things right.
Second, I’m glad this client attended our seminars and we thank her for that. Unfortunately, many people come to our seminars with problems so severe that once or twice doesn’t fix the problems. Many people we see will need more training, however some people that watch our videos before the seminar do quite well. Sometimes it’s the people you least expect to do well.

A huge part of the problem is the lack of knowledge of personal trainers. I taught a kettlebell seminar at the annual meeting of the largest personal training organization in Taiwan. Everyone knows who this group is. Out of 70 or so trainers that took the course, only about 5-6 had good hamstring development. Sorry, but that’s just a fact. Most of them teach group aerobics that greatly overuses the quads and under-uses the hamstrings. Most of them teach yoga, which acts like your hamstrings and glutes are things to sit on and to stretch but never strengthen those muscles. I later trained a head trainer certed in this organization whose hamstrings felt like tofu. Imagine a fat lady’s tricep that hangs off her arm. That’s what this head trainer’s hamstrings were like. It was nearly impossible to teach this head trainer the kettlebell swing. The fact is that she is certified under an organization and trains in a gym that simply doesn’t value what you can’t see in the mirror and you could see it from her movement skills.

I mention those trainers and that head trainer specifically to show that many people and even many trainers have exactly the same problem – practically non-existent hamstring and glute muscles. I’ve been saying this for years. If you start kettlebell training with nothing back there, then it will be extremely difficult for you to swing the kettlebell correctly. That isn’t fixed in one or two seminars. Some of the people that come to us have never worked out in a gym before so they don’t know. But a surprising amount of the people who can’t do it not only come from gyms, they have personal trainers but it doesn’t help because hamstrings and glutes aren’t mirror muscles that mainstream personal trainers focus on.

If you have so little hamstring and glute strength that you can’t swing the kettlebell correctly, then the American swing is the absolute worst thing you can give to the client. The American swing takes out what the swing is good for in the first place: training the hamstrings and glutes. Instead, it replaces those muscles with the arms as can be seen in many American swing videos. Most Crossfit people use the American swing as one big delt front raise with a little momentum thrown in. This ruins the movement pattern we’re trying to fix or create in the first place if you don’t have it. People raise things using only their delts naturally. They must be taught to use the hamstrings and glutes. You can’t have it both ways – if you’re using the delts to raise the kettlebell, you WILL NOT use the hamstrings and glutes.

No one should be doing the American swing unless you want to compete in the Crossfit games. I keep telling trainers that you should know what every movement contributes to the client’s goal. If the goal is fat loss, the American swing is the wrong choice because it ignores the larger hamstring and glute muscles in favor of the smaller delts, which burn a lot fewer calories. The American swing with it’s terrible overheard, bottoms-up position limits how much weight you can use. That also limits the amount of calories you will burn. For most people, the swing should be used to build up the posterior chain. But again, the American swing largely skips that, making it a poor choice. So if your goal is anything other than competing in the Crossfit games (where it must be used) then the American swing is a poor choice.

And I personally don’t care what people see on Youtube, as apparently this young lady wanted to learn it because she saw it there. If I had a client tell me they wanted to learn the American swing because they saw it on Youtube, I’d suggest they watch better videos or not watch Youtube at all. I certainly would not teach them something I knew was wrong, as this trainer said he did.

The American swing also causes people to hyper-extend the back and hyper-extension is already a problem for hyper-flexible people with no hamstring or glute strength. Again, the problem with these women (and 90% of the time it’s women) is that they were hyper-mobile and hyper-flexible to begin with then they started doing “fitness” like yoga and aerobics that totally skipped hamstring and glute training, leading to even more hyper-flexibility and hyper-mobility than when they started. So the American swing takes a pre-existing condition and makes it even worse. Look at the video and you’ll see she’s pulling with the arms because the hamstrings and glutes aren’t involved enough with the swing. And she almost loses the kettlebell over her head several times. She can’t control the kettlebell because she’s hyper-mobile and because the American swing puts her body in a bad position. It’s hard for anyone to control the kettlebell overhead with the handle pointing down and the heavier body of the kettlebell above the handle. With a hyper-mobile person, it’s a recipe for disaster.

So tell clients to turn off Youtube or point them to better stuff, stop pandering to clients by teaching them whatever they want, teach them instead what they NEED, work on their weaknesses even though you can’t see them in a mirror, and stop getting your information from bad sources.