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Rarely can you find an exercise for which not a single argument can be made for its inclusion in any workout routine. That standard alone put the American kettlebell swing in a dubiously Overrated class of its own.
By adding an unnecessary overhead movement to the traditional kettlebell swing, it’s a shoulder injury waiting to happen. What’s more, the American kettlebell swing reduces one of the best power-generating hip exercises (the standard kettlebell swing) to an ineffective multitude of movements.
More is not always better, which is why the American kettlebell swing is completely Overrated, according to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and Men’s Health advisory board member David Otey, C.S.C.S. Why such scorn? Samuel and Otey have a whole list of reasons.
Why the American Kettlebell Swing Is Overrated
Terrible Shoulder Positioning
One of the main issues with the American kettlebell swing is that the additional overhead extension of the arms and shoulder following a ballistic, hip driving start, could become problematic for those who suffer from range of motion issues. As Samuel says, “It just makes no sense.”
Awkward Hand Positioning
Holding the weight with both hands and swinging it completely overhead puts an unnecessary strain on your wrists and shoulders, especially as you attempt to go heavier. The awkward placement is another unnecessary recipe for shoulder injury, especially when there are safer options to get overhead, like dumbbell presses and kettlebell snatches.
Momentum Magnifies Injury Risk
With all the momentum used to swing a kettlebell vertically, there’s only one place for that bell to go when your arms reach the top: Back down, and at a velocity you may or may not be prepared for. Think of it like a roller coaster effect, Otey says. Once you reach the top, the bell is going to stop before momentum brings it back to a speed that can lead to injury if someone isn’t trained for it.
There’s no sense in risking injury when there are plenty of worthy (and more shoulder-safe) alternatives. Check out these exercises.
Alternatives for the American Kettlebell Swing
- Staggered-Stance Kettlebell Swing
3 sets of 10 to 12 reps
With this variation, you’re still able to get great power-producing swing benefits with just a light kettlebell. Because you’re in a staggered stance, this becomes a unilateral movement, with an added focus on keeping your hips in a forward position.
3 sets of 10 to 12 reps
This single-arm variation is so much more joint-friendly than an American kettlebell swing. By being able to first lower the kettlebell to your shoulder before lowering and resetting into swing position, you’ll reduce the momentum. That allows you to go heavier as well, as opposed to the full force eccentric pressure from an overhead position. Three sets of 10 to 12 reps works here.
3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
The goal of the kettlebell swing was always to create explosive hip power, so it would make sense to keep the focus on hip movement. This could be done by picking up and swinging a heavier kettlebell. As well as creating power, heavier weights will also build muscle. Three sets of six to eight reps is a good starting point for these.
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