There is more debate and rhetoric in the field of fitness and exercise than we really know what to do with. I guess when there is lots of passion in a given field of interest that opinions and emotions can run wild at times. Sometimes it is necessary and other times it’s just stirring the pot. Either way I love this industry because some of the adversity actually drives change.
This subject I am going to touch on has been debated by numerous sources and really is a small thing in the overall world of fitness, but for me it represents more of a philosophy and how are you training yourself or your clients. Any knucklehead trainer can just find another way to pulverize them into a pulp. It takes planning and actually knowing how to program make the clients better. The Kettlebell Swing is one of my favorite movements. It develops power, posterior chain chain (butt strength), hip flexor flexibility, and cardiovascular conditioning. I won’t get into the debate between swinging a kettlebell or a dumbbell, but a kettlebell is superior for the ballistic movements, period.
Now I see different methodologies swinging the kettlebell above their head. As an RKC we swing the bell no higher than our chest/chin. As the bell gets past the chin area it actually starts to slow down. Yes you can use some arm momentum and allow it to travel up above the head. But once again ask yourself “why are you doing this”. The philosophy of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”, comes into play here. Yes, it has the ability to increase your heart rate a bit by increasing some workload, but doing a hard style swing correctly will get your heart rate as high as you need it to go. But lets look at the cost to benefit of swinging the bell above your head.
First, when swinging the bell above the head the motion of the bell is going to be that of a circle. Your shoulder joint will act as an axis. So, it actuality if able the bell would continue a circle behind your body and circle back through your leg. I think all of us agree that it would be very unpleasant to have that happen. So what happens as the bell is traveling past the chin you have one of two options. Let the bell stop naturally where it may or put on the “breaks” with the bell now above your head. I don’t know about you but when the bell stops above head, you give gravity a shot at kicking in. Now with a 12kg bell it is probably not a big deal, but when I see workouts doing this with a 2 pood(70lb) bell I have more concerns, and don’t think this hasn’t happened. Also, many people have compromised T-spine mobility. In this situation mobility will either come from one of two places we don’t want, either the neck which will have to shoot forward through the arms/bell or the lower back which would mean hyper-extension. Either of these situations are not desirable for longevity in a exercise. Granted there are people that may be able to do this movement safely, but I am not sold on the benefit of this move with the risk associated with shoulder impingement or neck injury. If the bell needs to go above head in a ballistic movement the snatch is a much more appropriate movement.
Now having said that, there are still some people that should not snatch the kettlebell either. The reason I prefer the kettlebell snatch is due to the fact that the energy of the bell is actually directed upwards above the head rather that allowing the bell’s energy to go behind the head. The technique of the snatch involves a change in direction with a punching motion. As I say this I know that there are YouTube videos showing someone snatch a bell that is no different than a one arm American swing.Now you may say, “I have been doing American Swings for years and I have never had a problem.” My answer, “that is great for you”, but I still choose not to teach them to my clients. As Pavel has said “allow people to be as stupid as they want to be, as long as they are not paying you for it.” If you can show me that doing the American Swing is superior to a snatch or a strait up Hardstyle Swing workout then I will listen. And I don’t mean a workout that is meant to crush someone in 5 minutes by doing random acts of exercise. I am talking about a practical training session that is focused on a goal then I will be interested in listening. If power production is the goal then the above head swing doesn’t add any benefit. The primary power of the swing happens at the hips, not as the bell travels above head. The Hardstyle swing is NOT a half rep as some less experienced people in the fitness industry call it. Just as a kipping pull-up is not more athletic than someone that can rep out strict pull-ups with no momentum.