According to a research study conducted by ACE Fitness, kettlebell swings are one of the most effective hamstring exercises, and studies have found that the kettlebell swing exercise is a highly effective movement for improving functional strength.
But you may wonder, how many kettlebell swings should I do in a workout?
Keep reading to find out!
We will cover:
- How Do You Do a Kettlebell Swing
- How Many Kettlebell Swings Should I Do?
- Should I Do Kettlebell Swings for Time or Reps?
Let’s dive in!
How Do You Do a Kettlebell Swing?
If you are going to be doing kettlebell swings in your workouts and potentially trying to do as many kettlebell swings as possible, using proper kettlebell swing technique is paramount.
Here are the steps for how to do a kettlebell swing:
- Stand upright with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, gripping the side/top of the kettlebell handle with each hand (one hand around each “corner” or bend of the handle top).
- Your arms should be fully extended so the kettlebell is hanging down in front of your body.
- Keep your heels firmly planted, but allow a gentle bend in your knees.
- Engage your core and glutes as you press through your heels and explode through your hips to drive the kettlebell upward until it’s roughly chest height with your arms fully extended out in front of you.
- Control the kettlebell as it descends back down. Allow the weight to swing backward through the space between your legs. Keep your glutes and lower back tight.
- At the end of the arc of the swing, snap your hips forward again to drive the kettlebell back up to chest height.
- Move in a smooth and seamless pattern from rep to rep without stopping.
How Many Kettlebell Swings Should I Do?
These primarily include the posterior chain muscles like the erector spinae group in the lower back, the glutes, the hamstrings, and the calves, along with the core, shoulders, and hip flexors in the anterior side of your body.
As with other strength training exercises, you can also perform kettlebell swings to build muscle mass (known as hypertrophy training) in the muscles targeted by kettlebell swings or to increase muscular endurance in these muscle groups.
Finally, somewhat distinct from traditional strength training exercises like biceps curls, overhead presses, or even squats, you can also perform kettlebell swings with the primary goal of boosting metabolic rate, burning calories, and increasing your heart rate to give you a more of a cardio workout or metabolic conditioning (met-con) workout.Each of these different fitness goals that can be acquired from kettlebell swing workouts will influence how many kettlebell swings you should do in a workout, as well as how much weight to use for a kettlebell swing.
Let’s break down each one to answer your question, how many kettlebell swings should I do, based on my specific goal:
When you want to do kettlebell swings to increase strength or explosive power, this means that you want to increase the maximum load that your muscles worked by kettlebell swings can handle.
The kettlebell swing exercise is primarily a hip hinge type of movement, so kettlebell swing training can translate to improvements in deadlifting, hip thrusts, and other hip hinge exercises.
Additionally, the kettlebell swing is arguably one of the truest full-body weighted exercises, so you will also strengthen your lower back, mid-back, upper back, shoulders, and core muscles.
Depending on whether you have muscle imbalances or relative weakness in any of these muscle groups, you may be limited in the number of kettlebell swings you can do with a heavy enough weight based on whichever muscle group involved in the kettlebell swing is your “weakest link.”
When you are performing kettlebell swings to increase strength, build up to doing 3-6 sets per workout, 3-8 reps per set, and at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load.
Note that this rep range is slightly higher than the traditional rep range prescribed for regular strength training exercises for building strength, such as squats or bench presses.
This is largely due to the fact that kettlebell swings are more of a metabolic exercise and use many muscle groups and some momentum.
Therefore, you shouldn’t be trying to max out with a 1 to 3 rep range using an estimated kettlebell swing 1RM unless you are specifically training for the CrossFit games or working with a kettlebell-certified coach.
It is generally safe for beginners and intermediate athletes to perform kettlebell swings and do kettlebell workouts without a kettlebell coach or in organized CrossFit kettlebell workouts with a coach.
Even so, it is better to be safe and a little conservative with how much weight you use for kettlebell swings if you are not extremely proficient or confident in your form.
Using improper kettlebell swing technique or loading too heavily with the kettlebell weight for kettlebell swings can cause injury to your lower back or hip flexors, especially as you fatigue and your form starts to break down.
Additionally, if you have chronic shoulder injuries and you are relying too much on your upper body to raise the kettlebell up in front of you rather than harnessing the momentum from the powerful hip pop, you can also irritate your shoulders and the small postural muscles in your upper back.
That said, the fewer kettlebell swing reps you perform per set, the closer to 100% of your 1RM (or theoretical KB swing 1RM) you should aim for with your kettlebell weights.
Basically, if you are trying to increase strength with kettlebell swing workouts, use a heavier weight if you are going to do sets of 5 reps of kettlebell swings reps vs sets of 8 reps of kettlebell swings.
#2: Building Muscle
In cases where your goal is hypertrophy (muscle growth for the muscles worked by kettlebell swings), try to perform three sets of kettlebell swings, using a kettlebell weight that corresponds to about 70 to 85% of your anticipated KB swing 1RM for 8 to 15 reps.
Again, this is just slightly about the hypertrophy recommendations for traditional strength training exercises.
This volume is necessary to trigger the process of muscle protein synthesis, in which your muscle fibers are first broken down and then repaired and rebuilt such that the damaged fibers become thicker and stronger, which leads to larger muscles or an increase in muscle mass.
#3: Muscular Endurance
Finally, you can perform kettlebell swings or other variations of the basic two-handed kettlebell swing to increase muscular endurance.
Muscular endurance refers to how long your muscles can continually contract or perform work for a sustained period of time without fatigue.
Kettlebell swing workouts for muscular endurance are beneficial for runners, hikers, long-distance walkers, cyclists, etc., who perform endurance exercise under lower loads but need their posterior chain muscles to have good stamina for long aerobic workouts.
When you are performing kettlebell swings to increase muscular endurance, you will want to do longer sets of a minimum of 15 to 20 reps per set of KB swings, working up to 3 to 4 sets with minimal rest in between each set.
Use lighter weights, usually approximately 60 to 65% of your 1RM.
You may even want to build up to longer sets of 25-50 kettlebell bell swing reps, but keep in mind that you should drop the relative weight you use for long sets.
For example, if you want to do a 100 kettlebell swings a day challenge or a couple of longer sets, like 25-30 reps of kettlebell swings per set, use a lighter weight that corresponds to closer to 50-60% of your predicted 1RM.
If it feels too easy, cut down on the rest time between sets and/or add another set.
Then, increase the weight of the kettlebell for your kettlebell swings for muscular endurance training.
Should I Do Kettlebell Swings for Time or Reps?
Instead of counting kettlebell swing reps or using the number of kettlebell swings as the metric by which you measure how many kettlebell swings you should do, you can also do kettlebell swings for a certain length of time.
Performing kettlebell swings for time vs reps is generally a better approach for cardio/burning calories and increasing muscular endurance, whereas performing a certain number of reps vs time is often a better approach for workouts for hypertrophy and strength.
Although there are no hard and fast rules for these distinctions, the reason that you may do kettlebell swings for time with cardio and endurance is that it can be cumbersome to count your reps during longer sets of kettlebell swings and more straightforward to progress your workouts by extending the time.
For example, you might start with 30 seconds of kettlebell swings and then progress to 40 or 45 seconds with the same weight. Once you can handle that weight, you might progress to doing 60 seconds of kettlebell swings.
The opposite is true in terms of the benefits of doing a certain number of kettlebell swing reps versus kettlebell swings for times when you are doing kettlebell swings for hypertrophy or strength.
Here, progressive overload is often accomplished by adding more weight, so it is helpful to know how many reps you are doing and stick within the rep range recommended by the strength continuum for gains in strength and mass.
These guidelines do not necessarily translate easily to timed sets of kettlebell swings (for example, are 30 seconds of KB swings equivalent to hypertrophy rep ranges?).
Remember, it’s most important to listen to your body; moreover, changing the number of reps and sets you do—and the kettlebell weights—can help prevent strength plateaus.
Learn more about progressive overload here.