American kettlebell swings: How to do them and 3 benefits for sculpting muscle all over

Athletic man working out with a kettlebell in front of brick wall. Outdoor workout.
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American kettlebell swings are closely related to Russian kettlebell swings — when you swing a dumbbell or kettlebell up to shoulder height from between your legs — but this variation hits your muscles harder. For this move, you’ll need to drive the weight overhead instead.

Increasing the range of motion during the swing ramps up the move somewhat. Below, we cover how to do American kettlebell swings with proper form, the benefits and the most common mistakes. 

We also discuss why the full-body exercise is so effective at strengthening your muscles and increasing your heart rate, making it one of the most well-known exercises around. Grab one of the best kettlebells for workouts, and read on for more. 

Russian kettlebell swings vs American kettlebell swings 

As mentioned above, the American kettlebell swing requires you to swing the weight above your head rather than stopping at shoulder height. Some personal trainers and instructors will tell you to keep the bell close to your body and bend your elbows, while others are strict on keeping your arms extended at all times. 

Despite the name, you could swap out the kettlebell for one of the best adjustable dumbbells or another weight of your choice.  

How to do American kettlebell swings 

Here are step-by-step instructions to do them:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell between your legs
  • Softly bend your knees, lock them in place and brace your stomach muscles
  • Hinge forward at the hips, grip the weight with both hands and keep a flat back. Set your shoulders back and down
  • Swing the kettlebell back between your legs, sending your hips back
  • Drive the kettlebell upwards and snap your hips forward
  • Send the weight above your head and squeeze your shoulder blades, back, arms, glutes and core tight. Pull your biceps back
  • Pause at the top, then control the descent back down and between your legs.

Here’s how to do a kettlebell swing in more detail. Remember to keep your forearms active and wrists straight. We also recommend learning how to hold a kettlebell properly here. 

American kettlebell swings: Benefits 

Both variations are compound exercises, meaning they engage major muscle groups, including your arms, shoulders, core and posterior chain — muscles that run down the back of the body. That includes your lower back, glutes, hips, hamstrings and calves. 

The American kettlebell swing demands more shoulder, back and core engagement as you work to stabilize the weight overhead. The move is a popular addition to strength and conditioning programs like CrossFit because it ramps up your heart rate and can be adapted to suit strength or cardio training simply by changing the weight. 

For strength programs, you could lift a heavier weight for fewer reps and work with sets, and for cardio, lift a lighter weight for higher reps to work on endurance and speed. 

Find out what happened when I did 90 American kettlebell swings every day for a week to learn more. 

American kettlebell swings: Common mistakes 

American swings help strengthen your lower back, glutes and hamstrings, which are muscles responsible for good posture and protecting your spine, so consider activating and strengthening them several times a week. 

But doing them wrong could lead to a nasty injury. Here are some mistakes we see. 

Lack of hip snap and core engagement

American kettlebell swings require hip, glute and core engagement, which requires bracing your stomach throughout the move and snappy hips. By that, we mean driving the hips forward and squeezing the glutes as you send the kettlebell upward. 

If you notice your arms taking the brunt of the work, try engaging your hips and core muscles more to generate power from the correct places. As you move, practice full-body activation by checking in with every major muscle group and giving them a healthy squeeze.

Lifting too heavy

Remember — American kettlebell swings are more tiring than their Russian counterpart, so many people, especially beginners, need to lift a lighter weight than for Russian kettlebell swings. If your form goes out the window just to lift a heavier weight, then drop your ego and weight range. If you struggle to properly stabilize the weight at the top, or can’t get the weight overhead, also scale back. 

American kettlebell swings: Variations 

Many people like to alternate arms by adopting single-arm kettlebell swings. We recommend practicing with a lighter weight and trying Russian kettlebell swings first until you feel more comfortable with the movement.

You could also double the load and use two weights; exercising this way improves balance, muscle coordination and helps strengthen your weaker side by teaching the two sides of your body to fire together. 

If programming them for the first time, consider your session. We cover hypertrophy vs strength training in more detail to help you plan sessions aligning with your goals, including recommended sets and reps.

As mentioned above, for strength programs, focus on progressively adding weight, aiming for fewer reps and more sets as a general rule of thumb. For high-intensity workouts, opt for higher reps or a rep target against a time cap, for example.

Studies like this piece of research show that kettlebell training could improve explosive strength and power; this could also translate to other exercises that work the posterior chain muscles, like bentover rows or deadlifts.  

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.