How many kettlebell swings? [Article]
In this article, you will find the factors which will influence how many swings you should do, guidance on how to form fitness goals and finally some templates with advice on what to pick. Based on your level you will do somewhere between 100 - 500 swings with a very high probability of coming in at the low end of 10x10 sets which is plenty.
The question lacks context
The question of how many kettlebell swings you should do lacks context as it depends on who you are and where you want to go
in your fitness journey. Based on this you can decide on the number of swings to make you grow and reach your goals. You will mainly find three big fields of interest in fitness.
- Weight loss
The category you are in determines how far you will take the number of swings for a given workout.
If your main goal is weight loss the regime will be most tied to high-intensity interval training or just simply interval training. In this setup, the swings will be as many as possible for a time. The time frame is set somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds and alternates with the same amount of time for rest. The Same approach is taken for circuit training. While these approaches work, keep in mind that you get the most out of kettlebells when you make haste, not speed. You want to be like a precise marksman, not a terrified rabbit running from a fox when you do the kettlebell swing.
If you are majorly interested in performance, specifically strength performance, the swing is a good tool to improve your hip hinge to address the deadlift lockout or develop more explosiveness on the second pull for the Olympic lifts.
If absolute strength in the midsection is your main challenge you might be better off with good mornings or hip thrusts using a barbell. You can go heavy with kettlebells too, however, most gyms do not have the equipment to do so as 24kg or 28kg is the heaviest you will find. Keep in mind that the weight behaves a lot different for kettlebells than for barbells and just try if you do not believe me. Take two 16kg kettlebells and try to do a front squat. Load a barbell with 32.5 kg (barbell + 2 5kg and 1.25kg plates) and do the same. You will see that the kettlebell front squat is easier on your wrists but a lot harder on the legs.
For strength athletes, limit yourself to ten repetitions a set or less depending on the load you pick as you do not have the cardiovascular need to push for as many reps as possible in a limited amount of time. For those, keep high focus and aggressiveness throughout each repetition. Educate yourself on the hardstyle method and keep that in mind.
In terms of health, it is good advice to stick close with what your physiotherapist says on exercise and how much load you can take. Keep in mind that doctors are always very cautious to avoid further injury. Take your time if you are doing rehab from injury. If you are a bit advanced in age and want to do kettlebells to stay fit apply common sense that you might have to get used to the new movements longer than 30 years ago. For health purposes, same applies in terms of a number of swings for strength or fat loss purposes while half overall count to address longer adaptation. That is me being cautious.
Who are you
Apart from fitness goals, it is also important to think of the factors which make you... well... you. These are
Your age determines unfortunately how fast you recover from any type of stress. Generally, the younger you are the quicker you grow, adapt and recover from and to different types of stress. When picking your amount of swings keep this in mind in correlation with all other factors to stay injury free and have fun with kettlebells.
Weight will also determine what size of kettlebell you will pick and how many swings you will do. The bigger you are the bigger the kettlebell will be you start with given that your mass is muscle and not fat. If you are overweight pick a kettlebell which is not too light compared to your size. If you weigh 100kg and more and decide to do kettlebells, although I think walking regularly would be a better start until you have lost some weight, flinging a 4kg kettlebell around will not do a lot for you based on your mass (Newton's laws... anyway back to topic). For your weight and swings, same thinking applies as already outlined. Being fat (yes I said it sorry, I was too) means you are a bit more conservative and being a beast allows you to a bit more aggressive when picking a number of swings.
General health is obvious and also should be stated. If you are chronically ill, especially when it comes to matters of the heart and lung, be mindful about the all-out sets for time. This can backfire badly if you get an attack of some kind because you overdid it. If you have problems with your knees the kettlebell swing can be an excellent alternative to the squat as you do not go below parallel. Shoulders and arms should be ok if the swing is performed correctly and not loaded too heavy. If you have shoulder issues stay away from the American swing which brings the weight overhead.
Fitness is another important part of the picture. Even if two people have the same age, height, weight and medical record it does not necessarily mean that they have the same fitness level. Some people are apt at picking up movement patterns while others are better at grinding through lifting a heavy load. Individuals who trained during their teenage years are fitter than the ones who have not. If your diet was always on spot and you avoided alcohol most of your life it is easier to condition your body than one which has been treated like a trash can. Here also, use some common sense when deciding on your number of swings which can work in both directions.
What is your goal
Your goal will determine what kind of exercises will be most beneficial for you to reach it. For this, the three areas outlined for you in this post of performance, health and weight loss are usually too broad.
You are more likely to achieve your goal by making it SMART, which means specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. So a better goal for performance using kettlebells for weight loss would be:
I want to lose 10kg in 2 months to look my best for my wedding. This means I have to lose a little more than 2kg a week until then. This is important to me as I will look at these pictures my entire life and I want to show my old friends from school that I made something out of myself. To achieve this I will half my calorie intake, split my macros in 40 40 20 and track intake via MyFitnessPal. To further support this goal I will exercise three times a week to build muscle mass doing 100 swings and ten Turkish get-ups with 16kg. For this, I have freed up time on my calendar and prioritized my fitness activities.
As you can see this is not just one line, but a more comprehensive approach to your fitness. It is good advice to break down all of the things which matter to you to this level of detail/
What is your plan
Once you have a goal defined it is also important to decide which tools you will use to achieve it. The kettlebell is one tool you can use and include in your plan while there are other options like dumbbells, barbells, runs and rowing machines which can get you where you want to be. For planning, it is important to
- Know your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences
- Have a grasp on how aggressive your goal is
- Break the goal down into milestones
- Break the milestones down to daily activities
To reach a goal you have to be aware of your status quo and what your strength and weaknesses are. The process of planning includes looking at these and find the optimum way for you personally to reach the goal. If you live in an apartment for rent which is 200 miles away from any gym and you do not have the resources to build your own the plan has to be adjusted to someone who lives in central New York who has access to five facilities just walking around two blocks.
In addition, it is also good to know and be critical about how aggressive your goal is. The more aggressive the goal is the more detailed the plan has to be to be successful as your margin for error shrinks. So if you want to lose 10kg in a week you better plan all of the meals, calorie intake and gym sessions in advance to have the slightest chance of getting there. If however, you want to lose the same amount of weight in half a year, the plan does not need to be as airtight and you can focus more on monthly or quarterly milestones than daily activities.
A goal should be broken down into digestible milestones to work towards and see whether you are on track. Milestones for kettlebell training can be when you want to move up to the next kettlebell or a certain test of x amount of swings per minute. The standards for the Strongfirst certification are great milestones to aspire to.
Once you have your milestones break them down into daily, repeatable tasks which can be scaled in different directions. This helps you to cope with life and still push on with your training as you do not have to think every time about what you want to do and why. Discipline is the pathway to freedom.
100 swings a day
This the regime personally use. I do 100 swings and 10 Turkish get-ups a day to support my goals of a 200kg back squat and 230kg deadlift. While this is a strength warm-up for me it can be enough for most people to stay fit and healthy their entire life. This workout is done in about 15 minutes including the warm-up and can be done in auto repeat mode. When you start out you might want to increase weight on a monthly basis until progress slows down to quarterly and half yearly.
300 swings a day
300 swings a day is the prescription for serious strength athletes who do not want to use the barbell or athletes who only want to use the kettlebell as a strength supplement in their training. If you are in martial arts and very fit, this can be all you need to do for your strength injection. Be aware that this is an approach which should only be done by individuals who are already a lot fitter than the average population, while the 100 swing routine can be done by anyone who does not have any major health issues to consider.
500 swings a day
Dan John posted a challenging routine on T Nation which has you do 500 swings a day. Much fun and also grueling. Read the post to form your own opinion. This is only for the hardcore guys and ladies out there.
Which kettlebell weight to pick
Women usually should pick somewhere between 8kg to 16kg while men will start with 12kg to 24kg depending on fitness level, age, weight, and goals. Women tend to underestimate themselves when picking their first kettlebell, well men have a tendency to overestimate what they can use.
The number of swings is highly depending on what you want to do and who you are. Keep these factors in mind when you pick your template to follow. The good thing about swings is that if they are performed correctly, you can do quite a few. Learn about hardstyle swings and start with 100 a day when you are new to strength. If you are already a beast and squat 200kg+ for repetitions, be my guest and pick the heaviest load you can find and do 500 a day.
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