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Can kettlebell swings replace squats? [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Nov 6, 2017 10:00:00 AM

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Can kettlebells swings replace squats

The kettlebell swing and the squat are both highly functional. Some people are afraid and intimidated by the barbell back squat and it seems like that many women are among them. The kettlebell cannot replace the squat if you want to get really strong. If your goals are fat loss and toning however you can skip the squat. Your calves and your butt will just not be as defined as for others who do squat or cheat with plastic surgery and camera angles.

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Why do you train

This my favorite question for new clients. Why do you do? Why do you want to replace kettlebell swings with the squat? What is the plan? What are your challenges? By when do you want to achieve your goals? THose are the interesting questions in fitness and in life. Often people, including, start with the what and with the Why and how. There is an excellent TED talk by Simon Sinek out there which explains the importance of starting with why.
I personally train, because it gives me security and control in life. Once I control my body and mind, i can control my surroundings. Once I control my surroundings I can make my wife's dreams come true which ultimately makes me happy. The first stepping stone on that journey is to get out there and be healthy. When I train I win the day before it even started. Whatever the reason why you train, I hope I can help you to get there and to take some of this thinking with you. It made and still makes me fulfilled.
The most common reasons for people to train are based on what I read, hear and talk to my clients are:
  • Increasing sports performance
  • Looks
  • Rehabilitation
I am not a great believer in looks. They are subjective, object to change and we will all wither and die. If you want to train for looks find a good bodybuilding coach or even better nutritionist. It takes a lot of passion and obsession to make it to the cover of Men's health. I am not your guy to get you there for looks. If you are looking for performance, grit, and determination, you have found your guy.
For rehabilitation, I personally think the two movements are too complex to bring someone back from being immobile to getting full mobility again. This is a lengthy and complex process which mainly involves body-weight and exercise with a lot of support and no load. Kettlebell swings can be effective for treating lower back pain as are back squats, However, it depends on how well they are being performed and both movements are complex to teach correctly.
If you want to increase your strength for sports performance I am your guy. With minimum effort, you can manage to lose 15kg and run a marathon with six months of preparation time. In three years you can push your one repetition maximum for the back squat from 20kg to a 170kg in your thirties. Not the ideal time to develop strength. Why? If I can do it, you can do it too.
When train and ask "Can kettlebell swings replace the squat" always ask yourself what the specific goal is you want to achieve.

The question "Can kettlebell swings replace the squat" lacks context

As it is addressed, the question has to be answered with no. It is too general and you do not know which goal is being pursued. If you provide some context it becomes easier to answer the question while still providing value to you.
Can kettlebell swings replace the squat for absolute strength development? The answer to that question is also no. If you want to develop absolute strength and get stronger the squat can be loaded heavier & easier to progress to get bigger and stronger.
Can kettlebell swings replace the squat for getting a six pack? In this case, both will help more or less equally good to get ripped as the tool you use to exercise is not the main factor for achieving a chiseled physique. The two main components for getting a strong and nice looking midsection are bracing and diet. Diet will determine how high your body fat percentage is. The lower the body fat, the more likely your abs will show. Bracing has helped me a lot more to develop good abs than exercises. You will get more out of any exercise you do if you learn how to create tension effectively.
Can kettlebell swings replace the squat for quad development? Here also the answer is not as the swing doe not go below parallel. If you want your full legs to be activated you have to learn how to squat deep or find other exercises to address you do not cover because you can not or do not want to do the squat.
Can kettlebell swings replace the squat for building higher power output? Yes for building better explosiveness the kettlebell is superior to the back squat as it develops more forward force which you need to tackle someone effectively or sprint.
Even though the kettlebell is a partial squat when performed correctly, it does not address as many muscle groups as the full squat does. So for full body strength development, the squat is preferred. If you, however, lack the potential to unfold your might aggressively and explosively the kettlebell swing is just the right tool for you.
If you want all of this backed by a study read Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Mechanical Demands of the Kettlebell Swing. Keep in mind, that the sample is small and the loads are not very heavy, which is a common challenge with studies being conducted for strength training.

The squat

To perform the squat correctly do first look into your overall mobility. Spent up to three months opening up your hips and getting your ankles ready to get comfortable into a deep squat without your heels coming off the ground. If you are able to do this right away skip this and start with Stronglifts 5x5 to build your squat to a 100 to 120kg. Read my article on how to improve your squat to get an idea of the things to watch out for a better squat.

The kettlebell swing

The kettlebell swing is not as easy as it looks. I recommend reading Pavel Tsatsoulin@s book simple and sinister before starting a kettlebell program. The main things to get right are:
  • The top of the movement is ramrod straight. Avoid leaning backward
  • The kettlebell swing is a hinge, not a squat. Downwards movement should be kept minimal
  • The arms function as a hook, not as a pulley for the weight
  • You give the kettlebell momentum and dominate it in the movement, not the other way around
  • Your glutes and abs should be maximally flexed at the top of the swing
All of these points are explained in more detail in Pavel's material. I highly recommend the read.

Squat vs kettlebell swing

For me, it is not a question of either or and it should not be for you if you are able to bend your knees properly to go below parallel for the squat. The kettlebell will help you to become more ballistic and therefore help you to increase all of your lifts to push through the sticking point. It also provides more balance to your overall physique. 
The squat is iconic and the tool to get your legs bigger and stronger. Anyone who avoids it in the gym makes their lives unnecessarily harder to reach their goals if they are related to sports performance.


The kettlebell swing can only replace the squat of the main aim of training is fat loss and increased power. It can not replace the squat when the main goal is the absolute strength. A fully rounded strength athlete will be wise and keep all of his/her options open to progress as quickly as possible and discard neither of these tools (if you want to get rid of something desperately, throw out the swiss balls).

Further reading 

On kettlebells

On the squat


Topics: Squat, Kettlebell, Fitness