Extended/Straight or Bend/Flexed Arms During the Kettlebell Swing?

A question often asked in kettlebell training when someone sees others swinging a kettlebell with straight or bent arms is “Should the arms be straight or bent when swinging a kettlebell?”. This article provides the answer to that question.

If you read the kettlebell book Kettlebell Training Fundamentals or completed the Cavemantraining online kettlebell course, you will have noticed that it’s recommended to keep the arms straight/extended during the kettlebell swing. This is because that book and course are aimed at beginners.


Should the arm fully extend on the kettlebell swing, and this demo is wrong? YES / NO Or is there more to it? Leave your comments below. #kettlebellswing #kettlebelltraining #cavemantraining #kettlebellcoach

♬ original sound – Cavemantraining

Updated Nov 2023. Here’s an interesting addition to the conversation and debate about whether the arms should be bent or straight during kettlebell swings.

“What’s the difference between keeping elbows close to the body this way, versus keeping hands straight and getting the kettlebell all the way up to shoulder level? All the videos I’ve seen have shown the full swing and I’ve always done that, but I’m curious of giving this alternative version a go. Are there any benefits to doing it this way or is it just a matter of preference etc?”

Great question. As for the height of the kb, if you review the video again, maybe we can agree it does go to chest height.

As for the difference, when your arms are straight, the weight travels further away from you. It’s been said that it works the upper back more, but I still need to be convinced on this matter. I do see how you need to resist the weight more as it is further away from you, so that would also be additional work but whether that is more work than what I am already doing, I don’t know.

For me, I really squeeze my lats, chest, and pull the scapulae down and together, so that the whole upper body is working. Doing that results in the upper arm not coming high which results in a bend in the elbows and that keeps the weight closer to the body.

Funny enough I found another article that features my photo and might be interesting to read, I don’t agree with it, but you can decide for yourself after lots of analyzing and testing www.nicolebedoyafitness.com/blog/bentarmskettlebellswing Again, when you read that article, you must keep in mind that is only written from one perspective and totally neglecting everything else, and that perspective is Hardstyle.

For example, it speaks about the sacrifice of power, and that’s a hardstyle thing, with Hardstyle it appears to be all about power, which equals strength and speed. Take away the speed and you still have strength. Then another thing that’s not Hardstyle, and that’s endurance. The Hardstyle world is always so about one thing, so black and white, and the rest is no good without actually looking at other things or even acknowledging that there is a lot more going on in the kettlebell world than HS/Power.

I have tested it, and of course, I can only go by what I feel, for a true test we would need expensive high-tech equipment. For me, I feel I generate more power with the bent arms as I feel like I won’t be pulled off balance, especially with heavier weights so that allows me to focus on generating more power. Yes, to resist the pull we can lean back by bending at the ankles, hips, or thoracic spine. I also don’t feel stress on my arms, which I do with Hardstyle swings and straight arms. I also feel like my lats are doing a lot more work to keep that upper arm down and resist against the pull.

So, I’m not here to tell you that you should one over the other, rather, understand them, test them, analyze them, and judge for yourself.

Let me know your thoughts. Following are a couple of related frequently asked questions and after that follows a lot more analysis for the arms bent or straight during the kettlebell swing.

Straight/Extended or bend/flexed arms during the kettlebell swing?

The quick answer is that both are correct under the right conditions as long as the arms are never actively flexed. That means, don’t create the flexion in the elbow with your biceps. Read on to learn more as it’s important and can change your swing.

What is the proper form for kettlebell swings?

At the top of the swing stand tall with the chest active and shoulders down. At the back of the swing, your spine should be neutral, including your neck, and the arms should be pointing through the legs and touching the body.

What is the proper way to hold a kettlebell?

For kettlebell swings, the proper way to hold the handle of the kettlebell is with one or two hands using a hook grip. Don’t hold it with a farmer’s grip. There are many more variations that you should check out in Master Kettlebell Grips.

More details

Once you pass the stage of a kettlebell novice, it’s time to look at whether you should be swinging with flexed or extended arms, and more importantly why and how it affects your training.

Latissimus dorsi
Latissimus dorsi muscle

Whether the arms should be in a flexed or extended state, partly depends on the trajectory of the kettlebell. Is the weight going outward and upward, or is the weight going more upward than outward? It also depends on what you want from the swing. Personally, I engage my lats a lot during the swing. The latissimus dorsi is a large muscle that runs across the back and is connected to your upper arm. This muscle is partly responsible for shoulder adduction and extension (pulling your arm in and down). The other big muscle involved with this action is the pectoralis major (part of your chest).

When engaging those muscles and keeping your elbows soft, the elbows will bend. Don’t forget, that there are many different styles and variations of the kettlebell swing.

For me, the objective is not to bend the arms but to really squeeze the scapulae together, the lats down, and the armpits together (chest activation). If this results in the arms bending, so be it, but the bending of the arms is not the goal. 

kettlebell swing straight arms

In the following video, I swing 48kg and I am trying to keep my arms as straight as possible. You can see that this results in having to lean back a lot. In the future, when I have access to a 48kg again, I will test whether my speed improves if I keep the weight closer as a result of bent arms. 

Muscles Challenged (think training)

During swinging you can dictate the trajectory and change the muscles challenged, for example, if the trajectory of the weight will pull you forward, the posterior chain gets more resistance, and your erector spinea, gluteals, rhomboids, middle traps, etc. will need to work harder to resist the pulling force. You can change the trajectory to go more upward, allowing you to focus more on explosiveness rather than control of the weight.

Change the trajectory of the backswing with an insert, and you get more pull on the upper traps. This technique is one I recommend, and use to prevent bobbing of the kettlebell.

During high or heavy reps you never want the trajectory of the kettlebell going outward with actively flexed arms/bent elbows, and constant tension on the muscles/tendons. Hence, for beginners, I recommend keeping them straight, to allow focus on more important things, like glute and hamstring activation. In other words, you don’t want to pull the weight in through elbow flexion on the upswing.

As a golden rule, remember that if the trajectory of the bell is directly away from the shoulders, the arms should be straight. This is always the case in the down phase of the swing and can be in the up phase depending on its trajectory.

As with anything, what you end up doing also depends on the build of your body and personal preference. Double arm swings might require slightly flexed elbows for someone who has a really wide torso.

Trajectory Upward

Trajectory Backward

Trajectory Forward / Outward

Specific Trajectories

The trajectory of the kettlebell is consistent with the following exercises which are based upon the swing; snatch, always upward; clean, always upward; never outward to full arm extension with either of these two. Thus the swing is really the only exercise where you can drastically change the trajectory to suit the goals of your training.

Another note in regards to trajectory and the swing. The pendulum swing is designed for the clean and snatch, it does not go out and away from the body, it should travel up at the front. The hip hinge swing can be performed Hardstyle or Freestyle. In Hardstyle, the arms need to be straight, in Freestyle you decide based upon what you want to work. 

Working on bringing the elbows back also helps improve your clean and snatch, as you do not want the arms to be completely straight, even in the Hardstyle snatch there is some varying pull back of the elbow.

I hope some of the analysis in this article will help you in your training, and start being more open-minded. Think about goals when swinging.

To Summarize

  • You can change the trajectory of the kettlebell to emphasize or change a certain goal of the swing
  • Bent arms/elbows during the swing should be from lat and chest activation and/or the trajectory
  • Bent arms/elbows should not be from active elbow flexion
  • If you want to work the scapulae more with scapula adduction then consider swinging with bent arms
  • Do your own testing and analysis to decide on what’s best for your goal at any given time

In the end, both camps will find enough reason to keep doing what they’re doing. The best is to always open up, test, analyze, retest, re-analyze, understand it, and make a decision one or the other, or use both when needed.

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