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.
Extended or 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.
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.
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.
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, your erector spinea, glutes, 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 Forward / Outward
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.
I hope some of the analysis in this article will help you in your training, and start being more open-minded.
- You can change the trajectory of the kettlebell to emphasize or change a certain goal of the swing
- Bent elbows during the swing should be from lat and chest activation and/or the trajectory
- Bent elbows should not be from active elbow flexion