The kettlebell swing squat style, misunderstood by many, wrongfully shunned by plenty.
Let me tell you straight up, those that say that the squat style kettlebell swing is bad, and you shouldn’t do it; are those type of people that stop you from progressing, and learning more. These people are closed-minded. They could be great people, nice people, and have the best intentions, but they’ll hold you back. It could be that they do see the light, but can’t go back on those years of saying “the kettlebell swing squat style is bad”, they might not have the guts to do so, and doing something like that is hard, so don’t be too tough on them.
Why do a bottoms up press, and not a press? Because it’s different and works towards different goals!
A simple explanation to justify the kettlebell swing squat style is:
if it’s safe, works towards a goal, then it’s okay!
But we’ll dig a bit deeper than that.
Make sure you check out the side-by-side slow-mo video of the hip hinge and squat swing version further below.
The squat versus hip hinge.
Definition of the squat:
- Shoulders high
- Hips low
Visual: Hips low and shoulders high
A squat is performed in standing position with the objective being to move the hip joints as close to the ground as possible. This is achieved through flexion in 3 joints: flexion in the hip joints, flexion in the knee joints, and dorsiflexion in the ankle joints.
If flexion is achieved in any of the joints that define the squat, but no maximum depth is achieved, then it’s further defined by the approximate height; quarter squat; half squat; three-quarter squat; whereas maximum depth would be a full squat. A quick quarter squat can also be defined as a dip.
The objective of the squat exercise is to tax the quadriceps and gluteus maximus. A close to a vertical position of the torso provides the maximum resistance for the quadriceps, and the more it moves towards horizontal, the more it removes resistance from the target muscles. Furthermore, a vertical position of the torso provides the most stable and safe spinal structure for the weighted squat.
Definition of the hip hinge:
- Shoulders low
- Hips high
- Knee flexion optional (hips back)
- Hips (fixed)
- Knees (variable)
Visual: Hips high, and shoulders low
A hip hinge is performed in standing position with the objective being to move the shoulders towards horizontal, this is achieved through flexion in the hip joints. The movement can also be accompanied by flexion in a second joint, that of the knees, which is cause for the hips to move down and backward. The function of added knee flexion is to create a more balanced weight distribution, especially with weighted hip hinges like conventional deadlifts.
If the ankle joints move and dorsiflexion is achieved, then the definition of the movement changes to a squat. As with anything, this last statement is not black and white, if some dorsiflexion in the ankle is created, but the hips stay high and shoulders low, it will lean more towards the hip hinge. Setting absolute parameters that define each one, is simply impossible.
A squat contains a hip hinge.
The main reason why the squat during a kettlebell swing is frowned upon is that the kettlebell swing was made popular with the hip hinge style. Of course, if you need to do a hip hinge style swing, then a squat movement is not good. Second, the squat movement beginners perform instead of a hip hinge, usually goes paired with a shoulder raise, instead of letting the kettlebell swing.
The Kettlebell Swing Is a Pendulum
There is also a myth that the (Russian kettlebell) swing is a Pendulum! It’s not, it actually never is if you look at the definition of a pendulum from a black and white point of view. But we’re not going to get into that, the point I’m going to make is, the pendulum swing was made popular by kettlebell sport, it’s more of a squat style, rather than hip hinge style. The weight moves more freely (hence pendulum), there is a push with the hips, which is also something that was popular to say at some stage “push with the hips”, but the swing that was made popular is actually not a push with the hips, it’s a pull, a pull created by the glutes. The popular swing is actually half a pendulum, and then an insert.
But again, I’m not here to talk about what’s a pendulum, and what’s not, I’m here to tell you that a swing squat style is good if performed with sound technique.
The squat style swing:
- Taxes the quads more
- Reduces load on the lower back
- Backaches but wanting to swing
- Creates a different trajectory
- Is even more of a pull
- Taxes the upper trapezius more
- Taxes the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles more
- Is great for dynamically loaded movement of in and out of the squat
- Is easier to comprehend for beginners
- Has less chance of creating bobbing at the back-swing
- Increased anaerobic effect (larger muscle group)
- CrossFit high reps; moving the load to another muscle group but still getting in the reps
- Kettlebell sport same as above (but swinging to move into snatch or clean)
With the squat style:
- Knee flexion is created before the shoulders come forward
- The hips come a lot lower towards the ground
- Adds the recruitment of the lats
- Adds the recruitment of muscles in the upper back
- And more…
So, tell me again, why you would not do the swing squat style as well?
A side-by-side comparison in slow-motion of the kettlebell swing squat style and hip hinge style.
Let’s talk a bit more about kettlebell sport, a great example where a deep squat is sometimes used in sport is for example, towards the end of a 10-minute snatch set. It’s to create a different trajectory and tax different muscles, i.e. other muscle groups might be fatigued at that stage. So, if you’re into kb sport why would you not want to work in the same movement pattern that you need to employ during your comps? So, if you’re saying that the squat style swing is bad, you’re basically saying that the crème de la crème of kettlebells don’t know what they’re doing.
Outside of kb sport, why would someone do squat jumps? To get explosive, to tax the quads, etc. the kettlebell swing squat style can be very similar if you use it in the same manner. I could go on, and I will, in my new book that will come out soon The Best Book On The Kettlebell Swing.
“Hinge, not squat” WRONG, unless “We’re doing a hip hinge style swing, don’t squat”.
I’m happy to debate the above, as long as you bring clear reasons to the table as to why the squat style swing should never be done and is always wrong. And don’t get condescending, because I will eat you alive.
Here is a video in slow-mo of the squat style swing, please, feel free to point out what’s wrong with it. I mean it! I’m the kind of person who will stand firmly behind something I believe in, no matter whether a million people are against it, but I’m also the person that admits fault when it’s clearly demonstrated that I’m wrong.
Which One Should You Do?
As they both target different muscle groups, both have a different effect on training, you should use the one that makes sense to use, the one that works towards your goals, or helps achieve your goals at the time. If you’re just training generically and don’t really have a plan, don’t worry about which one to use.
PS. just in-case it wasn’t clear, if you’re saying a hip hinge style swing is not a squat, then I’m on your side.