The American Kettlebell Swing: Why You Should Never Do It

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Yes, the title says “The American Kettlebell Swing: Why You Should Never Do It” but that’s partly clickbait and partly true. But now that you’re here, allow me to elaborate and tell you that within the right context it’s perfectly ok to say “You should never do an American Swing”, but it’s just plain stupid and ignorant to say without proper context, and generalising.


American vs Russian Swing

The biggest difference between the American and Russian Swing (AKA Conventional Kettlebell Swing) is the height the kettlebell ends at, explosiveness required and the involvement of the shoulders. There is also the fact that you simply shouldn’t do an American Swing with a very heavy weight.



The Problem With The American Swing

My opinion is that the American Swing gets a bad rep within the kettlebell community because of the fact that CrossFit athletes are not taught the conventional swing first, without this fundamental foundation it will promote the athlete to primarily use their shoulders to do a lot of pulling, rather than hip and leg drive to get the weight up with the swing, hence the reason it’s called American Swing. Take the fact that everything else in CrossFit when it comes to barbell work is pretty much pulling, it’s quite easy for athletes to mistakingly apply that concept to the swing. This then all becomes a recipe for disaster and injury, especially with high reps and awkward overhead position. The second thing is that one needs good shoulder and thoracic mobility before being able to put the kettlebell overhead with such a narrow grip, most people don’t have this, so why force the shoulders in such an awkward position they’re not ready for? You don’t straight away grab the barbell and do overhead squats with a narrow grip do you? No, you work up to that, and once you’re able to do it, it becomes a show of mobility —the ultimate overhead position!

Overhead Squat


Context is the key

As mentioned earlier, it’s all about proper context, if I’m working with a novice, then I will certainly not do the American Swing with them, and if I saw some other trainer with a novice, I would say “You should not be doing the American Swing” and explain why. If I am working with someone who has shoulder issues, then I would say … well you know know what I would say!


When it comes to programming, if you want to work the shoulders in a workout, then throw some American Swings in, of course people will say “but there are better ways to work the shoulders”, this is true, but it’s not always about what’s better, we’d have some really boring programmes if it was, and clients would get bored quite quickly. I personally don’t program American Swings, but I could see how it would fit in a double arm kettlebell complex, like 3 x goblet squat, 3 x conventional swing, 3 x high swing and 3 x american swing. Btw. I don’t classify the high swing as an American Swing, the high swing comes up just a bit higher than the conventional swing, in between shoulder height and above the head. I can also see the American Swing as progression to the kb snatch or regression for those injured.


If you want to swing really heavy, let’s say 32kg or over, then you don’t do American Swings, yeah of course Greg would say “most of our guys can easily do an American Swing with 32kg” in fact, he said it, I’d be really surprised if by “most of our guys” he was referring to most of the guys from all boxes across the world, because that sounds really unlikely and very dangerous for ‘most of his guys’. The American Swing movement standard requires the kettlebell to balance upside down above the head with arms locked out, do this with a heavy kettlebell and you are gambling with injury upon each rep, will the kettlebell topple over or not?


To be honest, I’m sick of the war between the American and Russian Swing, stop trying to make one look better than the other, they’re both good after proper education and within the right context. The context you should consider when deciding to include one or the other, or both, are:

  • safety
  • weight
  • repetitions
  • objectives
  • audience
  • experience


Following is what Greg has to say about the American Swing.

Greg Glassman“On first being introduced to the kettlebell swing our immediate response was, ‘Why not go overhead?’ Generally, we endeavour, somewhat reflexively, to lengthen the line of travel of any movement. Why?


There are two reasons. The first is somewhat intuitive. We don’t do half rep pull-ups, we don’t do half rep squats, and we don’t do half rep push-ups. If there is a natural range of motion to any movement we like to complete it. To do otherwise seems unnatural. We would argue that partial reps are neurologically incomplete. The second reason deals with some fundamentals of physics and exercise physiology.


From physics we know that the higher we lift something, and the more it weighs, the more ‘work’ we are performing. Work is in fact equal to the weight lifted multiplied by the height we lift the object. Work performed divided by the time to completion is equal to the average ‘power’ expressed in the effort.


Power is exactly identical to the exercise physiologist’s ‘intensity’. Intensity, more than any other measurable factor, correlates to physiological response. So more work in less time, or more weight moved farther in less time, is largely a measure of an exercise’s potency.


When we swing the kettlebell to overhead, the American swing, we nearly double the range of motion compared to the Russian swing and thereby double the work done each stroke. For any given time period, the power would be equivalent only if the Russian swing rate was twice the American swing rate.” – Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit


I think it’s a lot of bull to justify the American Swing with it being more natural to complete the movement, if that is the case, then why do deadlifts at all, why not complete it with a clean or snatch? Hold your horses, just because I don’t agree with the above, does not mean I don’t like the American Swing, I’m just saying the above is bull to justify it. Could it be that CrossFit simply needed a movement standard, i.e. above the head is easier to judge than shoulder height?


“CrossFit is a great system, but they don’t utilise kettlebells well because of a lack of qualified kettlebell instruction.” ~ T.C., RKC


I did not make the above comment, but I do agree with it. CrossFit is a great system, but it’s not utilising kettlebells well due to the lack of qualified kettlebell instruction. This applies not just to CrossFit, this applies to most gyms across the world. I also don’t think the comment only referred to the American Swing but to general kettlebell exercises employed within CrossFit boxes.


If you do Olympic Lifting, you get in Olympic Lifting Coaches for teaching, if you do Kettlebell Training, you get in ….

the kettlebell swing ebookIf you want the scoop on the Russian Swing, have a look at this ebook

Join the Kettlebell Swing group on Facebook


Footnote: if you’re really against the American Swing, a great alternative is the Kettlebell Snatch. However, there is still a lot that can be said about this comparison, more on that next time.


If you enjoyed this article, check out the following article which delves into the explanation of using the back to lift weight incorrectly, and how to explain to your students what lifting with the back is. I’m also heading up the Kettlebells in CrossFit Project, check it out, I will soon release an ebook which covers details on how to run a workshop for kettlebell swing and snatch efficiency in CrossFit.

How do you feel about the American Swing, what do you think about the article? Your feedback below or on this Facebook post here.


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