Written by Taco Fleur
Edited by Sean Wells
I just love it when the hardline followers of some particular style of exercise come out of nowhere to tell the rest of the world they’re doing it wrong, and their way is the ONLY way. I got this lovely comment on my youtube channel from Phil Sheppard (who’s obviously a kettlebell expert)…
“A video telling ppl how to do swings correctly, he’s doing it wrong; you don’t look at the floor when on the downward flow of the swing, it’s always straight ahead. Check strength first channel (Pavel Tsatsouline)”
I really do mean it though, I love it: it makes me take a look at why I’m doing it my way—and not their way—which then prompts me to write about it.
It does not make me angry when people criticise me, because:
- I’m not perfect and never will be
- it makes me re-analyse what I do and why
(after all, they may have a point)
- many people still think there’s only one way to skin a cat, and so they never question or revise their methods
Turning to the actual criticism, I do admit there was a time I too was only doing the Kettlebell Swing with the eyes fixed to a set point on the horizon. It just felt good, and it was how I was originally taught, but in the end I had no real idea why I was doing it.
This is where the real problem comes in—I’m fairly certain this Phil doesn’t know either; he just does what he’s told, otherwise he would have told me why it’s bad to keep a neutral head position, and why it’s better to look ahead.
Because I’m not as convinced there’s only one way to do things, at some stage of my training I changed my style to a mostly neutral head position during the swing, and this is now what I teach my clients. I only tell them to look ahead if they can’t seem to keep their shoulders back and chest out—keeping the head up and focused at a point on the horizon will help in that case. As soon as their technique progresses and they can maintain good posture, however, I will ask them again to keep their head in a neutral position during the swing.
Why keep a neutral head position? Keeping the head neutral can offset pressure on the neck and cervical spine, which is very important for injury prevention and long-term health.
When using high reps, heavy weight, or both, fatigue sets in quickly, and with an upward head position, you can easily transfer the weight from the traps onto the neck itself. As you tire, you may also go too far down on your swing and drive your head up and back too much, which can place lots of stress on the cervical spine. This is all avoided when keeping the head in a neutral position.
Does the Kettlebell Swing always get programmed for high reps and heavy weight? No.
So—will you see me look straight ahead sometimes? Yes.
I change my style based upon how my body feels, I do what’s required and best at that moment in time. I encourage all of you, as your own training progresses, to do the same.
Especially you, Phil.
The video in question can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-NWPzq3ndE or below
FYI: I did 11,111 reps in 28 days with a 28 kilogram kettlebell (311,108kg total weight moved) and walked away with no pain. If your technique is incorrect, you just don’t walk away without injury to the spine. Is my technique “perfect”? Of course not; there is always something that can be improved—always!
As far as naming my style is concerned (because I know there will be people who want to fit it in a box), I’d say it’s between fluid and hardstyle, I also make use of the kettlebell insert to help direct the weight backwards.
As always, your feedback is welcome below, and I leave you with an awesome video where Steve Cotter talks to us about the history of the kettlebell.