The kettlebell swing for snatching

Protect Your Back—Don’t Follow The Kettlebell

Got back pain from kettlebell swing? Don’t blame the kettlebell. The kettlebell is just another weight like a dumbbell or barbell.
 

If you’re experiencing lower back pain after a kettlebell workout it could be due to many things, some of the common ones are:

  • Incorrect technique
  • Too many reps
  • Too heavy
  • Not enough rest
  • Insufficient recovery
  • Bad programming
  • Overtraining
I will explain several simple techniques on how to avoid back pain from kettlebell swings and other exercises like cleans, deadlifts, and snatches.
  • Don’t follow the kettlebell
  • Contract the hip extensors
  • Progress safely
  • Rest between sets
  • Let the body recover fully after intense workouts

Hello, my name is Taco Fleur from Cavemantraining™ world’s premier online kettlebell training education resource and I am here to talk to you about the two major causes of tight lower back or lower back pain.

middle back pain after kettlebell swings

Following the Kettlebell

Following the kettlebell prematurely is the number one cause of lower back problems during kettlebell training! There are several kettlebell exercises in which we let the weight come away from us at the front in a ballistic movement, those are (but are not limited to):

  • Kettlebell swing
  • Kettlebell snatch
  • Kettlebell clean

The Kettlebell Drop

When the kettlebell comes from overhead or racked, it’s called ‘The Drop’. The following photo is the drop from full snatch. The weight is kept as close to the body as possible, if hip flexion (bending at the hips) would have been created at this stage then the weight would be further away from the body, and that would put unnecessary pressure on the lower back. With hip and thoracic extension (possibly paired with thoracic rotation) the back is in a stronger position to reduce the pulling force.

The arc and the arrow is the path the kettlebell travels in the drop from overhead. The red dot is where one would approximately start bending at the hips.

Stiff back after Kettlebell Swings

If you’re experiencing a stiff back after kettlebell swings (American, Russian, or any other swing) it can be due to premature hip flexion, lack of mind-muscle connection, fatigue, too heavy, too much, not enough rest, or insufficient recovery. Premature hip flexion is what I referred to above with following the kettlebell, and the same principle applies when you’re swinging a kettlebell. You do not want to bring the bell further away from you after full extension (standing straight) and the weight is on its way down.

Below is a detailed video I recorded to go paired with this information. You can see all incorrect techniques in action, frame by frame in slow motion, and I’ll also demonstrate the correct technique. Note that the sound quality is bad but the content is worth it.

Let’s talk about the forces and moment of force (torque) taking place during the lift and why incorrect form may lead to injuries and lower back pain.

PHYSICS CONCEPTS BREAKDOWN

Center of Mass: The unique point where the weighted relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero. By moving one’s body, one’s changing its center of mass.
Distance (d): Horizontal distance between the weight of the kettlebell and the lifter’s center of mass.

Moment of force (torque): Rotational force (product between distance and force). Just as a linear force is a push or a pull, a moment of force can be thought of as a twist to an object. The moment of the kettlebell applied on the lifter’s body is equal to the distance “d” multiplied by the kettlebell’s weight. So, by lowering the distance “d”, one’s lowering the moment of force (torque) applied. This torque is critical on the lower back.

MOVEMENT DESCRIPTION

The critical position of the exercise is the one at which the kettlebell is applying maximum torque on the lifter’s body.

If at this point one does not counterbalance, then the forces on the lower back may cause injury. By pulling back, the center of mass moves back as well, but the distance between the weight and the center of mass becomes smaller (the kettlebell moves back even more than the center of mass when pulling), thus lowering the torque.


Also, the opposing arch formed by the body (when pulling) is structurally speaking better suited to stand against moment of force (torque). The torque, in this example, has a clockwise orientation (as seen in the picture), and works toward bending forward the spine with flexion. So, if you maintain an incorrect posture (bending forward instead of backward) the effects of torque become critical. In this case, the incorrect posture compromises the spine, because it’s harder to resist torque in this position and also a forward bend of the spine makes it easier for the torque to work towards bending it even more. The magnitude of the torque is also bigger since the distance “d” increases in this case (by not pulling back, the center of mass moves forward just a little bit while the distance traveled forward by the kettlebell is much higher, therefore the distance “d” increases).

Contract the gluteus maximus

There are several exercises in which we need to create a hip extension, those are (but are not limited to):

  • Kettlebell swing
  • kettlebell snatch
  • Kettlebell clean
  • Deadlift
  • Barbell snatch
  • Barbell clean

Not contracting the right muscles is cause number two for lower back problems! I know you hear it often, squeeze the glutes, squeeze them like you’re holding on to a 100-dollar bill between your cheeks. But it’s actually just your biggest glute that we want to concern ourselves with right now. Another reason for a stiff or painful lower back is not connecting with one of the prime movers for hip extension, the gluteus maximus. This gluteal is responsible for pulling your pelvis up, if you pull your pelvis up with this muscle then your other back muscles just need to worry about creating a rigid solid structure to protect the spine and not lifting the weight. Your hamstrings are also prime movers for hip extension, press your heels into the ground to activate them. There is much more to it, and I’ve covered it all in the books I’ve written, available on this site in electronic format, on Amazon as Kindle or paperback, or on iTunes.

Don’ts

  • Don’t lift with the back
  • Don’t break too early
  • Don’t lift too heavy
  • Don’t overtrain
  • Don’t neglect progression

Do’s

Want more cool stuff like this that you can immediately put to practice, improve your training, and increase your safety? Buy the book Snatch Physics—From Zero to Snatching in 21 days.
Snatch Physics
Already know how to snatch? Put it into practice with countless kettlebell workouts, check out one of the best kettlebell workouts books available: Kettlebell Workouts And Challenges 1.0
The kettlebell swing for snatching

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