Kettlebell Swing Neck position

Recommended Neck Position For The Kettlebell Swing

I deal a lot with complete beginners and guide them from knowing nothing to being proficient or intermediate in kettlebell training and training safely. Two decades of working with people have shown me the following when it comes to the kettlebell swing and the position of the neck during the backswing.

Should the neck be straight or extended during the kettlebell swing? Should you look at the horizon or the ground on the backswing? Can I hurt my neck during swings?

People come to me from group classes in the gym and complain about neck pain. 
I see people who keep looking at the horizon making the same mistake over and over of not getting a good enough deep insert which is mainly due to the eyesight being focused on the horizon.

Now, neither this article nor another will give you a definite answer. It’s all opinions based on personal experience and most likely under different conditions. The only thing that will give you a real and definite answer is unbiased research in a super-controlled environment and that’s not going to happen. But perhaps the answer is that it all depends on the context, you decide for yourself.

The common postures during the kettlebell swing are neutral neck, extended neck, and flexed neck. The latter is a common mistake.

Look At The Horizon

StrongFirst and RKC teach the neck position as extended, with eyes on the horizon during the backswing. Meaning, you move the body while your eyesight stays fixed on one point.

When it comes to chin up and eyesight on the horizon, I firmly agree that it makes it easier for the athlete to keep their shoulders back. I even cue this for some people who after many attempts can’t get their shoulders back but I explain that as they improve their upper body strength and MMC they should go back to keeping their cervical neutral.

I also believe that our eyesight plays a big part in directing movement. For dead cleans, I teach the eyesight to lead, which results in the head and shoulders leading. The eyes are however able to move independently of the neck.

I teach engagement of the scapulae and working on scapular control rather than the cervical extension on the backswing. I have seen it become an issue, especially when dealing with powerful and explosive swings. It’s just a given, as the head and hips are moved back, you need a good thoracic extension for this not to become dangerous for beginners. I mention beginners because more advanced athletes have better control and understanding of their bodies.

Keep The Neck Neutral

  1. Cervical close to fully neutral
  2. Scapulae adduction and depression
  3. Hips pushed back
  4. Shins vertical
Kettlebell Swing Neck Position

Most people who enter the kettlebell world have bad thoracic flexibility, and more importantly, they lack good Mind-Muscle Connection which is due to sitting hours on hours at a desk and not having trained or trained well for years. Pair this with asking them to push their butt/hips back and extend their neck is a given for injury. Again, if you have a more advanced athlete who has good scapular control, good back strength, good flexibility, and a good understanding of their body, it’s a different story, but even then I’m still not convinced whether it’s always the answer, i.e. the rule is rigid, the neck needs to be extended, period.

Not extending the neck requires more work from the upper back and scapulae, and more work when programmed correctly will result in a stronger upper back.

I have also found that extending the neck, paired with all the other attributes lacking for it to be safe, results in a shallow hip hinge or insert, and to compensate, the knees are dropped forward.

  1. Eyesight on the horizon
  2. Shoulders higher
  3. Shallow hinge
  4. Knees forward

I repeat that this is my observation with beginners as a result of looking at the horizon. There are plenty of people that make this work for them but they are advanced. Those that aren’t, need to decide what’s best for them. And yes, no matter who or what you decide to do, thoracic flexibility, upper back strength, and scapular control always need to be worked on.

What is right or wrong when it comes to the position of the neck?

For StrongFirst and RKC, a neutral neck is wrong, and not accepted, and an extended neck is right and the only way of performing a swing, clean, or snatch. For IKU™ and Cavemantraining™ our opinion is expressed above and you decide for yourself. In our teaching, we ask you to learn with a neutral neck, and after you have shown that you can, you are free to swing as you please.

Pavel SrongFirst Neck Position

Here’s an article for an opinion from the other side of the spectrum by Pavel Tsatsouline Heads Up! The Neck Position in Kettlebell Swings and Snatches.

The article states that thoracic flexibility is a must. I feel it omits the other requirements like scapular control and upper back strength, and their recommendation is to work on those areas or see a specialist before even swinging a kettlebell. I think it’s a noble thought, and it would be great if people would work and correct all these things before adding resistance or speed to their work, but in real life, it just doesn’t work that way.

In real life, going from a desk job and having done nothing to good thoracic flexibility, upper back strength, and scapular control can take months or years depending on the state and time spent on correcting it. Plus, kettlebell swings are in a sense a way to work on all these things.

What to take away from all this?

First, you should understand that there are many different kettlebell swing variations outside of RKC and StrongFirst, for their world it’s just that one way of doing things, and there is nothing wrong with that, but one should not believe that there is only one way that’s best for anyone and everything. One should also not assume that everyone in the world is doing the Hardstyle swing when asked “How’s my swing?”, the response should be “What swing variation are you doing for what purpose?”.

Second, my opinion is just that, an opinion based on my experience, and the focus is beginners. You should consider everything, read everything, test everything, analyze everything, and take no one’s opinion blindly as the answer.

Another common question for the kettlebell swing is “Should the arms be straight or bent during the swing?“.

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