Hardstyle Swing Straight Arms

Why are the arms straight in a Hardstyle swing?

In the fitness industry/community there is a dangerous culture that promotes the just_do_it_this_way and don’t ask questions. Whenever the ‘why’ behind something can’t be explained, you can be assured that it’s unknown to the person. Whenever we train, work out, or do something, there has to be a reason or goal to work towards. Unless that goal is just generic fitness, then it’s almost always wrong to not know the ‘why’ behind a movement or exercise.

An analytical review of straight versus bent arms during the kettlebell swing.

My personality has always been to question things and I really don’t retain information, believe, or follow anything until I know the ‘why’ and “Just do it!” doesn’t work for me when it comes to an exercise. I’ve often asked the question ‘why straight arms only in Hardstyle swings?’, I felt that I’ve never gotten the answer and today I would spend some serious time analyzing, and what follows is the result.

When the kettlebell weight is further away from your body, you will need to use the ankles, knees, hips, or thoracic spine, or all of them in unison to counterbalance heavier weights. You can bring the shoulders further back by:

  • Bending (plantarflexion) at the ankles
  • Bending (flexion) at the knees
  • Bending (extension) at the hips
  • Bending (extension) at the thoracic spine

The counterbalancing can be seen in this video with 48kg/106lb swings.

When the weight is closer to your body then you do not need to counterbalance as much. This is not saying that one or the other is bad, it’s simply an observation.

When the arms are straight the weight travels further and moves away from the subject. When the arms are bent, the weight travels a shorter distance and moves up and away from the subject. Over a high volume, the shorter distance would have a significant impact.

The further away the weight is from the body, the more work the posterior chain needs to do to counterbalance.

When the arms are straight, then the pectoral and back muscles are not as contracted as they are when the elbows are bent and the weight is closer to the body. When keeping the arms closer to the body and contracting the right muscles then the latissimus dorsi, teres major, triceps, and posterior deltoid do more work.

The resistance of the swing on the upswing is transferred from just the shoulder to the elbow and shoulder joint when keeping the weight close by bending at the elbows.

When the arms are straight then the first point of resistance is placed on the upper back and the muscles that control the scapulae and keep the shoulders down.

Having the arms bent involves more muscles, more total work by the muscles, and allows the subject to go heavier. Having the arms straight involves fewer muscles, and allows the subject to stress the upper back muscles more.

Straight arms require more triceps work, and biceps for stabilization, but there is a higher injury risk on the elbow joint, for example, overextending the elbow joint.

When the technique for bent elbows is misunderstood then there is a high risk of quickly developing issues in the tendons around the elbow area. As the subject might actively curl/flex.

Good form and technique for bent elbows:

  • The elbows flex but not through active muscle contraction of the elbow flexors (muscles)
  • The chest is contracted and the armpits are pulled together
  • The rear head of the deltoid, triceps, teres major, and latissimus dorsi are contracted to pull the elbow down*
  • The lats are contracted and the shoulders are pulled down**
  • The trapezius middle fibers and rhomboids pull the scapula together to push the chest out

*The weight travels up because it is propelled/pulled forward and then hinges on the elbow joints because the upper arm is resisting further flexion at the shoulder joint (going up).

**The levator scapulae, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis minor, and pectoralis major inferior sternocostal head act to pull the scapula into downward rotation which results in shoulders down and away from the ears.

Good form and technique for straight elbows:

  • The triceps contract to fully extend the arms
  • The lats are contracted and the shoulders are pulled down
  • The trapezius middle fibers and rhomboids pull the scapula together to push the chest out

Questions:

  • Could the bent elbows allow for more powerful and heavier swings or are both pretty much the same?
  • Could bent elbows be generally safer?
  • Could the bent elbows be more effective in recruiting more muscles and more overall work?
  • Could the straight elbows be more effective for working the upper back?
  • Could the straight elbows be more effective for more work (force strength and the distance traveled)?

My takeaway: Both are good in the right setting and working toward a specific goal. In Hardstyle the objective is power optimization, increasing speed and strength. Straight arms would be the best option for this. IMHO, the bent arms would be best for strength and/or endurance. The reason is, the load is shared amongst more muscles at the top of the swing, whereas on the flip-side, the same load is more concentrated on the upper back area which would result in muscular fatigue much quicker.

Answer

The following conclusion is derived from my own analysis and not from any feedback received, hence, it could be incorrect. I’m yet to hear the reason from a Hardstyle/StrongFirst coach. I’ve also been told that it is not explained during the certification, and I can confirm that I have not received the information in the certification that I took on this matter.

Conclusion

Performing a kettlebell swing with straight arms is to create the longest distance to swing, place more demand on the posterior chain, and optimize the movement for short powerful reps.

The variation of the kettlebell swing with bent arms, on the other hand, it’s optimized for more total muscle recruitment, heavier, and higher volume reps.

Correcting Kettlebell Swing Form

So, should people correct others when they see someone kettlebell swing with their arms bent? Yes, if they asked for feedback; if they’re doing a Hardstyle swing; and if they’re able to explain the ‘why’ behind it.

No, if they did not ask for feedback; if they’re not doing a Hardstyle swing; if it works toward their goal.

A Hardstyle swing is very specific and rigid (not changing or adjusting to different conditions or problems). If every swing is not performed with the objective to reach maximum power output, i.e. it’s performed slower, then it’s not a Hardstyle swing. On the other hand, a swing that is performed with bent elbows or is not as powerful doesn’t make it a Sportstyle swing, it’s more than likely to fall in the freestyle category.

A Hardstyle swing is perfect and designed for Power, which equals Speed and Strength. Doing anything other than a Hardstyle swing doesn’t mean you’re not getting any benefits, there is still the result of strength, cardiovascular and/or muscular endurance that can be obtained from a different kettlebell swing variation. And in my opinion, none of those should be neglected.

Controversial: My experience is that in general there is a ‘just do it this way’ attitude without really knowing the reason why. This results in a ‘you are wrong performing a swing with bent elbows’ culture. Which in turn, results in experiencing a ‘holier than thou’ aura by those not subscribing to the Hardstyle way.

Hopefully, this information will create a new way of thinking so that there is a path to learning more from each other and I’ll leave it here with some more related videos and tips.

Hip Hinge Versus Squat

How Explosive Should Your Kettlebell Swing Be? How High Should You Swing?

How To Do A Single Arm Kettlebell Swing

Master The Kettlebell Swing

One of the most intrinsic courses on the kettlebell swing.

How to Kettlebell Swing 1-hour Tutorial (complete beginner)

Join the debate and ask questions about this article or the kettlebell swing.

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