In the previous column, The Flexible Periodization Method: Program Design with Kettlebells (Part 1), I reviewed some of the research studies on the effects of the Kettlebell Swing.

In this column, I will finish this review and provide more guidelines on how to apply this information to the training of your athletes.

Here is the review of the last two articles:

Study #5:

Thirty healthy males with at least one year of resistance training experience (but no individuals with KB training or Olympic weightlifting experience participated in this study). All subjects were familiarized with KB lifts and Olympic lifts and then assigned to either a KB training group or a weightlifting training group. 1RM power clean, 1RM back squat, and vertical jump (VJ) were tested both before and after six weeks of training, twice per week. In both programs speed of movement was emphasized throughout the six weeks.

KB program:

Week 1-3

Week 4-6

KB Swing

3 x 6 (16kg)

4 x6 (16kg)

Accelerated Swings

4 x 4 (16 kg)

6 x 4 (16kg)

Goblet Squat

4 x 6 (16kg)

4 x 6 (16kg)



Week 1-3

Week 4-6

High Pull

3 x 6 (80% 1RM)

4 x6 (80% 1RM)

Power Clean

4 x 4 (80 % 1RM)

6 x 4 (80% 1RM)

Back Squat

4 x 6 (80 % 1RM)

4 x 6 (80% 1RM)


Results: Both groups experienced significant increases in VJ to a similar extent. Both groups also increased 1RM Back Squat, but the weightlifting group improved significantly more than the KB group. Both groups experienced significant improvements in the power clean with no difference between groups.(1)

Discussion: The authors discuss that both KB lifts and weightlifting exercises involve power development similar to a VJ. A clear difference is the external load used, which favours strength gains for the weightlifting group. A factor affecting the results of this short study might be the complexity of the KB lifts vs. the weight lifts. KB lifts are simpler and might have allowed the group of beginners to practice them more effectively compared to the weightlifting group. It is also worth noting that KB and weight lifts may have improved the VJ for different reasons. The KB Swing involves a stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), challenging the subjects to build up force rapidly during an eccentric contraction (a key for VJ performance). On the other hand, the high pull and power clean are characterized by the power development during the concentric phase.

Take away message: If you are short on time, or if resources to instruct or supervise training are an issue, KB Swings might be an alternative to Olympic Lifts in order to develop power. If you are planning a comprehensive program to develop power, combining Olympic lifts with KB swings may ensure stimulus of both the eccentric and concentric components of the SSC.

If you are short on time, try the Swing Squat/Clean Pull—an exercises that stresses both the knee extensors (eccentric only) and the hip extensors (eccentric-concentric). See Video 2 below. If the athlete has never tried this exercise before, you might want to introduce the Swing Squat First:

Video 2: Swing Squat/Clean Pull


A variation very that can follow after the Swing Squat/Clean Pull is the Swing Squat/Regular Swing (see below)

Study #6:

Sixteen physically active men with at least six months of KB, Back Squat, and Jump Squat experience performed two sets of 10 two-handed swings with single 16-, 24-, and 32-kilo KBs. The subjects were instructed to move the load as quickly as possible. At the conclusion of the KB Swings, 1RM Half Squat was established. Four to seven days later, the subjects performed two back squats with 20, 40, 60, and 80% of their 1RM and two jump squats with no additional load, 20, 40 and 60% of the 1RM on a force platform. During the squat session the subjects were instructed to control the decent phase, but to perform the concentric phase as quickly as possible.

Results: Peak and mean force, impulse, and peak and mean power were maximized with the 32-kilo KB compared to the 24- and 16-kilo KB, and the differences tended to be significant. Peak and mean velocity for this group were the largest during swings with the 16-kg KB. Net impulse recorded during the 32-kg KB Swings tended to be significantly greater than during both the back squat and squat jump. Peak and mean forces tended to be greater during the back squat and jump squat compared to swings with any load. Power values during swings with the 32-kg KB tended to be greater than during back squats and similar to the jump squat conditions. (2)

Discussion: From their study, the authors' conclusion is that KB swings do not provide a sufficient stimulus to improve maximal strength because the measured force levels in the test sessions were lower during the KB Swings than the back squat lifts. Study #5 indicated that KB training could improve maximal strength—but not to the same extent when compared to weightlifting. It is worth noting that if the researchers in Study #5 had measured ground reaction forces, then they would likely have seen a similar pattern as in Study #6 (with lower values during swings compared to weightlifting). Taken together, Study #5 and Study #6 highlight that the conclusion derived from a training study may differ based on the applied measurement and testing.

Take away message:  As your athletes reach higher levels of training, they should swing the heavier kettlebells. KB Swings are an option in a program to develop peak power. However, KB Swings might not be the best tool to stimulate cardiorespiratory fitness, and KB Swings might not be the best tool to stimulate power or maximal strength. Yet, KB Swings might be a tool that provides a significant stimulus on cardiorespiratory fitness, power, and strength—a great “three-in-one package!"

With each study, I have provided “take-away messages” that you hopefully have found helpful. Below are some additional, yet related guidelines for applying KB Swings into the training of your athletes.

1. Ensure that your athletes meet the basic prerequisites for effectively training with KB Swing, including:

  • Normal hamstring flexibility as a foundation for the hinge pattern (bending from the hip, not the spine)
  • Build the bending pattern with a low velocity, low force movement like Dowel Rod Good mornings (see below)

  • Build lower abdominal strength and endurance to protect the back.
  • Build back endurance with simple exercises.

I have found, from experience, that progressing athletes too fast often slows down the long-term progress because 1) the athletes are practicing exercises they can’t perform with optimal form, and 2) the athletes have an increased risk of overuse injuries. Instead of progressing too fast, I see much better results by starting with simpler exercises (not easy!), providing specific bench-marks for each exercise, and progressing the athlete as soon as he hits a bench-mark.

2. Build Shear stability with high rep sets of partial swings

High Rep Partial Swings are a way to gradually prepare the athlete to stabilize the spine against the shear-force that is created with the KB Swings.

I have good results with progressing through the following stages:

  1. Swings to hip/waist height
  2. Swings to bellybutton height
  3. Swings to ribcage
  4. Swings to shoulder height (Please see Have No Emotional Attachments to Any Exercise or Any Piece of Equipment – PART I)

Begin with a load that allows the athlete to swing to hip/waist height for 60 seconds straight with perfect form. Perform sets of one to two minutes. When the athlete can perform swings to a certain height for two minutes straight, then it is recommended to progress the athlete to the next height. The initial goal is to perform swings to shoulder height for two minutes straight.

3. Progressing on height of swing vs. progressing on rate of swings

Swinging the same load higher increases the muscular demands (strength/power) to accelerate (in the lifting phase) and  also to decelerate the weight (in the lowering phase). However, swinging the weight higher also reduces the number of swings per unit of time (the frequency of swings).

It is shown with boxing that the heart increases with the frequency of the punches. (3) Currently, there seem to be no studies that investigate the effect of swing frequency on heart rate. However, if we assume that the same dynamic would be seen with KB swings, then you would want to progress the frequency when you use KB Swings in order to improve cardiorespiratory fitness. The way to progress the frequency is to keep the swings at about shoulder height but to pull the KB back down instead of “just” letting it fall. (See Have No Emotional Attachments to Any Exercise or Any Piece of Equipment – PART I)

In contrast, you would focus progressing the load and/or height if you use KB Swings to develop power. Two good benchmarks above shoulder height are to swing at the level of the face or swing above the level of the head. (See Have No Emotional Attachments to Any Exercise or Any Piece of Equipment – PART I)

4. Interval Structure

Each study reviewed in Part 1 showed a slightly different protocol with different pros and cons.

“As many swings as possible in 12 minutes”:

  • Pacing issues: starting too hard or too easy
  • Could be overwhelming for some
  • Might not be the most effective solution if the goal is cardiorespiratory conditioning
  • More “open ended” as far as progression. An athlete could, within these parameters, progress from (for example) one minute of continuous swings to five minutes of continuous swings.

Ten sets of 30 seconds with 25 seconds of rest/10 sets of 30 seconds with 30 seconds of rest in between:

These two programs most obviously point to the option of making progress by reducing the rest periods between sets and, by the same token, the work:rest ratio. Here is how that could work:

  • Begin with 8 to 12 x 30 seconds of swings to shoulder height, with 30 seconds of rest between sets. Teach the athletes to “pull” the KB down to maximize the number of swings within each interval. Establish a target number of swings for each interval, often in the range of 12 to 15. Choose a load that brings the average HR to 80 or 90% of the Max (equivalent to 8 to 9 RPE on the Borg Scale to 10).
  • When the athlete can perform 12 intervals maintaining the target number of swings and achieving the target heart rate, then the rest period is reduced by five seconds. If reducing the rest period by five seconds after all sets is “too much” (resulting in premature failure), then the 25-second intervals are used for as many intervals as possible. When needed, the “original” 30 seconds of rest is used.
  • This pattern can be repeated until 12 sets with 10 seconds of rest can be accomplished.

5. Using KB Swings as a part of a program to improve vertical jump

Vertical jump performance is determined by the total torques produced by the toe-flexors, plantar-flexors, knee-extensors, hip extensors, and shoulder-flexors. KB Swing is definitely a hip-dominant exercise and may also improve the arm swing. Thus, you would combine the KB swing with both strength and power exercises that target the other areas. Here is a very simple example:

  • Front Squats with bands (for maximal strength, knee dominance)
  • KB Swings (peak power, hip dominance)
  • Calf Raises in leg press machine (maximal strength)
  • Unloaded or lightly loaded (weight vest) vertical jumps with vertec.

The reviewed studies have pointed to an effect on vertical jump with both higher and lower reps. For the more advanced athlete, you want to use lower reps (as in Study #4) and choose a load that, when maximally accelerated, the KB would not go much higher than the head.

A few weekends ago I taught one of my two-day workshops on The Flexible Periodization Method. One student was a relatively new trainer and I asked him, “Do you have a lot of questions when you design programs for your clients?”

“Yes,” he said.

“How do go about getting answers to those questions," I asked.

“I look in my books, go on the internet, or ask the more experienced trainers,” he said. “But the experienced trainers can’t seem to give advice outside their own style.” (CrossFit, powerlifting etc).

Let’s work on a style that is about results, not about particular exercises. The Flexible Periodization Method is more about the WHY (what is best for the particular athlete) and less about the WHAT (particular exercises, methods, etc.).

In the past two installments of this column, you have seen what the research has indicated about the effect of KB Swings and you have seen various opportunities for practical application. If, by applying this knowledge, I reach the conclusion that KB Swings would be the best choice of exercises in a particular situation, it is obviously important that I am open-minded enough to make that choice regardless of personal preferences.


  1. Otto WH, III, Coburn JW, Brown LE, Spiering BA. Effects of Weightlifting vs. Kettlebell Training on Vertical Jump, Strength and Body Composition. J Strength Cond Res 26(5): 1199-1202. 2012
  2. Lake JP, Lauder M. Mechanical Demands of Kettlebell Swing Exercise. J Strength Cond Res 26(12): 3209-3216. 2012
  3.  Kravitz L, Greene L, Burkett Z, Wongsathikun J. Cardiovascular Responses to Punching Tempo. J Strength Cond Res. 17(1): 104-108. 2003