Over the last decade or so, the kettlebell has enjoyed a successful reintroduction into the fitness industry. Kettlebell exercises are usually fast paced, are technically relatively simple, and tend to involve the whole body; the foundational kettlebell exercise, the swing, provides an excellent example of this. The swing exercise is initiated by driving the hips backward in a “hip-hinging” motion, loading the hamstrings while maintaining correct alignment of the head and spine. The motion is then powerfully reversed squeezing the glutes and driving the kettlebell forward. However, despite the popularity of kettlebells, limited research appears to have been done regarding the metabolic demand of various kettlebell swing exercise routines.
This lead researchers at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri to test the kettlebell swing against a time honored fat loss favorite; running on a treadmill. Thirteen subjects, 11 male and 2 females, completed a 10-minute kettlebell swing routine consisting of 35-second swing intervals followed by 25-second rest intervals. Men used a 16-kg (35lbs) kettlebell, and women used an 8-kg Kettlebell (18lbs). After 48 hours of rest, the same subjects completed a 10-minute treadmill run at same equivalent rate of perceived exertion, or intensity, as measured during the swing workout. The researchers observed given the same effort, running or swinging, which one would be more metabolic demanding and in turn burn more energy for fat loss.
The authors stated that, “according to the American College of Sports Medicine standards, this kettlebell drill could provide sufficient exercise stress to produce gains in aerobic capacity”. Swings are proven to increase cardiovascular health and that, “Therefore, on days when a subject wanted an alternative to treadmill running or stationary cycling, kettlebell swings might be substituted to maintain cardiovascular training levels”.
While swings may be good for heart health, they may be even better at helping you loss body fat. In the same study, the authors noted that, “ The current caloric expenditure was 1.7 times greater than a modified ACSM single-set resistance training routine and required 60% less time to achieve.” It got the heart rate up in less time than weight training and burned more calories. The swing is similar to sprinting as there is a large demand on the cardiovascular system and requires lots of energy to do so. In fact it challenges the body so much it surprised researches. The University of Wisconsin, La Crosse Health and Exercise department tested the kettlebell snatch. The Kettlebell snatch is a total body move the swings the kettlebell overhead, it is very similar to the swing.
The results of the study were interesting, “So [the subjects] were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute, which is off the charts. That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is crosscountry skiing up hill at a fast pace.” And concluded that, ““kettlebells not only offer resistance training benefits, they also will ultimately help people burn calories, lose weight, and enhance their functional performance capabilities.” The swing the is easiest kettlebell exercise to learn and the base foundation on which more technical exercises like the snatch and clean are built upon.
The kettlebell swing can help you increase your cardiovascular endurance, burn more calories than almost any another exercise and can even help you increase your vertical jump and strength. In the study, Effects of Weightlifting vs. Kettlebell Training on Vertical Jump, Strength, and Body Composition. The researches concluded that, “These findings support the use of kettlebell exercises as an alternative form of training for strength and conditioning coaches who are interested in improving the strength and power of their athletes”. Although no significant fat loss was shown by either group, it was most likely because of the short duration of the study, only 6 weeks, improvements in power and strength was seen in both groups. This makes kettlebell training for fat loss as well as athletic performance evidenced based and real world approved.
The swing is a great exercise, and for those without access to kettlebells, a dumbbell will suffice. Please consult your doctor prior to starting any exercise program and seek the advice of a trained fitness professional if you are unsure how to perform any exercise.