What Muscles Do Kettlebell Swings Work?

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Although kettlebell swings are relatively simple exercises, they strengthen your muscles and work your cardiovascular system in a low-impact way. It is a highly beneficial exercise that targets a wide range of muscles throughout the body.

What Muscles Do Kettlebell Swings Target?

The wonderful thing about kettlebell swings is that it is an exercise that uses muscles throughout your entire body. The main muscle groups targeted are your core, glutes, deltoids, hamstrings, and hips. They also utilize your stabilizing back and shoulder muscles.

Stabilizing muscles stabilize your joints so that the movement can occur at another joint. They are not actively involved in the workout but are used to hold your body while you perform the exercise. Stabilizing muscles get a workout as well as the active muscles.

Kettlebell swings target the posterior chain of your body or the back half. The majority of exercises that people perform focus on the body’s front, mainly the abs, quads, and chest muscles. This means that kettlebell swings are excellent for counterbalancing your other exercises and correcting any muscle imbalances caused by overworking the anterior chain.

Specifically, here are some of the key muscles that kettlebell swings workout:

Core and Abs

You’re strengthening your core with every swing. The swinging motion and unbalanced weight distribution force your abdominal region to brace itself so you can lift the kettlebell. In proper kettlebell swing form, you should be contracting your abs every time you drive your hips forward. 


Kettlebell swings are a perfect exercise for those recovering from shoulder injuries, as there is less stress on the arms and shoulders. Although it may feel like your shoulders aren’t that engaged, the exercise is still working to stabilize the shoulder joint (just in a more non-aggressive way). 


This movement targets your lower back as you bend over and straighten to stand. It simultaneously works these muscles in a dynamic (moving) and static (stationary) way. Remember to maintain a neutral spine throughout the swing, as overextension can cause soreness. 


Stronger glutes (butt muscles) can not only give you confidence when checking yourself out in your new pants, but they also can improve other aspects of fitness by helping you jump farther and higher and run quicker. After all, they are the largest muscles in the body! As you swing the kettlebell up and force your hips forward, you should also be squeezing your glute muscles. 


The exercise begins with engaging the quadricep muscles (front and side thigh muscles). However, keep in mind that the swing is not a squat movement, so you won’t target the quads in this exercise as much as you would in squats or lunges. Kettlebell swings are an excellent exercise for women, as they allow for strength-building without the bulk. 


When it comes to kettlebell swings, it’s all in the hips! The hip hinge motion is probably the most critical aspect of a kettlebell swing, as it generates most of the power and sets the stage for the rest of the muscles. During a swing, you engage your hips and then extend them rapidly to push the weight up. Don’t forget to thrust your hips forward and clench your glute muscles when you reach the top, as this will maximize the utilization of your hamstrings and glutes.   


Kettlebell swings also activate the hamstrings (the muscles on the back of the thigh). You’re engaging this muscle in each of your legs as you drive your heels into the ground, hinge at your hips, and swing the kettlebell up. Your hamstrings are essentially thick slingshots used to accelerate your momentum upwards.  


The arms aren’t the star of the show in this exercise, but the lats certainly get their time to shine. Your lat muscles (V-shaped muscles in the middle of your back) are activated as you hike the kettlebell between your knees and begin your swing. You should also feel them contract as you raise the kettlebell. 

Why Is It Important to Strengthen These Muscles?

It is crucial to strengthen your posterior chain. In today’s world, we spend so much time sitting, which shortens our hips and tightens our hip flexors. We also compress our chest cavity through bad posture and by hunching over. It leads to bad posture and weak posterior muscles. 

Kettlebell swings will help improve posture and extend our hips. Sitting and hunching over a computer all day can be counteracted with glute, hip, deltoid, and hip strengtheners, such as the kettlebell swing.

Strengthening your back-body muscles also opens your chest cavity, allowing us to take deep, stomach breaths, improving your oxygenation. As children, we are born to take deep breaths into our stomachs, providing the maximum amount of oxygen to our body and calming our nervous system. However, over time we grow out of this and begin to take short, shallow, anxious breaths into our chest.

Strengthening your back muscles and core muscles can help improve your breathing and allow your body to experience diaphragmatic breathing or stomach breaths. This can help calm your nervous system, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, improve your core stability, and save energy.

Along with strengthening your muscles and improving breathing, kettlebell swings improve your endurance, stamina, and circulation. They burn calories and aid in fat loss. They require little equipment and can be performed easily by almost anyone. As your muscles adapt to the workout, weights can be continuously increased to accommodate your growth over time.

How to Properly Target the Correct Muscles

To strengthen these muscles with kettlebell swings, they must be done correctly. Many people perform the exercise incorrectly and end up injuring themselves or strengthening muscles on the anterior of their body, such as their biceps. Follow these steps below to ensure that you are reaping the posterior benefits completely.

  • Stand up straight when performing your swing and place your feet slightly wider than your hips on the ground. Turn your toes slightly outward to protect your knees, and bend your knees slightly, so they are not locked. Set the kettlebell in between your feet and straighten your spine. With your neck long and your shoulders down, engage your abdominal muscles.
  • Keep your back straight and hinge forward at the hips while tipping your hips backward. Grab the kettlebell handle with two hands and straight arms. Do not squat to grab the kettlebell; instead, keep your knees almost straight.
  • In an explosive motion, swing the kettlebell up as you hinge your hips the other way back to a standing position. Let the kettlebell swing back down between your legs and hinge once again at the hips to carry it through.

When starting kettlebell swings, you want to aim for low weight and high reps. Start with ten reps and do as many sets as you can. This method is best for raising your heart rate and reaping the aerobic benefits.

You can increase the muscle-building anaerobic benefits by using a heavier weight and performing more repetitions. This will break down the fibers in your muscles and strengthen them over time.

How To Do a Kettlebell Swing 

Kettlebell swings are easy to do once you get the hang of them, and they offer extreme versatility. You can perform them one-handed or two-handed, and there are also many other exercises you can do using kettlebells. A few examples include kettlebell rows, kettlebell windmills, Turkish get-ups, kettlebell thrusters, kettlebell clean and press, and many more. 

As with all lifting exercises, it’s essential to maintain proper form when performing a kettlebell swing or other kettlebell motion. 

Select a somewhat challenging kettlebell weight but not one that’s too hard to swing (it’s best to start small and work your way up). 

Find an area with adequate space for you to swing the kettlebell up and forward with both arms straight out. Make sure no one is too close to you (these swings are explosive movements!). 

Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly to give yourself stability. 

Grip your kettlebell with both hands. Flatten your back and hinge at the hips (similar to how you would perform a deadlift). Bring the kettlebell back toward the inside of your calves like you’re hiking a football. 

Then, use your hips and legs to drive the kettlebell up. 

Lockout your knees and raise the kettlebell to about chest level. Let the momentum take it down back inside your legs where you’ll repeat another swing. 

Remember that this is not a squatting or raising exercise but a swing. 

Potential Mistakes Kettlebell Swing Mistakes

Although kettlebell swings are a simple exercise, people make some common mistakes while performing the swings that keep their muscles from reaping the benefits. If not done correctly, kettlebell swings can injure you rather than strengthen you. Here are some potential mistakes to look out for.

Be sure when you do your swings that you are not squatting with each thrust. You want to keep your legs straight and hinge from your hips. Doing a squat rather than a hinge reduces the power produced by your hamstrings and glutes and works your quads instead. A proper kettlebell swing should work the muscles in the backside of your legs rather than the front.

Rounding of the back can cause severe damage to your lower back, so it is crucial that you keep your spine completely straight and your neck in line with your spine. Rounding your spine disengages your stabilizer muscles, and places strain on muscles that should not be engaged in this exercise. Shoulders, core, and back must always stay strong and engaged.

Lifting the kettlebell with your arm muscles is another common mistake. You should not feel like you are lifting the kettlebell at all. Instead, the power in your back body should be controlling the swing. Your arm muscles and shoulder muscles shouldn’t get tired throughout the exercise. If you find they are, engage your hamstrings and glutes more and focus on keeping your shoulders low.

Swinging the kettlebell too high over your head can cause the targeted muscle groups to disengage. To keep the kettlebell in control, and to keep your body using the correct muscles, allow the kettlebell to swing until it is parallel to the floor.

Cannon’s Conclusion on Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise that targets the back of your body. They build cardiovascular endurance, especially when combined with other high-intensity exercises, and they build stability and strength. Kettlebell swings use your glutes, hips, back, shoulders, and core. This exercise can be done often and easily with just your body weight and a kettlebell. Happy swinging!