Kettlebell swings are an incredibly versatile and impactful exercise. Using an explosion of power resonating from a harmonious connection between your glutes, hips and hamstrings, they’re capable of boosting muscular power, increasing endurance and even burning the same amount of calories in 20 minutes (400) as you would on a cross country ski.
Outside of their benefits, kettlebell swings also come in a number of variations which makes them a great option for beginners and experts alike.
But if you want to know which variation works what muscle before committing: here’s a guide to all the kettlebell swing muscles worked.
Two handed kettlebell swing muscles worked
The two handed kettlebell swing is the most conventional kettlebell swing. The two handed swing is the typical all rounder and works almost every muscle group in the body, but provides particular focus to those in the back such as the glutes, hamstrings and lower back.
As the two handed kettlebell swing targets such a wide array of muscles, more energy and calories are required to fuel the movement, which makes a two handed kettlebell swing great for burning fat. They also provide postural benefits thanks to sharing similarities with the deadlift movement pattern and generating power from the hips and hamstrings.
The list of muscles worked by the two handed kettlebell swing is extensive and includes:
- Delts (both anterior and lateral)
- Erector Spinae
- Levator Scapulae (the axio-appenducular muscle connecting the upper limb to the vertebral column in the posterior triangle of the neck)
- Posterior Deltoids
- Serratus Anterior
- Traps (Lower and Middle)
- Upper Pectoralis Major
The two handed kettlebell also targets grip strength by working the muscles in the hand, as well as those in the forearms.
One handed kettlebell swing muscles worked
In one handed kettlebell swings, also called one arm kettlebell swings, more stability is added into the mix which means that the abdominal, oblique and serratus anterior muscles are worked harder, alongside the glutes.
This is why the one handed kettlebell swing is particularly favoured for improving stabilisation. The stabiliser muscles are targeted and must work harder to maintain a squared, upright and forward position. The shoulders also get a fair share of the work because they are required to bring the kettlebell up.
In summary, the main muscles worked by the one handed kettlebell swing are:
- Abdominal muscles
- The erector muscles
The one handed kettlebell swing can be thought of as a glute, hamstring and erector spinae focused movement, but with added stabilisation work.
One of our athletes mid two handed kettlebell swing
Overhead kettlebell swing muscles worked
Also known as the American kettlebell swing, this version of the kettlebell swing involves swinging the kettlebell up and overhead until the bell points straight up.
The alternating version is the Russian kettlebell swing, where instead of swinging the kettlebell up and overhead, it is brought to either chest or eye level.
Both forms of this overhead variant are primarily focused on increasing the lifter’s range of motion. The American swing promotes a larger range of motion and works the muscles in the arms and shoulders, such as the biceps, triceps and lats.
Meanwhile in the Russian kettlebell swing, because the kettlebell is not being lifted up and overhead lifters can maximise their hip and posterior range, as well strengthening their arms and shoulders.
So, in summary both the American and Russian overhead kettlebell swing variants target the:
- Abdominal muscles, as the core must be braced to be able to swing the kettlebell to either overhead or chest height
- Lateral muscles
- Pectoral muscles
Swinging the kettlebell either to overhead or chest height also benefits grip strength, so the finer muscles of the hands are also being strengthened.
Kettlebell side swing muscles worked
Kettlebell Side Swings are a more advanced form of kettlebell swings that can produce big results. The main factor that ups the difficulty level of the kettlebell side swing is that not all of the power is emanating from the hips – instead it’s being transferred in a completely different direction and puts the oblique muscles under much more strain.
It’s a great rotational exercise that can also strengthen the posterior chain and the back, whilst its advanced nature means that it’s a serious calorie torcher.
In total, muscles worked by kettlebell side swings are:
- The abdominal muscles
- Upper and lower back
Double kettlebell swing muscles worked
Finally, there’s the double kettlebell swing. This is an exercise which is gaining popularity but it should also come with the same advanced warning as the kettlebell side swing due to the doubling of the weight involved.
Primarily the double kettlebell swing takes all the muscles worked by the conventional kettlebell swing and just places greater emphasis on them. In particular the shoulders, lower back, hips and glutes benefit from doubling the kettlebells as they are made to work at a higher intensity.
Though the list of muscles worked by double kettlebell swing is almost identical to the list of muscles worked by the two handed kettlebell swing, there are arguably 5 muscle groups which are worked:
- The glutes
- Upper and lower back
Looking to get started with kettlebells?
Kettlebells are a great way to create some variety in your workouts. They work several different muscle groups at once, and the variations make them viable for those on weight loss or strength training plans with varying goals. If you’re not sure where to start or you’re looking for an introduction to kettlebell workouts, why not join one of our online strength classes or visit the Strength Ambassadors strength hub?