I started training with the kettlebell swing almost 10 years ago. At the time, it was relatively new to the United States. The Kettlebell was introduced from Russia by a man named Pavel Tsatsouline.
My husband, Mark Reifkind, a former competitive bodybuilder and training partner/coach of pro Mr. America Scott Wilson, picked up the kettlebell and fell hard for this training method. He encouraged me to do it, but I was fat at the time-not just overweight, but 250 pounds, which doesn't exactly go far on a 5-foot-4 frame.
I wasn't naïve, though. I knew I had to train my body to change it. I knew enough to realize I had to incorporate weight resistance training along with dieting; otherwise, I'd simply end up as a skinny version of my fat self. I needed to build muscle so I could create shape and tone-and I needed to burn fat. The swing seemed a good way to achieve the precise combination I needed.
Within a short time after I started swinging, I noticed shoulder and arm definition I had never seen on my body, not even in my 20s. I knew it was the kettlebell swing that was responsible; I was doing nothing else that could have created these incredible results. I increased my swing training to three days per week instead of two and my workouts from 15-to-20 minutes to 35-to-40 minutes.
In less than a year, I lost 100 pounds. Within 15 months, I had shed 120 pounds and was able to lower my body fat to 15-to-18 percent, that of an elite level female athlete-all this with zero traditional cardio training! I never stepped foot on a treadmill, Stairmaster or elliptical, or into a gym. I did this all in my garage.
Nearly 10 years later, I have been dubbed "the queen of swing." I have dedicated my life to training and teaching the swing and to designing the toughest, most efficient, not to mention fun, workouts a person can do. I even have my first book coming out called, of course, "The Swing!"
The kettlebell swing is ideal for weight loss because it's no impact and it torches fat like no other workout can. Yet it also can build some solid, no-nonsense muscle while improving your cardiovascular strength and endurance. This is why bodybuilders should be using and training the kettlebell swing like crazy! It's like sprinting with weights-and just look at the musculature of sprinters. Kettlebell swing training is your 1-stop shop for muscle size, definition, fat loss and the heart of a racehorse.
After years of training clients and leading seminars and certificate programs, I've encountered just about every question about the swing. I think the best way to get you to pick up a kettlebell and swing it (if you haven't already) is to lead you through the top five questions and give you my most convincing answers. If you're ready to jump right in, skip to question number five for how to work it into your current workout schedule.
1. Why should I be swinging a kettlebell?
The kettlebell swing works the muscles in the hips, glutes, hamstrings, lats, abs, shoulders, pecs and grip. It's a simple and fast way to incorporate a very athletic movement into a routine safely while burning a ton of calories. The kettlebell swing is the perfect way to increase fat burning without sacrificing hard-earned muscle mass, as you do with regular cardio.
2. How is the swing going to change my body?
The swing will change your body in a number of ways. Training the movement of the swing involves so many muscles simultaneously, it further refines the small muscles you can't work with isolation exercises. I'm talking about the little, fibrous beauties that endure microscopic tears in training, and then rebuild and grow to give your muscles incredible depth and density. Because the swing is a powerful and dynamic athletic movement, it produces different results in your body. Instead of compartmentalizing body parts, it links the upper body with the lower and produces the look of functional power and strength. The swing can bring a whole-body move into a bodybuilding routine and builds more of an athletic look while increasing low-back stability.
3. Say what?! The swing is the only cardio I need?
The swing burns more calories in a shorter period of time than any other method of cardio (unless you're busting out a 6-minute mile, which I doubt). The best part is that while burning fat, it also helps build muscle mass. Remember, you aren't going to sacrifice any of the muscle tissue you worked so hard to add to your frame.
Training the swing also creates high heart rates with relatively light weights. It's safe because it's no impact, making it easy on the joints, and more fun to do than the Stairmaster or treadmill, in my opinion. The swing further refines the physique while simultaneously boosting your cardiovascular strength and endurance-best 2-for-1 deal on the market!
4. So I just swing the kettlebell back and forth—that's it? Sounds boring!
When I first started training the swing, I was thrilled by the results. I had never seen anything change my body as quickly as the kettlebell swing. But I knew that in order to push progress, I had to consistently up the challenge I placed on my muscles. So I began to create and design swing routines and programs based on interval training. If you've ever done cardio interval training, you know it's about performing short bursts of intensity, followed by rest, and then repeating this pattern. With the swing, interval training increases your cardiovascular ability while distracting you from the incredible workload you bear. It performs double duty by also ensuring you don't get bored. (Trust me-you will be too busy gasping for air to feel bored. But don't worry; your cardio endurance will improve in no time, an improvement that will also exponentially help you push yourself with your standard strength workouts.)
My workouts require you to focus on the sets, reps, and variations of the 2-hand and 1-hand kettlebell swing, which takes your mind away from the actual work you do, making it seem as if the time had just flown by. The goal is to complete the workout, not just to put in a certain amount of time.
5. I'm game to give it a go...how do I fit it into my lifting schedule?
You have a lot of options; there are numerous ways to incorporate swing training into your existing bodybuilding routine. A simple way would be to use it as a finisher at the end of a workout that involves your legs or your back, since the weights are relatively light. Alternatively, you can perform swings on an active recovery day in between days you have set for leg and back workouts. You could also include it on chest-and-arm day because it won't fatigue you that much, taking away from your leg or back training day. Another option is to use it as a warm-up to a workout. It gets the heart rate up quickly. If you want to use it for your serious cardio workout, skip the Stairmaster or treadmill and perform a solid swing workout for 30-to-40 minutes.
You can custom tailor the swing workouts to meet your goals. You can train heavy kettlebells for low reps while working your cardio, or swing 30-to-40 minutes with lighter bells allowing you to focus on fat burning while maintaining muscle mass. It offers extreme versatility for training in your off-season as well as pre-contest!
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