Sometimes you need a good workout. Other times you need a fast one. You don't have to choose between the two, though. If you’re short on time, your most efficient bet is to crank out total-body exercises like kettlebell swings.

This power move combines cardio and strength training and really gets your heart pumping. "Swings work almost every major muscle in the body," says Jacquelyn Baston, CSCS, owner of Triple Fit in Chicago.

Meet the experts: Jacquelyn Baston, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the owner of Triple Fit in Chicago. Lauren Kanski, CPT, is a NASM-certified personal trainer, member of the WH advisory board, and New York City-based coach of Body and Bell.

You might think swinging kettlebells means more upper body, but the power should instead come from down south. “When done correctly, you are using your hip complex, glutes, hamstrings, quads, core, and lats,” says Lauren Kanski, CPT, NASM-certified personal trainer and WH advisory board member. When you’re pushing the 'bell out in front of you, your hips are in extension (or contracting), she says, which is why it works your lower body.

The Muscles Worked

  • Hip complex
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Core
  • Lats

Getting your form just right with a heavy bell can be tricky. So, before getting on that swing, make sure you learn the deadlift motion first, hold your core steady, and don’t round your back on the swing down.

When you master this move, your muscles (and busy schedule) will thank you. Kill five birds with one stone? Yes, please. Read on for all the expert tips to get swinging kettlebells like a pro and enjoy all the perks.

How To Do Kettlebell Swings With Proper Form

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How to:

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in front of your body with both hands, arms straight.
  2. With a slight bend in your knees and a flat back, hinge at your hips and swing the kettlebell back through your legs. Use that momentum to stand and swing the kettlebell out in front of your body, up to shoulder height.
  3. Thrust your hips forward, and engage your glutes and core as you stand up straight. When the kettlebell hits shoulder height, your knees should be straight and glutes contracted in a full hip extension.
  4. Allow the kettlebell to swing back down through your legs, while hinging at the hips. That's one rep.

Reps/sets for best results: Start with three sets of five reps, giving yourself no more than 20 seconds of rest between each set.

Pro form tips:

  • The emphasis in this move is on a hip hinge, not a squat, so make sure you have that movement pattern down before you pick up a ‘bell, Baston says. Try the good morning exercise to master this hinge.
  • Your core needs to stay engaged throughout the entire movement. A few other things to look out for: Don’t round your back during the swing down, and don’t over-bend your knees.

Benefits Of Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are a serious full-body movement. “The glutes and leg muscles generate force while the core musculature, shoulder girdle, and pecs stabilize to control the movement,” Baston explains.

  • Developing power.
  • Improving core stability.
  • Building endurance.
  • Improving muscle imbalances (like shortened hamstrings and weak glutes).
  • Teaching explosiveness comes from the hips.

Make Kettlebell Swings Part Of Your Workout

Don’t be fooled by this seemingly simple fluid motion—kettlebell swings (and kettlebell workouts, for that matter) are intense. “Because it engages so many muscles and is dynamic in nature, you need adequate recovery time to prevent injury,” Baston explains. That means at least one day of rest in between picking up a ‘bell again. Plan to work a variety of kettlebell exercises, not just swings, into your routine up to two or three days per week.

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Use the move's intensity to your advantage by including it in a HIIT workout, ideally paired with pushups, planks, and squats (all bodyweight movements).

How To Pick The Right Kettlebell Weight

If you're new to kettlebell swings, you might think a lighter KB is the way to go. But, the opposite is true. You need a heavy load to use your hips for the swing, instead of your upper body, Kanski says. You want one on the heavier side since you need enough weight for momentum and proper force, adds Baston.

Kanski recommends going no lighter than 12 kg, or a 25-pound KB, but ideally pick up a 30-35-pound 'bell. If you’re just starting out, choose a kettlebell somewhere in that weight range, and practice the deadlift first.

Kanski also says it’s helpful to learn from a pro or hire a coach. (Naturally she recommends her program, Body and Bell on the Ladder app, as a great place to start for beginners or to level up your kettlebell skills.)

    Pro tip: To check if your kettlebell is the right weight, try to do a front raise with your arms. If you can, you gotta go heavier.

    Common Kettlebell Swing Form Mistakes—And How To Fix Them

    There's a lot going on and a lot of muscles working with each swing of the KB. In addition to following the swing instructions, look out for these common mistakes:

    • Using too much upper body or arm strength. “Try to remember that your arms are only 10 percent of the swing, you use your hips to give the 'bell acceleration,” Kanski adds.
    • Bending in the hips too early. When you do that, it becomes more of a squat motion.
    • Bending in the hips too late. This makes the move too “hingey.”
    • Using kettlebells that are too light. When your kettlebell is too light, you can't engage the hips and lower bod properly.

    The key to understanding proper kettlebell movement is mastering the deadlift before trying to swing. “That is the foundation,” Kanski says.

    Time the hinge perfectly: Make sure you’re standing tall with a long spine, swinging the 'bell to about nipple height, letting it fall toward your thighs, then bending your hips at the last second to start another swing, Kanski says.

    Want a complete HIIT workout? Try this routine:

    preview for Kelsey Wells | Advanced HIIT Workout

    When you get stronger, you can level up to single arm swings and double kettlebell swings (that’s a weight in each hand), Baston says. Whatever way you choose, you'll get an awesome total-body workout—just keep swinging.