Russian Kettlebell Swings
By Perry Nickelston, DC, SFMA

Kettlebells originated in Russia; the first recorded mention of them was in 1704. The Russian word for kettlebells is girya and the men who lifted these weights were called gireviks.

Although they look much different from your standard free weights and machines, kettlebells are one of the best and most efficient fitness/rehab tools available. The lightest one weighs in at only 10 pounds, and they increase in weight all the way up to 100 pounds. Kettlebells offer movement-based rehab training, otherwise known as functional training. They offer full-body conditioning and kinetic chain rehabilitation benefits. The body learns to work as one synergistic unit linked strongly together for core stability.

Kettlebell Training

Kettlebell training involves multiple muscle groups and energy systems at once, thus increasing resistance to injury. Improved mobility and range of motion can be obtained by teaching basic patterns of hip-joint hinging and gaining increased strength without increase of muscle mass. Kettlebell bodies are lean, toned and functional, not bulky – a benefit that helps prevent recurrent injury.

At first glance, one might be intimidated by a kettlebell thinking it may cause injury, rather than strengthening you and preventing injury. And in a way you would be correct. In reality, you can be hurt using any fitness and rehab equipment if you are not using it properly. Technique, form, proper instruction and intent of movement are all paramount in the application of kettlebell exercises.

Dr. Cheng is a doctor of Chinese orthopedic medicine and acupuncture, as well as an RKC (Russian kettlebell certified) “team leader” by way of his training with kettlebell guru Pavel Tsatsouline. Dr. Cheng teaches kettlebell rehabilitative fitness, RKC system strength training, and Chinese martial arts. According to Dr. Cheng, the kettlebell swing is “weight training by means of synergy instead of isolation.”

“Visually, the basic body mechanics for the swing are virtually identical to the wall squat and deadlift. However, it’s a ballistic movement. Instead of lifting the kettlebell in front of the body using the arms, the arms loosely hold it and the explosiveness of the hips snapping into extension propel it forward.”

Rehab Applications

This is where the uniqueness of the kettlebell swing comes into play with rehabilitation. One of the primary areas of the body that causes back pain via dysfunctional movement patterns is the hip joint and glutei muscles. Many people who suffer from lower back pain have decreased mobility in the hips, particularly with internal rotation and extension. The glutei muscles have become inhibited from poor postural control and no longer initiate hip extension with stabilization. This may be caused by the poor motor control, decreased mobility and stability effects of Vladimir Janda’s upper- and lower-crossed postural distortion syndromes.


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