Pick up a kettlebell with two hands. Set your feet. Let the bell fall between your legs. Drive with your hips and repeat. You've just completed a two-handed kettlebell swing.
It’s the cornerstone of learning to hinge with your hips, and a staple in a hundred thousand training programs for normal gym goers and athletes.
Once you’ve learned how to hinge your hips properly it might not actually be the best choice. At the very least, you should be rotating this movement out in favor of other kettlebell exercises.
Let’s look at the reasons we do two-handed swings:
1. To learn to use the hips properly
2. Because it’s a good method of doing high-volume low-impact conditioning type exercises
I don’t think anyone could argue with 1. But 2. – are there alternatives?
Yes. The one handed kettlebell swing.
A normal kettlebell has an interior width of about 7 to 8 inches. If you’ve got big hands (or even just above average sized hands!) you won’t be fitting them both in any time soon. Bigger kettlebells which aren’t competition grade can have less room inside, as the diameter of the handle gets thicker.
What this results in is you compensating by removing fingers from the handle, and changing the angle from the centreline of your wrists.
Every Other Kettlebell Exercise is One-Handed!
Carryover is the ability for one exercise to affect performance on another. For instance, a farmer’s walk has good carryover to the deadlift. The shoulder press has poor carryover to the leg press.
So, what is the carryover from the two-handed swing to other kettlebell exercises? Not as much as you might think.
First of all, weight being shared between the arms means less stress on the grip. However, every other kettlebell exercise requires you grip the bell tightly, and even when it’s ‘racked’ (i.e. not moving on your chest).
Second, two handed swings have no rotational or anti-rotational element – nothing is trying to pull you off balance. One handed swings require you to manage this rotation, as you have to rotate a little to complete the movement. Not a lot!
Don’t worry, your spine will be just fine as long as you you do it with the correct form.
Third, if we wish to learn other exercises, the basic motor pattern is different. A one handed swing done in what’s called the Russian style will rise up in front of you with a bent arm. This closely mimics, without exactly reproducing, phases of the (one-handed) clean and snatch. More similar movement = better carryover.
One Handed Swings Make You Work Harder
This goes without saying! You might even need a lighter bell.
Perhaps we don't have to ‘retire’ the two handed kettlebell swing, but there is a strong case for prioritizing the one-handed swing.