Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Beautiful Swing: Franz Snideman on the kettlebell swing as a perfect move

Wouldn't it be wild if there was one movement that gave us a full body workout? You know, went from feet to fingertips, could be used for endurance, speed, power or hypertrophy work, and was super time efficient to boot? Turns out there is (of course - the questions are a set up for that, but you'll forgive me). It's the kettlebell swing.

Franz Snideman starting
the one arm swing
In the DVD Secrets of the Shoulder, functional movement screen guru Gray Cook refers to the Kettlebell Swing as "one of the best kept secrets" in training, featuring it as a shoulder strengthener. When asked by Geoff Neupert in his Senior/Master RKC kettlebell interview series summer 09 what single move he would take to a desert island, Master RKC and Denmark's Threat Modulation Coach Kenneth Jay said "the Swing."  Not the snatch, not the bent press, not the Turkish Get Up, but perhaps the most deceptively simple move with a kettlebell there is: the Swing. Why?

The Swing Overview. The kettlebell swing in brief is a dynamic move that *swings* a kettlebell behind one from a deadlift position, then accelerates forward into a standing position via hip thrust forcing the kettlebell to swing up to about chest height, with arms extended. One then draws the kb back down and behind into dl position again. Rinse and repeat as it were.

Pavel Tsatsouline
the hike pass of
the Swing
from Enter the Kettlebell 
where the Swing
is the cornerstone of the
Program Minimum
 Its dynamic movement really does hit pretty much everything - even the eyes and the balance system of the body. It requires good sensory-motor communication to stay well grounded, great hip work that means appropriate ankle and foot movement, too; excellent shoulder dynamics, which hits the neck and upper back movement, great grip, and overall coordination to make the movement flow.

The basic movement can be varied for speed, endurance, power or hypertrophy by changing the bell size and tempo.
Aesthetic Athleticism. Within all these benefits, the movement itself, when well-executed, is a symphony in coordinated, dynamic athletic elegance. Well-executed is the key here, and goes towards why Kenneth Jay also said in that interview that he is still working to "own [his] swing."

Indeed, there are a lot of ugly, half baked swings on youtube, so one misses the sweetness and potency of this movement. Justice to this movement must be done. And so to that end, i've sought out the Beautiful Swing. RKC Team Leader Franz Snideman has a Beautiful Swing. It is a master class in form. Franz has been kind enough to share this swing, and some tips about it,  gratis. But first, a bit about Gentleman Franz (and he is) of the RKC.
Franz Snideman, Revolution Fitness, doing a snatch lunge.
Franz Snideman - Context
Franz, what are some of the attributes that make the kettlebell so powerfully attractive for you?
Well, the design of the kettlebell is the powerful aspect. The offset handle which allows you to swing the kettlebell between the leg makes it unique. I've tried swinging dumbbells and it just feels awful. Don't do it! Barbells? Forget cannot swing a barbell between your legs. Kettlebells win hands down in that department.

I would also say that because of the round circular structure it allows me to training my shoulders through a great range of motion which intuitively feels so much healthier for my neck, shoulders and upper spine.

One of the biggest reason I use kettlebells is because I can eccentrically load my hip extensor muscles (Glutes, Hamstring, Lumbar Erectors and some of the adductor muscles) with more force than I could do with any other tool.
The concept of virtual force comes to mind. You can assist gravity by actively “throwing or hiking” the kettlebell in back of you. What does this mean for me athletically? It means that my muscles are absorbing a tremendous amount of eccentric force which makes me stronger and more resilient. If athletes are getting hamstring injuries I would say they need more eccentric strength in their hamstrings and glutes. I have noticed little to ZERO hamstring injuries anymore in my sprinting with the addition of hardstyle swings into my training.
When you are training, where does the KB fit into your training regimine?
Great question. This actually varies from program to program. Right now I am doing Master RKC Geoff Neupert's Kettlebell Burn program which places the swings at the end of every training session. So at the moment I am using swings as interval/fat loss tool for 10 minutes three times per week. But I have had programs where my swings were first in the workout, especially if I am using a heavier kettlebell (32kg and up).
I think for newbies to kettlebell training perhaps swings should be the emphasis in their training program, at least for the first year or so.
Right. The swing after all is the foundation of Enter the Kettlebell's Program Minimum. That and the Turkish Get Up and that's it. WIth respect to training kbs with others, is there a *kind* of training you do typically with your clients? If so, what are a few attributes you'd use to characterize it in terms of speed strength, power strength, endurance strength?
My clients range from executive golfer types who want to function and feel better while golfing, mothers wanting to get lean, high school athletes, runners, RKC's, massage therapists, grandmothers, grandfathers and pregnant women. I have a very wide range of clients. Regardless of the age, and the goal of the client,I always like to emphasize the following attributes:
  • Movement Quality. Can they move well and with grace. This includes a lot of postural training and coaching throughout all movement.
  • Correct Asymmetries. Perhaps the client has severe flexibility issues on one side of their bodies but not the other side.
  • Full Body Strength: Teaching the person how to maximize the concepts of full body tension and relaxation. Basically getting people's brains to talk better to their muscles. For many women this means teaching them to pick much heavier objects than they are used to lifting.
  • Power: the ability to apply strength quickly. This is the ultimate goal. Get people powerful and fast. Real life situations and sports usually occur and very fast speeds and we do our clients a huge disservice if they cannot use their bodies in a powerful, graceful and coordinated manner. The Hardstyle Swing and Snatch definitely come to mind here. I can't think of too many exercises that would improve power more than the swing and the snatch.
Quick Aside, you and your bro are both trainers. How the heck did that happen?
My twin brother Keats Snideman (RKC, CSCS, LMT) and I took an early fascination to sports and sport training. We knew at a very young age that we wanted to work in athletics and health. And I think because we are twins we naturally gravitate toward the same things. It's actually really cool to have you twin brother in the same profession. Not too hard to imagine what we talk about when we are together.
My goodness. Well, on another trait, you are also a speed demon. How has that manifested itself in your life, and where do see that fitting into anyone's training practice?
Speed Demon?
Yes, i had the honor of your towing me for sprints at the first ck-fms, you may recall. That was so awesome - i don't think i've ever moved so fast.
Wow, thanks! I have been known to blaze the 100 meter dash in a decent time, but certainly not like Usain Bolt! Well, coming from a sprinting background I am very biased toward more anaerobic type training. This includes a heavy emphasis on lower reps for strength training and power training.
The emphasis for me has always been on quality and SPEED rather than quantity. I would rather get someone really fast at 20 or 30 meters before I ever let them sprint 100 meters. Why let someone condition their body to sprint slowly? If they have no speed to endure, why bother.

Getting people to learn how to explosively contract their muscles is not easy. However, by focusing on moving faster and better the central nervous system begins to get the idea that it needs to communicate with the fast twitch muscle fibers. I can't think of a better tool than the KB to assist in this process and the HARDSTYLE KB technique is based on power production which is why it is THE WAY to go for getting people faster and more powerful.

Franz Snideman Talks and Walks the Beautiful Move 

Ok now for the main feature. Here, Franz and i chat about the Hardstyle (HS) swing. Styles of swing, folks in the RKC community have said, are not unlike styles of martial arts. Hardstyle is what the technique lead by Pavel Tsatsouline in the RKC has come to be known as in the West.
I'm not sure if it's you're favorite move, but it's a beautiful move the way you do it. So let's talk a wee moment about the swing.
The swing is definitely one of my favorites, right up there with the kettlebell Snatch. There are so many details to great swing technique that we could in no way cover all of the aspects in this interview. But, let's give it a shot and at least lay down some of the fundamentals and basic instructions for a powerful and graceful swing.
Franz demonstrating the swing, view 1
The first thing one needs to understand about the hardstyle kettlebell swing is that hardstyle does not mean “ugly style.”
I think there is a great misconception about the RKC style of kettlebells in the fitness industry that you have to look tense in the face and look like some bad ass MMA fighter to properly do a swing. That is not correct. Learning the RKC style of swing is not about trying to TENSE your body as much as possible. It is all about learning when and how much tension to apply during the swing. This of course is a SKILL and requires a tremendous amount of practice, coaching and correction. It will not be mastered in one day, or one year.
Franz demonstrating the swing, view 2
I am still working on my swing and I started using Kettlebells in 2002. Think of learning the swing similar to learning a martial art. Over time you learn how to take off the parking brakes and express more power. A good hardstyle swing will look quick and powerful, but it will also look smooth, crisp, graceful and beautiful.
Okay, so here is list of what to focus on during the HS swing:
  • Your stance. The stance must be wide enough to allow the KB to swing through the legs. Not too wide, not too narrow. It should feel like a very athletic position for you.
  • Structure and posture. It is almost impossible to coach muscle activation so therefore we teach structure and position. If you can teach someone to get into the right position you will not have to coach muscle recruitment, the muscles will naturally do what they need to do. The hard part is getting people into the proper position, that is the biggest challenge. What is the proper structure and position to get into? You must hinge at the hips and push the hips in back of you (almost like you were trying to touch a wall 2 feet in back of you). As you hinge at the hips your shoulder will come forward which means your torso will be at a 45 degree angle (at least..and sometime more).
  • The spine remains straight but not upright (look at video).
  • The neck position will remain as neutral as possible in the swing. There will be some extension in the bottom position of the swing but certainly not excessive.
  • There will be an “active Hike Pass” in the bottom position of swing. This means you will be using your LATS a lot. Hand will be loose but the lats will be fully engaged.
  • The Hips. Once the hips are eccentrically loaded then you just stand up and extend the hips. If you loaded up the hip by throwing the kettlebell in back of you, standing up will be much easier and powerful.
Great check list, Franz. Tell me some of the things that make the hardstyle kb swing important to you for your own training, and for anyone's practice?
Number one is focused effort. Few exercises allow you to focus on redirecting the scattered energies of the body and channeling them into full body hip power. One of the main reasons I (and all of us) should practice the HS Swings is to learn how to groove a very powerful hip extension. Almost all sports require a powerful hip extension to sprint, jump, twist and cut. All sporting movements will benefit from kettlebell swings.
What are the elements of a Beautiful Swing?
Great posture throughout the entire swing [please see 4 elements of efficiency for more on this point- mc]. A tall, yet relaxed neck and face. The Arms should be glued to the ribcage. The KB should be actively hiked through the legs close to the groin. The Hip “Pop” should occur first which allows the KB to literally float in the air for a brief moment. The most important aspect is that the swings looks rhythmical and smooth, yet powerful. To quote Master RKC Brett Jones, Hardstyle does not mean UGLY STYLE. Be powerful in the swing but not to the point that it looks like you are about to have a heart attack. Most of the energy is generated from the hips and core. Your face and neck are not your core.
Your swing fascinates me: it goes so fast from the bottom and hangs at the top, and then it's fast at the bottom - most of us swing with what looks like a very even back and forth, but you have this lovely double tempo.
Thanks MC! I think it's my sprinting background in which I am trying to achieve speed and that is why I go faster at the bottom. If I focus on the quick down swing it is actually easier for me to explode my hips and project the bell forward.
The secret for me is to load my hips at the last second. That means let the KB drop and then once it reaches my stomach/bladder area I quickly bend at the hips and let the lats drive the Kettlebell in back of me. It helps to wait a bit and let the bell drop and bend at the last minute. This creates more speed and power and this means more loading for the hip extensors. The secret for this tempo of swing is to first learn how to actively hike the KB in back of you and then immediately extend the hips and stand up tall.
What are your tips to achieve this swing tempo?
First is learn how to achieve the bottom position of the swing. Hips back and high in the air with minimal knee bend. Not straight legged at all but you do not want to turn the swing into a squat. You must learn to hinge from the hips and then the knees will contribute as much movement as they need to. From their I would practice hiking the KB in back of you and trying to get your arms to touch your thighs. Many people only get the hands in back of them, this is mistake. To get maximal loading you need your arms to reach way in back of you.
Besides yourself, who has a beautiful swing and what do you think contributes to that sense of it as a beautiful movement when you see *them* do it?
This is a tough question because there are so many RKC's that have great swings. I couldn't mention them all here. The following RKC's come to mind right now:
Master RKC Brett Jones
RKC TL Jason Marshall
RKC TL Keira Newton
RKC TL Delanie Ross
RKC TL Dustin Rippitoe
RKC TL Dennis Frisch
(list of links here for the above trainers)
(Update Aug '10- part II - see each of the above RKC's swing the kettle)
I have seen their swings and they are very powerful and graceful swings. Watching these instructors swing would definitely give all of us some good visual examples of what a good swing looks like.
What would you caution folks new to the kettlebell to consider before picking up that first kb to do that first swing?
I would encourage people that they need get some private instruction by the best RKC they can find. Nothing beats hands on training and learning. This is the best solution if people want to learn correct kettlebell technique.
Ok what *is* your fave kb movement and what are a few things about that movement that make it special to franz?
I personally like the Kettlebell Snatch to Lunge [shown above -mc]. You basically perform a explosive snatch and then immediately drop into a deep lunge. The drop is quick and the bell is almost weightless at the halfway point. I'll have to send you a video on this because a video would do much more justice than me explaining it.
And now Franz, please say anything at all that you'd like to about KB's about, the swing, about training, and especially about why you'd get one with a kb as your tool of choice - for whom? why? or anything else you'd like.
I would recommend people to take up kettlebell training for the following reasons:
  • The basic kettlebell movements strengthen all the muscles of the body in a harmonious fashion. This means more metabolic burn (potential fat loss). It also means that your body actually functions at a high level which is very important.
  • Improves full body power and strength
  • Improve mobility
  • Cost effective / Time efficient training. Get more results off of less work
  • Doesn't take up much space
  • Easy to travel with
  • Very versatile. There are hundreds of variations of the basic exercises that one can perform
  • Delivers results quickly
Thank you, Franz for your time and sharing all this. That's gold.

Franz and his partner RKC Team Leader Yoana TerĂ¡n Snideman have a suite of great fitness dvds that include rope training, kb programming,  fat loss and more. Yoana will have a great resource on kb's while pregnant, forthcoming. Their blogs are rich resources of more tips and techniques too, which you can access from the revolution fitness site.

Summing Up
Enter the Kettlebell BookThe swing is a super full body exercise that can be used from conditioning to speed training. It's use in intervals work (on for a hard period/off for recovery) makes it great for fat burning work, too.

If you're new to KB's a great place to start is with Tsatsouline's Enter the Kettlebell book and DVD. Once you get swinging, Franz's super tips help refine that swing practice even further.

As Franz notes, though,  best council, find a swing coach you trust and work with that person to help you find your beautiful swing. We just can't see ourselves. I was fortunate to have Franz look at my swing when we were at a cert together. It took about 10 seconds for him - literally - to cue my hip position to get more power into the hip drive. More efficient movement, better loading of muslces, better workout, faster progress.

It's so worth it. A session with a coach is a great present for someone you love, too (it's funny how we're willing to get good stuff for the ones we love but think it's too decadent to get it for ourselves, sometimes).

Also if you're really keen, doing the HKC one day KB cert is a great way to have a senior or master RKC work with you for a full day on the swing, tgu and goblet squat

HKC (HardStyle Kettlebell Certified) Instructor Workshops
detailed overview of an HKC here

But if nothing else, hope this interview demonstrates why the Swing is both such an elegant and potent move when well exectuted, and why owning it - different hands, weights, speeds - takes practice (and coaching).  One move; constant variety, full on whole body health. What's not to like?

begin2dig (b2d) on Facebook

Update: Part II: more beautiful swings - Franz's pics for exemplary swing.

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Build Muscle said...

Do you have any thoughts as to how a olympic clean or snatch compares to a swing.

To me they look very close both in muscle action and metabolically.

dr. m.c. said...

Hi Build Muscle

nice call.

i'd sure check with someone like Randy Hauer who is versed in both olympic lift coaching and kb training, but in my understanding,
sure, they are both hip-driven dynamic movements.
beyond that

- a swing seems in form to me most aligned with the foundation of a clean and of a snatch,the deadlift

The swing is a simpler move than the clean or snatch.

the swing uses that deadlift drive to power the bell arc up, and instead of dropping the bar at the top of the lift, it's an active hike back to drive it up again.

There's also a kb clean, snatch and jerk which use this drive (like the dl drive in the oly moves) as their foundation.

so nice observation


Roland Fisher said...

For me, all beautiful movement seems to have a relaxed quality to it. This gent has such a relaxed look to his swing. That cannot be achieved without tremendous skill in maximal contractions/tension.

Simply beautiful mc!

Joe Pavel said...

Nice Swings Franz.
Great article MC.

Franz Snideman said...

Mc, great job! Thanks for including me on the project! What a treat :)

Thank you Joe!!!

dr. m.c. said...

roland, thank you as always for dropping by. Joe - yes ain't it purty, and Franz goodness, you make it easy.


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