Kettlebell Single Arm Swing: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
January 1, 2022

A variation of the relatively common kettlebell swing, the kettlebell single arm swing is a bilateral resistance exercise usually performed in lieu of a two handed kettlebell swing either due to a lack of available equipment or in the intention of isolating a single lateral side of the body.

The kettlebell single arm swing is considered somewhat more difficult than the more common traditional kettlebell swing, making it a natural progression stage in the vein of progressive overload without the use of additional repetitions, weight, or altered form.

The kettlebell single arm swing is an excellent exercise for individuals relatively new to resistance exercises or people with certain types of physical rehabilitation plans due to the fact that it requires very little equipment and is relatively simplistic once the proper form cues are understood.

What is the Kettlebell Single Arm Swing?

In a more technical definition, the single arm kettlebell swing is a closed kinetic chain exercise owing to the fact that the distal end of the body or the feet remain firmly planted on the ground while it is being performed, requiring some level of torso stabilization from the abdominal muscle groups and various others.

the kettlebell single arm swing

The kettlebell single arm swing is also considered a functional compound exercise due to its ability to activate such muscle groups like the deltoid heads, the gluteus muscles and many of the muscles in the legs and posterior chain.

Additionally, the kettlebell single arm swing is considered an explosive dynamic exercise considering the level of speed and force used while performing a repetition of the exercise, making it an excellent choice for athletes and other individuals wishing to improve their bodily power output.

Are Single Arm Kettlebell Swings Good?

The single arm kettlebell swing is considered an excellent exercise for newbie gym goers owing to the simplicity in its form and the dynamic nature of its movement, making it both entertaining and self-limiting in its difficulty owing to the grip strength required to hold any significantly heavy kettlebell.

However, the single arm kettlebell swing is not only an excellent choice for individuals with little experience, but also quite good when incorporated into intermediate to advanced training regimens, usually as a secondary compound exercise meant to induce further muscular hypertrophy and strength adaptations in the athlete.

Even in cases wherein the single arm kettlebell swing is added to a physical rehabilitation routine by a medical professional, the exercise can have a significant reinforcing effect on the muscular and connective tissues used while performing single arm kettlebell swings.

It is important, however, to follow the instructions of the physical therapist or similar professional to the letter, as simply performing single arm kettlebell swings unsupervised and without a proper lifestyle support system will not be sufficient to repair injuries.

How Do You Perform a Single Arm Kettlebell Swing?

Prior to beginning the exercise, the exerciser must select an appropriately weighted kettlebell and place it on the ground between their feet, ensuring that enough space is available for them to safely swing the weight around without injuring others or themselves.

Preventing their grip from slipping with gloves or lifting chalk and positioning themselves parallel to a mirror may be beneficial to the exerciser as well.

To begin, the exerciser will plant their feet firmly on the ground approximately two to three inches wider than their shoulders (or far apart enough to swing a kettlebell between while maintaining stability), prior to tightening their core and straightening their spine by standing erect with their head facing parallel to the torso.

how to do a kettlebell single arm swing

The exerciser will then lower themselves at the hips and knees with one arm extended to the side before gripping the kettlebell between their feet with the arm to be exercised.

The shoulder of the exerciser must be braced appropriately, positioning the kettlebell slightly higher and behind the knees as they remain in the bent-over position with their core engaged and back remaining firmly straight.

Then, in a single explosive movement, the individual will push their hips outwards with their knees straightening once more, all the while thrusting the kettlebell forwards and upwards with the shoulder and torso.

If performed properly, the individual should have one arm extended in front of them with the kettlebell raising slightly with the momentum of the movement, prior to returning to the starting position as the exerciser once more bends over and allows the kettlebell to swing back between their knees.

This completes a single one-sided repetition of kettlebell single arm swings.

It is important to keep in mind that the side being exercised must be switched between repetitions or sets of equal number, so as to prevent muscular imbalances from being developed.

What Muscles are Involved in Performing the Kettlebell Single Arm Swing?

Being a compound exercise involving an explosive motion that would otherwise destabilize the exerciser, the kettlebell single arm swing incorporates a large variety of different muscle groups, all of which may serve different purposes depending on the portion of the exercise being performed.

These muscles have been divided into their general purpose during the exercise, with certain muscle groups providing the majority of the force and others serving to reduce the chance of injury and overextension by stabilizing the limbs and torso.

Primary Movers

The primary mover muscles are the muscle groups responsible for the majority of the kinetic force produced during the course of the kettlebell single arm swing’s movement.

Subsequently, it is these particular muscle groups that receive the most activation – and by extension the most training stimuli, so long as proper form is followed and the individual utilizes an appropriate volume of repetitions or amount of weight.

The primary mover muscles involved during the kettlebell single arm swing are the quadriceps femoris at the front of the upper leg, the gluteus muscles located in the buttocks as well as the three anterior, medial and posterior deltoid heads, also known as the shoulder muscles.

Secondary Movers

Activated in a lesser capacity in comparison to the primary mover muscles, the secondary mover muscles provide a similarly important output of kinetic force, though in smaller strength than what is outputted by the primary mover muscles.

By extension, this may equate to secondary mover muscles receiving somewhat less training stimuli, accruing less muscular hypertrophy and neurological strength adaptation, colloquially called “gains”.

These secondary mover muscles are the latissimus dorsi muscles along the middle back, the trapezius muscle atop the shoulders, the rhomboid muscles between the two previous muscles as well as the abdominal muscles to some extent.

Stabilizers

Activated primarily in a static capacity, the stabilizer muscles are responsible for preventing the muscles of the body from overextending or otherwise activating in a way that may cause injury to themselves or the surrounding tissues, making stabilizer muscles vitally important in practically any movement.

During the performance of a single arm kettlebell swing, the primary stabilizer muscles used are the obliques, the various smaller muscles in the forearms, the various small muscles located in the calves as well as the erector spinae located along the spinal cord.

Though these muscles are activated in a static capacity, it is unlikely that they will experience any significant muscular hypertrophy owing to a lack of sufficient direct training stimuli.

This is not to say, however, that these stabilizer muscles will not receive any benefit from being utilized in the single arm kettlebell swing, as it is likely that they will still develop some level of strength improvement, even without being directly used as a mover muscle.

What are the Benefits of Doing the Single Arm Kettlebell Swing?

Being a compound resistance exercise, the single arm kettlebell swing presents a variety of benefits to whomever chooses to perform it repetitively over multiple workout sessions, though this is not to say that even a single period of single arm kettlebell swings cannot have excellent positive effects.

The benefits of single arm kettlebell swings, or resistance exercises in general, are wide reaching and as such may be difficult to list in their entirety. As such, we have chosen to only list the benefits particular to the single arm kettlebell swing itself.

Athletic Benefits

Being a dynamic and explosive movement involving a large portion of the body, the single arm kettlebell swing can provide an excellent improvement to any individual’s particular athletic ability, aiding in their total power output both in speed and strength.

This sort of bodily function is mostly seen in such things as jumping or sprinting wherein many muscles of the body act in tandem to output a great amount of energy over a short period.

General Muscular Benefits

The single arm kettlebell swing, when performed with a reasonable amount of weight and in sufficient volume, can induce a variety of muscular repair and growth effects that are generally seen as positive, though this sort of growth and repair requires proper rest and an appropriate diet be followed as well.

From improved muscular flexibility to a noticeable increase in size and density a la muscular hypertrophy, performing the single arm kettlebell swing will create a nearly body-wide improvement in general muscular function.

Cardiac Benefits

The particular cardiovascular training received from performing the kettlebell single arm swing will depend on the volume of repetitions performed, the speed of said repetitions as well as the general cardiovascular systemic state of the exerciser.

However, due to the fact that the single arm kettlebell swing is an explosive exercise involving the activation of multiple muscle groups, there is no doubt that some level of cardiovascular stimulation occurs during its performance.

Depending on the particular training level of the exerciser, this stimulation may otherwise be sufficient enough to induce various cardiovascular benefits, such as an increased oxygen utilization capacity, improved resting heart rate, reduced blood pressure and reduced chance of clotting.

Is it OK to do Kettlebell Swings Every Day?

Being a relatively high impact exercise activating a large majority of the muscular groups found in the body, doing single arm kettlebell swings every day may be unsuitable for individuals with poor muscular recovery, little experience in performing resistance exercise or are otherwise unsupervised by an exercise professional. 

In order to perform single arm kettlebell swings on a daily basis, it is important to ensure that the RPE or rate of perceived exertion experienced by the exerciser is quantifiably low, allowing the body to recover from the mechanical stress within a single day.

The primary way to do so is to reduce the amount of weight being used, with lighter amounts of weight being less likely to induce overtraining or injury, especially when combined with sufficient sleep and an amino acid rich diet.

Another method to allow an individual to safely perform kettlebell swings on a daily basis is to reduce the total volume utilized so as to induce a lower length of time at which the muscles and various other tissues will be placed under stress.

How Heavy Should the Kettlebell Single Arm Swing Be?

The particular weight that should be utilized while performing the kettlebell single arm swing will depend on the desired volume of repetitions to be performed, the exercise experience of the individual and whatever equipment may be available.

In the event that the workout or rehabilitation program requires a higher volume of repetitions, the exerciser should use a relatively lighter weight so as to prevent over usage of the muscles and allow the exerciser to fully utilize their glycogen stores in an endurance based capacity.

However, for individuals wishing to train their strength and explosive power output, it may be better to instead reduce the volume of repetitions involved while increasing the weight somewhat, so long as it is within a reasonable amount.

The majority of international standard kettlebells are usually set to specific weights at intervals of two to four kilograms, of which are usually color coded if meant for use in standard competitions. 

In certain parts of the world or in some gyms, acquiring every single one of these may be difficult, meaning that individuals wishing to perform the kettlebell single arm swing may find themselves with insufficient or incorrect kettlebell weights.

As such, it is better to use the lightest but closest weight approximation to the original intended weight.

References

1. Duncan MJ, Gibbard R, Raymond LM, Mundy P. The Effect of Kettlebell Swing Load and Cadence on Physiological, Perceptual and Mechanical Variables. Sports. 2015; 3(3):202-208. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports3030202

2. Lake, Jason P.; Lauder, Mike A. Kettlebell Swing Training Improves Maximal and Explosive Strength, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 8 - p 2228-2233 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2c9b

3. Meigh, N.J., Keogh, J.W.L., Schram, B. et al. Kettlebell training in clinical practice: a scoping review. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil 11, 19 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13102-019-0130-z

4. Vancini RL, Andrade MS, Rufo-Tavares W, Zimerer C, Nikolaidis PT, de Lira CAB. Kettlebell Exercise as an Alternative to Improve Aerobic Power and Muscle Strength. J Hum Kinet. 2019;66:5-6. Published 2019 Mar 27. doi:10.2478/hukin-2018-0062

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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