Kettlebell swings are a great way to train your abs. Here’s how and why. You know how you tense up your abs, swing the kettlebell, relax them, then tighten your abs again before the next swing? That exercise is building your abs and making them stronger.
Tightening your abs as hard as you can swing after swing is like doing curls for your biceps. Over time, the tension and stress you put on them will help your abs grow stronger and look better.
Research finds that this type of ab exercise, also called bracing can increase the strength of your abs by 16% in 8 weeks.
In this post I’ll teach everything I learned researching and testing the best way to train your abs with kettlebell swings.
After reading you’ll know how to build strong abs that make you perform and look better in and out of the gym.
How Kettlebell Swings Work Your Abs
Every time you do a swing – actually just before you start – your abs get to work. As soon as you bend at the waist and grab the kettlebell you’ll tighten your abs to prepare them for your set of swings.
Then, when you do your swings you’ll keep your abs and core tightened. This serves two purposes. One is acting as a brace to stabilize your spine and torso. The second is to connect your upper and lower body so they can work together and ensure you get the most from every rep.
You’ll keep your abs tight, even when your standing straight up at the end and the kettlebell is at its highest point. The same as you do during a plank. This similarity is why kettlebell swings are often referred to as standing planks.
You don’t have to just take my word Here’s what strength coach of athletes from the college ranks to the pros, Todd Bumgardner, CSCS has to say about kettlebell swings and standing planks.
“The top of every kettlebell swing, heck, the top of every deadlift and squat, is a plank. And we need to maintain the plank position from our hips to our head as we move through the kettlebell swing to keep our backs safe and healthy—and also to swing that dang bell as hard as we can.”Todd Bumgardner, CSCS
Benefits Of Ab Bracing Are Backed By Science
Research finds that keeping your abs tight when you do exercises like kettlebell swings helps you get stronger and perform better.
In a study published in the ‘European Journal of Applied Physiology’ finds that after 8 weeks of doing bracing exercises like you do during a swing increases the strength and power of your abs by 16%.
Forcefully tensing their ab muscles also made the guys up to 35% stronger during 2 movements that make up kettlebell swings: torso and hip extension.
Which Ab Muscles Do Kettlebell Swings Work?
Swings train all of your abdominal muscles. This includes your: rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques.
Depending on the type of swing you’re doing, different abdominal muscles may be trained more than others. Research finds that one and two handed swings train all of your abs, especially your rectus abdominis, the muscles that make up your six pack.
When you do lateral or rotational swings and twisting from your waist your obliques will be more involved than they are when you do traditional swings.
Here’s an image which shows the name and location of the individual muscles that make up your abs.
The Benefits Of Ab Training With Kettlebells
- Strengthens your abs doing movements that you need to be strong in for sports and daily living. Examples that are similar to swings are: surfing pop-up, sprinting and jumping. You’ll even notice that they help you have better posture when you’er sitting and standing.
- Makes the entire core stronger, not just your abs. This teaches your abs and other core muscles to work together for greater strength, power, and performance.
- Variety – with so many types of swings (2 handed, 1 handed, rotational) just to name a few teach you to use your abs while swinging a kettlebell every way imaginable.
- Convenience – we don’t always have a lot of time to do lots of exercises. Thats okay. Doing at least 3 sets of 5-10 kettlebell swings per set ensures your abs have been trained. You’ll have also worked out almost every other muscle in your body. This is why i do 5 or more sets of swings as a total body workout when I’m pressed for time.
Training Your Abs With Kettlebell Swings
Below are a few tips to help you get the most from every kettlebell swing. The better you are at bracing yourself abs, the better you’ll be at kettlebell swings.
As soon as you bend at the waist and grip the kettlebell, focus for a second on tightening your abs. Doing this also helps you tense the rest of your core.
Keep this tension on your abs throughout the entire swing.
Don’t hold your breath. According to coach Freides you want to make sure you can breath while tensing your abs and core. This’ll also help you go longer and harder at each set.
How I Work My Abs With Swings
A quick check of my training journal shows that I do kettlebell swings a lot. I’ve actually done them at 93% of my workouts over the last year.
One of the reasons for this is I know they’re a great way to build stronger abs and core. I vary the type of swing I do from workout to workout for the sake of variety and getting stronger from different angles.
Below is a list of my favorite kettlebell swings. Click on the images to see a video demonstration.
My favorite kettlebell swings for abs are:
2 handed swings – Are great since they allow us to use heavier weights to really build strong abs and core. This is the first type of swing you want to learn. Once you can do them properly, it’ll be much easier to learn other types of swings.
Take a look at this demonstration of the 2 handed kettlebell swing to see how it can build strong abs.
It’s from the @womenwholiftweights Instagram account. In the video, athlete Rebecca Adams does a swing with excellent form. This is because she’s bracing her abs and core. Doing so keeps her upper body flat and enables explosive hip extension when swinging the weight up.
1 handed swings – Since the kettlebell is only on one side of your body during the swing your abs will be forced to react a little differently to stay tight. For an even tougher ab workout, try alternating hands between each swing.
Watch coach Jake show you how to do 1 handed swings the right way. Using almost 100 pounds! He wouldn’t be able to do these swings so we’ll without being able to forcefully tense his ab muscles on every rep.
Rotational swings – We don’t do enough rotating exercises for our abs and its real shame. We require our bodies tobe able to twist and turn, whether its to hit a backhand in tennis or pick up and move something heavy. These swings are among my favorite rotational movements because you do them while standing, which further mimics real life activities.
Here’s a great demonstration of rotational swings by trainer Lindy Mei. Notice how even when rotating from the hips, you have to keep your abs tight to do the swing correctly.
Dead stop swings – cause you to tense and then relax your abs between swings. Little different way to train these muscles, Doimg this exercise also helps you learn to automatically brace your abs, even when your on your 10th rep of the 5th set and are getting really tired.
Here, strength coach Charley Gould, CSCS shows you how to do a proper dead stop swing. You’ll see how the pause after each rep allows you the chance to relax and then quickly tense your abs. It’s another way to get them stronger and able to sprint, throw, and kick harder and faster.
Now you know how kettlebell swings train your abs. I’m sure you’re also stoked to realize all of the benefits of working your abs with this exercise. Last but not least you understand how to get as much ab building benefits from different types of swings. Now all that’s left is for you to see what they can do for you.
Andersen V, Fimland MS, Gunnarskog A, Jungård GA, Slåttland RA, Vraalsen ØF, Saeterbakken AH. Core Muscle Activation in One-Armed and Two-Armed Kettlebell Swing. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 May;30(5):1196-204.
Tayashiki K, Maeo S, Usui S, Miyamoto N, Kanehisa H. Effect of abdominal bracing training on strength and power of trunk and lower limb muscles. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016 Sep;116(9):1703-13.