I don’t know about you, but I am sick of feeling some straining atmosphere in the air non-stop about indirectly comparing 2 powerful giants among countries. They think they have a power but only power they have is in posterior chain muscles – except calves 😉 .
I will tell you immediately something that most people have been eagerly waiting for long time. Russians win this time in “The world’s most famous battle” 🙂 . So what’s the deal?
Both exercises are great for gaining a proper power predominantly and strength in your glutes. You can feel it very quickly. When it comes to gaining muscle power, it sounds logical that you can gain it more with American way of swing (because Kettlebell is dropping down from higher position – overhead position) but as speed of KB dropping increases – lower back and hams injuries increases too because that muscles need to isometric (lower back muscles, KB swing is a hip hinge movement) and eccentrically (just hams because glutes are not at injury risk) stop movement at one moment – as KB weight is higher the injury risk is higher. Don’t be worried, you can gain a huge muscle power on Russian way with heavier Kettlebells.
“I’m not a fan of american (overhead) swings. Why? Because more ROM doesn’t necessarily mean better. And anyone who argues that it’s a more powerful way to swing doesn’t understand physics.” – Tony Gentilcore
We know that injury risk increases when speed of ecc. muscle contraction increases in general – therefore you need to slightly bend your knees during ecc. phase of exercise execution if you want less hams injury risk and more flat (neutral) lower back on easier way during executing (if you slightly bend knees you can ecc. unload hams a little bit – less straining because hams are 2 joint muscles). Also, it’s not comfortable for lower back muscles when they need to ISO control dropping KB phase with higher acceleration (especially when KB weight is higher).
Second, with American KB swing you need to move arms to overhead position. This is a problematic position with people who lack a proper overhead mobility – and trust me there is more people who lack it than not (ability to raise arms overhead properly – with good lumbo-pelvic control and without compensations). A lot of reasons for that exists: shortened and stiffed latts, pecs, upper back muscles (an issues with soft tissue mobility), kyphosis (rounded shoulders), lack of thoracic spine mobility, a glenohumeral capsular mobility issue, an improper scapular upward rotation – everything is in correlation. Quick example: Upper traps – lower traps and m. serratus anterior need to work together to properly rotate scapula upward along the ribcage – this is one of conditions for good overhead position (if anything miss an issue occurs, but that’s another topic). If you have just rounded shoulders = poor scapular mechanics (especially upward rotation) = unhealthy/nonfunctional shoulders. People forget that m. serratus anterior is really important muscle who is underdeveloped very often. In order to raise arms overhead safely, three actions need to happen with the shoulder blades: Upward rotation, Posterior tilt, Protraction. M. serratus anterior plays pretty BIG role here, right 😉 ? For instance, “reaching” with arms while doing push ups (full scapular retraction and protraction) is the great way to develop this important muscle.
An “upper-cross syndrome” is a commonplace among people who sit improper very often and/or exercise with suspicious technique (or in dominantly rounded position in basketball, volleyball, hockey…). As logical in pic below – you must continuously strengthen neck flexors and UPPER BACK. Of course, nothing without good everyday posture maintaining.
Take a look at good short videos below and everything will be clearer when it comes to overhead mobility (and potential pain) assessing.
If you have bad shoulder mobility in mentioned manner (and kyphosis as well), compensatory movement will probably occur at lower back – extension (which may be dangerous to your lower back – depends on load). This is maybe the biggest mistake (in overhead position) you can notice while watching someone who performs the KB swing poorly. I almost forgot 🙂 , forward head can be the second very often compensatory movement (your cervical spine must stay in neutral position along with lower back).
First you have to gain a proper shoulder mobility and learn how to control movement (lack of motor control is a biiig problem) with squeezing butt and bracing ABS (making posterior pelvic tilt by moving pelvic floor and lower ribs toward each other when KB is overhead – good tip because you can reduce or stop lower back extension on that way) and then you can be ready for American KB swing – but I don’t recommend it because of higher acceleration mentioned above and unnatural overhead both arms position (some people can feel pain in shoulders for example).
1-arm KB snatch exercise is more natural (and neutral) when it comes to arm position – 1 arm included and that arm is more on head side which is better for lower back and shoulder both (plus you can work better on shoulder stabilizers). Insist on neutral overhead-arm position (thumb back and arm more external rotated).
With hope I convinced you that Russian style is better (without any word about it because the picture below says thousand words) enjoy more often this extremely useful exercise. Inside Russian style you can’t find any problem mentioned above.
So, it’s really important to do this exercise with perfect form. Never swing below knees level because the load on your spine increases. If you have stiff/short lats and poor abdominal control (the main reasons) swinging above shoulder level could be harmfull for low back. Some people squat their swing (mistake) rather than making hip hinge (you should feel it in glutes, and hams of course). Start with learning “hip hinge” by slow movements first.
Of course, you shouldn’t go too much down…
“Stick with the “hard style” swing, where the bell doesn’t go above chest or eye level (you should always be able to see above the bell). This is a more powerful swing and doesn’t require going overhead, which most people aren’t going to do well with anyways.” – Tony Gentilcore
Thanks for reading and all the best,