Ever wondered, “Why Are My Abs Sore After Kettlebell Swings?”
I’m sure we can all agree that kettlebell swings are a fantastic exercise.
They are typically viewed as a full-body exercise, although you tend to mainly “feel” them in your glutes and hamstrings.
With that being said, I know I often feel swings in my abs.
In fact, following a high volume of kettlebell swings my abs can feel quite sore, even more so than an ab-specific workout.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Why Are My Abs Sore After Kettlebell Swings?
It is estimated that kettlebell swings work over 600 muscles in the human body. However, it is important that your core muscles are braced throughout. This ensures that support is provided for your lower back, which stabilizes the entire spinal column. So, in effect, every time you swing a kettlebell your abs are being contracted. You can also increase ab and core involvement by performing American kettlebell swings and one-handed kettlebell swings.
1. Kettlebell Swings Require a Braced Core Throughout
Kettlebell swings are often lauded as one of the greatest exercises ever, if not “The Greatest”.
I guess this is because each individual swing works so many muscles in the body.
In fact, it is estimated that you work over 600 muscles in the body with each swing.
So, that is almost every muscle in the human body.
This is also why kettlebell swings are such a great all-round movement.
Whether you want to build strength, add muscle, or burn body fat, swings can certainly help.
Something else to consider is that every single time you swing a kettlebell you will need to brace your core muscles.
Firstly, there is the explosive snap of the hips to send the kettlebell upwards.
This immediately brings the glutes, hamstrings, hips, and core into play.
Basically, all of these muscle groups work hard to send the kettlebell on it’s way.
As you come out of the hip-hinge you are pretty much performing a standing plank.
Your body is tight and various muscles are contracted in order to provide support to your spinal column.
And this is especially true of the core muscles.
As the kettlebell comes back down you still have to maintain a braced core to yet again provide protection for your lower back and the surrounding muscles.
So, in effect, each swing almost constitutes two separate reps of an ab exercise.
Once on the way up and once more on the way down.
And this will explain why your abs feel sore after kettlebell swings.
The amount of work your abs have to do is further increased depending on the weight of the kettlebell or the volume of swings that you perform.
A heavier kettlebell will in effect require even more core stabilization to protect your lower back.
Plus, a higher volume of swings will mean that your core muscles are braced and contracted for a longer period of time.
2. Are You Doing American Kettlebell Swings?
I’ve already spoken of bracing your core throughout the swing movement as a way to stabilize the lower back.
Plus, I’ve said that when you’re in the standing up straight part of the kettlebell swing you are in effect performing a standing plank.
However, there is one version of the kettlebell swing that takes this even further.
Namely, the American kettlebell swing.
The traditional (Russian) kettlebell swing requires you to explode at the hips into hip extension in order to get the kettlebell “up”.
At the top of the movement the kettlebell typically stops at around shoulder height before coming back down.
However, with the American kettlebell swing you continue the upward trajectory until the kettlebell “settles” overhead.
In effect, you want the bottom of the kettlebell to be pointing at the ceiling.
I’ll openly admit I’m not a fan of the American kettlebell swing.
In my mind there is absolutely nothing wrong with the conventional Russian swing.
However, Crossfit decided that the swing needed an upgrade and introduced the American version to the world.
But, in truth I feel the American swing takes much of the focus away from the glutes and hamstrings.
Plus, it introduces shoulder flexion to the movement.
And many of us lack ability in terms of shoulder flexion, so there is the potential for injury.
Furthermore, the American swing also places far more pressure on the lower back.
So, in reality your abs and core have to work even harder in order to protect your lower back.
This of course could once again lead to injury if you’re not bracing your core throughout.
Therefore, if you are swinging the bell overhead this could explain why your abs feel sore.
3. Are You Doing One-Handed Kettlebell Swings?
Something else to consider in terms of ab and core activation is whether you’re doing one-handed kettlebell swings.
For me, if you want to “upgrade” from the standard double-handed kettlebell swing then the one-handed version is far safer than American swings.
However, you should also be aware that places further pressure on the core.
In fact, any exercise that you typically do one-handed will require a great deal of core activation.
If you don’t believe me, try a few sets of one-armed dumbbell bench presses or standing one-armed shoulder presses and you’ll soon see what I mean.
When you’re performing one-handed kettlebell swings your core needs to further stabilize to ensure that you don’t twist as you perform the movement.
There can be a tendency to lean towards the side that is holding the kettlebell.
And if you don’t control this “lean” there is the potential for injury.
So, in trying to maintain a perfectly symmetrical position during one-handed swings your core has to work much harder than the traditional two-handed swing.
As I’ve mentioned, this is true of any exercise that you perform with one hand/one arm.
We already know that kettlebell swings work the abs and core extremely hard.
So, in effect, you are kicking this up a notch or two by only using one hand.
One-Arm Kettlebell Swing By Pavel Tsatsouline
So, I hope you have a better idea of why your abs are sore after kettlebell swings.
The main reason is that there is a great deal of core activation during swings.
This requires you to keep your core braced throughout the movement.
There are also a number of ways that you increase core activation.
These include swings with a heavier bell or performing more reps.
Furthermore, performing American kettlebell swings, which requires you to force the bell overhead, focuses more on the lower back.
So, once more your core is working overtime to provide protection for your spinal column.
Finally, if you perform one-handed kettlebell swings your core stabilizes even more to stop you from twisting or leaning to one side.
All of these factors mean that your abs are working very hard during kettlebell swings.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.