"There is a huge difference in swinging a kettlebell and performing a kettlebell swing," says Brett Jones, a kettlebell master and one my most important mentors on this topic. Brett said it all: There is a huge difference between what you mostly see in gyms (just swinging a kettlebell around) and performing an actual kettlebell swing. If you do these exercises right they are wonderful — safe, effective, convenient and efficient.
Jumping into the swing without laying the right foundation is a lot like doing a crazy crash diet: In the beginning it's fun, but before long you are miserable, and given more time the whole thing backfires on you.
Are you ready for it?
If you want to do this right so you are set for success for life, then the first question to ask is: Do you qualify for this right now? It's important to do the simple screening tests below with ease. And don't kid yourself. It's like checking the oil in your engine — sure, you can pretend like you have oil, but it doesn't change the fact that you are destroying your engine.
Test one: Toe touch. Stand with your feet so close they can't get any closer and do not bend your knees. Can you easily touch your toes and stay in that position with your knees straight?
Test two: Hip mobility. Get a friend to help check this for you. They will hold a broomstick lined up with the top of your kneecap. You lie down flat on your back with your palms up and legs together with your toes pointed toward your nose. Keep both knees straight and slowly raise your right leg and freeze the instant you have to move the left leg at all. Ask your friend if your entire ankle is past the stick. Then do the test with your other leg. Both legs should pass the stick, and they should both be about the same.
Test three: Check for pain. Look at the pictures, get into basically cobra and child's pose positions from yoga. Does it hurt? There are only two answers, "no" or "not no." "It's a little tight" or "not really" are "not no" responses.
If you have a "yes" on test one, a "yes" on test two, and then "no's" on test three, then you are clear to proceed. If not, then fixing the above is beyond the scope of this column. If you have an issue with tests one or two, find an expert in your area who has the level I and II Functional Movement Screen certifications from functionalmovement.com/experts. If you have an issue with test three, then you should get that checked out by a good physical therapist (preferably someone certified in the practice of Selective Functional Movement Assessment).
If you're ready for it ...
The most ridiculous but still popular question in fitness is: "If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be?" For weight loss, booty sculpting, function, maintenance of flexibility, independence as you age, and so many other reasons, the dead lift actually is that No. 1 exercise.
The swing is a high-speed dead lift, so before we talk about going fast, let's make sure we can do a good dead lift slowly.
You'll need at least a 45-pound kettlebell. We want to activate the powerful muscles in your hips, and with a very light weight your body has no reason to actually use those big muscles.
If you're over 5-foot-5, put the kettlebell on a block or step, or something that will securely lift it off the ground a few inches.
Step 1: Get set. Straddle the kettlebell so that the handle is between your heels, and your feet are about shoulder-width apart with your toes out about 20 degrees. Bend at your hips so your butt goes backward, not your knees forward — you should feel at least a little stretch in your hamstring. Grab the handle harder than you think you need to, and squeeze your arms to your sides like you were trying to keep someone from tickling you.
Step 2: Stand up. Stay tight. Stand straight up as tall as you can. At the top of this lift, your thighs, butt and stomach should all be tight, as if you were bracing to take a punch.
Step 3: Put it down. Drive your butt backward with control until the kettlebell is right back where it started. Set up again and repeat.
Do two to three sets of eight reps on these dead lifts for two or three times a week for a few weeks and then you'll own this basic movement (the hip hinge), and you can start to put some speed on it.
Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of "Results Fitness."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun