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Swing Your Way to a Better Deadlift - Is it Possible?

July 14, 2011 07:00 AM

SteveBelanger article
Can the kettlebell swing help improve your deadlift ?
We will examine this question through a personal first hand account.
Here’s the story.
In April 2009 my son Jeff let me know he wanted to enter the deadlift only
division in the United States Powerlifting Federation’s national championship in early July 2009.
I asked him if he was serious since he hadn’t pulled a single deadlift in eight
months and had not competed in a meet in over a year. I wasn’t sure if he would do very well because of the long deadlift lay off. He was training but for the most part doing full body cardio type complex workouts with a strength lift thrown in now and then. Not even close to the way a powerlifter might typically train towards an upcoming meet. Usually, many months of training cycles with specific lifts are required to reach your best meet lifts. He didn’t have that kind of time and hadn’t been doing any cycling with any powerlifts. I suggested he see where his deadlift was at before we made the decision on entering the nationals.
So mid April we got going and tested his deadlift and to my surprise he pulled a 425 lb DL here in our garage gym know as "The Old School Barbell Club".
Not bad since his previous meet max was 429 lbs@165lbs.
I was surprised and curious on how he maintained his strength since he hadn’t been lifting particularly heavy, so I asked to examine his training journal to see what he had been doing.
The one constant I noticed was that the two hand kettlebell swings were done at least twice a week throughout the preceding months with a moderately heavy kettlebell. In this case most of the time a 32kg or 36kg kettlebell was used in dynamic fashion for 10x10 with 30seconds or so rest between each set. On occasion the 40kg, 24kg, or the 16kg were used.
This got me to thinking why swings would help your deadlift without really training your deadlift…Then I recalled an old article from years ago by Bill Starr on how to increase your deadlift without deadlifting. His exercises included good mornings, powercleans, shrugs and high pulls if I remember correctly.
What do most of these exercises all have in common?
They all for the most part strongly address the posterior chain, which include the hips, glutes, hamstrings and lumbar’s. All areas of the body that need to be strong for deadlifting.
These are also the main same areas that used when doing kettlebell swings.
Now things are starting to click in my mind on how similar the action of the kettlebell swing is to actual deadlifting but with one main difference. Deadlifts are a more of a grinding slow exercise where as the swing is a very dynamic quick exercise.
So why would a lighter dynamic hard style swing help your deadlift? A few reasons come to mind:
• You are training your nervous system to become fast
• Fast is good when attempting to pull a heavy DL
• A slow grindy-pull has more of a chance to fail
Note: when I say fast on the DL, it will be no where the speed you generate on a swing. Rather, you are training your hips to push through faster on the DL which means a cleaner lockout with no hitching.
You also load and activate your glutes and hamstrings very hard when giving a good eccentric ballistic shove on the down stroke of the swing making the weight of the Kettlebell feel heavier through inertia. Why is this good?
Because the glutes are the bodies strongest hip extensors and get worked much harder.
Another reason is you are greasing the groove of the deadlift from the knees up with the swing over and over again. Perfect swings bring good technique to your DL’s.
Case in point I had the pleasure of working with RKC Val Waldron this year and getting her prepared for the 2010 USPF California state meet. She had done very little deadlifting throughout her athletic career and hadn’t done a DL in a very long time and then nothing much heavier than bodyweight.
Like most RKC’s though she had put in serious time with swings snatches and cleans. When she dropped by for DL session she was a natural, with just some minor adjustments and she was good to go.
By the way she won the DL only division in her class with a 248lb DL weighing in at 129lbs.Not bad for her first meet and only two months of prior DL training.
SB article1
This did show me a good KB swinger has the potential to become a good deadlifter, but I can’t say the opposite is true.
Other things swings have in common with deadlifts is their similarities to some DL assistance exercises used by powerlifters like, cable pull throughs, Dimel deadlifts, and Speed deadlifts popularized by the Westside crew. You pretty much get all these in one with just doing swings. Now swings aren’t exactly the same but pretty darn close and better in my opinion on some.
Take the cable pull through, you have to stay in the groove that the cable and pulley dictate and that can be a unnatural groove. Not so with the swing.
Dimel deadlifts are great but the bar stops at the knees. Not so with the swing. Hands go through to the back of the crotch providing a greater load that is much more dynamic and a greater stretch to the working muscles, and as I said earlier this is a good thing.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. The kettlebell swing is basically several assistance exercises in one. And one can really load it with double kettlebells if they felt that they weren’t getting enough from a single.
So do swings help maintain deadlift strength? In my opinion, ABSOLUTELY.
Will they help improve your current deadlift? YES, if done with a heavy enough kettlebell close to half your bodyweight and enough dynamic intensity.
As for my son Jeff, he won the Jr. Division of the USPF nationals, DL only division in the 165 lb class. He pulled a PR of 463lbs belt only and missed 485lb just above the knees. This was a 34 lb increase form his previous meet best with only a short time of deadlifting before his meet. We both feel the kettlebell swing had a great part in his success.
SB article2
Add the swing to your deadlift program and watch your numbers increase.

Steve Belanger is RKC certified and Strength and Conditioning coach at
Liberty Christian High School in Huntington Beach,Ca. He also conducts private one on one and group training. Steve can be contact at