Brooks Kubik wrote Dinosaur Training, a book that changed the mentality I used in the gym as well as my classes. In his video "The Lost Art of Dumbbell Training" he demonstrates his version of the Dumbbell Swing. The world was also fortunate enough to have Pavel Tsatsouline re-popularize Kettlebells for fitness enthusiasts who were looking for something unconventional yet effective and one of the major exercises with Kettlebells is also the Swing.

Living in Hawaii (where the shipping for a Kettlebell would kill me) I had to resort to using dumbbells. Suffering a back injury while squatting a while ago made me hesitant to use the semi-straight legged techniques advocated by Brooks and Pavel. My other issue came after looking at my sport of choice, grappling. I saw that anytime I tried to lift my opponent off the ground I did my best to get my hips lower than his, fix my grip, and then drive my hips forward while keeping my shoulders to the sky. So, I grabbed a dumbbell and tried to combine the swing with that motion.

Make sure you start with a light enough weight that allows you to concentrate on your technique and that you only proceed up in poundage when you can complete your designated reps with solid technique! Unfortunately, one of the major drawbacks to starting with a light weight is that there is a tendency to lift the weight through the motion instead of swinging it. Make sure you use a weight that is challenging but be smart about it!



Pic 1

To get started for the Swing, place your feet just outside shoulder width and turn your toes slightly outwards. The dumbbell should be just underneath and a bit forward of your crotch, and when you squat down the first thing that should move is your hips back. Imagine you are sitting down on the toilet and you will be fine. Reach down, grab the dumbbell (DB) and come up to the starting position.

Your thighs should be parallel to the ground, your shoulders up towards the sky, eyes forward, and the weight should be driven down thru your heels. A huge factor while doing this exercise is where in your body you focus your attention. Even though they are worked this is not a quad exercise, it's for the hamstrings (as well as glutes and lower back)! As you look thru the sequence of pictures you see that my shoulders are going straight up just as my hips are coming up and forward. If you keep your concentration on your quads and try to "extend" your legs, your hips will rise first, then your shoulders will follow (in a nice big arc) and your lower back may not approve especially if you're using heavier weights. Snap the hips forward by focusing on your hamstrings driving your heels thru the earth and keep your shoulders up.

One of the main issues is initially getting the dumbbell overhead. Contrary to the photo sequence, you do not lift the DB straight overhead on the first swing. What you will do is proceed from the Start Position (pic 1,2), drive your hips forward and shoulders up until you are at the Mid Point (pic. 3) and then, letting the weight drop between your legs, drop back down to the Starting Position. As soon as your elbow touches (and I mean touches, not letting your arm fly back between your legs so violently that it pulls your head into the ground!) drive your hips forward/shoulders skyward and "throw" the weight forward while keeping your arm straight.

If you find that you can't get the weight overhead even with the initial swing, keeping the momentum going, drop back down and try again. If you still can't get the weight past the mid point (pic. 3) then you probably need to come down in weight. Remember what I said about using a weight that was light enough to learn proper technique. If you've seen my videos you know just how understanding I am when people get hurt because they didn't listen. If you don't have my videos, then I'll tell you that I am not understanding when it comes to injuries caused by ignorance. Learn it right, then go heavy if that's your goal!

Pic. 4 shows my hips driven almost completely forward with the weight at shoulder height. At this point you better hope you gave enough push from the Starting Position for the DB to travel to the Overhead Position because you probably won't be lifting the DB with just your shoulder.


Pic 2

Pic 3

Pic 4

Pic 5

This is the Overhead Position and from here you can go back from Pic 4 to Pic 1 and repeat the sequence (minus the Initial Swing) for another rep. You must make absolutely certain that you keep your torso rigid and that your tailbone drops back and you sit into the full squat as the weight comes down! If you try to keep your legs straight and just let the weight fly between your legs, there's a very good chance for injury to your lower back. If you're still not sure about being able to handle the weight on the way down, place your free hand on your thigh and keep your shoulders upright.

Your other option (if you are training with heavy weights and low reps) is to drop the DB to your shoulder and lowering straight to the ground from there. Make sure you bend your knees a bit when you bring the weight to your shoulder and if you're not a big fan of metal on shoulder or collarbone, go ahead and keep a folded up towel draped over your shoulder when completing your reps.

Make sure that you start with a weight that allows you to feel what muscles are working while keeping strict form.


The Starting Swing

If you still don't understand how to get the Swing started, here it is. Remember, after you reach the Overhead Position and come back down, there is no second starting swing! Just keep the rhythm going back from top to bottom until you are done with your set!



Check out the Swings and Sprints workout to see how you can integrate these into your training.

Contact me if you have any questions: SCRAPPER@hawaii.rr.com

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