the joy of strength training


November 29th, 2007 at 1:11 am

How-to: One-arm dumbbell swing

Explosive strength is often neglected in the gym. If you think dumbells are only good for arm and shoulder exercises, think again. The swing is superb for leg strength and hip extension. Do something different in the gym today!

What is the dumbbell swing?

dumbbell swingThe dumbbell swing is an ‘old school’ exercise. It is similar to the dumbbell snatch but not as technical, so you might find it easier to get to grips with it.

It is performed with a dumbbell either in one hand or both hands. You swing the dumbbell in front of you with a straight arm and let it arch up until it is directly over your head.

The dumbbell swing is a full body movement and is particularly good for hamstrings, glutes and hip extension.

Why is it such a great exercise?

Like the dumbbell snatch, the dumbbell swing works the whole body and is great for the hips as the explosive powerhouse of the body. Strength coach Joe DeFranco, for example, recommends the swing for vertical jump training.

This old time exercise has recently become more popular. Part of the reason for its renaissance is the growth in kettlebell training, which utilises the swing. Not all gyms have kettlebells however, so the dumbbell is a useful alternative.

How to perform the one-arm dumbbell swing

Step 1

dumbbell swing starting position

Squat down with legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart and hold the dumbbell between your legs, slightly in front of you.

Step 2

dumbbell swing intermediate position

Keeping the arm completely straight, drive upwards through the legs and apply a powerful push to your hips to bring them forward. This will swing the dumbbell outwards and upwards in front of you. There is no need to use your arms to lift it up as the dumbbell will rise with the momentum generated by your hips. Just make sure your arm remains straight. The front shoulder muscles (anterior deltoids) do come into play, but they are not the primary mover in this exercise.

Step 3

dumbbell swing top position

Let the dumbbell swing all the way up until it is over your head. Use your other arm for balance. When the weight is over your head, lock out and hold the position. Be careful not to let the weight drift backwards over your head. Engaging your core will help to bring the swing to a stop.

Step 4

To return to the starting position, simply reverse the movement of the swing. Do it in a controlled fashion, and don’t forget to bend the legs again. Don’t just let the dumbbell drop.

Here is the two-handed dumbbell swing, as demonstrated by Krista Scott-Dixon.

Do it the old school way

For really heavy swings, you might want to consider using the split jerk stance as used by the guy in this post from Straight to the Bar, who is swinging a massive 123 pounds! The stance is more stable and he gets his body right under the weight.

Notice that he also does a starting swing to the halfway point before going for the full swing. This is recommended when you are going heavy. If you are putting the weight back on the floor each time, you can use a starting swing for every rep, but if you are not putting the weight on the floor, you need only use the starting swing on the first rep.

I wouldn’t recommend going heavy like this if you are new to swings!

How to use the dumbbell swing in your training

The dumbbell swing can be performed heavy for strength or with a lighter weight for a great conditioning workout.

It goes very well with the dumbbell snatch. In my article on the dumbbell snatch, I quoted a routine from Ross Training called Magic 50 which utilises both the dumbbell snatch and the dumbbell swing.

I tend to use the dumbbell swing mainly for conditioning or to warm up for a full body weightlifting session. The exercise mimics some of the mechanics of the squat in the lower body, so would be useful as a warm up for squats.

Video clips

Crossfit kettlebell swings

Crossfit’s Annie demonstrating the swing. This clip deliberately shows both good and bad form. Although she’s using a kettlebell rather than a dumbbell, all the advice on form applies to both versions.

Dumbbell swing with split jerk landing

As mentioned above, as an alternative catch and land position for heavy dumbbell swings.

Related posts

One-arm dumbbell snatch

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  • 1

    Hey Guber, like your site, we should keep in touch, I’m always looking for anyone who wants to help me write articles to post over at Straight to the Bar. If ever you have questions,you know how to get a hold of us. Best of luck and train hard!

    Jason on December 1st, 2007
  • 2

    Cheers! Yes, Scott has been in touch.

    gubernatrix on December 1st, 2007
  • 3

    Ah, yes…Here’s a favorite of mine. I’m currently
    doing this and a lot of deadlifting again.

    MonkeyMan on December 4th, 2007
  • 4

    Yeah, it’s underrated by a lot of people. I’d love to do this with kettlebells but don’t have access to them at the moment.

    gubernatrix on December 4th, 2007
  • 5

    […] an absolute beast but a fantastic leg exercise. They leave your legs like jelly. I have been doing dumbbell swings for a while so I was keen to try the kettlebell version. I actually now prefer the kettlebell […]

  • 6

    I don’t have any kettlebells currently. Been thinking about investing in some. It’s the price that
    scares me off most. lol

    MonkeyMan on December 28th, 2007
  • 7

    Hi Monkeyman, I got the chance to train with kettlebells over the Christmas season as I was in London. They are fun, but you can do the same sort of exercises with other equipment.

    Another disadvantage is that you can’t increase the weight of a kettlebell (AFAIK) the way you can by adding plates to dumbbells, so you’d need to get a few or settle for one weight.

    gubernatrix on January 5th, 2008
  • 8

    […] Exercise guide to the One arm dumbell swing […]

  • 9

    […] going, so any routine incorporating burpees works a treat. Mix them up with push ups, air squats, swings with a kettlebell or dumbbell if you have them, some kind of overhead press and you’ve got a […]

  • 10

    […] going, so any routine incorporating burpees works a treat. Mix them up with push ups, air squats, swings with a kettlebell or dumbbell if you have them, some kind of overhead press and you’ve got a […]

  • 11

    cool.. this can help me achieve doing the human flag.

    Jed on October 3rd, 2012
  • 12

    Nice description of the one arm dumbbell swing! It’s an interesting variation on the kettlebell swing, but I’d be weary of putting large plates on there! 😉

    Twopood on May 23rd, 2014
  • 13

    I think that everything posted was actually very logical.

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    One-arm dumbbell swing – weight training, strength, fitness, weights, losing fat, women’s weight training, bodyweight,
    free weights, powerlifting, dumbbells, barbells,
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    Just my opinion, it could make your posts a little livelier.

    bed on January 7th, 2015


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