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?
The 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
Squat down with legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart and hold the dumbbell between your legs, slightly in front of you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As mentioned above, as an alternative catch and land position for heavy dumbbell swings.
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