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Build a strong back with kettlebell swings and high pulls.
Kettlebell exercises are a fantastic way to build strength and develop aerobic capacity at the same time. The swing is a foundational kettlebell move that's perfect for beginners and for those working up to more difficult movements, like the high pull and the snatch. A swing and a high pull can often look similar, but there are a few key differences in technique.
Compare the Power Source
Both a kettlebell swing and a high pull require hip drive to complete the movements with good form, but while a swing is powered almost entirely by hip drive and hip extension, a high pull starts with hip drive and finishes with power from a forceful shoulder shrug. In the swing:
- Hip extension helps push the kettlebell out to eye level.
- A hip pop at the end of the movement enables the kettlebell to "float" in midair for a moment.
In the high pull:
- Hip drive gets the kettlebell to about thigh level.
- At thigh level, the shoulder shrug takes over and powers the rest of the move, giving the bell the "float" moment at shoulder height.
Consider Bell Position
The final height of the kettlebell in a swing and a high pull isn't that different. In a swing, the bell ends up between shoulder and eye level, and in a high pull, the bell ends up between shoulder and neck height. The trajectory of the bell for the two moves, however, is not the same. A notable difference between a kettlebell swing and a high pull is the bell's proximity to the body.
In the swing, the bell begins close to the body but reaches a full arm's distance away at the end of the move. In the high pull, the bell stays closer to the body throughout, moving from below the hips to just in front of the thighs, then straight up the body to just in front of the shoulders. That straight upward trajectory is performed with elbows bent, keeping the bell closer to the body. Essentially, a swing moves the bell forward, while a high pull moves it forward just enough to get it in front of the body before moving it upward.
Know the Muscles
The high pull is commonly used as a preparation move for the kettlebell snatch. In a snatch, the bell ends up all the way overhead. The snatch is a much more dynamic exercise than a swing, using a greater variety of muscles than the swing. Both swings and high pulls require hip, knee and ankle extension. In a high pull, however, the shoulders, scapular area and muscles surrounding the elbows, in both forearms and upper arms, also need to work dynamically to complete the movement.