T-rex arms in the KB Swing?

bentarmkettlebellswing kettlebells swing form trex arms kettlebell swing Feb 23, 2023

Kettlebells can be contentious to say the least. There are a lot of great coaches out there that will debate the fine points of form, & for good reason too.

It's part of a coach's job to keep you safe and moving. KBs also happen to be a very technical skill so debating the right technique comes up more than in say, a HIIT workout.


Today's Kettlebell topic? We are taking a look at T-Rexes. Yes, the dinosaur.


More specifically, what's up with the "T-Rex arms" in a Kettlebell Swing!??
The bent elbows pulled in close to the body. Isn't that the opposite of what we're taught? Here's a visual for you:

Some of you might be wondering, "do people really swing like that?!?!" 
And yes, it does happen!!!

Let's rewind to how we got here. This newsletter is inspired by a Bedoya Bells client who is a student of Kettlebells. She follows a lot of kettlebell accounts on Instagram, that's actually how she found my kettlebell membership. 

She DMd me saying, "I noticed some people’s swings - their elbows are tight into their body. What’s the reason behind that?"


I chuckled to myself, because it was a perfectly worded question. One that challenges a coach to put their thinking caps on and not just give the easy answer. 

In case you're wondering what that "easy" answer is...
it would sound something like,  "Straight arms is just how we swing in Hardstyle Kettlebells"


For those unfamiliar, "hardstyle" is a type of kettlebell training that emphasizes tension and power. The word "hardstyle" is an ode back to martial arts. Most of the Kettlebell instructors you know and love are certified in "Hardstyle Kettlebells" through the RKC or Strong First organizations.

Hardstyle Kettlebell Swings are likely the swings you see most often: 

  • power from the hips

  • sharp exhale

  • rigid tension at the top / plank at the top

To properly answer her question though, we need to understand "WHY" this other type of swing with bent arms is popping up on her social media, and why as your coach, it's something I would not want you mimicking..


First, an important point of distinction. Let's clear up visually what are "T-rex Arms" versus a slight and acceptable bend in the arms. 


๐Ÿ‘Straight Arms at the top of the swing - GOOD

๐Ÿ‘ Elbows slightly flexed but not purposely as a result of using heavy weight - GOOD
๐Ÿ™‡Elbows bent on purpose for more lat/shoulder engagement - CASE BY CASE EXCEPTIONS

๐Ÿ‘ŽT-Rex with arms bent all the way in - NEVER

To truly understand why most kettlebell coaches suggest straight arms in the two-hand kettlebell swing, we must dive deeper into the purpose behind a kettlebell swing. 



The top of a Kettlebell is like a plank, you're standing tall vertically with everything tight (glutes, quads, core). However, the force of the kettlebell is actually know this because if you were to let go, the kettlebell would continue flying in front of you. 

Think about a sling shot, you pull it back and it explodes forward, launching the ball out. You wouldn't want to stop the slingshot early or the ball wouldn't go as far. 

It's the same thing with kettlebells - the hips are the wind up and then the bell slingshots out at max power until you get to the top. 


When you dramatically bend the arms like in a T-Rex swing, you are actually changing the trajectory of the bell to a more vertical force. You're cutting off the horizontal power production. 


I really enjoy this YouTube Video from Jason and Lauren Pak, if you want a simple visual of the trajectory/power changes:


If the swing is about horizontal power, you might be wondering how the bent arm variation even came to be - and there are two main reasons. 

The most common one I find is so that you can move heavier loads.

I'd argue chasing a higher and higher KB swing weight at the sacrifice of power goes against the spirit of kettlebells

In traditional body building and weight lifting, it has always been bragging rights to go heavier and heavier; so who wouldn't want to be able to swing the "beast"?

(The beast is a whopping 48kg kettlebell or 105 lbs. Pictured below is )

I truly believe kettlebells are special because we focus on the overall athleticism of a person with strength, power and mobility! Kettlebells being a power based movement, we are doing them a DISSERVICE if the only goal is to swing heavier. 

This makes more sense when you look at what power actually is. In simple terms, 

Strength + Speed = Power

When we do a strict strength movement - it makes sense to focus on how much weight you're moving; As you can see, when we get to power - strength is only ONE factor of the equation. You must also be able to move the load with speed, while keeping good form. 

Usually people try jumping up in bell size too quickly, and their form starts to break down. Like so...

Their toes start rocking

They loose balance and their grip starts to go..

They have to change their swing to counter it, either by leaning back or bending their elbows..

and then all the principles of tension get flushed down the drain.

No bueno.


Now let me clarify, it's fun to push your boundaries. I GET IT.

I often have this conversation with other trainers, where we agree - we might push our swing weight limits a little too hard and often. 

So it's true, when testing your limits, you might see a "slight unintentional bend" in the elbows (as with the bottom left picture above). 

Some of the best Kettlebell trainers I know will do this under heavy load, and that slight bend is still within the SFG/RKC standards for a swing. 

The goal is to safely build your kettlebell swing weight over time. Master form first, then slowly build your 5-10 rep power output. 

Clarification point: There is a BIG difference between a slight bend and T-rex arms. Don't be a T-Rex. 





The second and final reason most people intentionally bend elbows in a swing?


They say it helps them with better "lat engagement."

To avoid this rounded position at the end of the swing, you may have heard your KB Coach cue thing like,

"break the handle in half"
"snap the handle in half" 
"shoulders down and back" 
"pretend like dollar bills are under your armpits" 
"bring your shoulders away from your ears"
"shoulders into the back pocket" 

Of course, you do not want to be hunched over flexing the vertebrae of the spin into a rounded position, but that's pretty rare in the KB swing. For most people, the above cues work and their back muscles will be gently engaged to avoid hunching forward. The truth is the handle of the Kettlebell is more narrow than our shoulders, so to an extent it's not going to be perfect. 

Since we already talked about kettlebells being a power based movement propelled by the hips, it seems overcatious to sacrifice the smooth trajectory of the bell to overemphasize "lat engagement." After all, we wouldn't dare bend the arms in a deadlift, we'd simply remember to set up with the lats in mind.

The arms purpose in a kettlebell swing are to guide the bell, and they should never be used to drag the bell up. You can think of the arms as strings - they are just going along for the ride.

Takeaway: most of us are completely fine swinging with straight arms, as long as we are mindful of the upper body in our swing set up, and powering from the posterior chain.


Okay, so maybe there isn't an argument for the T-Rex images shown above, but what about an intentional arm bend in every rep of your swing, on purpose?

Nicole 5 years ago would have shot that idea down so fast without taking a look. But now I know better.

I know that the fitness industry sometimes doesn't get things right, 
I know that the way we used to teach something can change as research comes out,
I know that different practitioners (physical therapist, sports medicine, personal trainers) can add to the conversation and thus views change,
I know that people are not one size fits all and we sometimes have to look at case-by-case basis...

I had this happen to me recently. When I injured my knee, I had to eliminate anything that inflamed it. Locking my knees out during the kettlebell swing would aggravate it so I learned to swing without full knee extension, GASP. 
Next time a client comes to me with existing knee pain, I'm smart enough not to further aggravate it in their swings. 

Similarly, let's say a fellow named "James" comes to me.

James has worked at a desk for his whole career and struggles to engage his lat and back muscles. 

I would first use a long pull up band anchored to a rig and ask him to pull his shoulders down and back

Then I'd have him mimic that in the deadlift

Then I'd have in progress to the swing, but maybe, just maybe, I'd have him really focus on his back muscles in the swing, and not care if the arms bent as a result.

See? Case-by-case.


The hardstyle kettlebell swing is meant to produce horizontal force and power, it's powered from your hips and glutes. At the top of the swing, it should be like a standing plank - glutes, quads, core squeezed, and lats not all loosey goosey!

Many people that do bend their arms in a kettlebell swing do so for one of two reasons: going heavier or lat engagement. Going heavier at the sacrifice of form and power defeats the purpose of the swing; unless you've built your way up or just really enjoy training like that (I'm not here to tell you how to live your life). Secondly, most people don't need to overly-obsess on their lats and are perfectly fine with the regular straight-arm kettlebell swing. 

In rare cases where there is a visible and excessive rounding of the back, it could be a good time to focus less on the bell getting the bell to shoulder height with straight arms and more on improving posture. 


Although I can't guarantee I'll always get it right, I aim to cover kettlebell topics that deserve more attention. If you have anything to add or want to share what interests you from today's newsletter, hit the reply button and let me know. Let's talk.

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