Are Kettlebell Swings A Compound Exercise? (Explained)


The kettlebell swing is one of the best dynamic exercises that works for multiple muscle groups. Today I will quickly explain if KB swing is a compound or isolated exercise.

In general, the kettlebell swing is a compound exercise becasue it requires flexion and extension of the knees and hips. It also requires moving the arm, but during the arm swing, there is not much joint action. Isolated exercises require flexion and extension of just one joint.

So, naturally, because of multiple joint actions, you are forced to use multiple muscle groups. Which is great if you want to get strong.

Benefits of compound exercises

It’s Functional

Our body works as a unit. And it moves as a unit too.

When you design your training program you want to hit as many muscle groups as possible. It’s a better ROI.

Because you don’t just get stronger at one exercise. You get functional strength. This means it’s translated into real-life situations.

Let’s look at squats as an example.

  • When you do squats, you don’t just get better at squats. You get better quality of life.

This means you can walk up the stairs with less effort. Or tighten up your shoes quicker. Or even put on your socks.

For some people, this is a big deal. Especially once you realize you can’t do those “basic” moves anymore.

  • Compared to squats, swing engages your whole body. It’s like an orchestra of muscles that work together.
  • You swing the kettlebell from your hips, but because you carry that weight all the way up, and then you control the eccentric movement down, not only does it work your legs, but your upper body too.

This means you get functional strength in your lower body, as well as your upper body.

For example.

  • You can pick up things from the floor.
  • You can carry heavy things with more ease.
  • You get better at walking, jumping, running, swimming, climbing, pulling, rowing, and much more.

That’s a recipe for the quality of life.

Burns calories

The more muscles are used during the exercise, the more energy is required for that task. So it will burn more calories. But that’s not all.

  • Compound exercises enable a greater magnitude of weight to be used.
  • This requires even more effort, therefore leads to more benefits. So you end up with better results, in a shorter period of time.
  • It’s also time efficient.

The more muscles are used, the more energy it costs to do the exercise.

Case study

In a study done by Alexander Goncalves from Southampton Solent University in the UK, they compared two groups doing single-joint movements (isolated exercises) versus multi-joint movements (compound exercises).

Results?

  • The MJ (multi-joint) group had statistically significantly greater increases in strength, compared to the SJ (single-joint) group.
  • More strength equals more weight that can be lifted. And if more weight can be lifted this lead to greater fat oxidation (use fat for energy).
  • This means more calories burned.

Of course, with body composition, diet is king.

Muscle building

Building muscle is all about progressive overload. This means adding more weight, sets, or reps into your lift.

And if you can do it over time, you get more muscle. And you get brutally strong. That’s where compound lifts outnumber the isolation moves.

It doesn’t mean that single-joint exercises can’t do that. They can. But compounds are gonna build this muscle faster.

Of course, if you are an experienced lifter, and you’re chasing the peak gains (let’s say for a body-building contest) then you want to spend more time on the compound and isolated movements.

Old-school bodybuilding training methods are mainly based on doing several isolated exercises. Because they do work. But it just takes a long time.

So if you are in the position where you want maximum muscle and can afford to spend 2-3 hours in the gym each day, go for it.

I look at it from the time perspective.

Time efficiency

Time is precious. There are not many people who I know that have this luxury of free time they are willing to spend in the gym. The majority of my clients got others things to do.

We’re busy.

Even today, where we got more access to exercise, and to be physically active than ever before, people still struggle to find the time.

  • There are more gyms. You can see 24-hour gyms on almost every single corner.
  • There is more workout equipment available this year, compared to last year.
  • There are more fitness apps. This means you can do your exercise literally anywhere you are.

Yet still, it’s hard to find the time.

So if someone is deciding to take a leap of faith, and begin their exercise program, they want to see results.

And here compound lift will always outperform single-joint exercises.

Best compound exercises

So here you have a list of the best compound exercises that you can do to get stronger.

ExerciseMuscle worked
Squatsquadriceps, hamstrings, glutes,
adductor, hip flexor, calves
Lungesabdominals, quadriceps, hamstrings,
glutes, calves
Chest Presspectorals, deltoids, triceps
Deadliftglutes, hamstrings, trapezius, lats,
erector spinae, quadriceps, adductors
Kettlebell Swingsquadriceps, hamstrings, glutes,
erector spinae, abdominals, forearms, lats, deltoids
Shoulder Presspectorals, deltoids, triceps, trapezius
Pull up / Lat pull downlats, trapezius, biceps, erector spinae,
forearms, abdominals
Rowinglats, biceps, forearms, trapezius
Compound Exercises

We can, of course, have a separate conversation about which one of those is better than the others.

For example.

  • In one study they compared doing chin-ups and biceps curl, and the effect on muscle growth.
  • It turns out that chin-ups have much better muscle activation.

Related articles:

Benefits of isolated exercises

Rehabilitation

One of the benefits of doing isolated exercise is for rehabilitation purposes. They can be very helpful, especially when someone is not quite ready yet for compound exercise.

For example.

  • I used to work in a cardiac rehabilitation center in the UK for NHS. And I was working with people who were doing rehab.
  • This means the range of motion was low. And their strength is weak.
  • So if someone can’t squat, then leg extension will be the next best thing.
  • Also, if someone has knee issues, and feels discomfort from bending, or applying pressure on their knees.

In that case, isolated movements like leg curls or adductors will be necessary. That’s one thing I’ve learned over the years in the trenches. Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean everyone can do it

So I have full respect for isolated movements. They do work. But if someone is injury free, then compound is the king.

Metabolic stress

Another benefit of isolated exercise is it can target specific muscles to elicit metabolic stress. This can lead to faster growth of this particular muscle.

Let’s say a guy is feeling very insecure about his pecs. Then it’s absolutely fine to add more chest-related exercises.

Best isolated exercises

Let me show you some of the best isolated exercises that you can implement in your training.

ExerciseMuscle worked
Leg Curlhamstrings
Leg Extensionquadriceps
Biceps Curlbiceps
Triceps Extensiontriceps
Lateral Shoulder Raiseshoulder
Isolated Exercises

In many gyms, especially health clubs, many machines are mixed up. This means you will find some for compound exercises, and some for isolated.

So now once you know what is worth your time, all you need is to put some effort in.

Conclusion

  • The kettlebell swing is a compound exercise because it requires to use of multiple muscle groups and calls for many joint actions.
  • You can do other great compound exercises with kettlebells that include squats, cleans, deadlifts, lunges, and overhead presses.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Posts