Are Kettlebell Swings A Compound Exercise?

are KB swings a compound movement

In brief, the kettlebell swing is a compound exercise. This means it requires flexion and extension of more than just one joint to perform this move. On the other hand, isolated exercise requires 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.

But that’s not all.

The kettlebell swing is not just a compound exercise. It does work on your entire body.

What Are The 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 the 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.

How about the swings? Let me tell you.

Comparing 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 it works your legs, but your upper body too.

This means you get functional strength in your lower body, swell well as your upper body. And when you transfer that to a real-life scenario. 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.

It Burns More 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 the shorter period of time. So it’s also time efficient.

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

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) (source).


The MJ (multi-joint) group had Statistically significantly greater increases in strength, compared to the SJ (single-joint) group.

More strength equals more weight 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 a king.

But if you know that some exercises can get you where you wanna be, faster, would you do them?

It Builds More Muscle

kettlebell swing is a multi joint movement

Building muscle is all about the progressive overload. Which 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 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 long time. So if you are in the position that you want maximum muscle and can afford to spend 2-3 hours in the gym each day, go for it.

I look at if from the time perspective.

It’s all about the priorities

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. 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, comparing 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 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 out perform single-joint exercises.

What Are The Best Compound Exercises?

So now once you understand the power of multi-joint movements, let me show you some of the best exercises worth your time.

And a decade of helping people get back into shape, it’s pretty remarkable to watch new trends come and go.

Remember Zumba? It used to be so big. There were more countries world wide having Zumba class than McDonland’s restaurants.

Where is Zumba today? It’s gone.

But the most basic movements seems to stay. And there is a good reason for it.

They work.

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
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 others.

In this article, I talk about are kettlebell swings better than squats, so if you wanna learn more, check it out.

Or here I explain are kettlebell swings better than cleans. So if that’s what you want to know then go ahead, I will wait.

So the more you include some of those exercises in your workout, the better the results.

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 (source).

What Are The Benefits Of Isolated Exercises?

You may be thinking, what is the benefit of isolated exercises than. For sure it must be something, right?


There are few. And actually, they can be very helpful, 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 they range of motion was low. And their strength is weak.

So if someone can’t do squat, then leg extension will be next best thing.

Also if someone has knee issues. And feel discomfort from bending, or applying pressure on their knees. Then some isolated movements like 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 a full respect for isolated movements. They do work.

But if someone is injury free, then compound is the king.

Another benefit for isolated exercise is they can target specific muscle. So 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.

Which Exercises Are Isolated?

I don’t want to sound like I’m demonizing isolated exercises. I love biceps curls. With a low volume, they can be even done everyday.

So let me show you some of the best isolated exercises that you can implement to your training.

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

In many gyms, especially the 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.

Which Exercise Should I Do?

Here I got a checklist that you can use for your next training session.

  1. Warm-up for 5-8 minutes prior to exercise
  2. Start from the compound movements first
  3. Each session do all major muscle groups
  4. Do isolated exercise at the end
  5. Have fun

That’s it.

The rest is on you.

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.

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