Why Your Knees Hurt After Kettlebell Swings?


In this article, I will explain some of the most common reasons why knee can hurt after doing kettlebell swings.

Why I have knee pain after kettlebell swings?

The kettlebell swing can cause knee pain if it’s done incorrectly. This can happen with an insufficient range of motion, poor flexibility in your hips and hamstrings, lack of warm-up, and previous knee injury.

But that can also be something totally unrelated to the actual movement. Something like a stressful time at work. Or you didn’t sleep well as you should. Maybe you stayed on the plane for too long. Or maybe even you’ve driven the car for hours.

KB swings and knee pain

How To Do Kettlebell Swings Without Knee Pain?

So when we combine all the other stuff together with a lack of mobility, then it doesn’t take long for something to happen.

I’ve been working with people’s knees for over 10 years.

I’m not a doctor, but I studied biomechanics, and I understand what causes the problems. And after years of seeing people complaining about their knee, usually, there is only a handful of reasons why this is happening.

I was trying to convince my friend to start implementing more kettlebell swings into his routine.

He said that he did try them. But then he experienced one of the most common problems, knee pain. For some reason, his knees hurt, especially after doing swings.

Why knees can hurt after KB swings?

Think about it this way.

We are busy.

We are busier more now than ever before. And we are not just human beings. We are jugglers.

We juggle one or two jobs. We juggle early-mornings and late-nights. We juggle school or housework, and many other responsibilities. We study productivity and time management because want to get things done.

Fast.

And we often transfer that mindset into our training.

This means we get so obsessed with performance, and with moving quicker, running further, or jumping higher. Plus, we are also very competitive.

And, because of our competitive nature, we are treating the results as either good or bad. Yes, no so to speak.

Have I got it done? Yes / No
Did I do 100 swings? Yes / No
Did I run 10k under one hour? Yes / No

And because we take advantage of our body’s amazing ability to compensate, we don’t get immediate feedback if something went wrong.

This means we can be doing exercises for weeks and months, and no be aware of the problem.

Plus, pain and movement go hand in hand. Let me explain.

Imagine that you accidentally touch a hot iron. What is your first response?

You move out your hand, and you start to shake it randomly in random directions, right? Or if you bump yourself in the knee. What is your first response? You move around, hold your hands on the knee, and maybe even jumping around on one leg.

This is the unconscious response.

We do it automatically. We use the movement (hand from the first example and jumping from second) to dull the pain.

This means that as long as you are engaged in a movement, your body is designed not to hear the pain (source).

That’s why we may be doing exercises wrong, but because we are moving, we don’t register this pain immediately. That’s why many people say oh my knee/back hurt first thing in the morning.

That’s when movings signals stop.

So once we got that out of the way, now let’s see the most common reasons why we can struggle with our knees after kettlebell swings.

Related article: Are Farmers Walk Bad For Your Knees?

Range Of Motion

This is one of the most common reasons. If we spend a lot of the time during the day behind the car, at the desk, or in some compromised position, our muscles get stiff.

And here’s the thing.

Once they do, they don’t just magically restore their full range of motion by themselves.

We need to work on it.

That’s where flexibility and mobility training comes into play. Let me show you few golden mobility drills that will make a huge impact on your training. Do them before your workout.

Make sure you are warmed-up first.

  • Couch stretch on the floor
couch stretch to help from knee pain
Couch stretch

Go down to the floor and place your left knee on the floor or on the mat. Your right leg goes forward with the foot on the ground.

You can use your right knee to hold yourself. Your left foot should be against the wall, bench, or chair.

Once it’s there, squeeze your butt and push your hips forward. You will feel a huge stretch from the left tight and knee. Stay there for a maximum of 2-minute. Then switch legs.

  • Standing couch stretch
standing couch stretch can help with knee pain
Standing couch stretch

What about if you cannot go down on the floor? Or maybe you can but it’s hard to come back up.

Don’t worry.

You can still do this stretch while you stand. Just stand close to the table, or high chair. Ideally, you want to have something to hold on to. Bend one leg at a time and place your foot on the table behind you.

Once you feel the stretch, stay the for a maximum of 2-minute.

  • Calf stretch
calf stretch to mobilize before KB swings
Calf stretch

This may sound like a totally unrelated stretch, but trust me, it works. Remember that our muscles work with each other.

So if your calves are brutally stiff, then it will transfer this tension upstream to your knee. So here’s what you want to do. Find an object.

It can be a step that is few inches high. Hold to something. Place your right foot on this object, and shift the weight slightly on the left leg.

Then when you ready, push your right heel to touch the ground.

At the same time try not to lean forward. Instead, do the opposite. Squeeze your butt and thrust your hips forward.

  • Pigeon stretch
streching before doing KB swings to reduce knee pain
Banded pigeon stretch

Another great mobility stretch is pigeon stretch. It really opens up your hips and can help with your kettlebell swings.

In the picture you see my client Rick doing a pigeon stretch with the band. That can really speed up the process, but if you don’t have the band, don’t worry. Just do the stretch without.

Go down on the floor (if you cannot go down then use some table that high enough to cross your leg) and crisscross the left leg to overlap the right leg.

Stay there for a maximum of 2-minutes and change side.

Related article: Can Kettlebell Swings Cause Neck Pain?

Kettlebell Swing Technique

Another common problem is doing the incorrect form.

We may have good flexibility, but then we just pick up the wrong cues and that’s how we learned to do the kettlebell swing. It happens.

So here are some ways to keep in mind.

  • Feet
how-many-swings

Your feet should be shoulder width apart. This way you have plenty of space to swing. Also your feet should be pointed forward. Don’t keep your feet facing out like in ballet (plie) squat.

  • Knees
swing-kb
kettlebell swing

Your knees should be facing forward. Remember that this is a hip hinge movement.

The main work goes from your hips. So your knees are bent slightly, only when the kettlebell is at the bottom.

Also notice that when you swing the kettlebell down, it should be above the knee level. Don’t lower the weight below your knee level. This way you will maintain a straight back.

On the other hand, during the swing phase when the kettlebell is high up, you should be standing straight and squeeze your butt.

Related article: Are Kettlebell Swings Bad For Your Back?

Related questions

What is the best leg exercise for knee pain?

One of the most effective exercises that I did with my clients who used to have knee issues were hip thrusts. This exercise is strictly targeted to work your glutes, hamstrings, and it doesn’t put any pressure on your knees. It can be done with a barbell, or with a smith machine.

How Long it takes for knee to recover

It may take between 3-6 months depending on the issue. If you did all the steps that I’ve outlined here, but still have a constant knee discomfort, go see your doctor. This may be some bigger issue.

Can Kettlebell swings cause back or neck pain?

Kettlebell swings can cause either back or a neck pain. Here in this article I wrote the common reasons for back and neck pain after doing kettlebell swings.

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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