It’s like an explosion of energy. The turnover of the sprinter’s foot touching the ground only lasts a fraction of a second. An elastic rebound of the legs allows the sprinter to zoom down the track at top speeds.

 When we sprint, the muscles of our bodies mechanically store energy like a wound-up spring. Our powerful calves, strong quadriceps, and enormous glutes, aid in maximum speed and force production.

Trained sprinters must develop prerequisite tendon, ligament, and muscular strength, before they can capitalize on their body’s ability to be explosive. In the pursuit of getting faster, the sprinter’s ability to absorb eccentric forces and turn them into forward propulsion is of utmost importance.

Sprint training uses bodyweight, jumping workouts, known as plyometrics, to train the sprinter’s reaction and explosiveness. These bodyweight exercises mimic the eccentric (loading) force to the lower body during each sprinting stride.

Plyometric exercises, like bounding, depth jumps, and broad jumps, allow the athlete to practice eccentric loading and turn it into a return force – like the action of a pogo stick being compressed then rebounding. The magic happens when the sprinter jumps, lands, and in a fraction of a second, jumps again. This quick reaction produces elastic energy that can be harnessed and increased as the sprinter attempts to return the force from the landing into a subsequent higher jump.

This type of training has a direct carryover to the sprinter’s stride.  Plyometrics use what’s called the stretch reflex – the body’s response to muscles being stretched:

“Using the bounding exercise as an example, the athlete uses their prior jump’s momentum to propel them on each successive jump. As the athlete’s feet approach the ground, they immediately absorb the impact of their falling body, by hinging at the hips and flexing the knees and ankles in what looks like a hinge/squat motion. This absorption of the force of the jump/gravity charges the muscles with energy, allowing the athlete to reverse the action into a maximum jumping rebound.”] [/thrive_text_block]

The stretch reflex in the muscles of the lower body works like a slingshot being stretched before release. With proper execution, the athlete can jump higher when performing bounding jumps than if jumping from a static position on the ground.

Although plyometric exercises like bounding have been shown to increase power output, there is a caveat:

  • We must understand that plyometric training is skill oriented – often taking years to perfect technique. Their training requires a coach’s supervision because of the inherent injury risk of putting high forces on the sprinter’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.
  • Plyometric training is extremely taxing on the central nervous system, requiring up to 72 hours between training bouts. This can be problematic for the training sprinter as most their training attributes require strong activation of the central nervous system – sprinting skill, over speed work, intervals, starting acceleration, strength & conditioning.

There is a solution: The Kettlebell Plyo Swing

In searching for an exercise that mimicked the stretch reflex of plyometrics, I discovered over speed eccentric kettlebell swings. I could achieve a more powerful eccentric loading of the kettlebell swing by self-propelling the bell with higher downward force. This could be accomplished manually by providing a higher input of downward force from the kettlebell’s float position through the backswing.

In looking to generate even more speed and force into the downswing, I combined the motion of traditional plyometric exercise, in a safer, more succinct way. What was born was the The Kettlebell Plyo Swing –

At the apex of the upswing on the first rep, the bell will begin its float. The athlete will then do a power jump with the intent of driving their feet into their landing position/swing stance. Simultaneously they will push the kettlebell through the upper triangle of the thighs with high speed

The plyo swing does not involve an actual jump. It’s similar to the “jump” of an Olympic weightlifter between the 2nd and 3rd pull in the snatch and clean & jerk. They are not jumping off the platform, rather, they are moving their feet into the catch position so quickly that their feet go air born before clapping down on the platform.

As the bell accelerates through the upper triangle of the thighs, the sprinter must resist the higher force demands of the accelerated bell by loading their hips with greater tension. What happens next is pure, explosive magic. The upswing comes from the high tension produced by the hips during the backswing. This action mimics the carryover of plyometrics to the sprinter’s turnover.

Why choose the kettlebell plyo swing over plyometrics? The benefit of kettlebell plyo swings are multiple:

  • Less trauma to the body’s muscle tissue and tendons, central nervous system
  • Simpler: one tool for ease of transport and decision during training
  • Varied training attributes given: whole body strength, power, conditioning
  • Safer scalability: easy progression to bigger bells
  • Direct carryover to the loading and hip extension in sprinting

To perform the Kettlebell Plyo Swing:

  1. Getting started, assume your ideal kettlebell swing stance. Your stance should be wide enough to allow the kettlebell to pass through the upper triangle of the knees and upper thighs, but not too wide. A stance that is too wide will not allow you to swing the bell with ideal force.
  2. Place the bell 12-18” in front of you. Hinging at the hips, grab hold of the kettlebell by its handles. Your grip on the kettlebell should be firm, but not overly tight.
  3. Tilt the kettlebell so that it is at an angle toward you. Your arms attached to the kettlebell should form a straight line. You should immediately feel tightness in the hamstrings and glutes after tilting the bell back. In this position, the load on your hamstrings and glutes should be enough that if you were to let go of the handle, you would fall backwards. This is how we create an ideal setup for a powerful backswing during initiation.
  4. Engage the lats by imagining ripping the kettlebell’s handles apart. This should allow the spine to feel long and remain neutral. Make sure that the armpits begin to feel the “closing” sensation as you pack your shoulders into place.
  5. Next, imagine that you are playing football. The center lineman “hikes” the football to the quarterback on every play. Hiking the kettlebell will be the initiation of a powerful swing. During the hike, make sure to push the kettlebell with the arms through the upper triangle, trying to connect your forearms with the upper thigh muscles. At this points, your hamstrings will be in a stretched position, ready to drive forward.
  6. When the kettlebell is in its backswing, you will stand up explosively. Make sure to connect your body’s tightness by driving your feet into the ground while simultaneously tightening your quads, glutes, and abdominals. From this powerful hip drive, the kettlebell will now be forward of your body on its way up. It will momentarily float at the top while your body assumes a standing plank position. Since your swing’s power comes completely from the hips, it should reach a height of at least chest level.
  7. As the bell floats at chest level, you will engage in a power jump. This means you will jump to a height of 2-6” with the intent of driving your feet into the ground. You can think of this as the “jump” seen during Olympic Lifting – the athlete isn’t “jumping” per se, but rather, the force of their hip extension, and third pull, causes the athlete’s feet to come off the ground.
  8. As the bell begins its descent, power jump to amplify the force of the bell swinging through the upper triangle of the hips.
  9. Brace for the high eccentric force, then immediately reverse the over speed backswing into a powerful upswing.

Kettlebell Plyo Swings allow the sprinter to effectively improve their strength, power, and conditioning, all in one exercise.  Because the dynamic motion of kettlebell swings amplifies the force of the kettlebell, the swing by itself is a powerful method of developing strong hip explosiveness. By adding a force-producing jump during the float of the kettlebell, we can create a greater force of the kettlebell in the downswing. This amplified force requires a more explosive upswing that directly benefits faster maximal speed in sprinting.

We possess tremendous ability in our muscles to harness explosive energy when trained and developed over time. The Kettlebell Plyo Swing is the perfect option for those looking to increase their explosiveness without the inherent injury risk present in plyometric exercises.