The kettlebell swing can engage a variety of muscles and your cardiovascular system. Even so, some people want alternatives to this exercise.
Some of the main benefits of kettlebell swings are that they work your lower back, glute, hamstring, and grip muscles, can improve your posture, can improve coordination, and train your cardiovascular health.
At the same time, you may not enjoy kettlebells, find them too focused on cardiovascular health, not have any kettlebells, or want an alternative to kettlebell swings for other reasons.
If one or more of these things apply to you, some of the exercises below could be better choices.
1. Dumbbell swings
While a kettlebell is generally preferred, you could also do swings without them by using a kettlebell alternative like a dumbbell instead.
Take the following steps to do a dumbbell swing:
- Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold one dumbbell in both of your hands. You grab one of the two weights and let the other hand down.
- Bend slightly through your knees and swing the dumbbell back in between your legs. Keep your spine straight and arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Swing the dumbbell forward and upward until your arms are at about shoulder height. During this movement, you stretch your legs.
- Swing the dumbbell downward and backward between your legs as far as you safely can.
- Keep swinging the dumbbell like this for a certain number of repetitions or amount of time.
Before really increasing the weight of the dumbbell, you want to make sure you get used to this version of the exercise. You don’t accidentally want to throw a dumbbell through the gym.
Additionally, even with some practice, the dumbbell swing will obviously not be as safe as a regular kettlebell swing.
Besides these things, the dumbbell swing does offer similar benefits without actually needing a kettlebell available.
2. Romanian deadlifts
To do the next kettlebell swing alternatives you will need some extra equipment. Preferably a barbell with weight plates but you can also use other free weights and resistance bands.
Once you have good gear, take the following steps to do a Romanian deadlift:
- Load the barbell with the desired number of weight plates and stand in front of it.
- Put your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the barbell with your hand palms pointing backward. Keep your spine straight and your shoulder blades pulled back throughout the exercise.
- Stretch your legs and tilt back your upper body until you stand up straight with the barbell in your hands. Slightly bend your knees again.
- Slowly tilt your upper body forward as far as comfortable or until the barbell is at about shin height. Keep your knees at about the same angles during the movement.
- Tilt your upper body back in a controlled motion until you are back in the position of step 3.
- Keep alternating between steps 4 and 5.
Kettlebell swings do work your erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings a nice amount but at the same time, your cardiovascular system may fatigue too soon.
Additionally, the handles of kettlebells typically don’t have knurling (grooves) which makes the movement more challenging for your forearm grip muscles.
Romanian deadlifts allow you to really work the muscles above in a controlled motion. And even if your forearm grip muscles would fatigue too soon, you can consider using lifting straps or lifting pads.
3. Back extensions
It is generally recommended to use a back extension machine or a Roman chair at your gym to do this next kettlebell swing alternative. These will be the safest and most convenient ways to do the movement.
Take the following steps to do a back extension with the dedicated machine:
- Rest your hips on the back extension machine pad and anchor your heels behind the pads. Keep your spine straight and in one line with your legs for now.
- Slowly tilt your upper body forward as far as comfortable. To really work your glutes and hamstrings, you want the movement to come from your hips, not your lower back.
- Tilt your upper body back again in a controlled motion. To avoid discomfort in your lower back you don’t want to further than a straight line with your legs.
Similar to the previous exercise, back extensions allow you to work your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles in a more controlled motion than kettlebell swings.
Since these are relatively strong muscles, you may need to do weighted back extensions to see muscle growth and strength progress.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t get the same cardiovascular engagement as kettlebell swings. To train this area of your fitness, you have to consider other exercises.
4. Hip thrusts
There are a few hip thrust equipment options you need to be able to do the exercise. This includes an elevated surface at about knee height and a form of resistance to hold on your hips.
Take the following steps to do hip thrusts with a weight bench and a barbell.
- Put the barbell in front of the long side of the weight bench and load it with the desired amount of weight.
- Sit under the barbell with your shoulders against the weight bench. Put your feet flat on the ground and about shoulder-width apart. They need to be at a distance where your knees are at 90-degree angles in the next step. Hold the barbell against your hips throughout the movement.
- Raise your hips in a controlled motion until you are in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Slowly lower your hips again to the position of step 2.
Compared to some of the previous kettlebell swing alternatives, hip thrusts focus less on your forearm grip muscles and erector spinae.
This can be a downside if you are interested in training these muscles. However, it can also be an upside since it allows you to really focus on working your glute and hamstring muscles.
Two downsides of hip thrusts are that they require more time and equipment to set up.
5. Good mornings
Good mornings are another exercise that requires additional weights. As an example, take the following steps to do a good morning with a barbell:
- Rack the barbell at about chest height and load it with the desired amount of weight. If needed and available, you can adjust the safety bars in the squat rack.
- Rest the barbell on your upper back, hold it there with your hands, and push up to unrack it. Take a few steps back so you have room for the rest of the exercise. Put your feet about shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly.
- Slowly tilt your upper body forward as far as comfortable or until it is about horizontal. Keep your spine straight throughout this movement.
- Tilt your upper back in a controlled motion until you are back into the position of step 2.
- Rerack the barbell when you are done with your set.
At first sight, the good morning exercise may look similar to back squats but you don’t go through your knees.
The reduced focus on your quadriceps and increased focus on your glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae this causes makes the good morning a better kettlebell alternative.
A potential benefit of the good morning is that you don’t really have to use your forearm grip muscles to keep the weight in place. This allows you to focus more on working the main muscles involved.
6. Glute ham raises
The next alternative to kettlebells has relatively strict equipment requirements. More specifically, you need a glute-ham raise bench.
This is a lower back gym machine where you rest your hips on a rounded pad and secure your feet behind two pads and. Take the following steps to do a glute-ham raise:
- Adjust the settings of the glute-ham raise bench for your personal body proportions.
- Rest the front of your hips on the rounded pad and anchor your feet behind the pads. Make sure you sit tightly in place before doing the exercise. Let your upper body hang down for now but keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Slowly tilt back your upper body until it is in a straight line with your legs.
- Fold your knees as far as comfortably possible or until your upper body is in a vertical position.
- Stretch your knees again.
- Lower your upper body in a controlled motion until it is back in the position of step 2.
Glute ham raises are similar to back extensions but the extra knee folding part works the part of the hamstrings that are responsible for knee flexion just a bit more.
This extra muscle engagement can be good or bad depending on why you are looking to substitute kettlebell swings.
That aside, people who can do kettlebell swings with heavy weights likely also need resistance options like a weight plate, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. to make glute-ham raises challenging enough.
7. Pull throughs
You can do pull throughs with either a cable machine or sturdy resistance bands with a good anchor. Take the following steps to do a cable pull-through:
- Select the desired weight, set the cable pulley close to the ground, and attach a double-rope cable handle.
- Stand right next to the cable machine with your back toward it. Reach down through your legs to grab the double-rope handle.
- Take a step forward so you have room to do the exercise. In this position, you stand with your knees slightly bent, arms following the resistance of the cable machine, and your spine straight.
- Tilt your upper body back in a controlled motion until you more or less stand up straight. Make sure you don’t hunch your shoulders.
- Alternate between the positions in steps 3 and 4 to do the repetitions.
You can basically see pull-throughs as kettlebell swings for people who don’t have this piece of equipment available.
Since something like resistance bands is more budget-friendly and compact than a set of kettlebells, this alternative could align more with your personal situation.
At the same time, this kettlebell swing alternative still works basically the same muscles
To mimic the cardiovascular engagement of kettlebell swings to some extent, you could consider doing cable pull throughs with less weight and at faster speeds.