We perform two types of kettlebell swings in the gym. The Russian (swung to shoulder height) and the American or CrossFit swing (which finishes at some point overhead). Both have benefits. The Russian version is the easiest to learn, is great for high rep posterior chain work, and has little demand on shoulder range of motion, vs the American swing which needs fairly decent mobility to get the bell overhead with the hands so close together. Check out the very first Games winner James Fitzgerald below performing a sub 7min Helen. The bell barely passes his ears. This is how we used to teach the American swing. That range of motion however, has become too vague for the modern competition.
Ever since the 2009 Regionals, the standard has been tougher. Bell directly overhead, bottom of bell pointing at roof, arms straight, and all joints stacked up. Talk to anyone at the 2011 Regionals during the 100's workout. Most performed in the neighbourhood of 130-140 reps trying to achieve a perfectly vertical position, made especially difficult by the shoulders being jacked up from 100 CTB pullups just prior..... These were top athletes, and they found it tough, not many normal people possess the mobility and/or the stability of the shoulder, thoracic vertabrae and midline to pull this off........ But, just like wanting to learn butterfly pull ups before a decent conventional kip, many of us try anyway......
We had a visitor from another CrossFit gym recently that found it tough to perform Russian swings, because Americans were the only type she had learned. But just like the kipping pullup should be built on the dead hang pullup first, so you should have a strong Russian Swing before taking the range of motion further, not to mention sorting out your shoulder mechanics too. Just like the squat snatch, and clean, vs the power versions, both swings achieve the main movement aim, which is dynamic hip extension. The extra range of motion is something for you to aim for as you get fitter, or if you get into competitions.
Check out my friend CJ's article about this HERE. There is a great test you can do on yourself to see if you are ready for an American, or if you should stick to Russians for a while. If you talk to a kettlebell purist, they will show disgust at the mere mention of the American swing, for in their eyes it's an abomination. But there is plenty of room in a balanced fitness program for both versions, you should just have a good understanding of your capabilities with both. Some interesting info below from an interview with Gray Cook - one of the worlds most well known physiotherapists.
1. American Swing takes 28% longer than Russian Swing.
2. American Swing lower peak forces and lower average force during swing
3. American Swing requires weight overhead and we see reversal of hip extension pattern to hip flexion with weight over head
Time: The American swing takes longer
Process: The American swing produces less force but comes with a greater risk of upper extremity/back injury—although, any exercise does when performed with bad form.
Intention: If exercise/fitness is the goal, why would we want to do something that takes longer and produces less force? We should seek greater efficiency . . . not create unnecessary inefficiency.
5 x 5, building
AMRAP in 7mins
3 x 5, all heavy
Front Squats 60/40kg
Toes to Bars
AMRAP in 7mins