Bottom Line Up Front: Adding a side hop to a kettlebell swing increases the heart rate response almost 20%. Here is the evidence and how you can use this technique.
You can use kettlebells to get after any element of physical fitness (read this for a definition). In this case, I am using kettlebells to do cardiovascular endurance work. I swing them in intervals of no more than 50 swings at a time to get my heart rate elevated inside my garage gym. So anything I can do to make the heart rate higher is good. I am trying to swing lighter kettlebells because I want to avoid muscle fatigue because, remember, I am trying to train my cardiovascular system, not muscular endurance. I have been experimenting with different combinations of swings to see the effects on heart rate and I found a good one: adding a hop.
This image is a comparison of three different sets with a 53 lb (1.5 pood) KB: left = 50 standard two-handed Russian-style swings, middle = 25 one arm swings with left arm then 25 swings with the right arm, right = 50 two-handed swings with a side hop.
You can see I was easily able to increase from 131 BPM to up to 153 BPM, which is much better for CV stress. I tested this with a lighter KB and I did the hopping intervals first versus last and the response was the same, so you can discount the fact that maybe I got 153 because I was just tired. I did more sets after this one and I got back into the low 130s with regular swings.
For me, I want to be over 140 BPM and more like to 160 for each interval. Adding in a slight bit of movement doesn’t effect my muscular fatigue and only increases the heart rate response – plus it’s an athletic, functional addition! Win win. If you are trying to visualize what this hop is, watch this short video:
This is a basic hop left, then hop right. You can complicate this even more with hopping multiple times in one direction then multiple back. You could hop forward and backward. You could hop up (aka jump…). All of these will increase the heart rate response.
Now if you are using the swing to generate max hip power and explosion, you don’t want to increase your heart rate…you aren’t working on that skill. So this wouldn’t be a good technique. You’d want a stable base from which to explode. If you are working with athletes or are one, then this is a good movement to use for increasing agility too.
Keep in mind there are probably hundreds of minor tweaks you can make to complicate the swing, but don’t get too crazy. Standard Russian-style (to parallel) swings with either one or two hands are the best bet still for most of your swings.
Post thoughts/questions to comments below.