The Kettlebell Swing & Lower Cross Syndrome

Vladimir Janda was one of the most influential physical medicine physicians in the world in the late 20th century.

A pioneer in the field of “low tech” rehabilitation, he honed his non-surgical skills in Czechoslovakia; consistently producing outstanding results using wobble boards, sticks, exercise balls, kettlebells, dumbbells, and most importantly, his hands. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Czech Republic, the work of Janda and his colleagues became more widespread and accessible. In the early nineties, progressive physicians, chiropractors and physical therapists began teaching Janda‚Äôs techniques in the West – forever changing the way most of us looked at physical medicine.

One of the more basic (but essential) Janda concepts is the Lower Cross Syndrome. Lower Cross Syndrome is considered an epidemic in western society because most people spend a large percentage of their time sitting. Extended periods of sitting can cause tightness and hyperactivity in the hip flexor group. Through a process known as reciprocal inhibition (defined as the contraction or activity of one muscle group inhibiting the contraction or activity of the antagonist muscle group) the hyperactive hip flexor group can actually inhibit the hip extensor group, most importantly, the gluteus maximus. This imbalance then produces a secondary effect during walking. Since these people are unable to produce hip flexion with the gluteus maximus, they begin to substitute their low back extensors. The extensors become tight and hypertonic and, through reciprocal inhibition, inhibit the abdominal muscles. Lifting and walking using primarily the low back extensors causes an increase in biomechanical stress in the lumbar spine which produces chronic pain, osteoarthritic degeneration, and disc herniation.

A key challenge to working with anyone with low back pain is how to permanently correct this dysfunctional pattern. In years past, I have used a variety of training solutions that, for the most part, tended to be complicated and always required the use of more than one tool. But when I started utilizing kettlebells, I was excited to see how simple movements such as the swing, clean, press and snatch are exceptionally effective cardiovascular and strength conditioning exercises that actually correct many movement pattern disorders – including Lower Cross Syndrome. In fact, it seems as if the kettlebell swing was specifically designed to correct this pattern.

Proper swing technique involves lowering the kettlebell via lumbar spine neutral hip flexion and then producing power via lumbar spine neutral hip extension (the hip snap). This simultaneously stretches and relaxes the hip flexors, activates and strengthens the hip extensors (particularly the gluteus maximus) and teaches lumbar spine control. Additionally, the secondary part of the swing (abdominal contraction at the apex of the swing) acilitates and strengthens the abdominals and relaxes and stretches the lumbar paraspinal musculature; an amazing win/win against one of the most common dysfunctional lifestyle patterns of the western world!