Can I turn out my toes in kettlebell swing?

Question:

‘When we adopt a squat stance, we can play around with the width of our stance and turnout of our feet, depending on individual hip structure and the upright torso requirement (Goblet, Front or Overhead Squats have different requirements when it comes to upright torso position, thus the stance for them will be different).

I wanted to know if similar principles of foot angles and width may be applied to hip hinge as well. I ask this because I have seen many people swinging with their toes turned out and a wide stance. ‘

Answer:


Hinging is a different movement pattern from squatting. Hinging is horizonal and squatting is vertical, so there are different rules. Hip hinge is related to gait (walking, running, bounding, long jump) rather than squat. In those movements, powerful hip extension is a primary mover, while a squat is a knee-extension dominant movement and is far less powerful.

While turning the toes out when squatting might be okay, though should still be minimized if possible, turning the toes out when walking, running, bounding, jumping or pure hip hinging is a dysfunctional motor pattern that leads to drastic reduction in the power production, can lead to joint issues and lack of athletic ability.

When performing loaded hinging movements such as deadlifts, swings, cleans and snatches, toe turnout should be minimal in order to maximize glute activation and torque.

The most powerful stance width for hip extension is with legs vertical aka feet directly under hips.

Naturally, when we swing a kettlebell between our legs, we might have to stand wider than with feet hip width apart (though we should make every effort to stand as narrow as we can possibly get away with, without taking out our kneecaps or compromising the quality of the hinge). The wider the stance, the more the toes will have to turn out. So, there could be a little toe turn out, depending on your height and leg length. For example, I’m a short person 5’1 (155cm) and to pass a 24kg kettlebell between my short little legs, I have to stand wider than a 6ft (185cm) man would have to do. So my toes might turn out a tiny bit, while his won’t.


This turnout, along with deviation from vertical legs, will reduce hip power production. But we should make it as minimal as possible by standing as narrow as possible and keeping the toes as parallel as possible.

In sumo Deadlifts and double KB movements, a wide stance might force more toe turnout, which will reduce power production. Such is the trade-off for picking up large things, but even there we should aim to stand as narrow and as parallel as we can get away with. No movement should cause joint pain.

Those wide-stance movements are also much less horizontal (hinge) and more vertical (squat) for that reason. Since the hinge pattern is impaired by the wide stance and toe turnout, the body needs to generate power through another pattern – the squat. So, a movement like a double KB clean would be more of a hinge-squat than a pure hinge. 

This is totally normal, because in nature there are very few pure movement patterns, we always combine them depending on what needs to be done. Still, it’s important to know how you can optimize each pattern so that you can make a decision with your eyes wide open when the time comes for throwing heavy things around.

Conclusion:

In general, any degree of deviation from vertical legs and parallel feet in a pure hinge movement pattern will lead to a reduction in power and less glute activation. However, if the nature of the load dictates a wider stance (eg double Kettlebell lifts), some hip power might have to be compromised and other movement patterns engaged to complete the task.

Thank you to Deepak for a great question!

Published by Kat's Kettlebell Dojo

Kettlebell Dojo is a philosophy that is about making your training time-efficient and maximally effective by consistently performing high-quality functional movements. Kat is a certified Movement & Performance Therapy Specialist, StrongFirst SFG Level 2 Kettlebell Instructor, Level 4 Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, IKSFA Kettlebell Sport coach, Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach, Jump Rope instructor, and Certified Crossfit Gymnastics trainer.

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