Both exercises have a strong advocates that tell us we need to perform either one of those 2 exercises to help with back pain.
The deadlift and the kettlebell swing are at two ends of the same hip hinge spectrum. Integrating the strength of lats, core and posterior chain is equally necessary for a heavy pull and a powerful ballistic movement. Unless you have pain with either movement, you should incorporate both exercises in your program, because research (Maulit 2017) shows no significant differences in training outcomes between the two exercises
What muscles do you want to train?
Both deadlifts and KB swings recruit more medial than lateral hamstring (Zebis 2013)
Back extension and hamstring curls recruit more lateral than medial hamstring (Zebis 2013)
Low Back Pain?
If you have low back pain either exercise can help help you, but either one can also increase your pain. So which one is best? The is, as always, “That Depends”. Based on McGill’s research (2012) the KB swing has more more shear in the lumbar spine. The Deadlift will place more load on the lumbar spine. So if your low back pain is more shear tolerant, use the KB swing. If you are more load-tolerant, use the deadlift. And if you use the deadlift, consider Sumo style versus traditional deadlift: it is a shorter lift and therefore it has less lumbar strain, but larger hip/knee angles. (McGuigan 1996). You can also use a trap bar for the deadlift and keep the center of gravity more close to the spine.
- Zebis MK, Skotte J, Andersen CH, et al Kettlebell swing targets semitendinosus and supine leg curl targets biceps femoris: an EMG study with rehabilitation implications Br J Sports Med 2013;47:1192-1198.
- R Maulit, Matthew & Archer, David & D Leyva, Whitney & Munger, Cameron & Wong, Megan & Brown, Lee & Coburn, Jared & Galpin, Andrew. (2017). Effects of Kettlebell Swing vs. Explosive Deadlift Training on Strength and Power. International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science. 5. 1-7. 10.7575/aiac.ijkss.v.5n.1p.1.
- McGill, S. M., & Marshall, L. W. (2012). Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(1), 16-27