There are two common types of kettlebell swings—American or Russian style. The Russian swing starts just below the groin and is swung to chest, or at the highest, eye level. The movement is quick, powerful, and compact. The American swing, on the other hand, begins level to the knees and moves upward to full arm extension over the head. Its motion is longer and smoother than its Russian counterpart, with the height of the arc swing being up to twice that of the Russian swing. The American swing develops greater range of motion in the upper body and requires more work and effort than the Russian swing. Exercisers who consistently perform the American swing can increase shoulder girdle flexibility, endurance, balance, coordination, and strength. In contrast, the primary focus of the Russian swing is to call upon a powerful extension of the hips to drive the lifter’s center of gravity forward and up, which results in a very efficient application of force.
The reason for explaining the differences between the two movements is to illustrate the point that the type of kettlebell swing chosen should be directly related to the goal of the exerciser. That is, whole-body stabilization and work effort will be challenged more so with the American swing than with the Russian swing. However, the Russian swing is excellent for developing power through the hips, which is necessary in many athletic endeavors such as sprinting and jumping.
Another point to consider when choosing which style of swing to perform is the mobility and stability of the shoulders as well as core function. If you have shoulder problems then raising the kettlebell overhead could be problematic, at least until you develop the strength and mobility in the shoulders to handle the quick movement and load arcing above your head. Also, moving a load quickly above the head requires that muscles of the trunk stabilize the spine and keep the ribcage aligned with the pelvis. If you can’t stabilize through your midsection, you need to develop appropriate core function before you practice the American swing. However, the Russian swing is also heavily dependent on proper core function to stabilize the trunk throughout the movement, so being sure that you have the requisite core stability is always the first consideration before attempting any kettlebell swing.
As you can see, the kettlebell swing is actually quite a complex movement with many points to consider for proper form and technique. I recommend working with a qualified fitness professional who has experience in coaching kettlebell movement patterns to find out the best approach for you.