To go overhead, or not to go overhead……
When it comes to Kettlebell Swings, I get the question, “Are these Russian, or should I go overhead?” a lot. Before I answer this, let’s talk about the purpose of kettlebell swings. A proper kettlebell swing is a hip hinge exercise loaded by a weight. Make sure that you are indeed performing a “hip hinge” rather than a squat before moving on.
What is a hip hinge?
The easiest way to describe the hip hinge is this: Maximal hip flexion, with minimal knee bending. Think of how you would jump on a box; chest forward, flat back, knees slightly bent, weight on your heels. In this position, you are loading your posterior chain to create maximal power.
The bottom of the swing should look like this: Weight back on heels with feet “gripping” the floor, knees slightly bent and externally rotated, hips back with loaded hamstrings, flat back, shoulders engaged, and head and neck in neutral.
To answer your question:
Regardless of whether you are performing a Russian or American swing, the top of the swing should look like this: Quads and glutes tight, lumbar spine in neutral, core tight, and shoulders engaged. Basically a plank position.
Most people have no problem getting into this position with their shoulders at 90 degrees. Problems tend to occur when people with limited shoulder or thoracic spine mobility try to go overhead. Compensation usually occurs by overextending the lumbar spine in order to achieve overhead lockout.
A great way to test whether you have the required shoulder/thoracic mobility to go overhead is to lay on the floor and flex your shoulder. If you can’t get your shoulder overhead without compromising your midline (low back leaving the ground), loading it in an overhead position is probably not a great idea.
So to answer your question, as long as you are performing the movement correctly, I’m happy. If you have issues with overhead positioning, spend some QT on shoulder and t-spine mobility and stick with the Russian swings until you fix your mechanics.