kettlebell swing muscles worked

What Muscles are Worked During Kettlebell Swings?

March 17, 2021

In this article, we cover what muscles are worked during kettlebell swings, in depth and at each phase of the movement, as well as other benefits of kettlebell swings, how to perform a kettlebell swing correctly, common mistakes, best rep ranges for kettlebell swings, kettlebell swing workouts and more.

Before we jump into what muscles are used during kettlebell swings, let us quickly go over what a kettlebell swing entails, why it is so special, and the difference between the conventional kettlebell swing (aka Russian Kettlebell Swing) and the American Kettlebell Swing.

what muscles do kettlebell swings work


The kettlebell swing is arguably the most important kettlebell exercise there is. It is a ballistic movement (explosive movement) that targets pretty much the entire posterior chain of the body (as well as other muscles, all of which we will get into). In the simplest explanation possible, the kettlebell swing involves holding onto the kettlebell at the handle and swinging it from between the knees to about head level using either one or two hands.

While it is a basic movement in terms of kettlebell training, it does require a thorough understanding of proper form as it is a multi-joint exercise with a movement pattern that takes the kettlebell through a large range of motion. Not to mention, because it is an explosive, dynamic movement that incorporates the use of momentum, correct mechanics is key to avoiding injury, especially when doing heavy kettlebell swings.

We will be covering how to do a kettlebell with proper form below, as well as everything else you need to know about kettlebell swings, such as tips, variations, progressions, best kettlebell weight, reps, and so on. 

Before we jump into the kettlebell swings muscles worked, we'd like to quickly differentiate between the conventional kettlebell swing (aka Russian Kettlebell Swing) and the American Kettlebell Swing...

Russian Kettlebell Swing (Conventional) vs American Kettlebell Swing

russian vs american kettlebell swing

Put simply, the Russian kettlebell swing involves swinging the kettlebell to about chest or eye level, whereas the American kettlebell swing involves the kettlebell being swung up overhead with the bell pointing straight up.

So, the mechanics of both the Russian and American kettlebell swing are exactly the same, but the American kettlebell swing has a larger range of motion - instead of stopping at eye level like you do with the Russian swing, with the American swing you continue the movement pattern until the kettlebell is directly overhead (with your arms still full extended). Once it reaches overhead, you bring it back down with the same pattern in reverse.

There are some notable pros and cons between the two types of kettlebell swings. Let’s start with the American Kettlebell Swing (AKBS). The AKBS involves a larger range of motion, and it works the muscles in the arms, whereas with the Russian Kettlebell Swing (RKBS), the arms simply guide the kettlebell. This could arguably trigger a higher power output and increase heart rate and exertion levels to a greater degree. However, with the AKBS, you can't go as heavy as you can with the Russian Kettlebell Swing and it certainly has a higher risk of injury (especially for the shoulder joint). As for the RKBS, because you are not bringing it overhead, you can maximize explosive hip and posterior chain strength and power, and you can use a heavier kettlebell. With that, one could easily argue that the power output is actually much greater in the RKBS. Even though the range of motion is bigger with the AKBS, once you reach eye level and start to move the kettlebell overhead, the movement slows down considerably. You simply can't use the same max explosiveness with the AKBS like you can with the RKBS. 

Note: With Russian Kettlebell Swings (conventional swings), you can also do single hand swings, whereas American Kettlebell Swings you will only do two handed swings.

Anyway, if you want to do what the vast, vast majority of the world does, then just focus on the Russian Kettlebell Swing, as that is what people consider to be the conventional kettlebell swing. It is by far the most common and beneficial kettlebell swing. It is both lower risk and higher reward. The Russian Kettlebell Swing is a must-do movement, the American kettlebell swing is essentially a variation of the conventional swing that you can try out. Nevertheless, we will also discuss the additional muscles worked in the American Kettlebell Swing.

Now, let’s get into the muscles worked. FINALLY. 

What muscles do kettlebell swings work?

kettlebell swings muscles worked

To start, we are simply going to discuss the conventional, two handed kettlebell swing. We will cover the muscles worked and at which point in the movement certain muscles are firing off. The picture above depicts most of the muscles worked, but we will go in-depth below. After we cover the standard two handed KB swing, we will discuss the additional muscles being worked in the American kettlebell swing and how doing single hand kettlebell swings affects the movement’s muscles worked as well.

While the kettlebell swing is often done for its super cardio, weight loss effects, it is also an excellent power and strength generating exercise that targets many muscles.


The conventional kettlebell swing is predominantly a posterior chain exercise, so you will be hitting your:

  • Glutes (Gluteus Maximus)
  • Hamstrings (Bicep Femoris, Semitendinosus, and Semimembranosus)
  • Erector Spinae
  • Calf Muscle (Soleus and Gastrocnemius)
  • Trapezius (Lower and Middle)
  • Rhomboids
  • Levator Scapulae
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Posterior Deltoids

While your posterior chain makes up most of the primary and secondary movers, you will also be targeting your:

As you can see, kettlebell swings hit so many muscles!

Now, it’s important to note that many of the above muscles are secondary muscles and stabilizer muscles rather than primary movers. In essence, kettlebell swings are all about your hips, not your arms, so the glutes and hamstrings (your main hip extensors) should be doing the brunt of the work (they are your true primary movers) as well as your low back, but your low back is working in an isometric fashion, by maintaining a flat or neutral spine throughout…the rest of your muscles are stabilizers and secondary movers. Nevertheless, they must work hard to keep posture and form in order. 

benefits of kettlebell swings

Breaking down the muscles worked throughout each phase of the kettlebell swing

At the start of the kettlebell swing, as the kettlebell is swinging back through your legs, your glutes and hamstrings (and to a certain degree, your quads) will be fully engaged as you explosively hip thrust, moving from a hip hinge to an upright standing position.

Your lower back will be working isometrically to maintain a straight back as you go from the hip hinge to a neutral spine position.

Moreover, because your glutes will be fully contracted at this point, so your hip flexors will be lengthening, which is great for their flexibility. 

To be able to raise the kettlebell up to your shoulder level, you will obviously be activating your shoulders, as well as your upper pecs. However, they are more so controlling the kettlebell rather than pulling it up. The explosive hip thrust is what propels the kettlebell up. 

As to maintain a standing position (and not come forward because of the force of the kettlebell), your upper back muscles, core and glutes will stabilize your spine.

As you come down from the swing, the same muscles will be working to maintain a straight spine.

When the kettlebell goes through your legs to the backside, your glutes and hamstrings will be lengthening (eccentric phase).

Throughout the entire swing, your erector spinae and abs muscles must work to keep your spine erect.

Also, for the entire exercise, your forearms and hands will be engaged so that you can hold onto the kettlebell. Your grip strength will be particularly noticeable the heavier the kettlebell is.

So, your forearms, spinal erectors, and abs are your constants during kettlebell swings, just in an isometric manner, and your glutes and hamstrings are your primary movers.

Now, let’s not forget about the very important stabilizer muscles…

To keep your knees above your ankle during knee flexion (when you perform the hip hinge to hip thrust), your calves and quads/thigh muscles are working with your hamstrings to stabilize your knees.

As for the upper part of the swing, posture is crucial, so you have to have both shoulder and scapular stabilization. This means your shoulders are pulled down nice and safe, with your chest out, and your shoulder blades slightly down and pulled together (retracted). With that, your lats, traps, levator scapulae, rhomboids, rear delts, and pecs, as well as your delts, are stabilizing.

That pretty much covers it, and explains how each of the muscles we listed above comes into play during kettlebell swings.

As you can see, so many muscles are working during kettlebell swings. HOWEVER, don’t forget, it is your glutes and hamstrings that truly power the movement, not your shoulders and arms, which is why kettlebell swings are not an issue for people with shoulder joint issues.

Apart from that, your erector spinae muscles are doing a lot of work too keep your spine erect and safe throughout the movement, so it is a great exercise to strengthen your spinal erectors as well as your glutes and hamstrings.

In terms of building muscle, you will be building some nice looking hamstrings and a nice, tight, round butt with kettlebell swings!

One Handed Kettlebell Swings

kettlebell swings target muscles

When it comes to one handed kettlebell swings, you are adding in more stability requirements. As such, your abs, obliques and serratus anterior will play a larger role, as well as your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. All in all, the unilateral nature is great because it makes your stabilizer muscles worked even harder to maintain a squared forward, upright position. Your shoulders will also be doing a little more work to bring that kettlebell up. That said, it is still a glute, hamstring and erector spinae focused exercises, just with added core stability.

American Kettlebell Swings

With American Kettlebell Swings, you will be bringing the kettlebell up overhead. That means your arms will actually be taking on a bigger role. This overhead portion of the swing (from about upper chest level to overhead) will turn your anterior deltoids, pectoralis major, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis (long slender muscle that runs along your upper arm), and biceps, into primary movers. Once the kettlebell comes back down and passes below your eyes/chin, the rest of the mechanics, and thus muscles worked, are exactly the same as the two handed conventional kettlebell swing.

what are the benefits of kettlebell swings


We’ve already went over all the muscles being worked during kettlebell swings, but this doesn’t cover all of the benefits that you’ll reap from doing kettlebell swings. So, let’s run through some of the most important reasons why you should be doing kettlebell swings.

  1. Cardiovascular Health: The kettlebell swing is an explosive total body movement that will get your heart rate up fast and keep it up. Moreover, as the kettlebell swing utilizes momentum for a portion of each rep, it is sustainable for high repetitions, and thus, high volume workouts. Particularly, interval training workouts. With that, you can keep your heart rate at a level that is beneficial for cardiovascular health. Just aim to do a 20+ minute interval format kettlebell swing workout and you will have great cardio effects.
  2. Burns a lot of calories (and thus fat!): According to the American Council on Exercise, kettlebell swings can burn 20 calories a minute, which is 400 calories in 20 minutes. That’s about the same amount of calories burned as someone running a six minute mile. What’s more, because kettlebell swings are more intense than running, you will have an after burn effect known as EPOC, which means you will be burning a higher amount of calories long after the workout is over. This is possible with HIIT style kettlebell swing workouts. It will be intense but the metabolic effect will allow you to burn tons of fat and keep your metabolism on the up and up.
  3. Improve Athleticism: The main movement of the kettlebell swing is the hip thrust, which builds power and explosiveness in the area of your body that is super important for running, jumping and lifting. As such, with kettlebell swings, especially relatively heavy kettlebell swings, you will certainly improve your athletic prowess.
  4. Posture: Kettlebell swings work all of your postural muscles like no other exercise, so it is going to improve posture and make sure it is always on point.
  5. Improves Balance and Spinal Stability: Kettlebell swings work all of the important balance muscles - glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, core, hips - and it works all the muscles protecting your spine - erector spinae muscles. This plays into the athleticism benefit above, but more than that it is important for daily life and longevity!
  6. Efficient: With kettlebell swings, you will be working tons of muscles quickly and effectively. For those short on time, there’s no need to do so many exercises when you have exercises like kettlebell swings that will hit so many muscles at once. As always, you should focus on compound exercises, and only do isolation exercises if you have time. Compound exercises are not only more efficient, they are more effective for strength and hypertrophy (plus they burn way more calories). And when it comes to compound exercises, kettlebell swings are as compound as it gets.
  7. Muscular Endurance: The same way that kettlebell swings can benefit your cardio, they can benefit your muscular endurance. Against they lend themselves to high repetitions, so you can really train your muscles to sustain tension and continuous explosive force output for prolonged periods of time. Again, this is another important benefit for athletes. 
  8. Flexibility and Mobility: The kettlebell swing is a multi-joint movement that moves you through a large range of motion. It is particularly effective for improving hip mobility thanks to the hip hinges, and every time you perform the hip thrust (hip extension), your glutes will fully engage, which in turn stretches and lengthens your hip flexors. And it’s not just your hip flexors that benefit from release and flexibility, but your hamstrings will too thanks to the hip hinge. When your hamstrings are flexible, your hips are more mobile.
  9. Joint Stability: Kettlebell swings will build incredible joint stability. Your spinal, shoulder and hip stability will improve dramatically because kettlebell swings strengthen all of the spinal, shoulder, scapular and hip stabilizer muscles.

All in all, kettlebell swings hit so many pillars of fitness - strength, endurance, mobility, cardio - making it truly an all-in-one exercise. You can hone in on certain aspects as well by adjusting the weight and trying different kettlebell variations.

With all the benefits, it’s no wonder the kettlebell swing is one of the most popular exercises around the world.



how to do a kettlebell swing

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart (even a little wider than shoulder-width is fine and your toes can be pointed very slightly outward if you’d like or they can be straight forward, whatever feels more natural for you). Place the kettlebell on the ground about a foot in front of your feet. Put a little bend in your knee and shoot your hips back to a hip hinge so you are leaned down and forward with your back straight. At this point, your hamstrings and glutes will have a stretch in them and they will be activated. From there, grab the kettlebell with your palms facing your body. Put the kettlebell at a slight angle towards your body (so the base will not be flat to the floor). Your upper body will be nearly parallel with the floor a this point.

Note: Before you start the movement, pull your shoulders down and back and get ready to brace your core. 


kettlebell swing

Lift the kettlebell off the ground and hike the kettlebell between your legs. Your knees will have a bend in them. As soon as the kettlebell fully passes behind your legs, explosively drive your hips forward to propel the kettlebell into the air. The kettlebell will come up, with your arms still fully extended, to about upper shoulder or eye level (generally speaking, your arms will be horizontal with the floor).

Note: Your arms are simply controlling and guiding the kettlebell. It is your forceful hip thrust (and thus, your hamstrings and glutes) that is propelling the kettlebell up. 

kettlebell swing


Allow the kettlebell to swing down and back through your legs in the same path of motion. As the kettlebell reaches about hip level, move back into a hip hinge to allow the kettlebell to swing between while maintaining a straight back.

Note: You control the descent by keeping your core engaged and your shoulder blades retracted. This will ensure your back doesn’t arch.

what muscles are worked during kettlebell swings


Repeat for as many reps as you want. On your final rep, allow the kettlebell to swing back through your legs and don't drive your hips forward so when it comes back through your legs you can slow the momentum to place it on the floor carefully.

Note: Always end a set of kettlebell swings as stated above. You never want to stop with the kettlebell in the top position. The end of a rep is when it is between your legs. That is when you should stop a set.


The mechanics are exactly the same, but rather than stopping at eye level (end of STEP 2), allow your arms to continue up and straight overhead. Once the kettlebell reaches about shoulder level, you will have to engage your delts to get it up overhead. The kettlebell’s bell will be pointing straight up.

Make sure to keep your shoulders packed, your shoulder blades down and back, and your lats packed. This will ensure the kettlebell is controlled. Also, don’t flare your ribs, your upper body and spine should be in a neutral position.

Once it reaches overhead, allow the kettlebell to come forward and down in front of you in the same path of motion. As this will create even more momentum (as it is falling from a greater distance), it’s very important to make sure your scapular (shoulder blades) and core are braced for good posture.

Note: This movement is more risky, so you will not be going as heavy as you would with a conventional kettlebell swing.

American kettlebell swing muscles worked


Generally speaking, we advise athletes to avoid the American Kettlebell Swing as it places extra stress on the spine and shoulders. If you have shoulder issues, definitely avoid it.

If you do want to try it, just go light and see how it feels. It’s nice to switch things up here and there.

That said…

While there are some slight benefits to the American Kettlebell Swing, it is an exercise that you could completely go without. We wouldn’t miss it.

However, the Conventional Kettlebell Swing is one of those exercises everyone should be doing, regularly.

All in all, there’s no competition between the American Kettlebell Swing and the Conventional (Russian) Kettlebell Swing. The conventional kettlebell swing is far and away the winner.


  1. Remember to use your hips for power. You push them backwards as the kettlebell swings through and behind your legs and then your drive the hips forward. The hips are the engine of the kettlebell swing.
  2. Always keep your back flat and your chest up.
  3. Your abs should be activated at all time. They have an important job of keeping the spine stabilized. Each time you drive your hips forward, your abs should be working hard to ensure your hips don’t go back the center line (past neutral).
  4. Really squeeze those glutes when driving your hips forward and keep them tight as the kettlebell comes up to shoulder level.
  5. Don’t use your shoulders to pull the kettlebell up. The shoulders job is to control the kettlebell and to ensure the shoulder joint is  pulled back. Kettlebell swings are great at rehabbing shoulder because it strengthens and conditions the connective tissue as the joint is being pulled in (on the upward) and out (on the downward) of its socket.
  6. Position your head so it is inline with your spine.
  7. Your grip should be not too tight. Your grip is going to be really challenged with kettlebell swings (especially when the repetitions are high) as the kettlebell will constantly be trying to get away from you. While you need a strong grip, you can always be crushing the handle. You need to relax the grip at certain points in the swing.
  8. Breathe. With lightweight swings, breath out on the downward phase and in on the upward phase. However, with heavy kettlebells, you will likely breath in on the downward phase (with a slight hold in your breath at one point as you brace your abs) and you will breath out on the upward phase. Just make sure you get a good breathing pattern as it is important for sustaining high reps and maintaining good form.


  1. Keep your feet firmly planted. Don’t rock your feet. The kettlebell swing is two moves, backwards and forwards. That’s it. Try training barefoot to make sure your feet are planted and you are not putting too much weight on your toes.
  2. Don’t muscle the kettlebell up with your arms and shoulders. Again, it’s hip drive that powers the momentum.
  3. Don’t lean too far backwards at the top. Your body should stand tall with your glutes tight. But you should not be leaning back slightly when your arms are horizontal with the floor and the kettlebell is up at shoulder level.
  4. Don’t hunch your shoulders up by your ears at the top of the swing. Keep your shoulders packed down and away from your ears.
  5. Don’t round your back at anytime doing the swing. This is particularly more common with one handed swings.
  6. You knees should never go past your toes, if they are, you need to sink back onto your heels and middle of your foot and load your buttocks. This will keep you from being pulled forward onto your toes.
  7. Your hand and the handle should be below the bell, not above it, at the top phase of the swing.
  8. While a kettlebell squat swing is a thing, if you are not intentionally doing a kettlebell squat swing, you do not want to squat down. You will have a slight bend in your knees, but the standard kettlebell swing is a hip dominant exercise. It’s like a stiff-legged deadlift in that your knees are there for the ride but your hips are making the movement happen, you are not squatting down.

kettlebell swing how to


As a beginner, it is very important that you master the hip hinge. Practice the hip hinge and get that movement pattern down before you even pick up a kettlebell to swing. The hip hinge is a basic, fundamental movement, but it must be done correctly.

Also, work on scapular stability.

Once you feel good with the hip hinge, practice the movement without a kettlebell.

When you are ready, start with a light kettlebell. Master the two handed kettlebell swing first before you start doing any other variations.


Here are the most common and recommended kettlebell swing variations.

Single Arm Kettlebell Swing

For this one you will swing with one arm for an entire set. This variation will challenge your core more than a traditional two handed kettlebell swing. As such, it will help you improve stability and balance.

Alternating Kettlebell Swing

Alternating kettlebell swings are single arm swings but rather than doing one side at a time, you alternate sides with each rep. You will be passing the kettlebell from hand to hand at the top of the swing, not the bottom.

With alternating swings, you will be challenging both sides of your core at the same time!

Double Kettlebell Swing

You can put one kettlebell in each hand and do double kettlebell swings! This is obviously quite a bit more difficult than single arm swings and standard two handed swings. Be prepared to have your grip challenged at a much greater degree.

Want to see more kettlebell swing variations?

Check out our top 50 kettlebell exercises post. In there you will find all types of kettlebell swing variations!

kettlebell swing variations


In regards to starting weight, we recommend women starting with around a 12-16lb kettlebell (athletic women can likely start with 20-30lb), and men around 20-25lbs (athletic men can likely start around 35-40lbs).

If you want to learn more about which size kettlebell to start with, read our in-depth guide on choosing the right kettlebell size.


You don’t need to overcomplicate this. When the swings are becoming too easy, simply decrease rest time or increase the weight. If you don’t have a heavier kettlebell weight, try alternating single arm swings for lower reps and work your reps up and rest time down.

That said, you may have a large gap in kettlebell sizes, so going up in weight can be a challenge. This is the issue with not having a complete set of kettlebells, which a lot of people who train at home don’t. Even those who do have sets, kettlebells often increase in larger increments (i.e. 9lbs). Check out this article by Breaking Muscle for kettlebell sizing up strategies. They go over all of the important kettlebell exercises, not just kettlebell swings. 

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kettlebell swing weight


A good place to start is around 3-5 sets for 10 reps. From there, rather than working your way up in reps, work your way up in sets. 10 sets x 10 reps is a good maximum. All that said, it really depends on your workouts.

To dive a little further into the best rep ranges, let’s look at the standard power, muscle building and endurance rep ranges.

For kettlebell grinds and conventional barbell lifting alike, the following are the best rep ranges:

Power: 1-5 reps
Muscle Building: 6-10 reps
Endurance: 10-20 reps

Since kettlebell swings are a ballistic exercise, which means you are using some momentum, and thus, you will have less time under tension, you can times the above numbers by 1.5-2.

So, for kettlebell swings…

Power: 2-10
Muscle Building: 9-15
Endurance: 16-30

Obviously the weight of the kettlebell decreases from power to muscle building to endurance.

There are some things to consider, sort of caveats to the above power, muscle building and endurance numbers…

Kettlebell swings entail maximum explosiveness, and the average person’s body can only sustain max explosiveness for around 15 seconds. For kettlebell swings, that’s around 10 reps. This is why most people tell you to stay in the 10 rep range or less. That said, if you are using a light weight kettlebell, you should have no problem doing high repetitions while still feeling good and explosive. The famous 10k swing challenge will have you doing very high rep sets, like 25-50 and many people try this.

All in all, if you are going heavy relative to your strength, 6-10 reps is a good max.

For beginners, we always recommend going for 10 reps or less. In fact, less is usually better. This will ensure you are maintaining good form and maximizing explosiveness. Even intermediate trainees will see their form start to deteriorate after 10-15 reps, so keep it low as a beginner. 

No matter what you are trying to achieve (power, hypertrophy, endurance), stop if your form is breaking down. Each rep should have proper form, don’t just push through to reach a rep count if your form is deteriorating.

To sum it up, play around with the rep count as you see fit and depending on your goals and the kettlebell weight. If you want a standard go to rep count, it is 10 reps for 3-5 sets.

Do things change with single arm and double kettlebell swings?

Not really. With single arm swings, 10 reps is still good, with alternating single arm swings, 10 reps would be 5 each side, and with double kettlebell swings, you will probably have to go lower than 10 reps because it is more difficult, but if you can perform 10 solid reps, then go for it. 

Related: Single vs Double Kettlebell Exercises

kettlebell swing reps


Do not do the following kettlebell swing challenge if you are a kettlebell swing beginner. Waiting until you are ready for this as this challenge is hard (but this will give beginner’s something to look forward to!)

10K Swing Challenge: 10,000 swings in 30 days. You can break up the swings as you see fit. Most people do 500 swings over 20 workouts (two days workout in a row, then 1 day off, repeat).

This challenge might not seem that hard, but 500 swings in a workout is TOUGH, especially at a reasonable weight. Men are recommended to use a 53lb kettlebell and women a 35lb kettlebell. That said, you can adjust the weight if need be.

AGAIN THE ABOVE IS NOT FOR BEGINNERS. We have a simple kettlebell swing workout for beginners below…

Make an easier challenge for yourself!

100 Swings a Day Challenge: Perform 100 swings for 28 days!

This can be adjusted as you see fit, i.e. 50 Swings a Day Challenge or 200 Swings a Day Challenge, and so on.

This kind of challenge is a lot of fun and you will burn a lot of calories!


We mainly recommend throwing kettlebell swings into the mix of a workout. However, if you want to do a kettlebell swing only workout, here are some ideas…

Tabata Swings

20 seconds swings, 10 seconds rest x 8 rounds

Beginners can do 15 seconds swings, 10 seconds rest x 8 rounds

EMOM (Every Minute on the Minute)

Do a set of 10 kettlebell swings every minute on the minute for 10 minutes!

Kettlebell Swing Ladder

Do 20 reps, 15 reps, 10 reps, 5 reps. Resting only as needed between the sets.

These are all quick, high intensity workouts, which kettlebell swings are perfect for.

10 x 10

If you are ready for this, do 10 reps x 10 sets. Rest as needed between sets.

You can also adjust this to 20 reps x 5 sets, or 5 reps x 20 sets!

Full Length Follow Along Kettlebell Workout for Beginners 

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kettlebell set
how to do kettlebell swings

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