No doubt you’ve noticed the neat row of kettlebells lined up in the free weight section of your gym. Some exercisers may feel intimidated by the big hunks of metal attached to a handle, while others assume kettlebells are only used for a single movement – kettlebell swings. The truth is that kettlebells are one of the most versatile and dynamic exercise fitness tools on the planet. You can perform tons of cardio and strength-training kettlebell exercises, and those “hunks of metal” are fat-burning, lean-muscle-building machines. If you’ve never considered trying a kettlebell workout before, now is your chance!
Why Kettlebells Will Rock Your Fitness World
In a fitness industry that continuously pumps out ever more advanced exercise equipment, there’s something both stark and beautiful about the simple kettlebell. Harkening back to the days when our ancient forebearers lifted stones to build their strength, a kettlebell offers an incredible full-body workout. In fact, the folks over at Set for Set write that, “We’d go out on a limb and say kettlebells are one of the best tools in existence for truly effective, result-achieving, safe, full-body conditioning.”
Some of the most important benefits of kettlebells include:
Kettlebells Are Extremely Versatile
Whatever your fitness goals, kettlebells can get you there. Kettlebells can be used for cardio workouts and strength training workouts. In this article, you’ll learn about kettlebell exercises for every part of the body.
Kettlebells Burn Calories
Boy, do they! A study by the fitness company, ACE, found that a 20-minute kettlebell workout burned over 270 calories, which is a rate of calorie burn per minute that is equivalent to running roughly a 6-minute mile pace.
Kettlebell Workouts Build Lean Muscle
Kettlebell exercises are a great way to build strong, lean muscles. Most kettlebell workouts rely on performing high-intensity reps with a moderate-weight kettlebell, which is a key to building lean muscle.
Kettlebells Improve Stabilizer Muscles and Enhance Balance
With kettlebells the center of gravity sits about six to eight inches below the handle. The slight awkwardness of the kettlebell is one of its best attributes. Most kettlebell exercises force your body to activate a variety of stabilizer muscles to keep your body balanced throughout the movements. Using a kettlebell will also improve your overall body awareness (known as proprioception in exercise science circles). Controlling a dynamic tool like a kettlebell will naturally increase your coordination and balance.
Kettlebells Make You More Powerful
Kettlebells are a ballistic tool, and many of the best kettlebell workouts include explosive movements, like kettlebell swings or kettlebell snatches. A movement like a kettlebell swing will improve the power and explosiveness of your hips and your entire posterior chain. These improvements can translate into better results in nearly every other athletic endeavor that requires jumping, sprinting, and quickly changing directions.
Kettlebells Workouts Can Be Done Almost Anywhere
If you prefer to do some of your workouts at home, kettlebells are also one of the most cost-effective and convenient pieces of exercise equipment. They are not nearly as costly as larger fitness machines, and they don’t take up a lot of space. Just make sure that when doing kettlebell exercises at home, you give yourself appropriate space for swings and that you set the kettlebell down softly so as not to damage your floor or injure your toes!
Eight Excellent Kettlebell Exercises
Before you grab a kettlebell and start swinging, it helps to learn a few basic kettlebell exercises and a variety of different kettlebell workouts.
1. Russian Kettlebell Swings
Begin standing, feet hip-width distance apart. Hold the kettlebell by the handle with both hands. To start the movement, push your glutes back and bend at the waist. Keep your back straight and core tight. When you reach roughly a 45-degree angle, push your hips forward and use your movement to swing the kettlebell out in front of you to your eye level. Maintain control as you allow the kettlebell to swing back down between your legs and repeat the swing.(Pro tip: Make sure you maintain a soft bend in your knees throughout this movement to avoid locking out your knees.)
Kettlebell swings are one of the best full-body kettlebell exercises around. They improve your cardiovascular system, build muscles, and improve your explosiveness. Kettlebell swings work the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors.
2. Kettlebell Goblet Squats
Looking for kettlebell leg exercises? The kettlebell goblet squat is it. Begin by picking up the kettlebell and holding it up to your chest. You can choose to hold the kettlebell by the “horns” or sides of the handle to work on your grip strength, but many exercisers prefer to hold the kettlebell upside down so that the bell is cradled between their hands.
Next, perform a squat. Begin by pushing your hips back. Gradually bend your knees. Keep your chest up and back straight. Squat until the crease of your hip is below the top of your knees, then push your knees out and press through the floor to stand up.
Goblet squats are an excellent exercise to work your glutes, quads, core, and balance. (Check out these other great leg workouts.)
3. Farmer’s Carry
The value of grip strength is often underrated. A strong grip can help you be a better athlete in many different ways. Good grip strength can help you perform heavier barbell lifts, hold onto dumbbells for longer sets, master pull-ups, and complete rope climbs.
One of the best ways to work your grip strength is to perform the farmer’s carry. This basic kettlebell exercise requires you to pick up an identical kettlebell in each hand. Holding the kettlebells tightly to your sides, walk around an open area. If your grip strength is weak, you’ll notice how quickly you need to drop the kettlebells. This workout will also give your shoulders a good burn. (Pro tip: The key to this movement is keeping your core tight.)
4. Bent Over Kettlebell Flies
Searching for a kettlebell back exercise? Bent over flies are your ticket. Find two lightweight kettlebells. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart and bend over at the hips. Keep your back straight and your knees slightly bent. Pick up the kettlebells, then raise each arm out to the side until fully extended. Focus on activating your lats (the long muscles that run down your back) instead of compensating with your shoulders. A great trick is to imagine squeezing a dollar bill between your shoulder blades.
This kettlebell exercise will mainly work your lats, but you’ll also activate your traps, your core, and your shoulders. (Here are some more powerful back workouts.)
5. Kettlebell Press
When it’s time for chest day, try this kettlebell chest exercise. Sit down on an inclined bench or chair. Make sure your back is resting against the chair. Take a lightweight kettlebell in each hand and start with your elbows back and at your sides. Keeping your feet firmly on the floor, press the kettlebells out in front of you until your arms are fully extended. Slowly, pull the kettlebells back in.
The kettlebells will feel more awkward than the chest press machine or pressing with dumbbells. That’s the point. Your stabilizer muscles will have to work harder to help you control the weight. Anytime you use two kettlebells, it’s a good opportunity to check if one side of your body is stronger than the other (Hint: this is almost always the case). You’ll want to work on any asymmetries you find.
6. Kettlebell High Pull
Another great kettlebell exercise that can serve as both cardio and resistance training is the kettlebell high pull. Choose a medium or heavy kettlebell and place it on the ground between your feet. Spread your feet out to shoulder-distance apart. Keeping a flat back, push back your hips, and bend your knees. (Note: Do not round your back!) Grab the handle of the kettlebell. Activating your posterior chain, stand up and pull the kettlebell up along your body. As you pull, flair your elbows up and outside. Try to bring your knuckles under your chin. With control, lower the kettlebell and repeat the movement.
The kettlebell high pull is a good kettlebell leg exercise and kettlebell arm exercise. It will activate the posterior chain as well as the shoulders, chest, and upper back muscles. (Check out some other great shoulder workouts.)
7. Kettlebell Russian Twist
While many of the kettlebell exercises already listed activate the core, the kettlebell Russian twist is a wonderful kettlebell exercise for the abs. Choose a lightweight or moderate weight kettlebell. Set it next to you on a mat and begin on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground. Lift your shoulders from the ground, and grab the kettlebell by the “horns.” Tighten your abs, then twist to one side, gently tapping the ground with the bottom of the kettlebell. Twist to the other side and repeat the movement. Keep twisting.
This exercise will light up your abdominals and strengthen your obliques, the long muscles on each side of your abs. (Here are some more ab exercises you can do with a stability ball.)
8. Kettlebell Clean and Press
For a more advanced kettlebell exercise, try the kettlebell clean and press. You can do this with a single kettlebell, using one arm at a time or with two kettlebells simultaneously. This instruction will incorporate two kettlebells.
Choose two lightweight or medium-weight kettlebells and place them in front of your feet on the ground. Your feet should be hip-width distance apart. Pushing your hips back, bend your knees and grab each kettlebell by the handle. Keep your back flat, not rounded. In an explosive movement, pull the kettlebells up the front of your body. As you bring the kettlebells up, lift to your toes. When the kettlebells get to chest height, snap your elbows under your body and bend your legs to catch the kettlebells in a quarter squat. Be careful that the kettlebells don’t come crashing down onto the sides of your arms.
Next, straighten up, using the momentum to press both kettlebells overhead. Try to get both arms straight with your elbows by your ears. If you have a weaker side, you’ll definitely feel it here.
The kettlebell clean and press is a difficult movement. It may be best to have a trainer at your gym watch you the first time you try this kettlebell exercise.
Five Full-Body Kettlebell Workouts
Ready to perform some kettlebell workouts? Then give these five best kettlebell workouts a try.
1. Kettlebell HIIT Workout
Perform each movement at high intensity for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. For more advanced exercisers, perform 40 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest.
- Russian kettlebell swings
- Kettlebell high pulls
- Kettlebell push press (Don’t perform the clean. Just the press. Bring the kettlebells back to the front rack position and press again.)
- Kettlebell Russian twists
2. Kettlebell Booty Workout
- 20 kettlebell lunges – Hold two lightweight kettlebells in the front rack position and lunge. Each lunge counts as one rep.
- 20 box step-ups – Hold a lightweight kettlebell in each hand down at your sides, like with the farmer’s carry. Step onto a medium-height box. Stand up tall at the top.
- 20 goblet squats
- Rest one minute between rounds
3. Kettlebell Cardio All Day Long
Perform three rounds with a lightweight kettlebell(s)
- 30 kettlebell high pulls
- 30 kettlebell box step-ups
- 30 kettlebell goblet squats
- 30 kettlebell swings
4. Kettlebell Strength Circuit
Perform four rounds of the following circuit with a medium-weight kettlebell:
- 20 Kettlebell Russian twists (back and forth is one rep)
- 10 Bent-over kettlebell flies
- 20 Kettlebell chest presses
- 10 Goblet squats with one second pause at the bottom
- Rest one minute between circuits.
5. 10… 9…. 8…
Perform the following three movements to the rep scheme of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. To make the workout easier, go down by two reps each round. Choose a lightweight or medium-weight kettlebell.
- Kettlebell swings
- Kettlebell box step-ups
- Kettlebell clean and presses
- Example of the workout scheme will look like:
- 10 kettlebell swings, 10 kettlebell box step-ups, 10 kettlebell clean and presses
- 9 kettlebell swings, 9 kettlebell box step-ups, 9 kettlebell clean and presses
- 8 kettlebell swings, 8 kettlebell step-ups, 8 kettlebell clean and presses
Grab a Kettlebell
There you have it, five excellent full-body kettlebell workouts. If you’ve never worked out with a kettlebell before, build a workout with basic kettlebell exercises first and use lighter kettlebells. As you become more familiar with the kettlebell, test your progress by working with heavier kettlebells. For extra help, see if your gym offers kettlebell-based fitness classes or ask a gym staff member for more guidance.
At EōS Fitness, you can find top-of-the-line kettlebells as well as highly experienced, friendly personal trainers who can help you achieve your fitness goals.