Kettlebells offer a great way to strengthen and shape your muscles using functional exercises, many of which mimic every day movements that we use throughout our daily lives. If you’re new to using this type of workout gear, you might find it confusing as to what kind of movements and exercise variety kettlebells offer.
Fear not, there are literally hundreds of different exercises you can perform right in the comfort of your home, with very little space required to get a great strength or cardio workout in whenever you please.
When first starting out, we recommend sticking to basic exercises, like those listed on this page, and to perform each movement exactly as described at a slow to moderate speed, focusing on form and safety to avoid being sidelined with an injury.
You can use your kettlebells up to 5 days a week. Allow at least two days for recovery, back-to-back, or split up on different days throughout the week. For the first few weeks, choose two or three of the exercises listed below and perform 2 – 3 sets of each for 10 repetitions.
As you get a better feel for proper technique, you can move onto heavier weights if you wish, along with increasing your repertoire of movements with more advanced techniques.
- Women typically use 5 – 30lb kettlebells depending on the movement being performed.
- Men typically use 8 – 60lb kettlebells, also depending on the movement being performed.
Never perform swings or overhead pressing movements with weights you find difficult to control. There’s no shame in starting out light for a few workouts, even if you know you can handle much heavier poundages. Proper technique is key to keeping your muscles, joints and back injury-free!
1. Kettlebell Thrusters (Legs, glutes, back, core, shoulders, arms)
Thrusters are an excellent warmup exercise that taxes the entire body. You can start this movement by performing a couple of sets without weights to get the blood flowing before grabbing a pair of kettlebells. If you’ve ever watched a CrossFit competition, you’ve likely seen thrusters performed with barbells, but kettlebells or dumbbells require a bit more mind/body connection to get your balance just right.
Grab a kettlebell in each hand using a palms-in grip and lift them up to shoulder with your palms facing in front of you with the kettlebells resting on your forearms or wrists (see illustration). Place your legs in a shoulder width stance with toes pointing slightly outward.
Squat down to parallel or below if you’re an experienced squatter, driving up out of the bottom and start pressing the kettlebells overhead to full extension as you reach the top of the squat.
After your legs and arms are locked out, allow your arms to return to the starting position before repeating the thrusting sequence for the desired number of reps.
Example of kettlebell thrusters:
2. Kettlebell Deadlift (Legs, glutes, back, core)
Almost everyone has performed a deadlift at some point in their journey to become stronger and more physically fit. Kettlebell deadlifts can be performed using a single kettlebell held between the legs, or by using two held at the side of either leg. As you get stronger, don’t be afraid to lift progressively more weight, as this movement taxes the entire body and will make your muscles grow if you keep increasing the size of the kettlebell.
If using a single kettlebell, stand with legs shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell located at the middle-point between your feet. If using two kettlebells, assume the same stance but with kettlebells on either side of your feet.
Bend down with your knees, back held straight with eyes facing forward and up slightly, grab the kettlebell(s) with a palms-in grip, then drive upward using your legs as much as you can.
Return kettlebell(s) to floor without bending your back or dipping your head. Repeat movement without resting.
3. Kettlebell Goblet Squat (Legs, glutes, shoulders, biceps, core)
The Goblet Squat works similar muscle groups as the barbell front squat, but does give additional work to the arms and core due to the position the kettlebell is held in. Heavier weights can be used as you get stronger, but be careful not to allow the weight to pull your torso forward and/or down as this can place undue stress on the lower back.
Grab a kettlebell you can comfortably lift up and hold close to your chest using a palms-in grip, and assume a shoulder-width stance with toes pointing slightly outward.
Lift kettlebell to chest level and hold it in tight to your body so you can maintain good posture.
Keep your back straight and lower to a parallel or below-parallel squatting position, making sure the kettlebell is always held tight to the chest, then drive with your legs and glutes back to the standing position. Repeat movement without resting.
4. Kettlebell Russian Swing (Works entire upper and lower body)
The Russian Swing is an excellent beginner’s exercise that focuses on all major muscle groups. Start out with sets of 10 and progressively increase the repetitions to 25 or more as your body gets accustomed to it, to make the movement into a dual-purpose cardio and muscle building movement.
Grab a single kettlebell with a palms-in grip facing the body, assume a shoulder-width stance, and start movement from a standing position with kettlebell in front of your pelvic area.
Bend into a quarter-squat position while bending forward slightly at the hips and allowing a slight bit of momentum to swing the kettlebell back in between your legs (note: your outer forearms should bump your inner thighs at the end of the backward swing position).
Using your hips, core and shoulders; drive the weight upward with arms straight, not bent, up to chest level or slightly higher. Repeat entire swinging motion without resting the kettlebell at top or bottom.
5. Kettlebell Squat High Pull (Legs, glutes, shoulders, arms, core)
The high pull is a great toning exercise that places a lot of work on the lower body, shoulders, core and upper back. Don’t go too heavy on this one until you’ve spent a few weeks practicing as it places a lot of stress on the rotator cuff of the shoulder.
Place a light kettlebell between your feet, with feet facing shoulder-width apart and toes slightly turned outward.
Squat down, keeping back straight, and grab the kettlebell using a palm-in grip.
With your arm straight, simultaneously drive upward with legs as you would in a squat and swing the kettlebell up over your head using the muscles in your shoulder. Repeat with other arm after performing 10 reps, or feel free to alternate arms until reaching the desired number of total reps.
6. Kettlebell One Arm Row (Back, shoulders, arms, core)
The focus with the one arm row is on the upper body, but do keep in mind that the legs and glutes also get in some work, as they’re needed to stabilize the body as you perform the movement. Perform this movement freestanding or by resting your free hand on a bench, desk, wall, etc.
Grab a kettlebell with one hand and stand with legs slightly apart.
Bend your back at a 45-degree angle and let the kettlebell hang down in front of your leg at your side.
Lift the kettlebell using your back and arm until it touches your lower abdomen. Repeat for 10 or more reps then switch sides.
7. Kettlebell Lunge (Legs, glutes, core)
The lunge is great for strengthening the lower body and core muscles and is also perfect for shaping the hips and glutes. It’s also an excellent cardio movement. If you have a large room, garage or driveway, lunge away until you can’t take another step! You can perform this movement using one kettlebell held in front of the body in the same position used in the Goblet Squat, or by holding two kettlebells on either side of the body. Kneepads are a great idea if you plan to do them on a hard surface without mats or carpeting to protect you.
After deciding whether you’re going to use one kettlebell held to the chest or two located on either side, assume the starting position with both feet together.
“Lunge” forward with one foot, traveling about the same length or slightly greater than you would while jogging; squat with the front leg while allowing the rear leg to lightly touch the ground underneath you.
As the rear knee touches the ground, drive forward using the legs, glutes and hips and return to the feet-together, beginning standing position. Alternate from one leg to the other. If space is at a premium, simply turn your body around 180-degrees after each lunge and go back in the same direction you came from.
8. Seated or Standing Core Twist
This exercise is all about core strengthening and toning. Standing will give your core and also the glutes and hips a slightly better workout, but many people feel more comfortable performing this exercise while seated. Heavier weights can be used as you get stronger, but slow the speed of the twisting motion as the weight progresses. Never overextend yourself to the point where you feel pain or hear cracking or popping in your back.
Grab a light or moderate weighted kettlebell and pull it up to your chest just as you did with the Goblet Squat, then either stand with feet shoulder-width apart or sit down on a bench or chair that allows you to rest your feet comfortably on the ground.
Hold the kettlebell tight to the chest in front of the solar plexus and twist your upper body at the waist, stopping wherever it feels comfortable before immediately twisting back in the other direction.
Don’t count reps on this exercise, go until you feel a real aching burn in your abs and lower back muscles!
That’s it. Get started with the 8 kettlebell exercises listed above and you’ll be giving yourself a great and taxing all-body workout that’ll have you on your way to a stronger, leaner, fitter you in no time!
Stop back in after your first few weeks to learn more advanced kettlebell exercises to add into your routine. The real beauty of using kettlebells is the variety they offer. There are literally hundreds of kettlebell exercises, with multiple variations of each, to ensure your workout routine never gets stale or boring.
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