The swing is an amazing workout, targeting the glutes, hamstrings and back, plus the cardiovascular system – but if that’s all you’ve been doing with a kettlebell, you’re missing out!
From building functional strength to working on endurance and even mobility, the humble kettlebell has a lot to offer. You could start with these 9 movements, then as you get more confident start to sub them in for barbells to work on unilateral strength, or even create your own movements to target your needs and weaknesses.
Read on to hear my 9 best kettlebell workout movements and watch a video of how to do them!
The benefits of using kettlebells
The main reason why kettlebells are so awesome is because they are so versatile – whatever you can do with a barbell or a dumbbell, you can do with a kettlebell, except it’s slightly more difficult. That’s because you’re working to stabilise the kettlebell, as the centre of weight is slightly away from your hand.
Provided you’re working in the right rep ranges with the right amount of rest, it’s also a really good cardiovascular workout but is low impact – that is, there’s no running or jumping involved – so training with kettlebells is ideal for those who suffer with joint problems. They’re also classed as functional training, meaning that it transfers into real life – everything from picking up kids and gardening, to climbing mountains for fun.
All that, and they easily fit into your house! I have two: one lighter, one heavier for different movements. Try some different weights and find out what you’re able to do, but make sure it’s a challenging weight too.
What to do with a kettlebell?
Here’s nine suggestions for movements to try with your kettlebell. See what works for you and what you enjoy, but don’t forget to be creative and try out different stuff too.
How many sets and reps?
This one is up to you and is dependent on what your goals are. If you’re working specifically on getting stronger, try doing 5 reps of a weight you almost hit failure with. Rest for 90 seconds and repeat 3 times.
If you’d like to grow muscle, then it’s 8-12 reps with a 1 minute rest, 3-4 times over. Again, pick a weight that you’ll be able to complete the reps and sets with, but you’re definitely ready to put down at the end!
For endurance, you’re looking at rep ranges upwards of 15. Maybe try these movements in a circuit with 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off, with a minute rest between each round. This one is likely to get grippy and gassy, so err on the side of light here for your kettlebell weight.
Let’s start with a movement you’ll already be familiar with – the deadlift. Almost all of the time your kettlebell deadlift will be lighter than your barbell deadlift, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its benefits: for newbie lifters, deadlifting the kettlebell will really cement neural pathways of the hip-hinge movement and for more advanced lifters the thickness of the kettlebell handle will strengthen your grip, so as you get accustomed to that you’ll be able to deadlift heavier before changing to switch grip.
Set up with your feet outside of the kettlebell (if you’re using one – for two, they’ll be on the outside), then hinging at the hip, keeping the back strong and lats engaged, grasp the kettlebell. Ensure your shins are vertical, then stand up, making sure your hips and chest rise at the same time. That’s one rep!
Kettlebell suitcase deadlift
As amazing as a deadlift is, the suitcase deadlift is possibly more beneficial as a functional movement – after all, how often in every day life do you lift something that’s an even weight on both sides? This move will also help to address imbalances for your training movements, so work to remain consistent on both sides for these.
Set up is similar to the deadlift, with a hip hinge, engaged lats, and a vertical shin. This time upon lifting brace yourself to stop the unloaded side going up before the loaded. It’s a tough one, so start light and work on technique, then when you’re confident you stay level as you lift, work up to a heavier kettlebell.
Squatting is supposed to be a primal movement for humans, but unfortunately after years of sitting behind desks we’re not so great at it anymore. Goblet squats address a lot of issues that can arise when barbell back squatting, like keeping the chest upright, keeping the knee from tracking over the toe, and preventing strain on the lower back.
Hold the kettlebell against your chest, as above or by the horns, whichever is more natural to you. Position your feet just outside of shoulder-width with your feet pointed slightly outwards. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back, then sit into the squat, pushing your knees out, going as deep as your mobility will allow. Push the floor away to stand back up.
Kettlebell single arm row
As well as being a great move in its own right, this is fantastic for activating the lats before doing pull ups or any compound moves like deadlifts.
Picking the kettlebell up from the ground, hinge from the hip whilst keeping a strong back. Lift the kettlebell, aiming the elbow towards the lower waist and slightly away from the body. Sometimes my traps activate during this lift – I counter it by keeping a neutral head and going down in weight.
Kettlebell clean and jerk
I do love a clean! Kettlebell cleans are hard work though – controlling each arm individually with the centre of mass in a different place is a total changed movement than with a barbell. Essentially, though, a clean and jerk is always taking the weight from the floor to overhead in two movements.
To set up, it’s that hip hinge with a vertical shin again. The kettlebell will be between your feet, and you’ll grab the handles with your knuckles facing the opposite leg. Begin to lift from the floor, then when the KB is past your knees, violently extend at the hips and guide the kettlebell to your shoulder. From there, you can strict press, push press (bend knees and push up) or push jerk (like a push press, but bend knees as you land) to get the bell overhead.
Like the clean and jerk, the snatch is getting the kettlebell from the ground to overhead, but in one movement this time, and it requires extra shoulder stability to support the KB overhead after finishing the movement.
Setting up like the clean, and again extending the hip after the bell passes your knee, but this time you’ll send the elbow up before turning over and ending with a slight press. This press will stop the kettlebell from flipping hard and hurting your wrist.
Kettlebells for mobility
I told you they were versatile – yes, you can even use kettlebells to aid with your mobility! This should be done with caution (and definitely not if you’re pregnant or recently given birth – your joints will be more relaxed so more open to injury) but added resistance can help get into some harder-to-stretch areas.
Holding a kettlebell behind your head, as above left, will help release tight lats. I have very tight hamstrings, so I’m feeling a fantastic stretch in the middle image even with a bent knee, but you can move around until you feel the benefit. Keep your back braced and head neutral. Finally – those pesky ankles! Ankles can take a long time to become mobile, but adding weight helps stretch them out so you can easily keep heels on the floor when squatting.
This has been one of my most favourite posts to write and create ever (not least because of the incredible photos by Hannah from Wedges & Weights!) so let me know in the comments whether you enjoyed it too, and of course if there’s anything I’ve missed. Hopefully you now feel confident to grab the bell by its horns and craft your very own kettlebell workout, tailored to your own goals!
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