As an athlete, you know the value in mixing up your workouts. Rather than waltz into the gym and perform the exact same workout day after day, you choose a balanced — but varied — program. You mix together cardio, HIIT workouts, strength training, and plenty of rest to continuously surprise your body and ultimately see results.
That variety in training is precisely why I love kettlebell exercises.
Due to its strange shape, the kettlebell challenges your body in different ways. The kettlebell has a different center of gravity compared to a barbell or dumbbell, offering a source of instability for your workouts. In other words, you're forced to constantly counterbalance its weight throughout each exercise, providing an added challenge.
Below, I dive into the best kettlebell exercises you can include in your workouts, the value of kettlebell training, and how kettlebells can make you a better athlete.
What Is Kettlebell Training?
The International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF) describes a kettlebell as "a traditional Russian training tool that has been used since the turn of the century to develop full body conditioning and fitness."
Kettlebells are typically a cast iron weight, made with a ball and a handle. Like dumbbells, kettlebells range in weight from 8 kilograms to 48 kilograms (or even more).
Kettlebell training involves using this piece of equipment to design a full-body workout. A kettlebell workout routine challenges your strength, power, balance, coordination, and mobility. Throughout a typical workout, you'll perform basic kettlebell exercises including kettlebell rows, goblet squats, deadlifts, and an overhead press.
How Kettlebell Exercises Can Make You a Better Athlete
Kettlebell training offers two primary advantages. First, it allows you to challenge your body in different ways; second, it allows you to progress each movement (beyond just adding weight).
Kettlebells challenge your body in different ways because it forces you to use your core, taxes both aerobic and anaerobic systems, and even improves your grip strength. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Fitness Research showed that the experimental group (strength training experienced athletes) had significant improvements in aerobic capacity (13.8%), leg press strength (14.8%), grip strength (9%), and core strength (70%) as result of kettlebell-based training.
In addition, kettlebells progress your workouts. Sometimes, we erroneously believe the only way to make a workout more difficult is by adding more weight. In reality, there are a number of ways to make the same workout increasingly more difficult, by adding a source of instability (i.e., using a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell), making exercises more explosive (a kettlebell swing), or tweaking the number of sets or reps (doing an AMRAP — “as many rounds as possible” — of kettlebell movements).
The Best Kettlebell Exercises for Your Workout
Depending on your goals, you have a very broad spectrum of kettlebell-based training methods to choose from according to your needs. I am a certified kettlebell instructor and train with kettlebells about two times per week. For my current goals and related training routines, kettlebells are complementary and supplementary to specific sports like climbing, Thai boxing, and obstacle races.
Here are some of the top kettlebell exercises.
1. Kettlebell Swing
To do a kettlebell swing, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. The kettlebell should be roughly 20 centimeters in front of you.
Grab the handle of the kettlebell with both hands. Keeping your core engaged, shoulders rolled back and down, and your hamstrings fired, swing the kettlebell back between your legs (almost like you are "hiking" an American football). When you reach your end of motion, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as hard as you can, sending the kettlebell back through your legs, so your arms are roughly parallel to the ground.
2. Kettlebell Clean and Press
Unlike a barbell clean, the kettlebell clean is a single-arm exercise. Start with your feet hip-width apart, gripping the kettlebell handle in your right hand.
To begin this explosive movement, dip down into a half squat, then jump upward, sending your right elbow up and behind your right shoulder (almost into a high pull) Land in a squat position, holding the kettlebell as though you are about to do an overhead press (this is called a "rack position"). Now, simply extend your arm, sending the weight overhead into a press.
3. Single-Arm Floor Press
A kettlebell floor press is essentially a single-arm chest press. Start by laying on the ground with your lower back pushed firmly into the floor. Keep your knees bent, pressing your feet into the floor.
Extend your left arm directly over your left chest, perpendicular to the ground (you may need to use both arms to get the kettlebell to your starting position). Squeezing your core, lower your left arm, bringing the kettlebell so it's almost touching your chest (make sure your left elbow is at a 45-degree angle from your torso). Then, do a kettlebell press to return your arm to your starting position.
4. Turkish Get-Up
Note: This exercise is incredibly complicated, and very difficult to do with proper form. Please watch the video I link to in the next paragraph if there is any confusion, and start with lighter weight (or no weight) the first time you perform this exercise.
Start the Turkish get-up by laying on the floor, your lower back pressed firmly against the ground. Bend your left leg (so the bottom of your left foot is close to your glute), while fully extending your right leg. Hold the kettlebell in your left hand, sending the kettlebell overhead, so your left arm is perpendicular to your ground. Extend your right hand (free hand) so your right arm is perpendicular to your upper body, palm facing down, almost in a windmill position.
Now, try to raise your body, while keeping the kettlebell directly overhead. When you reach your end range of motion, swing your right leg (extended leg) back behind you, so you are now in a seated lunge (with your left knee in front of you and your right foot behind you). Now, stand up straight.
5. Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Begin the goblet squat with your feet shoulder width apart. Grip the handle with both hands, bringing the kettlebell toward your chest, with your elbows tucked in by your sides (the top of the handle should rest almost beneath your chin).
Squeeze your core, roll your shoulders back and down and drop into a parallel squat (if you have tight hips or ankles, try moving your feet further apart, almost in a sumo squat position). Once you reach your end range of motion, return to your standing position. Be careful to keep your knees out while standing (do not allow them to cave in).
Besides those five exercises, other kettlebell classics include the snatch, clean and jerk, and lunges (in all sorts of variations).
Kettlebell Exercises Challenge Your Body in New Ways
Kettlebells can be a very effective training tool to continuously challenge your body in different ways.
Kettlebell exercises are a tool to make a familiar workout challenging. By adding a source of instability, you are forced to activate your core, focus on balance, and use both your anaerobic and aerobic systems.
However, as with all things fitness, kettlebells are not a "magic bullet" for training. A well-balanced workout program will always focus on nutrition, strength, cardio, and rest — the four pillars used in 4 Legs Fitness. For a complete training program that incorporates all four aspects of fitness, become a member of the Build Bullet-Proof Health program today.
For health and fitness updates and discounts subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.
For health and fitness updates and discounts, subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.