Kettlebell workouts can be deceptive. A kettlebell can be used to work almost every muscle in your body simultaneously. What may look like a simple workout involving a kettlebell can and will leave you sweaty, confused and exhausted.
What is a Kettlebell?
Athletes have been using kettlebell workouts to build strength and cut fat since the eighteenth century, where they were first documented in Russia. Since then…not much has changed, honestly. Kettlebells are free weights made out of either cast iron or steel. The base is round with a handle over the top, resembling a portable cannonball or an instrument of death, however you choose to look at it.
Kettlebells are still so popular in Russia that it has its own sport dedicated to it — kettlebell sport lifting. However, they’re making a comeback around the rest of the world as well as international athletes have began realizing what a dynamic and innovative piece of equipment a simple ball of cast iron can be.
Kettlebells can be measured in pounds or poods. Pood is a Russian unit of measurement equal to about 36 pounds. Standard kettlebell sizes are 1 pood (36 pounds), 1.5 poods (53 pounds) or 2 poods (70 pounds). However, you can find kettlebells all the way down to a few pounds and all the way up to hundreds of pounds.
How to Use Kettlebells
Kettlebells can be used to workout many different parts of your body in many different ways. Kettlebell workouts or incorporating kettlebells into an existing workout can build strength, cut fat and increase mobility simultaneously. Not only that, but kettlebell workouts are easy to do at home, in a hotel room or outside.
Below, we’ve listed some of the more popular kettlebell workouts with our lovely website founder Harris as model. These movements can be combined in different rep schemes to create kettlebell workouts that will leave you flat on your back, all while using only one piece of equipment. For an example of a fully programmed workout, check out our Fitness Friday: Kettlebell Edition.
22 Kettlebell Exercises to Whip You Into Shape
1. American Kettlebell Swings
Benefits: Strengthens Hips, Core Stability and Shoulders
When doing an American kettlebell swing, you will start with the kettlebell between your legs. Keeping a flat back and neutral spine, you will then swing the kettlebell overhead until your arms and shoulders line up over your hips. Make sure to stick your head through.
During this movement, you should be using momentum from your hips and core to move the kettlebell upwards. If you’re having issues keeping the kettlebell stable overhead or using your arms to lift it, drop to a lower weight.
2. Russian Kettlebell Swings
Benefits: Strengthens Hips and Core
Russian kettlebell swings are very similar to American kettlebell swings. The key difference is where you stop the kettlebe
ll. In an American swing, you bring the kettlebell all the way over head. In a Russian kettlebell, you swing only to eye-level, as demonstrated above.
3. Farmer’s Carry
Benefits: Grip strength
A farmer’s carry is great way to work on grip strength and put your forearm muscles to the test. You can do a farmer’s carry with one kettlebell in one hand or with a kettlebell on either side. Although the weight should be heavy, you should be able to carry the kettlebells at least 200 meters without stopping, so keep that in mind when choosing.
4. Waiter’s Carry
Benefits: Strengthens shoulders and lats
A waiter’s carry is similar to a farmer’s carry in that it can be done with either one kettlebell or two. You will most likely have to use a lighter weight on your waiter’s carry than you pulled during your farmer’s carry unless your upper-body strength is just ridiculous.
Keep the same principle in mind when choosing a weight — you should be able to carry this weight overhead for at least 200 meters without putting it down. This workout is a testament to your forearm strength and shoulder stability. Get ready to feel the burn.
5. Floor Press
Benefits: Increases core stability and strengthens shoulders, chest and back
The floor press is great because it’s versatile — you literally need an open piece of floor to try it. It’s also a great way to make sure you’re firing the correct muscle groups when building strength.
When you do a floor press, your core should be tight and your lower back should be pressing into the floor. Floor presses promote core and shoulder stability while also helping to build strength in your shoulders, traps and back.
6. Kettlebell Snatch
Benefits: Increase balance and explosiveness
Besides helping you to look like a Games athlete — pretty cool, if you ask us — the kettlebell snatch is great for working on a variety of fitness elements with one movement.
To do a proper kettlebell snatch, start with the kettlebell on the floor with your feet shoulder width apart over the equipment. Grab the kettlebell handle (while maintaining a neutral spine, like you would in any other lift) and quite literally snatch the kettlebell over your head, throwing your hips forward to give yourself momentum.
You can receive the kettlebell in the power position as shown above or in a squat position. You should be able to move the kettlebell pretty efficiently throughout the movement — consider dropping your weight if you’re struggling to get it overhead quickly.
7. Lunging Figure-8s
Benefits: Improves Balance and Coordination; Strengthens Legs and Hips
This kettlebell workout combines lunges (which are a worthy workout on their own) with passing a kettlebell off between your legs during each movement.
This makes the lunges substantially more difficult and will help you as an athlete work on your coordination and accuracy. Plus, they look pretty cool.
8. Kettlebell Deadlifts
Benefits: Strengthens Legs and Core
It’s hard to forget the EXTREMELY heavy kettlebell deadlift carries in the 2015 CrossFit Games. Many athletes walked away with hands looking like they’d been through meat grinders.
If you’re not quite ready to pick up 203-pound kettlebells — and yes, that’s in each hand — no need to fear. You can do kettlebell deadlifts at a much lighter weight.
A kettlebell deadlift is exactly like a barbell deadlift and it recruits and benefits the same muscle groups. Remember to keep your back straight and lift from your posterior chain.
9. Goblet Squats
Benefits: Improves Balance and Increases Leg and Hip Strength
The squat is a pretty standard movement with a lot of a la carte options. The goblet squat will not only help you continue to build strength in your squat, but will also help you get used to standing up underneath weight.
Incorporate these into your warm ups and workouts to see better results with your squat cleans and snatches…or just for a better booty, if lifting isn’t your thing.
10. Kettlebell Push Ups
Benefits: Strengthens Shoulders, Core and Legs
If you’re concerned about your push up form, a couple of kettlebells is an easy way to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
Kettlebell push ups are similar to more “traditional” push ups, where you don’t touch your chest to the floor, as opposed to CrossFit push ups, which are (generally, but not always) considered a no rep if your thighs and chest don’t touch the floor.
Place the two kettlebells on the floor shoulder-width apart and then use them to do push ups on, going as low as possible. You should notice pretty quickly if you aren’t keeping your core and glutes crunched. For more of a back workout, widen the kettlebells.
11. Kettlebell Row
Benefits: Strengthens Lats, Traps and Shoulders
If you need help turning on your lazy lats, try a few kettlebell rows.
During a kettlebell row, your core should always be turned on and your spine should stay in a flat, neutral position.
Create a 45 degree angle with your body by bending at the waist. Pick up your kettlebells and beginning from right above your feet, pull them back towards your chest. If you need help determining a weight, remember that this should be a fairly difficult movement.
12. Kettlebell Thrusters
Benefits: Increases Shoulder Strength and Grip Strength
Just when you thought the thruster couldn’t get any worse, they added the kettlebell.
The basics are similar to that of a barbell thruster. The movement should be fluid and explosive, starting from a rack position, descending into a full squat below parallel, and then rapidly bursting upwards into a full overhead press.
13. One-handed Kettlebell Swing
Benefits: Strengthens Core and Shoulders
If you’re looking to isolate muscle groups or perhaps get around an injury, the one-handed kettlebell swing may be exactly what you’re looking for.
If you’re familiar with a kettlebell swing, you’ll know what to expect — keep your bottom and core tight, use your hips for momentum and engage your shoulders for stopping power.
14. Kettlebell Push Press
Benefits: Strengthens Shoulders, Legs and Core
A kettlebell push press is just like a barbell push press with literally no key differences besides — very obviously — the equipment used.
Kettlebell weight is going to distribute a little differently than a barbell, so throw these into your workout occasionally just to mix things up and keep your exercise varied.
15. Russian Twists
Benefits: Strengthens Abs and Glutes
Russian twists are an evil but genius way to work on ab muscles often neglected in exercises like sit ups or GHDs.
You can do Russian twists with weights as light at a five pound bumper or ratchet up the challenge by throwing a heavy kettlebell into the mix. Trust us, your six pack will thank you later.
16. Sumo Deadlift High Pulls
Benefits: Strengthens Hips, Core Stability, Shoulders and Back
A sumo deadlift high pull is an explosive movement that can be done with a kettlebell or a barbell.
You should start with the kettlebell on the floor with your feet shoulder width apart. Using perfect form — shoulders back, back flat — pick up the kettlebell and quickly pull it beneath your chin, using momentum from your hips.
As usual, keep the core tight kiddos!
17. Strict Press
Benefits: Strengthens Shoulders, Back and Core
Want to work on lifts without loading up a barbell? Grab a couple of kettlebells to really perfect your form.
A kettlebell strict press, just like a regular strict press, doesn’t allow for any movement of the legs or feet. Instead, you are to use only your core, arm, back and lat muscles to push the weight over your head. It’s harder than it sounds.
Since you aren’t typically going to be looking to hit a PR with kettlebell strict presses, take the time to really concentrate on your form and on firing each muscle correctly.
18. Turkish Get Ups
Benefits: Strengthens Core and Skill Work
Want the core workout of a lifetime? Do a few heavy turkish get ups.
A turkish get up is a complex set of movements designed to teach an athlete how to safely put weight overhead while underneath it.
There are several steps to a proper turkish get up and all require your abs to be locked in airtight alongside a tucked in rib cage and engaged glute and shoulder muscles. BodyBuilding.com has a great guide to performing a turkish get up correctly as well as correcting common mistakes.
19. Weighted Lunges
Benefits: Balance, Core Stability
The lunge is already a pretty nasty bodyweight movement on its own, but kettlebells can be incorporated several different ways to add a new element of fitness to the movement, making the lunge (and the kettlebell) extremely dynamic.
When lunging, your torso and glute muscles should always stay tight and you should rise up from the floor by engaging those muscles, as opposed to lifting with your chest.
When you add a weighted kettlebell into the mix, it just makes that muscle tension a little more dramatic as you ascend and descend into each lunge. It can also be a pretty moderate workout for your shoulders and traps.
20. Overhead Weighted Lunges
Benefits: Increases Core and Shoulder Stability
Lunges are a movement similar to squats — they’re fine by themselves, but there are so many fun ways to spice them up.
An overhead lunge is a great way to work on your core and shoulder stability while shredding your quads. Many people think of overhead anything as an arm and shoulder workout, but in reality, your core muscles should be taking the heaviest hit. Not to say your shoulders won’t get a little sore in the process…
Benefits: Increase Lat Strength and Core Stability
Windmills can be an effective movement for building lat strength while giving your ab muscles a severe workout.
Start with a kettlebell stabilized overhead — don’t be afraid to stay light. Then, keeping your core engaged and your legs locked out, slowly reach down with your other arm and touch your foot. This exercise is not about speed, but intensity and keeping all of your muscles tight and turned on.
A set of ten windmills with a light kettlebell is a great warm up. You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings all the way down through your calves.
22. Kettlebell Clean and Jerks
Benefits: Strengthens Shoulders
A kettlebell clean and jerk is yep, just what you’d expect — just like a barbell clean and jerk. The key difference here is that the weight is concentrated on one side, making it a hyper workout for the shoulder of your choosing.
Clean and jerks work every muscle group from the top the the bottom and are a great exercise to increase strength, stability and general explosiveness.