Have you ever noticed that strange-looking, handled cannonball in the corner of the gym? Maybe you’ve seen someone swinging it around and wondered why or how? Well, you’re in luck, because it’s one of the best tools around for full-body workouts!
Kettlebells, like a pair of dumbbells, are pieces of free-forming gym equipment that can be great tools in helping you reach your fitness goals, but with kettlebells and dumbbells seemingly so alike, it can be difficult to know which one to grab. While kettlebells are somewhat similar to a pair dumbbells, there are a few obvious (and non-obvious) differences between the two, starting with their shape. Kettlebells have rounded handles on the top with its weight beneath it, whereas dumbbell handles are in the center with weights evenly distributed on the ends—but we’re guessing you probably knew that. But what you might not know is how a kettlebell’s design influences each movement. Since the weight is underneath the kettlebell handle, it requires more stability and core strength to lift the kettlebell because of it’s uncentered and unbalanced nature. Not only that, but kettlebells are one of the best pieces of functional equipment to use because they mimic movements that we do in everyday life, like carrying heavy grocery bags. Plus, you really only need one kettlebell to get a great workout in, which means they’re the perfect solution for home workouts—or for when the gym is busy.
Okay, so if we still haven’t convinced you yet, the American Council of Exercise (ACE), also found that kettlebell training can have a significant impact on aerobic capacity, while simultaneously increasing your core strength and dynamic balance. So yes, kettlebell workouts can basically triple as a full-body, core, AND cardio workout all-in-one when used correctly. Ready to jump on the kettlebell bandwagon yet? Before you do, here are a few tips from John P. Porcari, Ph.D who conducted the ACE research study:
- Get a minimum of two to three training sessions with a personal trainer or coach.
- Always lift with your lower body, never with your back or arms.
- Consider using a workout video (try our Facebook workouts daily at 8:30am CST!), to follow along with for proper form.
You’ll also need to select the right weight for kettlebell training. Watch this quick tutorial on choosing the right kettlebell for you.
Note: if you’re just starting out, use lighter weights so you can focus on your form before increasing the pounds.
Full-Body Kettlebell Workout
We’re breaking down a few of the best kettlebell exercises to do at the gym, or in your home workouts, that will have you building strength and shredding pounds in less than 30 minutes! These moves will target most—if not all—muscle groups in your upper and lower body.
Remember, if you’re a kettlebell newbie, there can be a learning curve to some of these moves and it can take days, weeks, even months to feel like a kettlebell swinging pro. Don’t give up!
Complete 10 repetitions of each movement with 30-60 seconds of rest in between each set initially to turn these six exercises into a strength training AND circuit training session. Remember to be controlled in movements and focus on form first with lighter weights.
As you progress, continue with 10 repetitions but cut down on time in between exercises. See how many sets you can get through in 30 minutes. You’ll see an increase in cardio demands when attempting the workout with less rest. Get swingin’!
The kettlebell deadlift is a great way to get started with mastering the kettlebell swinging technique. This exercise will target your each muscle group in your lower body, as well as your lower back. It will also help you learn to initiate momentum from your hips—and not your arms!
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with the kettlebell resting on the ground between your feet; this is the starting position for a lot of the upcoming moves.
- Squat down, keeping your chest upright and shoulder blades back. Reach down with straight arms and grab the kettlebell off the ground with both hands, being sure to keep your head and chest up.
- Press through your feet to come to standing position as you engage your glutes and core muscles at the top. The kettlebell should rise naturally—don’t try to lift it with your arms.
- Return the kettlebell back to the floor between your feet by squatting back down.
The quintessential Kettlebell move: the two-hand swing. This exercise teaches you to integrate your entire body to move the weight, hence why it’s one of our favorite moves to incorporate into full-body workouts. Keep in mind, this is not a squat, nor is it about lifting with your arms to get the kettlebell to shoulder height; it’s about using the legs and hips to power the kettlebell effortlessly through momentum. You will definitely get your heart rate up with this move! Progressions include single-hand swings and switching hands during the swing.
- For starting position, your feet should be placed shoulder-width apart (or place feet hip-width apart) with the kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you.
- Similar to the kettlebell deadlift, squat and reach down to grab the kettlebell with both hands, pushing your hips backwards and keeping your upper body upright. Your arms should stay almost straight throughout the movement, with only a little bend in the elbows.
- Hike the kettlebell back through your legs, and straight up to about chest height, being sure to use the momentum generated from your hips and legs, and not your arms or back. When the kettlebell reaches chest height, it should feel light weight and like it’s floating.
- With control, let the kettlebell fall back between your legs, but do not let it touch the floor. That is one rep.
Kettlebell Renegade Row
This is a great exercise for the back and core muscles! For this move, you have the option to add in a push-up before the row, although you will need two kettlebells. If you only have one, skip the push-up and complete 10 reps on each side.
- Place each kettlebell on the ground, about shoulder-width apart. The kettlebell handle/s should be pointing at 12 and 6 o’clock, instead of 3 and 9 o’clock. Get into a high-plank position with your feet hip-width apart on the floor and rest one (or both hands) on the kettlebell handle/s. Complete one push-up, or skip ahead to #2.
- Keep your body in a straight line, and shift your weight evenly into your left foot and left hand, while still in plank position. Pull the kettlebell off the floor to your chest with your right hand while pinching your right shoulder blade and engaging your core muscles. There should be little to no weight in your right leg.
- Lower the kettlebell back to the floor with control. If you’re using one kettlebell, complete nine more reps before switching the kettlebell to your left hand and weight into your right hand, right leg and right foot. If you have two kettlebells, alternate sides with each rep.
Kettlebell Clean + Push Press
The “Hang Clean” is another popular full-body exercise that you will commonly come across in strength training. While it may seem complex in the beginning, you will eventually get the hang of it with a little practice—whoops, no pun intended. 😉 You have the option to combine the clean and push press into one movement or do 10 cleans followed by 10 push presses on their own. Fun-fact: the clean is often used as a transition into other lifts such as the military press and the overhead press, as rack position is also the starting position for these exercises.
Don’t forget, it’s better to use a light weight until you have the proper form down to reap the most benefits and prevent injury.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart or wider and place the kettlebell on the floor in between your feet.
- Squat and bend your knees to reach down with your right hand to grab the kettlebell, being sure to keep your chest up and a flat back (no arch in your lower back!). For stability, stick your left arm back behind you.
- Pull the kettlebell straight up to chest height, also known as rack position, using the driving momentum from your legs to lift the kettlebell. Your right elbow should be tucked in at your side and the kettlebell should be resting at your right shoulder.
- From here, complete the overhead press and slowly return it to rack position. Let the kettlebell fall back down towards the ground with control to starting position.
Squat Figure 8
The Squat Figure 8 is a fun, yet challenging move! Make sure to keep your back long and strong throughout the exercise. Complete 10 reps moving in one direction and then 10 more the opposite direction. Feel free to take a break in between to reset posture.
- Place your feet at least shoulder-width apart, if not wider like you’re doing Goblet squats, with a slight bend in your knees.
- Hold the kettlebell in your right hand off the floor at your right knee and bring your left arm back behind your left leg.
- Squat and pass the kettlebell to your left hand through your legs, and bring it around to the front of your left leg as you extend your hips forward. You should have just squatted up to standing position.
- Squat back down and pass the kettlebell behind your right knee back to your right hand. Repeat!
Note: your feet should stay stationary the entire set.
The Halo is a great move to strength train your core muscles and improve mobility of your arms and upper body. Use this exercise to catch your breath before completing the next round.
- Hold the kettlebell upside-down, with one hand on each side of the kettlebell handle. Place your feet shoulder-width, or even hip-width apart. Your knees should not be locked, they should have a soft bend in them. Engage your core and keep your spine in a straight line the entire movement to eliminate any arches in your lower back.
- Bring the kettlebell back behind your head to the right, pointing your right and left elbow to the sky. Let the kettlebell ball drop down behind your neck.
- Finish the “halo” by bringing your arms around the left side of your head and back to the start position in front of you.