Kettlebells are synonymous with masochistic symbols of strength and power. They are the ultimate cool tool in the gym and as such, are often far more intimidating than appreciated.
My introduction to kettlebells began with an avoidance of being within striking range as my male colleagues swung massive cannonballs of metal around their bodies in effortless fashion. My appreciation deepened as I observed the versatility of these formidable tools with applications from strength, to power, to endurance – even rehabilitation and mobility.
I took the plunge and became a certified kettlebell strength and conditioning coach, which has dramatically increased my ability to help clients achieve their goals safely while having fun learning a new skill.
For most gym-goers, we want to look good, feel good and get it all done as fast as possible.
Selecting exercises that combine using as many muscles as possible maximizes calories burned. The more muscles we can condition at once leads to better overall muscle tone as well as a higher resting metabolic rate, which means more fat burning post-workout. The following exercises are a careful selection of the best moves to get the most out of your workouts and sculpt a body that looks and feels fantastic.
For quick, high-return exercises to loosen the hips and shoulder girdle while activating the core, try these winners:
Halos: gripping a small kettlebell by the horns, turn the butt of the kettlebell to the sky, holding it upside-down. Keeping the kettlebell as close as you can to your body, slowly circle the kettlebell around your head several times in each direction, keeping the elbows tight and core braced
Cosshack squats: holding a kettlebell upside-down and tightly to chest, come into lowest squat position around the ankles. Moving laterally, slowly shift weight over one ankle while externally rotating the opposite toes up. Keep the heels down and stay as low as possible while making 3 to 6 transitions per side.
Turkish Get-Up: lying on your back, hold a small kettlebell on the outer forearm with elbow locked at full extension. Bending the knee on the same side as the kettlebell, push heel and opposite elbow into the upright seated position, maintaining kettlebell locked above shoulder.
Driving through the opposite arm, thrust hips into an elevated position and swing opposite foot behind the body into a lunge posture. Rise to stand, keeping eyes locked on kettlebell and arm fully extended. Slowly repeat the steps in opposite order to return to the lying position. Complete 2 to 4 repetitions per side.
Goblet squat with optional progression to squat-to-press:
- a fundamental multi-joint movement pattern necessary in every day life for getting up and down.
Action: Standing with feet at least shoulder width apart, hold a kettlebell upside-down, with elbows tight to ribs and chest lifted. Slowly load weight into the heels and outer part of the feet and descend into a squat position.
Option A: press heels into floor and accelerate to standing by thrusting the hips up and squeezing the glutes hard at the top while keeping the kettlebell close to chest.
Option B with press: same as option A, with the addition of extending arms directly above head until elbows are at full extension and quickly returning elbows down to ribs to restart. Try 12 to 14 slow and controlled repetitions.
Pointers: get low enough in the squat (at least thighs parallel to the floor) with good form to activate the glutes.
Deadlift with optional clean:
- arguably one of the most functional exercises with application to how anything should be picked up or put down.
Action with Option B: Starting with the kettlebell on the ground, grab the handle with a double-overhand grip. Bring toes forward in line with the front of the kettlebell and hinge at the hips, pulling weight into your heels to reach the kettlebell with a flat back. With explosive hip action, rise to stand by driving the hips forward and tilting the pelvis into the posterior position, contracting the glutes and abdominals.
Option B with clean: Holding the kettlebell with a reverse-grip and thumbs facing out, repeat the hinge-drive motion while flipping the kettlebell 180°, bringing the kettlebell into the upside-down position, tight to chest. Try 10 to 12 strong reps with a challenging weight.
Pointers: separate from the squat, this is a hinge movement where knees bend less and hips go back more. A common error is shoulders that round forward or a curved spine. Remember to pinch shoulder blades together and keep core braced and tight throughout.
- great low-impact compound power move for posterior chain and core where correct form is critical.
Action: Standing about 12’’ back from a kettlebell, hinge at the hips and stretch your lats (back muscles) to reach the kettlebell with both hands. Lifting the kettlebell from the ground, bring your wrist-to-zipper and imagine you are passing the kettlebell between your legs like a football until your chest is almost parallel to floor.
Tightening every muscle from your shoulders, back, core, glutes, and hamstrings – powerfully drive your hips forward and let the momentum of your hips propel your arms off your body. The harder you contract your hips in the drive, the higher the kettlebell will float off your body. Without resisting the kettlebell, allow the weight to float back towards your body and try to flow with the weight as your return to the hinge position for another rep. Try 20 to 30 clean swings with good flow.
Pointers: do not try to squat the swing as it is a hinge-action, instead practice pulling your hips back to stretch the hamstrings. Do not lean back at the top of a swing but rather contract the core to bring the ribs down and tight.
- this is a hardcore stabilization exercise targeting the shoulders and obliques while improving joint mobility.
Action: Holding the kettlebell in the corner of the horns with one hand, flip the bell so that it's resting on the outer part of the forearm. Standing with feet twice as wide as your shoulder width and toes pointing outward, raise the kettlebell directly overtop the shoulder with elbow at extension.
Load one foot and push hips back and out to one side, and slowly begin to lower the body toward the floor by reaching the free hand to the toes of the same foot. Return to standing by driving the hip forward and punching through at the top. Repeat 4 to 6 good repetitions per side.
Pointers: Keep your head tilted upward and eyes on the kettlebell at all times.