Kettlebell Workout: A Beginners Guide to Kettlebell Exercises
Kettlebells are a great way to work out. With such a wide array of movements to perform, they can be adapted to work your whole body, bringing a little variety to your current training schedule. Kettlebells come in a range of different weights to suit your individual strength, making them a popular workout choice for both men and women, regardless of goals.
Mastering the kettlebell technique is paramount. Thanks to their unusual shape, along with the fact many kettlebell movements include the coordinated movement of several muscles, getting comfortable with the equipment is – like any piece of gym kit – crucial. Firstly, it will help you move more efficiently and target the correct muscle or muscle groups. Secondly, it will help prevent you picking up any unwanted injuries.
So whether you want to create a high intensity, cardiovascular kettlebell workout to make you fitter and lose weight, or if you’re training to develop muscle size and strength, there are literally hundreds of kettlebell exercises to choose from. We’ve chosen four of our favourites – all of which are simple, effective additions to any training program.
SINGLE-ARM KETTLEBELL SWINGS
Kettlebell swings are the go-to kettlebell movement. They can be performed both double-armed or single-armed, but here we are focusing on the single-armed version. You can stick to using one arm at a time, or alternate between arms, transitioning mid-swing. Whichever way you choose, the technique is still fundamentally the same.
- Stand with your feet slightly beyond shoulder width apart, creating a stable base.
- To pick up the kettlebell, push your hips backwards and slightly bend your knees, grabbing the kettlebell handle (it should be in the middle of your feet) with one hand, using an overhand grip.
- Pick up the kettlebell by standing upright.
- To start the swing, imagine passing a ball backwards through your legs, pushing your hips backwards with a slight bend of the knee and pulling through with the arms to create momentum.
- Once the kettlebell has gone back through the legs 6-12 inches, drive the hips forwards and upwards and swing the arms, keeping them as straight as possible to the front of the body, to around shoulder height. Remember this is a swing – not a front raise – so arm muscle involvement should be minimal.
- Once reaching the peak of the swing, allow the kettlebell to follow the same path back towards the starting point, again pushing back the hips and bending the knees to take the load.
MUSCLES WORKED: Hips, glutes, hamstrings, lats, abs, shoulders.
SINGLE-ARM KETTLEBELL SNATCHES
This is a slightly more advanced movement. Kettlebell snatches are great for promoting coordinated whole body movements. As the name suggests, a snatch is a movement that moves a load from the floor (or near the floor) to the overhead position without a significant pressing movement at the shoulder. This can be done continuously on one arm, or swapping between arms at the starting (floor) position.
- Start by setting up in exactly the same way as the single arm swing, but you are now going to pull directly from the floor.
- Drive from your legs and move your hips forwards and upwards whilst pulling with the arm in as vertical a direction as possible towards the ceiling. You should drive upwards with enough force that your heels lift slightly, finding yourself on the balls of your feet.
- As the kettlebell reaches the highest point (hopefully past shoulder height), we’re going to drop under the kettlebell and catch it with a straight arm. As you do this, your palm will go from facing towards you during the pull to away from you as you catch the snatch, effectively ‘flipping’ the kettlebell over the hand.
- At the top position, the whole body should be locked out and the kettlebell will be on the back side of the hand.
- As we return the kettlebell to the floor we want to follow the exact opposite pattern. Drop under the kettlebell, flip the kettlebell over so the palm is facing the body. Bend the knees and hips to absorb the load on the way back to the floor.
MUSCLES WORKED: Hips, glutes, quads, lats, abs, shoulders.
KETTLEBELL SINGLE-LEG DEADLIFT
To really focus on the hamstrings, this variation on a single-leg deadlift is a great way to target this difficult-to-hit muscle, whilst also hitting your core and helping to improve your overall balance and coordination.
- Stand on one leg and hold the kettlebell with your same hand, just in front of your thigh. If you struggle to balance you can use your other hand to steady yourself against a stable surface.
- To start the movement, push/sit your hips back, with a slight bend in the standing leg knee, whilst keeping the other leg (in the air) straight.
- As we hinge at the hips and bend at the waist, keep the head and back in a neutral position.
- Hinge at the waist and lean forward until the kettlebell is around the mid-shin height (or until you feel the hamstring stretch fully). * The other (off the floor) leg should now be nearly perpendicular with the floor. Perform this part of the movement in a slow controlled manner of 3-4 seconds.
- Once we have reached the bottom and feel the hamstring stretch, pause for one second, then drive your hips forwards explosively back to the start position.
- After completing a set on one leg, swap to the other.
MUSCLES WORKED: Hamstrings, glutes, abs, erectors.
KETTLEBELL GOBLET SQUAT
The handle of the kettlebell makes this goblet squat variation much more comfortable than using dumbbells. It’s also an excellent way to really target the thighs without the stress on the lower back that comes from barbell back squatting. This makes the goblet squat a great way to progress from bodyweight squatting to ‘full’ squatting with less injury risk and more control.
- Place the kettlebell on a bench resting on its base. For most people, a normal bench should be high enough, but you will have to squat down and start the exercise from near the bottom of the movement.
- Place your feet just wider than shoulder width apart and squat down so the kettlebell handle is only a few inches in front of you – the handle should be in line with the collarbone. Remember to keep the back in a neutral position, bending from the knees and hips.
- To lift the weight, keep the elbows locked as close to the side of the body as possible and then with the arms flexed and locked in tight to the torso (so the hands are now up by the sternum), we are in a strong position to lift.
- Grip the kettlebell with your palms facing towards you and your thumbs up, making a ‘V’ shape on the handle. This will require angling the wrists to around 45 degrees to properly rest the kettlebell handle in the palms.
- Once we are tight and secure with a good base and secure grip, we then simply stand up straight and take a couple of paces backwards giving us room to perform our set. When in full standing position, the kettlebell should be tight to the body, with the load going straight down through the forearms.
- Because of the position of the load on the front of the body, this should help to counterbalance us as we sit back into the squat, and allow you to squat to a very good depth (to at least the thighs being parallel with the floor) with relative comfort and safety. Pause at the bottom of the squat for a second then return to the start position.
MUSCLES WORKED: quads, glutes, hamstrings.
WAYS TO TRAIN
There are countless other kettlebell movements that target several muscles at once, or it’s possible to adapt classic resistance training movements (such as the overhead press, bent-over rows and lunges) if we want to target specific muscles. This means kettlebells are a great way to have a whole body workout without constantly having to change equipment. It makes them an ideal tool for working out at home or in the gym when time is scarce, or when you have limited access to equipment.
Finally, here’s an example of a HIIT kettlebell workout. The goal is to perform each exercise continually for 30 seconds, with 20-30 seconds rest before moving on to the next exercise. These seven exercises should be completed in two circuits, with 2-3 minutes rest in between each circuit, totalling approximately 16-18 minutes.
- Goblet squats
- Single-arm kettlebell snatches (alternate arms)
- Single-arm kettlebell swings (right arm)
- Single-arm kettlebell swings (left arm)
- Kettlebell lunges (alternate legs)
- Kettlebell single-leg deadlift (right leg)
- kettlebell single-leg deadlift (left leg)