Call me crazy, but I’ve got a colossal crush on kettlebells.
Tied to the treadmill? It’s time to take a break.
Devoted to barbells and dumbbells? Allow me to introduce another option.
Sweat sessions getting stale? I’ve got just the thing to help you mix it up.
In an effort to constantly challenge our bodies, science has shown the most effective workout programs blend all kinds of exercises, training styles, modalities, and tools.
Thus, variety, variation, and versatility are incredibly attractive attributes when building a workout routine.
Well, those cannonball-looking weights with handles on top flip the script on exercises of old thanks to the characteristics above. And their popularity has surged as we value the three v’s more and more.
You can knock out cardio and strength work at once, you can dive into unique movements that won’t work with dumbbells and barbells, and you can easily challenge yourself in all three planes of motion — including the often-overlooked transverse plane — thanks to kettlebells.
Now that I”ve got you convinced on KB’s, let’s take a look at a few of my favorite kettlebell exercises that’ll give you the biggest bang for your buck.
The undisputed king of kettlebell exercises is the swing. While kettlebells haven’t found a home in every gym across America (gym owners: I assure you they’re worth the investment!), I’m willing to bet you’ve seen someone, somewhere practicing kettlebell swings. They aren’t easy, but once you get the movement down, you’ll be hooked.
Swings blast your backside, especially your glutes and hamstrings, while also working your core, shoulder, arms, quads, and lower back. In fact, a study published in PubMed found they can even restore and enhance back health and function. That’s a boatload of benefits from just one exercise. Equally fun and addicting, there’s really no comparable move.
Start swinging by holding a kettlebell hanging between your legs, with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat slightly, drive your hips back, and then powerfully thrust your hips forward to extend your knees and swing your outstretched arms up to eye level with the kettlebell in hand.
When done right, the movement is initiated entirely from the hips. Note: You are not lifting. Use the power generated by your hip thrust to swing your arms up. When done well, the kettlebell quite literally flies up to your line of sight. Oh, and be sure to squeeze your buns up top to really get your glutes.
Feeling fancy? Try one-arm swings, alternating hands at the top of the movement.
Kettlebell Deadlift With Row
Any good fitness professional will be a big fan of properly-executed deadlifts and all sorts of rows. So, why not combine two of the best compound exercises out there? These bad boys go together like peanut butter and jelly and manage to light up your backside (hello, hammies!), core, and lats, while also challenging several other muscles in your back and lower body.
Stand hip-width apart with a kettlebell in each hand. Perform a stiff-legged deadlift slowly lowering the kettlebells to ankle height. With your core braced and the kettlebells hanging low, perform a row, maintaining your bend while driving the kettlebells up towards your chest and pulling your elbows back. Slowly lower the kettlebells back to the hanging position, finish your deadlift by returning to a standing position, and repeat.
Too easy? Once you’ve mastered the movement, kick up the weight and perform the alternating single-arm rows.
Reverse Lunge Figure 8
File this one under “fun.” When executed well, you’ll feel like the coolest kid at the fitness center, while also getting a heckuva workout in.
The lunge is a timeless exercise, but tossing a kettlebell into the mix for the figure 8 portion of this takes things to another level by challenging your stability, core, and balance, while also testing your coordination. It’s an exercise that often leaves athletes salivating more (basketball players are all too familiar with figure 8’s), and it’s a perfectly acceptable movement for all ages and abilities.
Start standing straight up and down with your feet together. With a kettlebell hanging to one side, step backward with your opposite leg, dropping your knee into a reverse lunge. With your core tight and your back knee hovering above the ground ever so slightly, bring the kettlebell into the space between your legs and pass it off to your opposite hand. Return to the starting position and repeat, always bringing the kettlebell between the back knee and straight legs to switch hands.
Wanna kick it up a notch? Perform a kettlebell curl to press between each rep. You’ve now get a full body circuit by combining a few efficient exercises.
Anyone else digging kettlebells? If this teaser left you wanting more, start practicing by pressing play at FORTË.
P.S. Kettlebells are a great addition to your home gym. If you want to exercise from your own abode, here’s how to build a home gym on a budget (it’s more affordable than you’d think)!
Clay Manley is a word nerd with a fitness background. A Certified Personal Trainer who took his talents to the keyboard. You can give him a shout and find more of his work here.