Kettlebell exercises can seem intimidating, but there are a number of kettlebell exercises that are actually quite suitable for beginners – and we’ve got plenty of them to break down!
Kettlebells are a great tool for strength training. Yes, for many exercises they are completely interchangeable with dumbbells or other weights. But for some weighted movements, especially those that require explosive movement, kettlebells reign supreme.
Why? Because the way they are shaped makes them easier to move. You can also hold them by the handle or the bell (the round part of the weight), which allows you to get a different range of motion depending on the kettlebell exercise you’re doing.
Plus, the shape of the kettlebell allows you to work your muscles a little differently than a traditional barbell, Jessica Sims, a NASM-certified personal trainer and Peloton instructor, tells SELF. “The weight is distributed differently than a typical barbell, so the same movement works different muscles,” he says. It also requires more wrist movement, so your wrists and forearms get a little extra work.
They’re also very versatile, meaning you can work your entire body with just kettlebell exercises. For more information on how to get started—and how to do these full-body kettlebell exercises—read on!
What are the benefits of kettlebell training?
As we mentioned earlier, the shape of the kettlebell – and its weight distribution – means that this piece of equipment stresses your muscles a little differently than dumbbells, even though you’re doing the same exercise. Like dumbbells, kettlebells are effective ways to build strength because you can constantly challenge your muscles by adding more weight or increasing the number of repetitions.
In addition to building strength, kettlebells are also great for working on strength and explosiveness in a low-impact way, Renee Peel, NSCA-certified personal trainer and certified kettlebell instructor at Fhitting Room, previously told SELF. This is where kettlebell clamps like the swing come in.
Finally, one of the greatest advantages of the kettlebell is that the equipment is effective and versatile. You don’t need a whole series to get a good workout, and there are a variety of kettlebell exercises that work every part of your body. So it is entirely possible to get in a good full body kettlebell workout with just one kettlebell.
What Kettlebell Weight Should You Use?
The weight of the kettlebell you use depends on many factors, such as your strength level and experience with kettlebell training. That said, a beginner might want to start with a 10- to 15-pound kettlebell, Andy Speer, co-owner of SoHo Strength Lab in New York City, previously told SELF. If you are more experienced in weightlifting and are used to heavier weights, you can start with a 20-pound or heavier kettlebell.
It’s also important to note that the “right” weight for kettlebells also depends on the exercises you do with them. For example, you might go heavier on an exercise that works larger muscles (like the deadlift) than an exercise that works smaller muscles (like the triceps extension).
Is it OK to use a kettlebell every day?
You shouldn’t be working out every day, whether with kettlebells or any other equipment – it’s important to give your muscles the rest they need so they can repair and come back stronger. This is why rest days are important.
20 minute total arm workout
Additionally, if you’re strength training with kettlebells, it’s important to allow at least 24 hours between workouts that target the same muscle groups. For example, if you’re doing lower body kettlebell moves like kettlebell squats and deadlifts on Monday, you’ll want to wait until at least Wednesday to work your glutes, quads, and hamstrings again.
Is 20 minutes of kettlebells enough?
Your workout doesn’t have to be long to be effective – you can definitely get a good workout in 20 minutes or less! If you’re short on time, programming circuit training (where you go from one exercise to the next with minimal rest in between) can help you get a lot of work done.
Need a quick kettlebell workout inspiration? Check out this 20-minute full-body kettlebell workout or this 10-minute full-body kettlebell routine. (Do you have a little extra time, though? This 30-minute kettlebell workout is a great option.)
How can you create your own full body kettlebell workout?
A solid full body kettlebell workout should include moves that work the front and back of the upper body and lower body as well as the core.
If you want to create your own kettlebell workout, we have options for you as well. For a kettlebell workout that takes less than 20 minutes, simply choose five of the exercises below—try two exercises that work your upper body, two that work your lower body, and one that works your core.
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds before moving on to the next kettlebell exercise. (If you’re more advanced, you can try 40 seconds of work to 20 seconds of rest.) Then rest for 1-2 minutes between rounds. Complete a total of 3 rounds.
Remember, the best kettlebell workout is one you enjoy doing, so you can customize your routine with kettlebell movements that work for you and a program that fits your schedule.
The kettlebell squat is one of the best ways to work your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Adding a kettlebell increases the resistance your body has to work against to stand up, putting even more stress on your muscles. Additionally, holding the kettlebell close to your chest will help you achieve proper form. Sims suggests squatting deep because “it’s more functional,” he explains. “When you carry heavy grocery bags, you should squat like this to avoid hurting your back.”
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out, holding a kettlebell with both hands at your chest. You can hold it by the handles or by the bell, whichever is more comfortable for you.
- Engage your core and keep your chest lifted and flattened as you shift your weight into your heels, push your hips back, and bend your knees to lower into a squat.
- Drive through your heels to a standing position and squeeze your glutes at the top for 1 rep.
The kettlebell deadlift is one of the best kettlebell exercises for the lower body. Deadlifts really work your butt and the back of your legs or hamstrings. They also secretly attack your core because you have to keep your abs tight to avoid arching your back. Sims says to pick a heavier weight for the deadlift—this movement mostly uses your glutes, which are probably among the strongest muscles in your body.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees with a soft bend. Hold the kettlebell in front of your thighs with both hands, palms facing in. If you don’t have a kettlebell, you can do this exercise with two dumbbells.
- Hinge at your hips and push your butt back as you lower your torso and weight toward the ground. Keep your back straight and shoulders back. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor at the bottom of the movement.
- Keeping your core tight, push through your heels to stand up straight, keep your arms straight.
- Stop at the top and squeeze your butt. This is 1 rep.
Reverse lunges are a great exercise for your glutes and your quads, and because they have a dynamic, unilateral aspect, they’ll also test your balance.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a kettlebell by the handle in each hand. This is the default position.
- Lift your right leg and step back about 2 feet, coming onto the ball of your foot and keeping your heel off the floor. Bend both knees until your left quad and right shin are approximately parallel to the floor. The trunk should lean slightly forward so that the back is flat and not arched or rounded. Your left knee should be over your left leg and your butt and core should be engaged.
- To return to the starting position, push through the heel of the left foot. Repeat on the other side. This is 1 rep.
The split squat works your quads and glutes just like the goblet squat, but because you’re in a lunge position, it’s considered a unilateral exercise—your front leg will work here. But since you’re not actually doing lunges, balance won’t be as much of an issue here as it is with a lunge.
- Grasp the kettlebell with both hands at your chest. (You can hold it by the handles or the bell, whichever is more comfortable for you.) With your feet under your shoulders, step your left foot forward as if you were lunging forward; keep your left heel firmly planted. This is the default position.
- Bend both knees and make 90 degree angles with your legs. The chest should be upright and the trunk should be slightly forward so that the back is flat and not arched or rounded forward. Your left quad should be parallel to the floor and your left knee should be over your left foot. Your butt and core should be engaged.
- Push off with your left leg to return to the starting position.
- Complete all your reps and then switch sides.
The series works the back of the body (including the lats and rhomboids) as well as the biceps. Sims notes that the movement should be slow and controlled, “not like you’re starting a lawnmower,” so you can really feel the exercise in your back and arms—and avoid straining your back. “Also, remember to look down at the floor, because if you look up, you’ll hurt your neck,” adds Sims
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell in each hand by the handle with your arms at your sides.
- With your core engaged, bend forward at the hips, push your butt back and bend your knees slightly so your back is no lower than parallel to the floor. (Depending on your hamstring flexibility, you may not be able to bend that far.) Look at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
- Do a row by pulling the weight to your chest, hugging your elbows close to your body, and squeezing your shoulder blades for two seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbows should go behind your back as you bring the weight to your chest.
- Pause here, squeeze your shoulder blades, then slowly lower the weight by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.
Sit-lie down until push up
Adding weight to the sit-up provides an additional challenge to your core, and overhead pressure also supports your shoulders and arms. For these sit-ups, Sims says, you can either leave your knees bent or put them in a butterfly position, depending on what’s comfortable for your hips. (Here are some other kettlebell exercises that can give you a great core workout).
- Lie face up with knees bent and feet flat, holding a kettlebell near your chest with both hands. This is the default position.
- Use your abs to lift your body up until you are sitting upright with your back straight. Simultaneously press the weights overhead and extend both arms until your elbows are straight.
- Slowly lower your back to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
Kettlebell swing muscles include your butt, legs, and lower back, says Sims. Before adding too much weight, make sure you hone the technique with a lighter kettlebell. To perform a swing with proper form, you need to “aggressively push your hips to lift the kettlebell, don’t use your arms,” Sims explains. And don’t forget to squeeze your butt at the top! (For more information and some tips on how to use a kettlebell, see this tutorial on how to do a kettlebell swing.)
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the kettlebell by the top of the handle with both hands with your arms straight out in front of you.
- Bend your knees slightly, then hinge at your hips to swing the kettlebell between your legs.
- Stand up and thrust your hips forward explosively, squeezing your glutes and letting your arms swing forward to chest height (but not higher than your shoulders).
- As the weight drops, don’t let gravity do all the work for you. Pull the weight back down, hinge at your hips, and immediately move into the next rep.
This variation of the kettlebell squat is similar to the goblet squat, but with a wide sumo stance, it targets your glutes and inner thighs even more.
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out. Grasp the kettlebell by the handle with both hands at your chest. This is the default position.
- Engage your core and keep your chest lifted and flattened as you shift your weight into your heels, push your hips back, and bend your knees to lower into a squat. Keep your spine long and your chest open.
- Drive through your heels to a standing position and squeeze your glutes at the top for 1 rep.
One arm row
A series of one-arm exercises works the back and biceps. Plus, since it’s a one-arm movement, your core will also need to fire to keep you stable.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding the kettlebell by the handle in your right hand with your arm at your side, palm facing your body. Step forward about two feet with your left foot and place your left hand on the left quad. This is the default position.
- With your core engaged, roll forward at your hips, push your butt back and bend your left knee, being careful not to round your shoulders. (Hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will determine how far you can bend.)
- Look at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
- Pull the weight toward your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body, and squeeze your shoulder blade for two seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbow should go behind your back as you bring your weight to your chest.
- Slowly lower the weight by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.
Single Arm Push-Press
This move works your shoulders and triceps, as well as your glutes and quads.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in one hand and rest it against your shoulder with your palm facing out and up and the weight hanging on the back of your forearm. The elbow should be bent and directed towards the floor. Relax the other arm by your side.
- Bend your knees slightly, then push the weight overhead in one explosive movement, straightening both legs at the same time.
- Slowly lower the weight back to chest height while simultaneously bending both knees to complete 1 rep.
- Do all repetitions with one arm and then repeat on the other side.