It's likely you've noticed kettlebells at the gym; the iron, cannonball-shaped weights with handles can be intimidating. But, if you're nervous to train with kettlebells, you needn't be! In fact, if you're looking to build full-body strength while at the same time burning calories and building cardiovascular fitness, you're going to quickly become a fan of kettlebell exercises.
Training with kettlebells allows you to do both cardio and strength training in a single workout; a great option for those who are dedicated to maintaining or improving their fitness despite busy schedules. Most kettlebell exercises require the use of multiple joints, which means they work more larger muscle groups.
While kettlebells have been used as a training implement in Russia since the 1700's, it wasn't until the 1990's that they were embraced by the fitness world in the United States. Now it's unusual not to find them in gyms or available at your local sporting goods store.
Where to Begin
It's important to select an appropriate kettlebell size for the exercise you're doing. There are typically two types of kettlebell exercises—Explosive, in which you'll swing or propel the weight using momentum, and simple dynamic exercises, which are similar to traditional strength exercises in that you perform controlled reps.
For more explosive exercises, such as kettlebell swing and squat thruster that you'll soon learn about below, you'll want to use a heavier weight. For simple dynamic exercises, kettlebell deadlift, squat, and bent-over row, a lighter kettlebell should be used. While the appropriate weight to use will vary by individual, a good size for male beginners to start out with is a 16 kg (35 lb) kettlebell for dynamic exercises and a 20 kg (44 lb) kettlebell for explosive exercises. Suggested weights for female beginners are an 8 kg (18 lb) for dynamic exercises and 12 kg (26 lb) kettlebells for explosive exercises.
How Often to Work Out with Kettlebells
Incorporate these kettlebell exercises into your routine twice per week. Give your body two days off from kettlebells in between each workout; a Monday/Thursday routine or similar is ideal. Remember that before you even pick up the kettlebell, take 10 minutes to do a dynamic warm-up. Walk, jog or jump rope for 5 minutes and then do 15 to 20 bodyweight squats, arm swings and torso twists.
How Many Sets & Reps
Complete two sets of 12 to 15 reps of each of the five exercises below. Take 30 to 60 seconds in between each set and exercise to catch your breath and give your muscles an opportunity to recover.
#1 Kettlebell Deadlift
Works: Glutes, Lower Back, Hamstrings
Set the kettlebell on the floor in front of you. Position your feet so that they're hip-width apart, with your toes pointed slightly outward. Push your hips back and bend your knees to squat down. Grip the handle of the kettlebell with both hands, palms facing your legs. Keep your back straight and head up as you extend your hips and knees to lift the kettlebell and rise to a standing position. Squat back down until the kettlebell taps the floor and then repeat.
#2 Kettlebell Swing
Works: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Lower Back
Grip the center of the kettlebell handle with both hands and let the weight hang down in front of your hips. Your palms should be facing your body. Set your feet to hip-width apart. Keeping your back straight and arms extended, push your hips back and bend your knees so momentum swings the kettlebell back between your legs. Immediately extend your hips and knees to propel the kettlebell forward, swinging it up in front of you until it's level with your shoulders. Continue to swing the kettlebell back between your legs and up level with your shoulders until you've completed all reps.
#3 Kettlebell Squat
Works: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Shoulders
Grip the sides of a single kettlebell's handle with both hands. Set your feet to hip-width apart with your toes pointed forward. With your arms remaining straight, lift the kettlebell in front of you until it's level with your shoulders and hold the weight in this position as you do reps. Keep your back straight as you push your hips backward and bend your knees, lowering down to the floor as far as you can. Extend your hips and knees to rise back up to a standing position and repeat until you've finished all the reps.
#4 Kettlebell Bent-Over Rows
Works: Lats, Lower Back, Hips
You'll need two kettlebells for this exercise. Grip a kettlebell in each hand and hold them down to your sides so that your palms are facing the outside of your thighs. Set your feet to shoulder width and push your hips back to bend forward until your back is nearly parallel to the floor. Let the kettlebells hang toward the ground. Bend and drive your elbows up toward the ceiling to pull the kettlebells up to your sides, and then extend your arms to lower the weights back toward the floor. Repeat until all reps are completed.
#5 Kettlebell Squat Thruster
Works: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Shoulders, Triceps
Grip a single kettlebell in one hand, using the rack position (grip handle and flip the kettlebell around so that it rests against the back of your hand / position your first to the front of your shoulder, with your elbow pointed toward the floor). With your feet hip-width apart, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat. Explode up into a standing position while simultaneously extending your arm to push the kettlebell overhead until your arm is fully straight. Lower the kettlebell back to your shoulder before you go into the next rep. On the second set, switch the kettlebell into the other hand.