When you think of a gym or a weight room, there's probably a very specific image in your head. An open space filled with heavy iron, benches, cable setups, and if you're in a big box, plenty of cardio stations and machines. Most of the weights are probably barbells, both on squat platforms and benches, or dumbbells, sitting stacked along the wall on a rack.
But there's another strength training implement you should add to that vision. Kettlebells are some of the most versatile, efficient tools you can have in your exercise repertoire—and as this year proved, people love them and consider them essential.
Thanks to the implement's unique shape, which places the rounded load beneath the handle, kettlebells are perfect for swings, presses, and carries from different positions that you wouldn't attempt with dumbbells. You can work your arms, of course, but also your legs, chest, back, core, posterior chain—really, you can use kettlebells to train your whole body.
You get the same unilateral capabilities you get with a dumbbell, and the shape of the kettlebell make them an even better option for single-arm, multi-joint movements like cleans and snatches. When the need arises, you can also grab onto a kettlebell's handles, or even the two bars connecting the weight to the handles, sometimes called the "horns," with both hands. That type of grip allows for challenging curls, presses, and more.
There's also an entirely distinct training modality that has gained popularity thanks to the utility of kettlebells: the flow.
You can thread together different movements into one free-moving series, which can then be repeated for maximum effect and combined with other routines to create an entire program (like our Kettlehell series for All Out Studio from kettlebell master Eric Leija).
No matter how you use a kettlebell, it helps to have a game plan. Check out these exercises and workouts for a full catalogue of kettlebell goodness.
Kettlebell Front Rack
The front rack isn't so much an exercise as a position you can use to make exercises even more challenging. The front rack can be used for moves like squats, lunges, walks—really anything focused on your lower body. Using either one or two kettlebells, you'll hold the load in such a way (demonstrated above) that you'll be forced to engage your core to prevent your torso from tipping over. Consider the position as a solid way to pull double duty.
Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
One of the best aspects of training with kettlebells is the ability to create challenging variations of standard exercises using the implement's unique shape. The bottoms-up press is a prime example of this, adding the extra challenge of holding the bell by the handle and balancing and stabilizing its weight distribution to a shoulder press. You'll be tasked physically and mentally.
Start off slowly with the basic kettlebell halo. This simple, incredibly effective movement is a great way to build shoulder stability while working the core. Try the exercise for 10 to 20 reps per side to start before adding extra features, like the kneeling position in the video or even a squat, for more of a metabolic impact.
The swing is one of the most popular and effective kettlebell moves, so mastering the finer points of the form is a must for anyone looking to add the implement to their repertoire. The key here is making sure to emphasize the hip hinge—when you lower the weight down, be sure not to squat—before thrusting to snap the weight up.
Goblet Pulse Squat
Crush your legs with a little bounce with this dynamic exercise. Try 4 sets of 10, resting for 30 seconds between each set.
Double Kettlebell Front Squat
Double up on weights to knock out this lower body exercise. Your upper body will get a challenge, too, since you'll be using your arms and bracing your core to keep the kettlebells in the racked position. Try 3 to 4 sets of 10 reps, lowering down into position slowly and pausing at the bottom to create a ton of tension.
This multi-part movement takes some time and coordination to master, but it's an effective full body exercise once you nail every step. Keep the weight light to start (run through the first few times without any), then add heavier loads as you progress.
Kettlebell Clean and Press
The clean and press is another multi-joint, multi-part exercise that works your whole body. Make sure to keep the weight controlled as you clean into the racked position before pressing straight up. If you're bold, set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes, then alternate 5 reps per arm for the whole period.
Kettlebell Abs Series
The kettlebell can also be a useful tool to sculpt your abs. Since you can easily hold and maneuver the implement, you can use it as a load for some traditionally bodyweight movements. Check out these six core moves from Leija's Kettlehell program. You'll learn basics like the bride to situp, two-step getup, Russian twist to quick twist, pullover to situp, and weighted hollow rock.
Full Body Kettlebell Moves
Swings too much for you? Try these exercises instead: the kettlebell clean, goblet squat, kettlebell thruster, and reverse lunge. Perform 4 sets of 12 reps of all or any of the moves individually, or hit them back-to-back as a circuit with no rest as a workout that will torch your whole body.
Kettlebell flows are becoming more popular thanks to coaches like Eric Leija (a.k.a. primal.swoledier), who put this routine together for Men's Health.
Squat lift to goblet squat
Squat lift to bottoms up hold
Overhead tricep extension to squat return
Complete five reps of the flow for one set, and 10 sets for the workout. Take 30 seconds to rest between sets.
12-Minute Kettlebell Calorie Burner
This short workout uses four full body moves to torch off calories—so you'll be feeling its effects for a lot longer than it takes to finish the routine itself. Perform each exercise for 1 full minute. If you can't keep up the pace that whole time, try working for 20 seconds, then resting for 10 twice within the period. Repeat the whole series 3 times.
Clean and Press
Blast your body with this intense interval ladder from trainer Hannah Eden. You'll perform these each of these moves for 30, 60, then 90 seconds, with rest in between. Complete 3 rounds of the circuit to finish the workout.
Kettlebell Fast Feet - 30 seconds work, 10 seconds rest
American Kettlebell Swing 60 seconds work 20 seconds rest
10 reps Long Situp, 10 reps Jumping Squat - 90 seconds work 30 seconds rest
Kettlebells from Hell for Full Body Conditioning
This routine from trainer Alexia Clark is fast-paced to put your stamina to the test—just make sure you have a set of matching kettlebells. This workout is composed of 3 circuits. You'll have 60 seconds on of constant motion, then 30 seconds off to rest. Repeat each circuit 3 times, then rest for 1 to 2 minutes before moving onto the next one.
2-Kettlebell Sumo Squat to Overhead Press with Reverse Lunge
Kettlebell Deadlift to Jump Squat
Kettlebell Swing Switch
20-Minute Kettlebell Metcon
Most of these workouts have been quick and to the point. Take the longer approach with this routine designed to ramp up your metabolic conditioning. Just set a timer for 20 minutes and perform as many rounds of this series as you can until it rings.
Kettlebell Swing - 20 reps
Goblet Squats - 10 reps
Single Arm Press (L) - 5 reps
Single Arm Press (R) - 5 reps
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