The Best Kettlebell Exercises for Overall Fitness
Build muscle and burn fat with these kettlebell workout movements for all levels of users
The kettlebell occupies a unique space in the minds of most people who workout. By now, most people have heard of them, seen them, maybe picked one up a couple times, but most people are still vastly unaware of all the possibilities with kettlebell workouts. Additionally, most people are unaware of how to use kettlebells maximally in their workouts for incredible results.
You can use kettlebells for almost any goal. You can burn fat, build muscle, improve mobility, range of motion and more. One can isolate muscles with traditional movements seen in dumbbells or follow full body workouts that target many muscle groups.
Let’s start with the absolute basics. Before even moving with a kettlebell, you should master The Hinge motion. This is the building block of many full body kettlebell movements. This information and demonstrations are from Living.Fit Kettlebell Basics Course.
Beginner Kettlebell Workouts
The Hinge Kettlebell Workout
You will use the principles of this kettlebell movement pattern in many of your movements. Stand up nice and tall, imagine a nice proud chest by pulling your shoulder back and your scaps (scapulae or scapulas) together. Keep your neck in line with no tilt. Keep this position no matter where you face. Find the crease in your hips, drive your hips back while still keeping your nice proud chest. Keep your eyes looking ahead. Drive your hips back (you can imagine a rope with your tailbone pulling you back), maintain tension. This demonstration is from the Living.Fit Kettlebell Basics Course.
Chest Supported Kettlebell Swing
This is a good way to practice the hinge with a load before attempting weight movements like the kettlebell swing. Push the kettlebell into your belly to cue yourself of maintaining abdominal tension while keeping your shoulders depressed and lats engaged. Get into the strong hinge position with a neutral neck. Drive your hips back and at the top position get into posterior tilt to engage your glutes. This movement is a basic kettlebell movement utilized in Kettlebell Origins which is a strength building program using some of the most basic kettlebell movements.
The Kettlebell Deadlift Workout
We think of the Kettlebell Deadlift as another way to build up to the kettlebell swing. Start off by positioning the kettlebell between your feet, driving your hips back. Use just a little bit of knee flexion to pick up the kettlebell just slightly hover over the ground. Pull your shoulders down, engage the lats and drive off the ground with your heels and hinging at the hips. This is a great kettlebell workout to strengthen the posterior chain, hamstrings and back. After you reach the stop of the hinge, drive your hips back to set the kettlebell back down again. This movement is a basic kettlebell movement utilized in Kettlebell Origins which is a strength building program using some of the most basic kettlebell movements.
The Kettlebell Swing Workout
After you have mastered the kettlebell hinge and kettlebell deadlift you can move on to this kettlebell exercise. Set up in the same way that you have for the kettlebell movements above. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable in this movement, there is nothing wrong with going back to the other movements to master movement and build strength. When you start, find a position in which you are actually reaching out for the kettlebell and tilting it back towards you to take the slack out of your movement. Engage your shoulders and your lats with tension. Explosively hike the kettlebell between your legs and then drive forwards with the hip hinge. You should keep this entire movement as tight and explosive as possible. Your momentum should drive the kettlebell up to the chest or eye level. This movement is utilized in many Living.Fit kettlebell programs which can be viewed here.
The Kettlebell Press Workout
Build upper body strength and core strength with this kettlebell exercise. Make sure at the top of the press you do not over extend by being able to keep your core tight. If you don’t have full mobility, go to half range of motion. This movement is a basic kettlebell movement utilized in Kettlebell Origins which is a strength building program using some of the most basic kettlebell movements.
Farmer Walk Marches
These are great for building core strength, trunk stability, shoulder strength and grip strength. Keep your core tight and breathe through the tension. Don’t hold your breath. Try to lift your knee as high as you can while doing this. If you find yourself losing balance don’t go so high. Keep your lats back to avoid rounding your shoulders. To intensify you can slow down your movement to force yourself to balance more. You can find more of this movement in the Living.Fit muscle building program Double Gains.
Intermediate Kettlebell Workouts
Two Hand Kettlebell Clean Workout
The Two Hand Kettlebell Clean is a great way to practice the transition of handling the kettlebell as you move into different positions. Maintain as much core tension as possible. The goal of this is to understand the timing and weightlessness of the kettlebell in different positions of different movements.
Kettlebell Swing Variations
Why be limited to just the kettlebell swing? There are so many ways to swing the kettlebell. You can try things like staggered positions with one foot in front of the other. The mechanics are the same as the traditional kettlebell swing. You still use a hinge, extension and create tension throughout the movement. The builds tons of core strength and cross body stabilization and actually being able to intensify one side through this kettlebell movement. These variations create a lot of posterior strength and build rotational power compared to the traditional kettlebell swing. Focus on not letting the kettlebell come down and then switching the foot position. Your feet should already be grounded before the bell comes down. These can be great fat burning exercises as well and found in the Livng.Fit program Turbo Fat Loss.
The Kettlebell Sport Clean
This a movement unique to a specific style of kettlebell lifting referred to as Kettlebell Sport. This form of the clean requires a pendulum style back swing into a shortened front swing that turns into the rack position after a horizontal pull in towards your body. The kettlebell sport clean tends to have more hip hinging pendulum style movement than the "hardstyle" type kettlebell clean. The clean can be done with a single kettlebell or two kettlebells. The unilateral or single side version of cleans are typically where most kettlebell sport athletes start, and it will create some differences in body angle and swing dynamics then the double kettlebell clean.
The double kettlebell clean creates some challenges and differences in body position and stance, as you are typically passing both kettlebells between your legs in the swing part of the clean. The timing of your kettlebell drop to swing to hinge to back swing to front swing to pull to rack is something that will improve over time, and can improve faster if you start with a single bell and use the opposite hand to slowly guide the bell through the stages and into the rack position. Start this movement with a single lightweight bell slowly with your other hand as the "training wheel" and then slowly increase speed as you improve your "connection" with your hip hinge and the timing of the clean to rack. Once you feel that your timing and movement is efficient and effective, we highly recommend filming your movement and using a coach to spot areas for improvement.
If there are any issues, fix those before adding weight and speed and more reps to your kettlebell clean. Once you have the movement down, and you can effectively perform the movement the same regardless of weight. you can start gleaning the power, strength, and endurance effects of the kettlebell sport clean. (Source: Aaron Guyett is the first U.S. Kettlebell lifter to achieve Master of Sport in both biathlon (snatch and jerk) and clean, in a single competition)
The kettlebell rack position is where the kettlebell ends up at the end of the clean. Your arm should be close at your side with your core and lats tight. Your arm is through the window of the kettlebell holding the handle and the kettlebell is against your wrist and forearm. Keep your wrist straight and arm tucked the entire time. You can practice by sliding your elbow back and slowly bringing the kettlebell to the rack position. To practice with a full clean movement, hinge at the hips and use the momentum you create to bring the kettlebell into the rack position. The kettlebell should not slam into your arm at all or cause any pain. This should be a controlled movement that slides right into place.
Expert Kettlebell Workouts
Kettlebell Alternating Deadstart Rotational Clean and Press
Set the kettlebell up in front of one of your feet in a standing position. With one foot slightly in front of the other. You will hinge at your hips like you are going to reach for the kettlebell in the kettlebell swing with your knees slightly bent, but you will be reaching with the opposite arm of the foot the kettlebell is in front of. Pivot on your backfoot, as you pull the kettlebell up to rack position. When you pivot, rotate forcefully into a square position so your feet are even. Once you get to the rack position you will press the kettlebell and bring it back down in line with your shoulder in line with the inside of the foot. You will then repeat the movement by performing the same movement with the opposite side. Challenge yourself with expert kettlebell movements like this in Double Gains by Living.Fit
Half Kneeling Clean Workout
This is an example of one of the many ways you can make lighter weights more challenging with kettlebells. Start in the half kneeling position. This means just one knee is touching the ground. This movement will intensify a lighter weight because you are taking lower body engagement out of the traditional clean. Do not drive your knee cap into the ground, you can place something soft under your knee. You will use the same mechanics in the clean which is hinging at your hips and using that momentum to bring the kettlebell into the rack position. This movement is utilized in the Anywhere Athlete program by Living.Fit.
Rotating Lunge with Kettlebell
Try this kettlebell movement loaded or unloaded. Get into a wide squat and get down nice and low. From that position, rotate to one side and elevate the heel on your backfoot, pivot on the ball of your foot so you end up in a lunge position facing one direction.
This is a highly technical kettlebell exercise. Many people will bang their wrist when not performing correctly. The two hand kettlebell clean above is designed to familiarize you with the idea of moving around and regripping the kettlebell while in movement. You can master the one arm kettlebell swing to practice a movement that is similar to the first half of the kettlebell snatch. Start this movement by moving similar to the kettlebell swing. Set the kettlebell in front of you at a distance which requires you to reach and tilt the kettlebell towards you. Hike it back towards you with one arm. Use your hinge and movementum to drive the kettlebell all the way up and over head. You should actually be rotating your hands and wrist to fluidly move the kettlebell overhead. Imagine punching through the kettlebell at the top to smoothly bring the kettlebell to a rest at the top as opposed to having it flip over and smack you in the wrist. Make sure to watch the common mistakes above to avoid these common errors in the kettlebell snatch.
Rotational Kettlebell Snatches
This is a fun and powerful exercise like starting a lawnmower. This is a great way to build posterior and rotational strength. Do not try these until mastering all of the kettlebell exercises above. Make sure you are in a space in which you can pivot freely. You want to be able to open up and not twerk your knees. Start with a cross body snatch by driving off the ground. The front leg should be your driving force while you pull with the opposite arm across the body. You want to maintain all of your upper back engagement, nice and tight so you keep in control and do not let the kettlebell take you with it. You want to control the kettlebell. Watch further to see how to create a 360 kettlebell snatch. This movement is often used in kettlebell flow and can be seen in the advanced kettlebell program Flow Strong by Living.Fit.