The Best Kettlebell Exercises to Build Muscle
Is the kettlebell the single most effective piece of fitness equipment? It definitely might be in addition to being the most versatile. With proper training, the kettlebell can be used to build muscle, endurance, power and strength. By now, almost all commercial gyms have a set of kettlebells, but they often sit alone as the typical gym goer does not know how to reap any of the benefits.
This article addresses some of the best kettlebell workouts for building muscle as well as different kettlebell workout programs to reach your goal. We will cover a handful of kettlebell exercises to burn fat and build muscle.
The Benefits of Kettlebell Training
As a tool to create spatial awareness, explosive power and structural integrity of your entire body, kettlebell workouts cannot be beat. The kettlebell already offers a set of unique benefits due to the anatomy of the bell. The offset shape of the kettlebell (some refer to it as a cannon ball with a handle) forces more tension and grip needed, which creates more stability through your upper body. To us, this is the best example of what creates the “odd strength” you get from kettlebells.
Common Mistakes in Kettlebell Workouts
There are certain things that can be common when first using kettlebells. Back pain in kettlebell swings is an example of one of those.
- The Fix: Increase intra-abdominal tension through bracing your “belly,” like someone is going to punch your gut.
Slamming Forearms During Cleans.
- The Fix: Keep the bell closer to the body throughout the path and allow it rotate around the forearm.
Too Much Knee Bend on Swings.
- The Fix: Practice the initial hike to reinforce the downswing. Your arms should stay close to your body during the downswing.
Kettlebell Workouts Will Simplify and Increase Your Training
Think of the most simple movements you know, whether that is a squat, press or something else. All of these can be done with a kettlebell. Due to the unique shape of a kettlebell there are virtually infinite ways to hold the kettlebell to make movement easier or more difficult. Take a move like the press. You can hold the kettlebell the traditional way by inserting your hand through the window of the kettlebell and holding the handle, you can hold the ‘bell’ itself without the handle, you can hold the kettlebell by the handle with the bell pointing up and more. In addition, you can sit, stand, kneel and more to take various portions of your body out of the movement. The point being with just one kettlebell which you can easily transport with you or keep in your house you can do all of these. You don’t need several weights.
Kettlebell Workouts for Cardio and Muscle Building
Due to the shape of the kettlebell and the virtually infinite number of ways to hold the kettlebell while positioning your body, one can use kettlebells for cardio or building muscle. If you are training with a weight that is versatile for you, just pick a movement and position that allows for a high rep range. As some of the movements and workouts below demonstrate, if you keep up a steady pace over a prescribed amount of time you can build cardio while using the kettlebell. Additionally, if you shift how you hold the kettlebell, position your body, increase tension and increase intensity, you can use the same weight kettlebell with lower rep ranges for different training goals.
Kettlebell Workouts Build Full Body Strength
Another benefit of kettlebell workouts is the ability to isolate specific muscles or use many muscle groups at once. You can do everything you can do with a dumbbell, yes, you can curl a kettlebell if you want to isolate your biceps. You can also press a kettlebell by lying on your back to focus on your chest. One of the real benefits of kettlebell workouts is working out multiple muscles at the same time. When performed correctly, there are few movements that compare to the kettlebell swing for a full body movement. In the swing you will use your back, hips and more for a true full body workout.
Kettlebell Workouts Can Be Used to Improve Other Lifts
Not only can kettlebells help you practice proper form and technique before using other tools like barbells, but you can actually use kettlebells to improve your lifts with other tools like barbells. If you feel like you have hit a plateau in certain areas of training, you might try taking some time off to utilize kettlebells and then come back. For example, you might switch to heavy kettlebell swings to improve your hip strength before coming back to barbell deadlifts. You could also consider various forms of pressing to improve shoulder strength and stability for more technical barbell lifts.
Kettlebell Workouts Can Be Free and Fun!
One of the true beauties of the kettlebell is the ability to move freely and not lock yourself into traditional reps and sets. After mastering some basic kettlebell movements you can easily move from one to another which some refer to as Kettlebell Flow. While maintaining proper form you can move seamlessly between movements like a press to a lunge to a squat. If you do this while maintaining proper form and tension you can create a truly unique and entertaining workout each time as you make it up on the fly instead of rigorously following reps and sets.
The Best Kettlebell Exercise for Burning Fat and Building Muscle
We have to start here. This is the classic movement most of us have seen and it is for good reason. The swing is a powerful movement that helps the strongest and most powerful athlete get even more explosive. Even though this is a movement many people have seen, there are many technicalities to learn in order to perform properly. Avoid common mistakes like stability in your feet, too much drive with your hips, and chicken necking. There are several kettlebell variations you can learn as well like the One Arm Staggered Swing, the Alternating Staggered Rotational Swing and more.
The ideal program that focuses on building muscle and uses basic movements like presses and the kettlebell swing is Kettlebell Origins by Living.Fit. Learn more here.
The Kettlebell Clean
The Kettlebell Clean utilizes the entire body. When performed correctly you will use your legs, hips, back and shoulders. A common mistake many beginners make is banging the kettlebell into their forearm. Watch below for demonstrations about how to avoid injuries during this movement. Start from either a hanging position with the bell in front or at your side or from the ground. Drive momentum through your feet and with a hip hinge to bring the kettlebell into the rack position. Make sure to keep your lats packed and core tight in this position. Uncoil the bell to bring it back down between your legs and repeat with a swinging motion or return to the ground and repeat. An ideal program that focuses on fat loss and utilizes cleans is Turbo Fat Loss by Living.Fit.
The Kettlebell Snatch has similar movements to the Kettlebell Clean, but you will bypass the rack position to bring the kettlebell to fixation overhead. Thus incorporating shoulder work into the kettlebell snatch movement in addition to legs, hips and back. The kettlebell snatch is a phenomenal movement at building strength, power, endurance and coordination. It’s a fairly complicated movement that can create a lot of pain and strife if done incorrectly so a focus on technique is crucial for success. Leaning on solid technique will allow you to do more, go heavier, and get a better overall session in. Make sure to master the one arm kettlebell swing as a way to get a portion of this movement down.
Watch demonstration here:
Double Gains is a kettlebell program designed to put on muscle using kettlebells and involves snatches and double snatches. Learn more here.
Kettlebell Get Up Transition
The get up is a great series of movements to build core strength and shoulder stability through a wide range of motion. As a movement from start to finish it is quite a bit so in this example we are focusing on the transition between the seated and half kneeling positions. This is an isolated portion of what is referred to as The Get Up or The Turkish Get Up. Even without weight this offers the ability to strengthen the shoulder stability of the planted arm, hip mobility as you transition with internal and external hip rotation, and core strength as you hold yourself up. The added benefit of holding a bell overhead to build even more shoulder stability is another bonus.
View demonstration here:
The purpose of this portion of The Get Up is to build hip strength, one of the very basic components of full body strength. Kettlebell Origins by Living.Fit focuses on basic movements and strength like this. Learn more about Kettlebell Origins here.
Maintain tension throughout this movement. Keep your core and pack tight to perform optimally.
Watch demonstration here:
Kettlebell Origins by www.living.Fit focuses on basic movements and strength like this. Learn more about Kettlebell Origins here.
Kettlebell Exercise to Build Your Chest
Kettlebell Chest Press
Lying on your back press the kettlebell like you would a dumbbell with one arm at a time. The beauty of the kettlebell means you can hold the kettlebell in multiple ways to make the movement easier or more challenging. If you hold the kettlebell the traditional way, you will be able to press the kettlebell the easiest. You can also hold the kettlebell by the base of the ball or on the side of the ball as opposed to the handle. These will make a kettlebell weight you press easily a bit more challenging.
Kettlebell Chest Press with a Bridge
While laying on your back you can place your feet on the floor with your knees bent and then elevate your torso so it is off the ground. Keep your core tight and while your torso is elevated you can perform the same chest press movements with the kettlebell. This will increase your range of motion because you can now go below parallel with the floor as your back is off the ground. Imagine yourself on a decline bench. This would be as if an invisible decline bench is under you. In this format you can also adjust how you hold the kettlebell to make the same weight easier or more difficult.
Your goal should be high reps in the 12-15 range for hypertrophy or lower rep ranges to build strength.
Kettlebell Exercises to Build Abs
While almost all kettlebell exercises will strengthen your core, building your core versus your abs are two different things. So, almost any of the movements mentioned above will build your core. To build your abs
Bottoms Up March
Clean the kettlebell to the Bottoms Up Position. This is when you are holding the kettlebell essentially upside down with the handle closest to you and the ball of the kettlebell is on top. The shape of the kettlebell creates a lot of natural instability in this position. Keep your shoulder firm and your lats engaged. You can march in place or move by moving your knees up as far as you can. You should use your abs to stabilize this movement. Try 30 seconds with the kettlebell on one side and then 30 seconds on the other. Avoid overly rotating and twisting your spine.
Around the Body
Pass the kettlebell from one hand to the other and behind your back to the front again. You are literally bringing the kettlebell around your entire body, around the waist. When you catch it in front on the other side, use your abs to brace and stop the kettlebell, then reverse back around again. Let’s say you start with the kettlebell in your left hand. Switch the kettlebell to your right hand which takes it around your back waist and is caught by your left hand which then moves it to your right hand again. Then pause and pass it back to your left hand to repeat the movement going the other direction. You should stay facing square and use your abs to control the movement. To make this more challenging, incorporate a catch instead of just a pause. You can catch the kettlebell higher or lower and move the kettlebell faster to make this more challenging.
Kettlebell Exercises to Build Your Arms
Yes, you can curl a kettlebell and there is good reason to. Again, this has to do with the shape of a kettlebell compared to other equipment. Not all weights are equal in how they challenge you. Curling a lighter kettlebell is more challenging than that same weight with the dumbbell. Due to most of the weight being in the ball of the kettlebell, that weight will act as a force that pulls harder on your bicep while letting your arm down from the top of the curl. This is the same motion as a dumbbell curl, but more challenging due to the kettlebell. Make sure to keep your core tight while doing this. Keep in the 12 plus rep range to build hypertrophy.
Goblet Squat Curls
If you would like to perform a combo movement try this Goblet Squat Curl. Hold the kettlebell upside down by the ball of the kettlebell. You will have to apply pressure with how you hold the kettlebell since you are holding onto a surface area bigger than your hands. While holding the kettlebell in front of you with your core tight and lats packed, squat down to below parallel and then curl the kettlebell one or two times. Then stand back up. This is a full body movement that will also isolate your biceps while at the bottom of the squat. The way you hold the kettlebell will make this challenging and really tax your arms. Keep in the 12 plus rep range to build hypertrophy.
Kettlebell Exercise for Triceps
One of the many great things about kettlebells is you can do any movement you can do with a dumbbell. That means you can try traditional tricep exercises.
Overhead Kettlebell Tricep Extension
Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Raise the kettlebell over your head while holding it with two hands. You can hold it by the handle or try different ways to hold the kettlebell. Keep your core tight and bend at your elbows to let the kettlebell drop below your head behind you. Focus on just using your triceps to raise the kettlebell back to overhead. Repeat this movement 15 plus times. You can also try this movement with just one arm at a time while holding the kettlebell as well.
Kettlebell Tricep Dips
Kettlebells truly are like having a gym with you anywhere. If you have a pair of kettlebells you can set them on the ground and sit between them with the kettlebells on each side of your shoulders. If you have seen a dip bar at the gym, this will be a similar movement. Place your hands on the handles of the kettlebells and then raise your entire body weight up with your triceps in the same way you would a dip bar. Use your triceps to lift your body off the ground and then let you back down to the ground in a controlled manner. Keep your core tight while doing this. Repeat this movement 12 to 15 times. You can vary the speed at which you move to make this a challenging rep range. You can speed up or you can have a more controlled descent to tax your triceps a bit more.
- Kettlebell Basics Course, This Kettlebell Basics takes excerpts from the classes we teach to trainers and breaks it down into movements that anyone can learn for better workouts. This course takes an understanding of hard style and kettlebell sport and is able to navigate the gray area between those two styles of kettlebell training, delivering a simple yet masterful approach.
- Kettlebell Origins, This is a great program for beginners or those who just want to get back to basics. The goal of this workout is to build strength, not make you sweat. You should be lifting challenging weight and taking some rest in between.
- Double Gains, You will get leaner and much more mobile during these next few weeks. This is challenging not only on the body, but will open up a mental focus you’ve likely never experienced.
- Kettlebell Flow, move freely with the kettlebell while building muscle and burning fat. Advanced Kettlebell Movements including, but not limited to 360 Cleans, Alternating Front Punch, Alternating Kettlebell Swing, Plus more to help you flow!
- Turbo Fat Loss, This program was designed to maximize fat loss while still building explosive strength and power.
- Anywhere Athlete, This workout is designed to get you stronger and put some size on. These are shorter workouts with the focus on choosing weights that will CHALLENGE you. This is an important aspect of any program, but worth repeating. Choose weights that will challenge you in the given rep scheme.
- Kettlebell Force, This four week plan is split up into four main workouts and two conditioning sessions. The main workouts are divided into upper and lower splits with two upper workouts and two lower. The upper is divided into a strength session focusing on lower reps and a hypertrophy session focusing on more volume.