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8 Kettlebell Exercises That Will Kick Your Ass

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8 Kettlebell Exercises That Will Kick Your Ass

Kettlebell exercises have remained popular for nearly 300 years for a reason: they’re fun, easy to learn, and they build muscle and strength.

 

Think you need a fancy gym setup to develop superhero strength? Think again.

While kettlebells can look deceptively easy to move around, but with the right kettlebell workouts, you can target every muscle in your body and build strength while increasing endurance.

In fact, kettlebell workouts are so effective they’ve been a primary tool in Russian bodybuilding and stronglifting since the 1700s. The term Girevik, traditionally used for only the strongest Russian men, actually translates to “kettlebell man.”

The types of popular kettlebell workouts vary widely. Some people enjoy using kettlebell exercises as their primary form of resistance training, in which case heavier weights are used. Others prefer to use kettlebell workouts as a form of whole-body circuit cardio, which calls for lighter weights and more repetitions.

Either use is fine, and I think kettlebell workouts should be a part of every home exercise routine. They’re just extremely versatile, they require very little equipment (2 – 6 kettlebells is all you’ll need), and they are a very effective way to build muscle and strength outside the weight room.

So, let’s now look at 8 of the toughest kettlebell exercises out there–exercises that will, quite frankly, kick your ass.

1. Double Kettlebell Squat

This one is easy to describe, but not so easy to do.

You’ll be squatting with two kettlebells held up in front of the shoulders. To get them there, clean them into position. Squat as low as you can go, but point the knees out to the side instead of straight ahead. Keep your spine straight and stacked on top of your pelvis. Don’t let your shoulder slump forward. Stand all the way back up and repeat. Shoot for 15–20 squats.

2. Turkish Get-Up

Turkish Get-Ups are challenging, but they’re not just for building strength; they correct muscle imbalances. Make these a regular part of your workout regimen and you’ll see gains in whatever else you’re doing.

Start by laying down and extending your right arm straight to bring it in front of your chest. Keep your shoulders down with your back flat on the ground. Bend your right knee in and slowly raise up your right shoulder to prop yourself up on your left elbow. Sit up carefully, keeping your arm straight to raise the kettlebell above you head. You will end up with your right foot flat on the ground near your seat. Push up from your left elbow to your hand, straightening that arm while lifting your chest. Great, you’re halfway there!

Keep your eyes on the weight as you shift from one position to the next. Now focus on lifting your hips and getting both feet flat on the ground, hip distance apart. Sweet your left leg behind you to a kneeling position. Your right arm is still extended straight up above you. Stand by pushing up with your right leg to pick the left knee up from the ground. Ta da! Now do as many as you can without sacrificing the integrity of each position, and repeat on the other side.

3. Kettlebell Military Press

This one also starts by cleaning the kettlebell, but you’ll do both sides at once. Lean slightly forward to press the kettlebells overhead at the same time. Lower them down to the shoulders slowly, and repeat for 10–20 reps. This is tougher than military press with a bar because it’s more difficult to move both hands at the same pace while keeping steady.

4. Kettlebell Push-Up+

To make everyday push-ups more difficult, you can grasp the handles of two kettlebells. This gives you a slightly less stable base and allows you sink down lower for increased range of motion. But to take it to the next level, flip the kettlebells over and rest your hands on the bottom. By keeping them balanced on the handle, you’re increasing the amount of instability.

If that feels stable, try shoulder taps at the top of your push-up. Keep your core engaged and hips level while lifting one hand up to your opposite shoulder. Make sure you don’t twist your body from side to side. Switch hands before doing another push-up. Do 1–2 sets of 10.

5. Kettlebell Pistol Squat

As if the regular old pistol squat wasn’t already hard enough, we have the kettlebell pistol squat.

To perform this exercise, pick up a kettlebell with two hands and hold it by the sides of the handles (the horns, as they’re called). Raise one leg off of the floor and squat down on the other by flexing at the knee and squatting with the hips. keep the kettlebell up in front of you. Hold the bottom position for a moment, and drive up through the heel, keeping your head and chest up.

6. One-Arm Kettlebell High Lunge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one will really get your heart pumping. First, clean the kettlebell; that will bring you to the position where the kettlebell is by your shoulder with your palm facing out. Then press the kettleball up, keeping it directly over your shoulder, while bending your knees into a high lunge position. Keep the kettlebell overhead as you stand up straight, and then lower the weight with control. Do 2 sets of 5.

7. Russian Kettlebell Twist

You get to sit down for this one, but that doesn’t mean you get to kick back and relax.

To get into position, start with your feet flat on the floor, and then raise your legs up so your shins are parallel to the ground. With both hands hold the kettlebell close to your chest, either at the handle or base, and lean back to a 45-degree angle. Your core should be engaged the whole time to keep you steady. Twist at the waist left and right – not the hips! – using core control to slowly move the kettlebell side to side.

Obliques not burning yet? Increase difficulty by holding the kettlebell farther away from your chest. The hardest progression is to maintain a v-shape, keeping the legs lifted straight out with toes pointed up.

8. Advanced Kettlebell Windmill

Strong shoulders will help you prevent injury when lifting. Give them some much-needed attention challenging your abs with these windmills.

Lift a kettlebell above your head with a clean and press, and flatten the free arm against the small of your back. Turn your feet away from the kettlebell, and lean your torso away in the same direction. If your butt is sticking out, you’re doing it right! Lower down as far as you can, and then use those glutes and hamstrings to press back up. Do 10–15 reps on each side.

Want Some Kettlebells?

If you’re itching for some kettlebell action, I recommend you go with CAP’s or York’s kettlebells. They’re cheap, solidly constructed, and have comfortable handle sizes and smooth finishes. No need to get fancy here!

cap-kettlebell

 What did you think of these kettlebell exercises? Have any others you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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  • Ian

    These look fun and I have always been interested in trying out kettlebells but how do these fit into your program? Should your one year program be completed before you add stuff like this into it? Can this be used as the cardio/HIIT portion of your day by using lighter weights? Having never used kettlebells before, what weights do you recommend?

    • Michael Matthews

      Personally I would use them as cardio. You can do circuit training with them, using lighter weights. 20 min will kick your butt!

  • Gary Kenny

    Great article as always Mike! I love working out with Kettlebells! I try to do a tabata routine with kettlebells every Saturday morning as a kick-ass way to start my weekend. I’m surprised you omitted Kettlebell Swings and Kettlebell High-Pulls. Fill me in!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Gary! That’s great–KBs are perfect for whole-body HIIT.

      Ah yeah those should have been in! Doh! Good movements.

  • Alan Cherney

    I didn’t expect this from you! A wise book once told me that you can’t build strength without progressive overload near max effort. Kettlebells are generally light, expensive and non adjustable, and most importantly, all the sets I’ve come across don’t provide enough granularity for a stable, moderate increase in weight (mostly 10 lbs increments, not 5 like dbs). I actually sat down once and pondered how I could build a progressive overload program with kettlebell work and it calculated to 8 bazillion dollars and involved gluing little rocks to the bells every week. Though I be lovin em in my BOX for my WOD and uncle rhabdo, more crossfit lingo, kettlebells rock, i am Wodkilla godzilla. sorry haven’t had my coffee yet today. I also didn’t read your article.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah you’re totally right, KBs aren’t good as the foundation of a weightlifting program. But many people actually like to use them for cardio…

  • BFLY

    You can absolutely build muscle with kettlebells if they are heavy enough. Do Charles Staley’s EDT with a pair of 70 lb. kettlebells and let me know what you think.

    • Michael Matthews

      Very true!

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  • AgeUke

    Additionally KB snatches are a brutal exercise too, 100 of them with a 24kg bell has kicked my arse over and over again

    • Michael Matthews

      True!

  • CDK

    Mike,
    Is there a reason why I have seen people easily reach 1,000 lbs with their deadlift, squat, and bench press but then when I hand them a 45 lb KB for a Turkish Get Up, they struggle to get up?

    I remember doing a circuit with someone and gave him a 35 lb DB and he couldn’t do it, meanwhile I had a 55lb DB and finished the workout with 105 lb BB.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah

  • Han

    So I love kettlebells and am trying to incorporate them into my weight loss plan. Currently I do them at a moderate weight (26 for arms and 36-44 for legs) doing a circuit of three moves with about ten reps for 20-30mins three times a week. I rest for 20-30sec between sets depending on my energy levels. I do not move as fast as I can but I am sweaty and tired by the end. Is this a good kettlebell HIIT or am I better off doing lighter weight as fast as I can and resting between sets. I do weight training on top of the HIIT based on your outline in your book…

    • Michael Matthews

      Great on what you’re doing! I like it. If I were you I would do the KB work heavier and then do HIIT separately!

      What do you think?

      • Han

        That is actually what I used to do – two days of heavy legs and two heavy arms I the morning for 20 mins and then Four days a week of mod weight 20min circuits like I described above. It got me to 19% body fat but I stopped and switched it up with normal weights these past few weeks to see if I can hit 17%. But I hate cardio (even HIIT) so much, I kept my circuits so I wouldn’t lose my motivation since KB is so fun…
        But you think the moderate weight circuits are good enough to count as hiit and help me lose that 2%?

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  • Ben

    Hi Mike,

    Ive split my workouts into 4 days 1.Chest/triceps, 2.legs, 3.Shoulders 4.Back/biceps

    Kbell workouts really target multiple muscle groups at once meaning it is impossible to fully rest a group for more that 48 hours when incorporating a kbell routine as the cardio.

    So my question really is, will a Kbell workout have a negative effect on my Shoulder workout from the day before ect ect.

    Thanks

    • Cool on this. It depends how intense your workouts are. If you’re going lighter on the weights and are using it for cardio, you should be fine.

  • Allen

    Kettlebell swings are a fantastic way to warm up for deadlifts. They’re essentially the same movement pattern but they really warm up your joints for lifting heavy.

  • maxkane

    Hi Mike. Just signed up to your newsletter. Thank you. I’m 50 and have been training now for two months after a two year layoff. My body remembered everything it learnt from years ago and I’m rapidly getting into better physical shape than I was at 40. And I was in very good lean shape then. I’m going for more muscle mass and definition now. I’m sure your tips will help me a lot. Thanks again. Max. London UK.

    • YW.

      Gotta love muscle memory!

      Glad you’re planning on looking better now than you did 10 years ago. 🙂 Let’s do it.

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • Reggie

    Whenever possible I like to use Kettle bells for my overhead pressing. They are so easy on the shoulder joint, allow for a larger range of motion and involve the middle and rear delts more. The only issue is the jumps between kettlebell sizes are huge, making them difficult for microloading in 5-10 pound increments like barbells and dumbbells do.

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