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