The 9 Best Kettlebell Exercises
“The shot put is a super-effective exercise that does it all: It combines large, functional movements in the lower body, rotation through the core, and a powerful shoulder press,” says Amy Dixon, certified master trainer and creator of Raise Some Bell: The Ultimate Kettlebell Workout. “Once you’ve mastered the move, make it more challenging by increasing speed without sacrificing form.”
How to do it: Get in a sumo squat position with feet wider than hip-width apart and toes slightly turned out. Hold a kettlebell in front of right shoulder, bending right elbow in by side, with left arm extended out to side in line with shoulder. Straighten legs while simultaneously pivoting right foot and lifting right heel. Rotate through hips and core to turn body to the left while pressing kettlebell straight up in line with shoulder and swinging left arm down by side. Return to starting position. Try 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps per side.
“The snatch is my favorite kettlebell exercise, because it’s a multi-jointed, functional move that uses all of the major muscle groups,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University. “Plus after doing just a few, your heart rate soars, so it ranks as a legit cardio move as well.”
How to do it: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell in right hand, palm facing body, with left arm extended to side of shoulder. Swing the kettlebell through legs, hinging at hips and pushing glutes back, keeping spine naturally straight and abs engaged. Punch through hips and push feet into the floor, swinging the kettlebell up, keeping shoulder close to body and using arm to control the motion (rather than power it). Punch palm upward to rotate the kettlebell to the backside of wrist (this helps prevent the kettlebell from flipping and banging into the backside of wrist). Rotate kettlebell back to front of wrist (under palm) and lower it in a controlled motion back to starting position. Immediately begin next rep. Try 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps per side.
“This bent press was made popular by Arthur Saxon, a strongman performer in the late 19th century. It’s experienced a resurgence among kettlebell and strength-training aficionados because it can help develop hip, core, back, shoulder, and arm strength all with one movement, making it a very efficient exercise,” says Pete McCall, a strength coach and science officer for the Institute of Motion in San Diego.
How to do it: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, with a kettlebell in right hand. Bend right elbow in by side, resting the kettlebell on backside of wrist, palm facing in, in front of right shoulder. Keeping spine naturally straight and abs tight, push hips to the right, lowering torso to the left while extending right arm to the ceiling and sliding left arm along inside of left leg. (Rotate head to look up at the kettlebell while in motion to help maintain control of the load.) Use abs to slowly return upright, keeping right arm extended, then bending right elbow back to starting position just before next rep. Try 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps per side.
“This is one of my favorite shoulder press variations. It's not only a great way to spice up your upper body workouts and hit your shoulders a bit differently, but it also requires some additional core muscle engagement in order to maintain the offset load,” says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and author of Strength Training for Fat Loss.
Watch Tumminello demo the move here.
How to do it: Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding the bell portion of a kettlebell with both hands. Bend elbows to position the kettlebell in front of right shoulder. Press the kettlebell overhead, and then lower it to front of left shoulder. Continue, alternating shoulders each rep. Try 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 20 reps.
Kettlebell Side Plank
“A strong core will always give you a competitive edge in athletic performance in addition to the aesthetic benefit of a nice toned tummy,” says Patricia Friberg, a certified fitness instructor. This move’s sculpting power reaches not just your abs, but shoulders, legs, and back as well.
How to do it: Lie on left side with left elbow bent under shoulder, legs extended in line with hips and feet stacked. Hold a kettlebell in right hand, resting on back of forearm, with right arm extended overhead in line with shoulder. Brace abs in tight and press down through left arm to lift hips off the floor into a full side plank. Try to lengthen up through right arm while pressing down with left arm, pressing shoulders down away from ears. Keeping right arm stable, lower hips to starting position. Try 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps per side.
Back Lunge Gunslinger
The gunslinger gets its name from the way the weight extends forward—like a gun being raised by a cowboy in a Western movie—which results in more force and work in the biceps. “This exercise combines two single-joint moves into a multi-joint, multi-muscle move that requires not only strength but also directional change, timing, and coordination for a dynamic exercise with many benefits,” says Paul Katami, a kettlebell master instructor and star of the Kettlebell Drills DVD.
How to do it: Stand with feet together, holding kettlebell in right hand by side. Step right leg back into a lunge while doing a “gunslinger” biceps curl with right arm, raising kettlebell to chest height. Return to starting position. Try 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps per side.
Single-Arm Swing With Clean and Press
“This is a great total-body exercise that torches major calories; however, proper technique is crucial to ensure safety and effectiveness,” says Jessica Matthews, assistant professor of exercise science at San Diego Miramar College.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell in right hand with palm facing body. Extend left arm out in front of shoulder. Swing the kettlebell through legs, hinging at hips and pushing glutes back, keeping spine naturally straight and abs engaged. Thrust hips forward, generating power from lower body, and raise kettlebell up to shoulder height (called a “clean”), bending right elbow in close by side and rotating palm in (thumb should face toward body) while rotating the kettlebell to back of forearm. Extend right arm overhead in line with shoulder, turning palm away from body. Slowly return to starting position and repeat, switching arms on the next rep by quickly transferring the kettlebell to left hand when raised to shoulder height. Try 3 sets of as many reps as possible (AMRAP) for 45 seconds, alternating sides each rep.
“I love this exercise because of its utility and versatility. We are built for these types of multiple-joint, full-body movements that mimic the coordinated sequences we perform in everyday activities,” says Vincent Metzo, director of education for Kettlebell Concepts. This move can be performed with various weights and rep/set counts for different goals; for aerobic endurance, Metzo recommends using a lighter weight that’s less than 13 percent of your body weight.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell by the handle with both hands in between legs (called “high hanging position”). Do a quick half-squat and then straighten legs and raise heels off the floor while shrugging shoulders to pull the kettlebell upward to mid-torso height, with elbows higher than wrists. (Use arms to guide kettlebell close to body, not to power the pull.) Let the kettlebell drop back down, absorbing the momentum by returning to the half-squat position. Try 5 to 10 sets of as many reps as possible (AMRAP) for 30 seconds, resting 30 seconds between sets.
“This move is similar to an old-school basketball drill, but the use of a kettlebell ups the intensity,” says Kim Truman, certified personal trainer and athletic performance coach, who loves it because it's a compound movement that targets the entire body and helps amp up endurance. For an even greater challenge, try doing as many reps as possible (AMRAP) for a full 90-second interval.
How to do it: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, with a kettlebell on the ground between feet, and lower into a quarter-squat, keeping spine naturally straight, chest lifted, and shoulders back. Reach down and grasp kettlebell handle with right hand. Gently swing the kettlebell back between legs and transfer it to left hand. Weave it around the outside of left leg and then back between legs to switch off to right hand. Weave it around the outside of right leg to complete a figure-8 pattern. Continue in a consistent flow of motion. Try 1 set of 10 to 15 reps, working up to 90 seconds of reps.