9 Crazy-Effective Beginner Kettlebell Exercises Even Newbies Can Master

You don't have to be a fitness pro to use this versatile piece of equipment.

5 Crazy-Effective Beginner Kettlebell Exercises Even Newbies Can Master
Photography by Jena Cumbo.

If you're a gym newbie, you might find yourself gravitating towards the most familiar equipment in the gym (think: dumbbells, ellipticals, and treadmills). But if you stick to those types of workouts on repeat, you're doing yourself a major disservice. Adding new equipment to your workout routine can challenge your muscles in a completely unique way, and conquering unfamiliar gear can also give you a major confidence boost — and the motivation to keep chasing your fitness goals.

One piece of equipment that even beginners to fitness should consider? The kettlebell. Here's why a beginner kettlebell workout may be just the thing you need in your gym routine, plus nine of the best beginner kettlebell exercises to try.

Benefits of Beginner Kettlebell Workouts

Working out with kettlebells is almost always a good idea (after all, think of all the crazy benefits you get from just doing a kettlebell swing). But a full kettlebell workout can get you total-body toning, increased cardiovascular fitness, core strengthening, and improved posture and balance — without a big time investment. Case in point: One study by the American Council on Exercise found that the average kettlebell workout burns 20 calories a minute.

"One of the main kettlebell benefits is that it's an effective, efficient workout of cardio and strength training in one," says Sarah Lurie, author of the book Kettlebells for Dummies and founder of Iron Core Kettlebell Strength and Conditioning in San Diego, CA. Instead of isolating muscle groups as you do when lifting dumbbells, you work all your major muscle groups at once with a kettlebell. That's because you have to work continuously to control the bell's shifting center of gravity as you move it around your body, Lurie explains.

Plus, the specific design of kettlebells makes them ideal for building core strength, says Jill Goodtree, NASM-GFI, NASM-CPT, RRCA run coach, and trainer at Rumble Boxing and Swerve Fitness. "Kettlebells are a great tool for weight lifting because the center of mass is away from the handle." she explains. "This [design] increases the stabilization demands on muscles. Also, kettlebells are a versatile tool that can increase grip strength, be used for both cardio and strength, and help train for power."

Best Tips for Beginner Kettlebell Workouts

New to kettlebells? No problem. Start by picking the right weight and setting up your space. If you’re comfortable using 8- to 10-pound dumbbells, start with a 14- or 15-pound kettlebell, says Lurie. If you don't currently lift weights, try a 10-pound bell. You only need one bell to start gaining kettlebell benefits.

You might also think about ditching your shoes or wearing flat, thin-soled shoes. Being able to feel the ground can help you be more grounded and balanced while you work. And speaking of being grounded, having solid form and good posture is essential for beginner kettlebell exercises, since the weight of the bell is distributed unevenly; having rounded shoulders could cause a low back injury. "A neutral spine will distribute the weight of the kettlebell throughout your muscles properly and prevent injuries," says Lurie.

Finally, remember that the beginner kettlebell workout isn't technically over when you finish your reps; you have to put the kettlebell down safely too, says Goodtree. "I always think, 'You control the bell, don't let it control you,'" she advises. "Pick up and put down weights with care, always lifting from the legs and not using your spine."

The 9 Best Beginner Kettlebell Exercises

Now that you know the basics of beginner kettlebell workouts, it's time to try adding these kettlebell exercises to your workout routine. These exercises, demonstrated by Goodtree, vary from full-body kettlebell exercises to kettlebell exercises that only target the upper body or lower body. Start with a light kettlebell until you feel confident nailing these moves.

How to add these beginner kettlebell exercises to your routine: You can use these exercises to create a full-body beginner kettlebell workout by doing 8 to 12 reps of each movement and repeating the entire circuit 2 to 3 times. Alternatively, try adding a set of kettlebell swings as a finisher to any workout, doing the movement for 30 seconds at a high intensity for a set number of intervals.

Before tackling these beginner kettlebell exercises, warm up with two to three minutes of dynamic movements. Cool down after your workout with two to three minutes of full-body stretching.

1. Windmill

Why it works: This beginner kettlebell exercise challenges your obliques and works your shoulder stability. Plus, since you're rotating your upper body and doing a hip hinge, your body learns to work in multiple planes of motion.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a light kettlebell racked in right hand, the bell resting against top of forearm. Press the kettlebell up overhead so biceps are next to right ear, right arm is locked, and palm faces forward. Pivot both feet 45 degrees to the left. Left arm is hanging at side.

B. Look up at the kettlebell and rotate torso slightly to open chest toward the kettlebell. Keeping right arm straight, core engaged, shoulder blades retracted, and eyes locked on the kettlebell, hinge at hips to lower torso toward the floor. Bend left leg slightly and keep right leg as straight as possible while tracing left hand down inside of left leg toward floor, palm facing outward.

C. Continue hinging as far as possible without recruiting back muscles or bending at waist. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

2. Kettlebell Deadlift

Why it works: The deadlift is a classic lower body move that works your hamstrings through the hip hinge motion. Using a kettlebell for a deadlift is well-suited to beginners because you'll learn how to hip hinge while contracting your lats, which is an essential part of doing the deadlift safely.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at sides, holding a kettlebell with arms fully extended, palms facing legs.

B. Engage core and pull shoulder blades down and back. Then, send hips back to lower kettlebell toward the floor until you feel a stretch in hamstrings.

C. Keeping chest up, push through feet to return to standing, squeezing glutes at the top.

3. Kettlebell Swing

Why it works: The kettlebell swing is a foundational beginner kettlebell exercise, since it gets your heart rate up while building explosive power (which comes from the hip hinge motion, FYI). Plus, it's a full-body kettlebell exercise, working your glutes, hamstrings, hips, quads, core, triceps, biceps, and deltoids.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands at sides, and a kettlebell on the floor about one foot in front of toes. Bend knees slightly and hinge at hips to lower arms toward the floor. Grab the kettlebell handle with both hands and tilt it toward body.

B. On an inhale, hike the kettlebell back and up between thighs. Then on an exhale, press feet into the floor, squeeze glutes, and drive through hips to quickly stand up and explosively swing the kettlebell forward and up to shoulder height. Keep arms extended with a slight bend in elbows throughout the movement.

C. Hinge at hips, bend knees slightly, and drive the kettlebell back down and in between thighs.

4. High Pull

Why it works: The high pull is ideal for beginner kettlebell workouts because it focuses on core strength and engaging your lower body for a solid foundation. During the high pull, focus on grounding through your feet and squeezing your glutes to prevent a lower back arch, which could lead to injury.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell by the handle with both hands in between legs.

B. Engage lats and pull the kettlebell upward to mid-torso height, with elbows higher than wrists in a "Y" position. Keep arms close to body and avoid shrugging shoulders toward ears.

C. With control, lower the kettlebell back down.

5. Strict Kettlebell Press

Why it works: A strict press (meaning you don't get any momentum from your lower body) engages the core and builds shoulder stability. Plus, by only working one side of your body at a time, this beginner kettlebell exercise helps correct muscle imbalances.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, kettlebell in right hand, and core engaged. Keeping right arm bent at 90 degrees, raise right elbow up to chest height and out at side, a few inches in front of body. Face right palm forward. This is the starting position.

B. On an exhale, press the kettlebell directly overhead so wrist stacks directly over right shoulder and right biceps are next to ears. Keep core engaged.

C. On an inhale, bend right elbow and lower the kettlebell back to the starting position.

6. Kettlebell Halo

Why it works: Add the kettlebell halo to your beginner kettlebell workout if you want to improve grip strength (which will help you progress your kettlebell workouts even more, BTW). This core-strengthening move also builds muscular strength through prolonged time under tension, aka the amount of time your muscles spend contracting against an external resistance.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold one side of the kettlebell's handle in each hand, bell facing up, to start. Elbows should be bent in front of ribcage and bell of the weight in front of mouth.

B. Keeping core engaged and spine neutral, raise kettlebell up to right ear so handle is facing forward. Then, keeping biceps tucked close to head, guide the kettlebell around back of head, past left ear, and finally return the kettlebell back to the starting position.

C. Pause, then repeat the movement on the opposite side.

7. Kettlebell Row

Why it works: The row is an essential beginner kettlebell exercise for building strength in your back muscles (and improving your posture, too). And when you do this move with kettlebells, you add an extra challenge since the weight of the bell is closer toward the ground, meaning you'll have to work a little harder to row the bell up toward your ribcage.

A. Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Hinge forward at hips until back is nearly parallel to the floor, holding a kettlebell in left hand. Maintain flat back throughout movement.

B. With core engaged, bend left elbow, drawing kettlebell up toward left ribcage until left elbow is at a 90-degree angle and left shoulder blade is squeezed. Left arm stays close to left side of body.

C. With control, lower kettlebell back down until left arm is fully extended.

8. Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Why it works: If one of your goals is to improve your barbell squat, using a kettlebell is a solid first step for beginners, as Lacee Lazoff, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the founder of Bells Up, previously told Shape. When squatting with a kettlebell in a goblet position, you have to engage your core and upper body to stay upright, which helps you perfect your form before moving on to barbell squats.

A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart, holding the kettlebell with one hand on each side of the handle at chest. Draw shoulders down and away from ears.

B. Keeping chest lifted and spine straight, bend knees and shift hips back to lower into a squat, until reaching the bottom of the body's range of motion.

C. Press through center of feet and engage glutes to return to standing.

9. Kettlebell Push Press

Why it works: The push press utilizes your lower-body strength to drive the kettlebell up overhead, allowing you to lift slightly heavier and progress your strength. Adding the lower body in makes this move perfect for a beginner kettlebell workout, because that little extra oomph can help you power through the set if you're new to kettlebells.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, kettlebell in right hand, and core engaged. Keeping right arm bent at 90 degrees, raise elbow up to chest height and in front of body. Face right palm inward. This is the starting position.

B. Bend knees slightly, then on an exhale, drive through feet to straighten legs and press the kettlebell directly overhead so right wrist stacks directly over right shoulder and right biceps are next to right ear. Keep core engaged.

C. On an inhale, bend right elbow and lower the kettlebell back to the starting position.

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