Your Complete Guide to Kettlebell Training

Want the best of both workout worlds? Try kettlebell training, which combines strength and cardio to deliver major results.

Woman Swinging Kettlebell
Photo: Getty Images

If you've ever set foot in a gym, you've probably noticed kettlebells in the weight room. But why reach for one of these oddly shaped weights over a set of dumbells?

Since most kettlebell movements involve a swinging motion, this type of weight training activates your entire body rather than just your arm, shoulder, and back muscles. "Kettlebells challenge your body through cardiovascular movement unlike any other piece of equipment," explains Holly Roser, NASM-certified personal trainer. In fact, kettlebell training is such an effective workout, you can strengthen your entire body through kettlebell training alone.

Interested in learning more about kettlebell workouts? Here's what you need to know about kettlebell training — from the benefits of using kettlebells to proper form and beyond.

What Is Kettlebell Training?

"Kettlebell training involves using a [ball-shaped] weight with a handle with the intention of adding a swing," explains ShaNay Norvell, NSPA-certified personal trainer. Kettlebells range from as small as 1 pound all the way up to 100 pounds, and kettlebell training exercises are incredibly versatile and engage the whole body. Some movements require additional strength from the legs and hips. Others involve swinging the kettlebell from one hand to the other. "The swinging movement immediately incorporates the core and greatly increases heart rate, providing cardiovascular benefits," says Norvell.

Kettlebell training has been around much longer than you likely realize — for hundreds of years, in fact. Kettlebells are one of the oldest forms of fitness equipment in history, dating back to ancient Greece. The first iteration of a swingable weight, known as a haltere, was invented in the fifth century B.C. But kettlebells, as you know them today, were popularized by Pavel Tsatouline, a former Russian Special Forces trainer and author of The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. This kettlebell training manual was utilized by Russian soldiers and Olympic athletes to achieve peak physical performance.

What Equipment Is Used In Kettlebell Training?

"The beauty of working with a kettlebell is that it doesn't require other equipment outside of the kettlebell and your body," says Norvell. To protect your feet, wear flat-soled strength training shoes that offer proper stability when kettlebell training. You may also want to utilize an exercise mat for any kettlebell exercises done on the floor.

Benefits of Kettlebell Training

Kettlebell training provides a low-impact, full-body workout that strengthens muscles and improves cardiovascular health. Here are the key benefits of kettlebell training.

Strengthens Core Muscles

Want to improve your core strength and stability? Kettlebell training is by far the most powerful weight training method for activating your core. "Because of the [kettlebell's] shape, your body has to work harder to lift and swing it," explains Roser. Classic kettlebell moves, including the popular kettlebell swing, require your core to stay engaged to keep your lower body stable, which is why kettlebell training is so effective for strengthening the core.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

What do you get when you combine strength training with cardio? The heart-pumping benefits of kettlebell training. In particular, kettlebell swings are especially effective for cardio when compared to other workouts. Research has found that kettlebell swings provide a better cardiorespiratory challenge than traditional circuit weight training, greater cardiovascular benefits than a Tabata workout, and the same heart rate exertion as running on a treadmill — just to name a few.

Delivers a Low-Impact, Full-Body Workout

One big benefit of kettlebell training is that it allows you to train the total body, says Norvell. Kettlebell exercises work upper and lower body muscles, such as the hamstrings and glutes, along with upper body muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms. Since one or both feet remain on the ground during kettlebell exercises, kettlebell training is considered a low-impact workout — meaning it won't put additional strain on your joints.

Provides Approachable Weight Training

Traditional strength training exercises, such as hitting up the squat rack or reaching for a heavy pair of dumbbells, can feel off-putting, even for gym regulars. Picking up a kettlebell allows you to bypass the bro-dominated gym equipment, and the kettlebell delivers a workout that's just as effective as training with heavier weights. In a recent study, researchers determined that swinging a 17-pound kettlebell yielded similar strength training results as performing 52-pound deadlifts with kettlebells. So if you want the benefits of heavy lifting without the heavy weight, kettlebell training might be for you.

The Best Kettlebell Exercises

Kettlebell training is extremely versatile, as it can easily be tailored to individual fitness goals and needs. Here are a few key kettlebell exercises to get familiar with.

Kettlebell Swings

Mastering a kettlebell swing is an absolute must for kettlebell training. This move is popular in kettlebell workouts and acts as the foundation for intermediate and advanced kettlebell exercises. To properly execute the kettlebell swing, start with your feet hip-width apart and your kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you, says Roser. With a flat back and bent knees, pick up the kettlebell with both hands and hike it back between the legs. Then, drive the kettlebell forward using your hips and glutes.

"The idea is to use the force from your hip hinge to bring the kettlebell to shoulder height or a little bit lower than shoulder height," continues Roser. Keep your back flat throughout the movement, and engage your core to protect your lower back.


A kettlebell halo exercise involves a circular motion that mimics a "halo" shape (hence the name). Hold the kettlebell by the handle, then circle around the head pausing in front of the chest and alternating the direction each time, explains Norvell. Halos activate your upper body along with your core and obliques, and they can be done standing for a full-body workout or kneeling to isolate the upper body and core.

High Pulls

This full-body exercise is perfect for kettlebell beginners. To perform a high pull, start with the kettlebell on the ground and your feet wider than hip-width apart. Squat down and grab the kettlebell by the handle with both hands. Drive your feet into the ground as you straighten your legs to stand. Simultaneously, pull the kettlebell up toward your chin, finishing with your elbows raised in a Y-shape. Lower the kettlebell and let your arms hang long, then squat down to touch the kettlebell to the ground and repeat.

Looking for more kettlebell exercises? Try these moves:

The Best Kettlebell Workouts

Want to incorporate kettlebell training into your workout routine? Try kettlebell training two to three times per week if you're a beginner, recommends Norvell. You know your body best, but to get started, try doing four or five different kettlebell exercises, such as the ones listed above, repeating 15-20 times per exercise for three rounds each.

Here are a few more kettlebell workouts to consider:

If you're new to kettlebell training, start with lighter weights (5 to 10 pounds) while learning proper form and technique. Then work your way up to heavier kettlebells, advises Norvell.

"Because there are some [kettlebell] moves that are very challenging to your core, there is a risk of herniating a disc or pulling a muscle," cautions Roser. Before moving on to more advanced kettlebell movements or increasing kettlebell weight, consider working with a fitness professional. "Work with a coach to help you through these moves, as kettlebells are very challenging and require the correct muscles to be fired to achieve the best results," says Roser.

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