Kettlebell training is as versatile as you need it to be. Want to up your conditioning? Kettlebells. Want to boost your grip strength and raw lifting power? Use kettlebells. Are you trying to even out imbalances and asymmetries? Ah, you get it.
In this guide, you’ll discover how kettlebell training can take up your game as a powerlifter, weightlifter, endurance athlete, or all-around functional fitness nerd. If you’re already sold on the power of the bell, and you’re trying to figure out which moves to prioritize, we outline the 10 best kettlebell exercises to integrate into your lifting program. Below, we also provide some kettlebell basics — like how to train with them and their many benefits.
Best Kettlebell Exercises
- Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
- Kettlebell Swing
- Kettlebell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift
- Kettlebell Ballistic Row
- Kettlebell Goblet Squat
- Kettlebell Clean
- Kettlebell Unilateral Thruster
- Kettlebell Strict Press
- Kettlebell Snatch
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The kettlebell Turkish get-up is an advanced, multi-step exercise that will challenge your core, overall body coordination, and overhead strength and stability. You’ll work your way through one-sided hip raise, windmill, and lunge (and then do it all in reverse), maintaining weighted shoulder stability the whole time. Make sure you can adequately complete each segment of the move individually before trying to combine them into one flow — practice unweighted or with a light weight before upping the ante.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
- Integrates intensive full-body coordination and awareness into your training, which translates directly into cleaner, more efficient lifts.
- It develops core strength and stability.
- Enhances overhead strength and stability as the lifter must maintain a load overhead during a complex movement series.
How to Do the Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
Lie on your right side and hug the kettlebell to your chest, with the pad between your thumb and index finger hugging the side of the handle (instead of in the middle). Roll onto your back, bending your right knee with your right foot flat on the ground. Extend your left leg and arm out to your sides, about 45 degrees. Press the bell up overhead and pack your shoulder. Press your left palm into the ground. Keep your left foot down, get up onto your left elbow, and maintain eye contact with the bell. Press up from your elbow onto your left hand. Ground your right foot down and press up into a hip raise. Weave your left leg under your torso to bring yourself into a lunge position. Windmill the bell up to straighten your body. Lunge to stand up, maintaining eye contact with the bell so that you’re in a standing position with the bell pressed over your head. Reverse each movement until you’re back in starting position.
Once you’ve mastered the proper hip hinge, kettlebell swings will be your new best bud. You’ll target your glutes and hamstrings while improving your grip strength — and (if you’re doing it right), you won’t be stressing out your lower back while working the heck out of your conditioning and posterior chain.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
- Reinforce healthy hip hinging patterns to improve your deadlift without jeopardizing your lower back.
- It improves core and grip strength.
- The kettlebell swing maximizes cardiovascular conditioning with low-impact movement.
How to Do the Kettlebell Swing
Start with the bell a foot or two in front of you, and your feet set hip-width apart. Hinge at the hips and bend your knees slightly until you can grasp the handle with your hands. Drag the bell back behind you, like you’re hiking a football, then snap up through your hips (without hyperextending your low back) to raise the bell to about chest height. Avoid yanking with your arms, letting your elbows and grip stay soft. The momentum should all come from your hips. When the bell comes back down, aim to keep the bottom of the bell above your knees (instead of letting it swing closer to the ground). Once the bell has traveled behind you, repeat your hip snap.
The single-leg Romanian deadlift (Romanian deadlift) allows you to refine your hip hinge while also challenging your balance, taxing your core, and activating your hamstrings. Using a kettlebell creates a different feel, as the center of gravity is different than that of a dumbbell. Don’t be tempted to sink all the way down, so the bell nearly touches the ground — you want to increase activation of your hamstrings, but not overload them to the point of muscle strains.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Single-Leg Romanian deadlift
- It reinforces proper hip hinge patterning while specifically targeting your hamstrings.
- Address side-to-side strength imbalances by isolating one leg at a time.
- Enhance overall body coordination, balance, and core strength.
How to Do the Kettlebell Single-Leg Romanian deadlift
Start with your feet about hip-width apart (a little wider if you tend to struggle with balance). Holding the kettlebell in your right hand, imagine rooting your right foot into the ground with a soft bend in your right knee. Hinge at the hips, letting your left leg float back behind you until your torso and left leg is nearly parallel with the ground. If your arms are particularly long, stop before you hit parallel — judge your depth based on when the bottom of the bell has descended just past your knee. Slowly come back to standing and repeat.
The kettlebell suitcase deadlift is another hinge-dominant move that will force you to focus on your core stability and balance. Since the weight is set to one side (instead of in front of you, like with barbell deadlifts or even kettlebell single-leg RDLs), you’ll have to activate your core to keep your body steady and the kettlebell path consistent. It’s also a deadlift variation that lets you perform more volume, as you’re usually lifting light weight. (Well. light compared to what you can pull on a standard barbell.)
Benefits of the Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift
- Target your core muscles by resisting rotational forces due to the one-sided loading of this lift.
- You’ll tax the quadriceps, as lifting a kettlebell will allow for a longer range of motion.
- Increase lat activation and combat upper back asymmetries by contracting the lats to keep the weight in place.
How to Do the Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift
Stand tall while holding a kettlebell at your side in only one hand. As you start your hip hinge and descent, resist rotating toward the weighted side or overcompensating by hiking your weighted shoulder up and back. As with any other deadlift, maintain a neutral spine and keep your core tight. Press your feet into the floor to stand and repeat, maintaining your body’s resistance to rotation the entire time.
Once you’ve mastered the ability to keep your back neutral while handling a heavy bell, you can up the ante with kettlebell ballistic rows. They’re basically like regular bent over rows, except for the ballistic part — which has you switch hands for the row, mid-lift, at the top of each rep. This shift in force will force you to stay stable, recruiting your core muscles, and enhance your coordination.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Ballistic Row
- Target your core by prioritizing anti-rotation while transitioning hands.
- Enhance both muscular power and hypertrophy by adding a ballistic element to typical bent-over rows.
- Enhance strength and stability at the end range of your hip hinge, which can translate into better strength off the floor with your deadlifts and a sturdier base for your squats and presses.
How to Do the Kettlebell Ballistic Row
Hold a kettlebell in one hand and stand tall. When you’re set, keep your core and glutes tight, and hinge forward until your torso is set about parallel to the ground. (Note: adjust your angle based on your own body. You don’t want the bell to touch the floor at any point.) Contract your lats, resisting rotating with your torso, and row the bell to your chest (like you would with a regular bent-over row, but with more momentum and more toward the center of your body than out to the side). Release the bell at its highest point under your chest or belly, and grab it with the other hand. Repeat the motion on the other side.
Goblet squats keep your entire body is engaged and ensure that you’re squatting to depth — with no knee valgus — every darn time. While all squats will challenge your core and upper back, goblet squats force you to pay extra attention to your core (to maintain an upright position), your lats, and your traps (to keep the bell tight and secure in your hands).
Benefits of the Kettlebell Goblet Squat
- Improves knee valgus — AKA that pesky caving in of your knees during a squat — by keeping your elbows tucked between your thighs during the movement, physically making sure your knees stay out.
- It challenges your core to keep your torso upright against the front-loaded pull forward during the movement.
- It targets your lats and traps as you’ll have to work your upper body hard to keep the bell in place.
How to Do the Kettlebell Goblet Squat
There are two ways you can hold the kettlebell. The first is to grab the handle with both hands, and the second is to grab the base with both hands so that the handle is pointing towards the floor. This is your choice. Either way, ensure the bell is right under your chin. Once the bell is settled, descend into a squat, keeping your torso tall and your elbows tucked in along your rib cage. Stand back up once you hit depth and repeat.
Kettlebell cleans combine a hinge, a squat, and a ballistic row — sort of. The point is, you’ll need to recruit everything you know about your body’s movement patterns to seamlessly snap the bell up from the ground to rack position. It’ll make you more powerful but also more aware and athletically inclined.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Clean
- It targets your hamstrings and glutes with the initial part of the movement, using momentum in an extremely targeted, controlled manner.
- Recruits your upper back, traps, and lats due to the front rack position.
- Enhances cardiovascular conditioning.
How to Do the Kettlebell Clean
Start with the kettlebell between your feet (about shoulder-width apart), with the handle in line with your toes. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees with a neutral back. Grasp the handle with an offset grip, with the padding between your thumb and index finger tucked up against the curve of the handle that’s facing behind you. Contract your lats and drive your feet into the ground and your elbow up, keeping your weighted arm tucked close to your rib cage. When the bell is nearing chest height, thread your elbow down under the bell, gently catching the bell between your chest and front delt in the rack position. Stabilize, hold for a moment, and repeat.
Kettlebell unilateral thrusters combine the best of cleans, goblet squats, and overhead presses. Think of this move as the ultimate full-body exercise. These will make you stronger, leaner, give your more endurance, and carry over to all the aforementioned lifts. As a bonus: You’ll rack up more overall work as you’re performing reps on both sides of your body.
Benefits of the Unilateral Thruster
- Increase unilateral strength and hypertrophy by training one side of your upper body at a time. You’ll address and prevent strength asymmetries in your shoulders and core with the unequal load.
- Improve your ability to flow complex movements together to build strength and cardiovascular capacity at the same time.
- Enhance your overhead strength and stability with the pressing component of each rep.
How to Do the Unilateral Thruster
Perform a clean on your left side. As soon as the bell is front racked, flow down into a full squat. Use the momentum from rising out of your squat to press the bell overhead. Return it with control to rack position, and flow back down into your squat. Repeat.
Sure, you can lift more weight overhead by using momentum from your legs and hips. But the kettlebell strict press is all about being…well, strict. By eliminating that extra bit of oomph from your lower body, you’re placing emphasis on your traps and shoulders. And by performing the move with a kettlebell, you’ll be putting your shoulders in a much less compromised position than using a barbell or even a dumbbell (as the kettlebell doesn’t fix your joint into place as much by comparison.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Strict Press
- Promote overhead strength and stability by focusing exclusively on the upper body to drive the force of the lift.
- Increase muscular hypertrophy of the upper back and shoulders while also training for the mental stamina it takes to lift heavy weight overhead from a dead stop.
- Keep your shoulders safe by pressing with your hands and arms aligned with the plane of your scapula rather than forcing your hands into a more unnatural “palms up” position under heavy load.
How to Do the Kettlebell Strict Press
Clean the kettlebell up to rack position. From there, brace your core as hard as you can and focus on maintaining that rigidity throughout the lift. Imagine pushing yourself against the ground as you press the bell overhead. Also, imagine pushing your forearm back against the bell (this will flex your wrist forward, maximally engaging your forearms and upper arms). If it helps, keep your unweighted hand in a tight fist by your side throughout the lift to maintain tension and balance.
The kettlebell snatch is an advanced and highly effective full-body workout in and of itself. It requires technical precision and a great deal of coordination, awareness, strength, and power. Don’t have all those qualities to the max yet? Start small, and the kettlebell snatch will help you develop them.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Snatch
- Enhance your cardiovascular endurance with a high-intensity move that is low-impact on your lower body.
- Develop full-body coordination and power, translating into more efficient and stronger lifts — even when you’re working with slower training schemes like paused reps.
- Improve your thoracic spine mobility and your overhead stability by properly getting into the top position and then reversing the movement without injury.
How to Do the Kettlebell Snatch
Start with a one-handed kettlebell swing. Once you’ve got the hang of the movement, transition your swing into a high pull, using that last burst of momentum at the top of a swing to engage your upper lats, traps, and delts to pull the bell toward your body. As it approaches, tilt your forearm up to “weave” it through the bell, avoiding the painful kettlebell forearm flop as you straighten your arm, using momentum to “snatch” the bell the rest of the way over your head. Pause in the top position, then flip the bell over your hand to let it flow down into a swing again. Rinse and repeat.
The Benefits of Training With Kettlebells
Kettlebells aren’t just weirdly-shaped for funsies — their funky shape gives them an entirely different set of uses. Their offset weight distribution makes your stabilizer muscles work harder with any given move (grip strength, much?), and you’ll need to engage your core more deeply with every single lift to keep the bell balanced. When you recruit more muscles during each lift, you bring your strength training to a whole new level.
Even intense conditioning work with kettlebells builds some serious strength and power (think snatches, cleans, and swings). But, unlike other forms of high-intensity training, kettlebell conditioning work involves less impact on your joints. All the benefits with none of the repetitive pounding is definitely a good thing for strength athletes.
More basic kettlebell moves (think goblet squats and deadlifts) are great ways to reinforce positive movement patterns for lifters of all experience levels. And the more advanced moves (think cleans and snatches) combine strength and conditioning in a way that few lifts can.
For folks without a lot of space to trains, moves like kettlebell swings are great for a simple but effective workout. Kettlebell exercises like these are great for developing your functional fitness (grocery bags feel a load lighter when you can clean a 24kg bell with ease). On top of all that, they’re great for building total-body coordination and confidence, too.
How to Train With Kettlebells
Figuring out how to incorporate kettlebells into your training is all about assessing your goals and your current fitness levels. If you’re a few weeks out from a powerlifting meet, now is probably not the time to devote energy to kettlebell accessory work. But if you’ve been looking to add develop some power and cardiovascular endurance — that won’t take a huge toll on your body — along with your strength training, kettlebells will be a welcome addition for you.
Your entire program doesn’t have to become about the bell to integrate these tools into your training (although having a training block entirely made of kettlebells would definitely have its advantages). You can and probably should integrate these 10 best kettlebell moves the same way you would incorporate other accessory training — whenever it makes sense energetically in your program.
Do you want to perform kettlebell snatches before heavy overhead presses? Heck no. But might you want to add unilateral kettlebell thrusters to the end of leg day to give yourself a cardio-heavy finisher? Heck yes. Think smart about the placement of kettlebell training into your program — kettlebell single-leg RDLs make great accessory work on posterior chain days. Still, you also want to avoid overtaxing your hammies after an ultra-intense deadlifting session. Plan accordingly, just as you do with your other accessory work.
If one of your goals right now is cardiovascular conditioning (or even just shaking up the doldrums of your regularly-scheduled routine), feel free to program an entire day or two out of the week to just focus on power-oriented kettlebell work. The ballistic nature of so many kettlebell movements lends themselves well to intense cardio finishers (and sessions all their own).
One more note about kettlebell training: no matter what your experience level is with a barbell or how cardiovascularly fit you are, you’ll need to give your body some learning curve space and extra recovery time when you’re starting. Yes, kettlebells are easier on the body than higher-impact training like box jumps — but because moves like swings, cleans, and snatches require such technical precision and full-body coordination, make sure you’re adequately working up to each move.
How to Warm-up For Kettlebell Training
Here’s one similarity between kettlebell workouts and all other types of training — you need to warm-up beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll risk injury. In addition to going through your usual lifting warmup routine before diving into kettlebells, try some full-body activators like the world’s greatest stretch and bear crawls.
If you’re going to dive more deeply into the ballistic moves, be sure to include some more intense dynamic movement prep. That can come in the form of simply going through the motions of swings, cleans, thrusters, and snatches with very light weight and building up to your working weight, ramping up just like you would for slower lifting. Even if you’re using these moves as a finisher, you’ve still got to prep your body for the specific movements, so always start with a weight lighter than what you need to scale your kettlebell workouts properly.
More Kettlebell Training Tips
You’re all set to conquer the great wide world of kettlebell training. But before you grab the nearest bell and start swinging, make sure you’re maximizing your know-how with these other kettlebell training articles.
- 10 Questions You’ve Always Had About Kettlebells, Answered
- Can You Train With Kettlebells Every Day?
- 9 Kettlebell Benchmarks To Strive For
- 5 Kettlebell Circuits That Will Maximize Your Endurance
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