Kettlebell training is an effective way to build overall strength, power, and hypertrophy for most fitness and general fitness enthusiasts. Often, movements like squats, deadlifts, and other leg training staples are trained with a heavy barbell, however we have put together a workout that can be done to vary one’s training up and address movement and unilateral imbalances.
The workout below can be used as an alternative or stand alone leg strength workout for most individuals. Note, that for more advanced strength, power, fitness, and recreational athletes/lifters, the amount of loading available with the kettlebells may be the limiting factor. If this is the case, a lifter must then determine if they should upgrade to heavier kettlebells (100+lbs) or do their strength lifts using a barbell or other piece of equipment to allow for adequate loads.
The below kettlebell circuit is designed to be a leg workout to build strength and muscle. Note, that most of the movements below are dependent on loading intensity (weight used) and training volume. In instances where a stronger athlete/lifter does not have access to heavier kettlebells, they may in fact not be able to progress in strength after a certain point without heavier loads. If this is the case, two kettlebells can be used (see exercise swaps below). If this does not remedy the situation, it is suggested that the lifter integrate more barbell loaded movements (squats, deadlifts, etc) into their primary strength blocks.
The quadriceps are targeted by both squats and lunges in the workout below. These muscles are responsible for knee extension and have a broad application to most movements in sport and fitness.
The hamstrings are key to most athletic movements as they are one of the bigger muscle groups of the posterior chain. They are secondary movers in the squat and lunge, however are primary targeted in the deadlift.
The glutes are powerful muscles that are responsible for running, jumping, and most explosive force output in athletic movements. These are targeted in nearly all of the movements for strength and hypertrophy. The workout starts with kettlebell swings to ignite the glutes and increase power output for increased strength and athleticism.
The calves are active in most movements, as the help to stabilize the ankle and exert force into the floor through static and active plantar flexion. Strong calves can increase lower body strength, stability, and power output (triple extension). If you are someone who is looking to add some calf training to your routine, you can do so at the end of the workout. Learn more about the benefits of calf raises here.
The three exercises below are some of the most effective muscle strength building movements done with kettlebells. Note, that most of these exercises are not ballistic in nature, and are dependent on the amount of loading and overall volume a lifter can do at moderate to hard effort.
- Kettlebell Swing – 4 sets of 8 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets. Build in weight so that you are using a heavy enough kettlebell to fully exert force without losing control. Often, too light of a kettlebell will impede maximal effort swings.
- Kettlebell Goblet Squat – 6 sets of 6 repetitions, as heavy as possible. Rest period should be 90 seconds to 2 minutes. If you do not have a heavy enough kettlebell (as some lifters may need 100-150 lbs kettlebells, swap the kettlebell goblet squat for a double kettlebell squat. While this will increase the need for upper back strength, it will allow you to load the body with enough weight to stimulate strength adaptations.
- Deficit Double Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift / Suitcase Deadlift – 5 sets of 8 repetitions, as heavy as possible. Similar to the goblet squat, the loading that is needed to deliver enough stimulus to increase strength may not be available using only one kettlebell. If you do have 100-150 lb kettlebells laying around, you are in luck. If however you do not, you will need to use the heaviest pair of kettlebells that you can to complete the reps. If you choose to do the kettlebell suitcase deadlift, be sure to feel tension in the hamstrings, hips, and middle/upper back.
- Kettlebell Walking Lunge (kettlebells to sides, not in front rack) – 4 sets of 20 steps, as heavy as possible. The key here is to use as heavy as weight as possible yet still allow for proper joint and muscle function. Be sure to keep the kettlebells down by the sides rather than in the front rack, as front rack lunges are often limited by our upper back and core strength. By carrying the kettlebells to the sides, we are able to overload the lower body directly.
- Standing Kettlebell Calf Raise – 5 sets of 20 repetitions, resting 45-60 seconds between sets. This can be done by standing with the toes on plates or small wood block with the kettlebells being held to the sides. If you are a strength, power, and fitness athlete, check out our article covering whether or not calf raises are worth it.
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