3 Underrated Kettlebell Exercises for Core Strength

It's not just kettlebell swings that strengthen the core

The kettlebell is a fantastic tool to improve power, strength, and conditioning. Swings, goblet squats and overhead pressing with a kettlebell is a circuit made in exercise heaven.

However, the kettlebell is a handy tool to challenge your core strength and endurance also. The shape and the handle of the kettlebell will train your core like never before.

Why The Kettlebell is Good For The Core

A kettlebell has an offset center of mass, which has interesting core strengthening benefits relative to dumbbells.

Dumbbells tend to center the weight within your hand while lifting, but with the kettlebell the weight changes depending on what exercise you’re doing. (Think swinging the weight in an arc up and down your body.)  

This impacts your overall stability and the stabilizing muscles of your core because your musculature, including all sorts of stabilizers, is constantly adjusting because of the shifting center of mass with each repetition.

Here are 3 exercises you should be doing to get your core beach ready.

[Related: Kettlebells vs dumbbells – which is best for my needs?]

1. Bottoms Up Carries

Bottoms-up carries are either done with your arms overhead or in the semi-racked position. The overhead version is far more difficult because the load is farther from your center of gravity, making it harder to balance with every step.

But both will improve your posture, lateral stability, grip strength, and rotator cuff. 

Form Tips And Programming Suggestions 

Start with either an 18 or 26-pound KB, because you don’t need a lot of weight to get a training effect. Make sure to align the handle with your wrist for better grip and stability. Grip tight — but you’ll do that instinctively after the first time the bell flops over onto your wrist. (Ouch.)

Try programming these at the end of your training in a superset with an upper back exercise to improve grip strength and posture. For example,

1A.  Semi racked carry 40 steps on each side

1B.  Birddog row 8-12 reps each side

[Related: 3 Bottoms Up Kettlebell Exercises to Improve Lifting Technique]

2. Half Kneeling Windmills

Half kneeling windmills will improve your ability to stabilize weight in an overhead position while improving your hinge. Plus, with the lower body being in the half kneeling position, you’ll train your core stability and hip mobility all in the one exercise.

This acts a good regression exercise from the standing windmills and it trains the core in the traverse (rotational) plane while going overhead, making it a great move for overhead and throwing athletes.

Form Tips And Programming Suggestions

Getting in a good half kneeling position is essential. Plus, pushing your back foot into the wall (watch the video) will help you feel your hamstring and glute while gaining better control of your pelvis during this exercise.

Start with a 18- or 26- pound KB, as again, weight is not the point of this exercise. Control and stability is.

Do this for 2-4 sets of 6-8 reps on each side as an accessory exercise towards the end of your training, or as part of your warm up before you hit the barbell. 

3. Tall Kneeling Halos

Kettlebell halos are a great exercise for strengthening and improving the mobility of your entire shoulder and upper back area. 

It’s often thought of as only a shoulder exercise, however, your core muscles (particularly your anterior and lateral core) work overtime to stabilize your body during the halo movement. Now, performing this in a tall kneeling position provides instant feedback on your technique and improves your hip mobility.

This exercise is the total package.

Form Tips And Programming Suggestions

Get into a good tall kneeling position by engaging your glutes and keeping your lower ribs down. Start off with a kettlebell between 26 and 35 pounds.

There is a tendency to ‘hurry’ this exercise. Prevent this by doing controlled reps because there is no prize for finishing first. Consider performing this as a superset with an exercise where shoulder mobility or hip mobility (or both) is needed. For example,

1A.  Front Squat 6 reps

1B.  Kettlebell Halos 8 reps on both sides.

Wrapping Up

There are plenty of ‘tools’ to strengthen your core and the kettlebell is one that needs to be in your toolbox. The unique shape of the kettlebell involves more of the body’s stabilizing muscles keeping the intensity high with less weight.

 Your core will not know what hit it.

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

Leave a Comment