Try These Single Kettlebell Circuits for the Gains You’ve Been Missing

All you need is a kettlebell.

Short on time, space, and equipment? Don’t sweat it — you can keep sweating as hard as you’d like. You don’t need to spend hours in a big, fully-equipped gym to find the gains you’re looking for. With just one piece of equipment, you can hit every part of your body — and ramp up your heart rate — quite effectively.

No matter your training split — or even if you want to improve your functional fitness level — single kettlebell circuits can get you stronger, help you build more muscle, and make you a better-conditioned athlete. The sheer exercise variety offered by kettlebells allows you to make big gains with just a little piece of equipment.

A close-up image shows a person grasping a single kettlebell with both hands with a lot of chalk floating around them.
Credit: StratfordProductions / Shutterstock

Here, you’ll find the strength training circuits with just one kettlebell. You won’t need a lot of space or time to get these done, but you will need a whole lot of grit. Get your game face on, grab your favorite (or only) kettlebell, and swing your way into those gains.

Best Single Kettlebell Circuits

What is a Single Kettlebell Circuit?

A circuit is a series of exercises that you perform back-to-back with minimal rest. Doing a single kettlebell circuit is exactly what it sounds like — performing back-to-back exercises with just one kettlebell. Circuit training is generally completed in rounds. In that case, you’ll perform one set of each exercise, then begin another round where you repeat the same circuit.

The goal is to rest as little as possible throughout your workout. That said, you want to maintain excellent form — even as you’re approaching the final round of your workout. Circuits are designed to get you breathing hard and fast, which makes them great additions to your conditioning work. Still, make sure you’re resting enough to maintain pristine form.

Lower Body Single Kettlebell Circuit

While kettlebell swings might be the first move that comes to many people’s minds when they think of kettlebells, swinging isn’t the only thing you can do with these weird implements. From goblet squats to the Romanian deadlift, kettlebells can work your entire lower body and posterior chain.

With this workout, you can use kettlebells to build some serious lower body strength — even if you don’t know how to swing. (If you do want to swing, don’t worry. Swings are featured in other workouts here.)

The Workout

This workout is going to tax pretty much every part of your lower body. You’ll hit your glutes, quads, and hamstrings with the goblet squats and Bulgarian split squats. The single-leg Romanian deadlifts will give some extra low to your hammies.

  • Unilateral Goblet Squat: 15 reps (right)
  • Front-Rack Unilateral Bulgarian Split Squat: 8 reps (right)
  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 10 reps (right)
  • Unilateral Goblet Squat: 15 reps (left)
  • Front-Rack Unilateral Bulgarian Split Squat: 8 reps (left)
  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 10 reps (left)
  • Repeat circuit three to four times.

Since the goblet squat is unilateral, make sure you’re holding the weight in only one hand at a time (instead of the traditional “goblet” image with both hands). That way, you’ll maximize core engagement and increase the challenge to your upper body even during this lower body workout.

Upper Body Single Kettlebell Circuit

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t work your arms with kettlebells. Sure, they’re not dumbbells, but that’s kind of the point. Kettlebells are off-balance by nature, and that helps give your muscles a unique stimulus. You’ll call in reinforcements from your stabilizer muscles in ways you just won’t have to do with most dumbbell moves.

You also don’t have to have mastery of the more explosive kettlebell movements to blast your upper body effectively. Traditional pressing moves — and some classic arm-builders — will do just fine to give your upper body all the stimulus it needs.

The Workout

Especially when you’re just starting this workout, the rep count might not seem too high. Remember that you’re going to run through this circuit at least three times. If you have the option to choose which weight you’re working with, be a little conservative to start with — you want to push yourself but don’t want to force total failure before you’re halfway through.

  • Single Kettlebell Push-Up: 8 reps (left)
  • Unilateral Kettlebell Floor Press: 10 reps (left)
  • Single Kettlebell Push Press: 10 reps (left)
  • Kettlebell Skull Crusher: 10 reps
  • Alternating Single Kettlebell Row: 16 reps (total)
  • Single Kettlebell Push-Up: 8 reps (right)
  • Unilateral Kettlebell Floor Press: 10 reps (right)
  • Single Kettlebell Push Press: 10 reps (right)
  • Repeat circuit three to four times.

If the only kettlebell you have access to is too heavy for you to comfortably perform a unilateral floor press or push press, feel free to use both hands to help press the bell. Just perform the reps as written without alternating hands.

Core Single Kettlebell Circuit

Sit-ups who? Not to hate on a classic, but kettlebells allow you to get extra creative with your core workouts. This workout will have you focusing on your legs through the goblet squat, your upper back with the pull-throughs, and your posterior chain with your alternating swings. 

These exercises combined — especially using one arm at a time — will roast your core, with the added benefit of bringing your whole body into the picture.

The Workout

Remember that the focus here is on your core, so make sure you’re moving with intention. When you’re preparing for each pull-through, for example, brace your core and squeeze your glutes to make sure you’re not just tugging with your upper body. Yes, you’ll recruit your upper back either way, but you’ll get the most out of this workout by honing your focus.

  • Unilateral Goblet Squat: 10 reps (right side)
  • Alternating Plank Pull-Through: 20 reps (total)
  • Unilateral Goblet Squat: 10 reps (left side)
  • Kettlebell Dead Bug Pull-Over: 20 reps (total)
  • Alternating Kettlebell Swing: 20 reps (total)
  • Repeat circuit four to five times.

You want to perform these moves with crisp execution. To ensure that you can keep this up throughout each round, rest as needed between rounds and between exercises. Challenge yourself, but make sure you’re doing what you need to do to maintain good form.

Single Kettlebell Circuit for Overhead Stability

Whether you’re an Olympic lifter, CrossFitter, or even just a recreational gymgoer, overhead stability is key to sustainable, powerful performances in the gym. Even if you don’t have access to a very heavy kettlebell, you can use these tools to significantly boost your overhead stability and pressing prowess.

Use a lighter weight if you’re not accustomed to the kettlebell snatch — or substitute it altogether with a kettlebell clean & press. Just add a hold at the top of each rep to increase the stability factor.

The Workout

It’s important to warm up before any workout, but a good dynamic warm-up may be especially helpful here. Move through some thoracic openers and shoulder warm-ups to make sure your upper body is ready to commit to stability.

  • Single Kettlebell Snatch: 8 reps (right)
  • Unilateral Overhead Lunge: 8 reps (right)
  • Single Kettlebell Strict Press: 8 reps (right)
  • Single Kettlebell Snatch: 8 reps (left)
  • Unilateral Overhead Lunge: 8 reps (left)
  • Single Kettlebell Strict Press: 8 reps (left)
  • Repeat circuit three times.

Try to flow from one move into the next as much as possible. So, attempt to transition directly from your last snatch rep into your overhead lunges.

Single Kettlebell Circuit for Functional Fitness

Functional fitness athletes — CrossFitters, anyone? — need to have an efficient cardiovascular system and a pretty powerful grip. Using a single kettlebell circuit to increase your functional fitness will accomplish both of these things all at the same time.

Be patient with yourself on this one, especially if you’re not used to performing such functional exercises back-to-back. Make sure to warm up your shoulders and thoracic spine so that you’re ready for those forward lunges, too.

The Workout

For this one, you’ll be mostly moving in patterns that you may well use on the daily — think lunging (for picking up your kid’s toys) and carrying heavy stuff (those grocery runs). Be sure to use a weight that feels sustainable for both your grip strength and your heart rate.

  • Unilateral Front-Rack Forward Lunge: 8 reps (right)
  • Unilateral Suitcase Carry: 45 seconds (right)
  • Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing: 30 seconds (right)
  • Unilateral Front-Rack Forward Lunge: 8 reps (left)
  • Unilateral Suitcase Carry: 45 seconds (left)
  • Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing: 30 seconds (left)
  • Repeat circuit four times.

Try to avoid putting the weights down between your lunges and your suitcase carries. If you do feel your grip failing, rest as needed to ensure good form.

Benefits of Single Kettlebell Circuits

A well-programmed circuit of any type will have ample benefits for your average strength athlete — perhaps especially those unaccustomed to conditioning work. Adding the element of only using a single kettlebell doesn’t actually limit the benefits. Instead, it enhances them. Read on to find out how.

Low-Impact Conditioning

No disrespect to running, but doing your conditioning work on the track is hard on your lower body joints. All that repetitive motion is great for making you a better runner, but even running with impeccable form can leave your feet, ankles, knees, and hips vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries.

Not so with kettlebells. Naturally, no form of exercise is without its risks. But kettlebell cardio provides a form of conditioning that revs up your heart rate without moving your feet from the ground. You’ll still get the benefits of weight-bearing exercise for your muscles and bones, but your feet and other lower body joints won’t have the same high-impact that other conditioning workouts may cause.

Combat Strength Imbalances

“Only” one kettlebell doesn’t produce “only” decent results. Use the fact that you’re working with just one kettlebell to your advantage. By working with one side at a time, you’re ensuring that your muscles and strength develop evenly. 

Most people have one side of their body that tends to be stronger (and maybe even more muscular) than the other. Whether that’s from left- or right-handedness, working exclusively with a barbell, or both, single kettlebell circuits can help even out those imbalances. Emphasizing only one side at a time will both expose and work to reduce side-to-side discrepancies in strength and muscle size.

Total Body Strength

Kettlebell exercises tend to be compound in nature — and explosive. While not all kettlebell moves are ballistic, many are. And because they’re multi-joint movements, they’re going to recruit muscles from all over your body.

Especially when you combine these kettlebell moves into circuits, you’ll be hitting multiple muscle groups and areas of emphasis in the same workout. Doing so will challenge your entire body to stay tuned into the workout. 

Even when you’re focusing on your core, for example, you’ll still be recruiting your full body through unilateral goblet squats and alternating kettlebell swings. This holistic approach will increase strength across your entire body, rather than just one segment at a time.

Increased Mental Toughness

Any circuit is going to demand a lot of you mentally. Strength athletes — especially those that are used to completing a low number of reps and then resting for minutes on end — will have to push themselves quite hard to get through even one round of exercises. Performing multiple rounds of a circuit can seem insurmountable at times.

Pushing yourself to complete each exercise and each round will develop a very particular type of mental toughness. You’ll be doing things you might never have thought yourself capable of, which will come in handy the next time you’re up against a one-rep max attempt.

That said, make sure you’re resting when you need to during your circuits. Sometimes, the biggest sign of true mental toughness is knowing when to take a break — or even when to call it quits.

How to Program Single Kettlebell Circuits

You might only have one kettlebell, but that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to program with it. Single kettlebell circuits can be integrated into existing programs fairly easily. You can also opt to create an entire training cycle featuring nothing but you, your yoga mat, and your lone kettlebell.

Single Kettlebell Finisher

Even if you’re primarily lifting with barbells, these kettlebell circuits can still make an appearance in your program. Use them as finishers after you’re done with your primary lifts for the day. Match the type of circuit you’re doing with the day you’re up to in your program

If you’ve been squatting, take it to the next level with a lower body single kettlebell circuit finisher. Been benching? An upper body single kettlebell circuit will do nicely. You might also choose to tack a core-focused circuit onto the end of any given workout to make sure you’re getting in your ab training.

Single Kettlebell Conditioning Day

You might not have a conditioning day programmed into your strength training cycle. But if you get winded from a single set of eight reps, you might want to consider it. Better conditioned athletes can generally handle more volume — and to a certain extent, the more volume you can handle, the stronger you have the potential to become.

In that way, adding a conditioning day into your program can be a huge asset not only for your cardio fitness, but to your lifting routine. Since most kettlebell circuits will present a huge potential boost to your conditioning, you can choose whichever circuit will fit best with your recovery needs between lifting sessions.

If you’re doing upper body work tomorrow, you might not want to do your upper body conditioning circuit today. But if you’re doing legs tomorrow, feel free to use your upper body — and your kettlebell — to give you all the conditioning work you can handle today.

Single Kettlebell Program

Instead of adding single kettlebell circuits into your existing training routine, you can also create entire training cycles based around single kettlebell workouts. You can perform each of the circuits provided here once a week, or split them up according to a frequency that works best for you. That way, you can keep your entire body seeing gains even without access to — or a desire to work with — other equipment.

One Kettlebell, Lots of Gains

Having access to all the fancy gym equipment can be a sweet feeling. But it’s not the only way to chase your training goals. With one kettlebell, you can work your entire body — including your lungs — with simple, time-efficient workouts. Single kettlebell circuits may be just what your program has been missing. Try them out and see for yourself.

Featured Image: StratfordProductions / Shutterstock