The Complete Kettlebell Exercise Guide for Beginners: Build Muscle, Burn Fat, and Develop Metabolic Fitness

In previous articles we discussed the history of the kettlebell, more advanced exercises for athletes, and even the difference between kettlebell sport and hardstyle training. After reading through my previous works, I realized I fell short on the delivery of fundamental exercises that beginners (and all levels) should learn and perfect so that they can increase baseline fitness, strength, movement patterning, and foundation for optimal fitness.

The kettlebell is an amazing all-inclusive tool for building muscle, burning fat, and developing cardiovascular fitness and work capacity. The following movements can be performed as stand alone exercises or built into circuits and conditioning segments (I often will mix the fundamental exercises into bodyweight sessions/warm-ups). What’s even better is with a single kettlebell (and practice), you can take your fitness to the next level.

The below exercises are by no means the full lineup of “foundational” kettlebell exercises, however they are a great place to start. To challenge yourself further (after you have mastered the ones below), take a look at these top kettlebell exercises for athletes.

Russian Swing

The Russian swing, either done hardstyle (which focuses on a more explosiveness) or the more energy efficient Girevoy sport swing, is a fundamental movement patterning that every individual needs to master before progressing into the world of kettlebell training. Learn this, and you hold the key to kettlebell training.

American Swing

The American swing is the standard for functional fitness competitions. While similar to the Russian swing, the American swing ends with the kettlebell locked out overhead rather than at hip/chest height. In a previous article we discussed the pros and cons of the American swing, with the conclusion that it still deserves a spot in a general fitness program  (primary based upon its upper body training and conditioning purposes)

One-Arm Strict Press

This unilateral movement is great for developing strength, stabilization (shoulder and core), and muscular development. With similar benefits to overhead pressing, this kettlebell variation undoubtedly will deliver all the same benefits unilateral training has to offer, while allowing you to build out your arsenal of kettlebell exercises.

Goblet Squat

This front-loaded squat variation can be used to teach proper squatting mechanics, increase range of motion, and even be built into warm-up routines. The goblet squat offers all the same benefits of front-loaded squatting, and is a very natural squatting position for beginners and all level athletes.

One-Arm Front Squat

The kettlebell front squat is an intense and demanding front-loaded squat variation, requiring a high degree of shoulder, core, and scapular stabilization. This movement can develop a lifter for more intense barbell training, as well as set the foundation for more advanced lifts like kettlebell snatches, cleans, and double-rack training.

Lunge (Racked or Goblet)

A photo posted by Paul Timpas (@paultimpas) on

To balance out the squatting and deadlifting (kettlebell swings fall within the same movement pattern as a traditional deadlift) in this lineup, the lunge (either held in front-rack, goblet, overhead, or any variation) is a fundamental unilateral exercise for the lower body. This can be used with any variation of lunging, in multiple planes of motion.

One-Arm Swing

Learning the one-arm swing offers the same benefits on the traditional swing (Russian) with the added benefits of unilateral training (see hyperlink above). More importantly, it has direct application to more advanced “basic” exercise, such as the high pull, clean, and snatch.

One-Arm High Pull

This high pull variation is a precursor to the clean and snatch, and should be mastered to develop control and timing necessary for the clean and snatch.

One-Arm Clean

The kettlebell clean is a top ballistic total body movement, one that can be built into conditioning circuits, used with heavy loads, or placed into complexes that involve a lot of the aforementioned movements. Some examples of great metabolic circuits that involve the kettlebell clean (as well as the squat and strict press) is Dan John’s “Armor Complex”.

One-Arm Snatch

In a recent article we discussed the unique benefits of the one-arm snatch (more specifically, the barbell variation). This movement can be implements similarly to the clean, and is a premier explosive total body movement for power, strength, and metabolic conditioning segments.

Loaded Carry (Racked, Overhead, or Suitcase)

Loaded carries are a great way to teach core stability and total body awareness. Whether you use one kettlebell or two, you can vary the carries to diverse your total body strength and awareness, which can impact your overall athleticism and injury resilience.

Final Words

While the world of kettlebell training is vast and can be complicated, this basic level list can help beginners (and all levels) start to develop a stronger and more fit foundation for years to come. As with all training, seek a coach who can assist you when embarking upon your fitness journey, and stay consistent to find the best results!

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @paultimpas on Instagram


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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.