The Complete Kettlebell Exercise Guide for Beginners

Build muscle, burn fat, and develop metabolic fitness with kettlebells.

The kettlebell is an amazing all-inclusive tool for building muscle, burning fat, and developing cardiovascular fitness and work capacity. The movements in this article can be performed as stand alone exercises or built into circuits and conditioning segments (they’re also fantastic for mixing into bodyweight sessions/warm-ups). If you’re lacking the space for a fully stocked home gym, fear not. With a single kettlebell (and practice), you can take your fitness to the next level.

These 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.

Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners

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 essential movement 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. If you’re looking to firm up your pressing mechanics, the one-arm strict press can help develop form and add to your power. 

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

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.

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. 

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.

When in doubt, squat. Add a kettlebell into the mix without the added stability of both arms, and you’ll feel the burn (and the benefits) translate  beyond your legs to your core and other stabilizing muscles. 

Lunge (Racked or Goblet)

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.

 What’s great about this movement is that it 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 of the traditional swing (Russian) with the added benefits of unilateral training. More importantly, it has direct application to more advanced “basic” exercise, such as the high pull, clean, and snatch.

Stability is the name of the game here. Remove the added stability from both arms gripping the bell and focus your energy on stabilizing through your pillar. 

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.

Timing is key here. Focus on the when and where of the kettlebell at the top of the movement, and the benefits will translate to other overhead movements. 

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) can be found in 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 implemented similarly to the clean, and is a premier explosive total body movement for power, strength, and metabolic conditioning segments.

With this explosive movement, you’ll feel the flow of the kettlebell and develop a keen sense of timing and awareness. 

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.

Sometimes loaded carries (in all forms) can be overlooked for more eye-catching movements, but they’re one of the best movements for overall fitness and benefit all skill levels. 

Final Words

While the world of kettlebell training is vast and can be complicated, this basic-level list can help beginners (and even experience kettlebell veterans) 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.