We challenge you to find a piece of fitness equipment that’s more versatile—or more effective—than the kettlebell. You won’t.
“A single kettlebell can be used to develop max strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular capacity and power,” explains Karen Smith, a master kettlebell instructor with StrongFirst, a Nevada-based trainer certification program.
The kettlebell’s weight and structure allows you to turn fast-paced plyometric exercises into a devastating strength and cardio combo. With the addition of the bell, these moves build muscle, promote explosiveness, and jack up your heart rate all at once. Nearly equal parts strength work and cardio exertion mean you can burn far more calories than you would with either barbell or steady-state work in the same amount of time.
But it’s more than just calorie burn that sets this piece of gym equipment apart from the rest. Most kettlebell exercises involve large compound movements that recruit a wide range of musculature at once and train your whole body to operate as one (very powerful) unit. Learning to link your motions and tap into your body as a unit directly translates to increased performance outside the gym in your endurance sports.
“I’ve had many of my clients use kettlebell training to cut down on their running volume while still improving their V02 max and marathon performance,” says Smith. For athletes with overuse and joint injuries—or just time-strapped schedules—that’s huge.
Smith created this total-body routine to be your baseline workout. We’ve included videos to get you started. Once you have the form down, complete exercises one and two as directed. Next, perform exercises three and four as compound moves: alternate one set of each exercise with little to no rest until you’ve completed all sets of both exercises.
1. Kettlebell Deadlift
What It Works: This workout staple hones the hip hinge, which strengthens your body’s most powerful muscles for increased power and injury-squashing stability.
How to Do It: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, arms extended straight in front of your thighs, and a kettlebell placed between your feet. Keeping your back flat, gaze down to avoid neck strain, and with knees slightly bent, hinge at your hips to send your butt back behind you. Make sure your hips are higher than your knees and your shoulders are higher than your hips. At the bottom of the movement, grip the bell’s handle with both hands, palms facing your body. Tighten your core to maintain a rigid torso, then forcefully squeeze your glutes to thrust your hips forward to stand up straight with the kettlebell between your knees. Pause, then slowly repeat the hip hinge to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Perform five sets of five reps, resting as needed between sets.
2. Turkish Get-Up
What It Works: Everything from your calves to your forearms. You don’t need a ton of weight to challenge yourself here, so practice the movement without a kettlebell first.
How to Do It: This one’s especially confusing, so the video is really going to help you parse it out. But here’s how to get it done: Lie on the floor with a kettlebell on your right side. Roll toward the bell in a fetal position and grab the handle with both hands, using an overhand grip. Then roll onto your back. Shift the bell so you’re holding the handle with your right hand. From here, press the bell to a straight locked-out arm position, using your left hand to adjust the kettlebell so it rests flat against the back of your forearm. Next, bend your right knee to plant that foot firmly on the floor. Using your extended arm and both legs, roll up onto your left forearm, and then your left hand, while keeping the right arm locked out and vertical above your shoulder. Press through your left palm to a tall seated position, both arms straight. Press through your right foot to extend your hips up so your torso forms a straight line from right knee to right shoulder. Swoop the left leg under your hips and behind you until the left knee is in line with the left hand. Shift your weight until you’re in a half-kneeling position, torso vertical and left hand off the floor. Push through the back foot to assume a standing position, right arm still locked out with the kettlebell above your right shoulder. Slowly reverse the movement to return the bell to the floor. Turn around so the bell is on the opposite side of your body, then repeat on that side. That’s one rep. Perform five sets of one rep, resting as needed between sets.
3. Kettlebell Swing
What It Works: This move hammers your glutes while getting your heart rate up to torch calories and boost your aerobic fitness. It’s as much of a cardio exercise as it is a strength move.
How to Do It: Standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, place a kettlebell about one foot in front of you. Hinge at the hips to send your butt back, knees just slightly bent and shins vertical. Keeping a flat back and braced core, grip the bell with both hands, palms facing your body. With the bell still on the floor, squeeze your upper back so the top of the bell tilts toward you. Hike the bell back between your legs. As the bell begins to come back forward, explosively “snap’ your hips forward so you’re in a standing position. Your hips should “drive’ the bell, while the arms only “guide” the bell straight out in front of your body at about chest height. Do not pull the bell with your arms. With your hands still firmly around the handle, allow the bell to fall down on its own. As your arms approach your body, hinge your hips to move immediately into another hike. That’s one rep. Perform five sets of ten reps.
4. Kettlebell Goblet Squat
What It Works: This squat variation increases the load placed on your quads while still hitting your glutes and hamstrings. The weight placement also makes it ideal for learning proper form—keeping your spine neutral and chest up.
How to Do It: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and toes turned out just slightly. Hold a kettlebell by the horns (the two vertical posts that form the sides of the handle) directly in front on your chest, palms facing your body. Keeping your back flat, chest up, and core braced, bend your hips and knees to lower your body as far as you can while maintaining good form. Let your knees track slightly outward and try to lower down to below a 90-degree angle. Press through the heels of your feet to return to standing, and squeeze your glutes together at the top of the movement. That’s one rep. Perform five sets of five reps.
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