Top 10 Best Kettlebell Exercises4/12/20
Regardless of your specialty (bodybuilding, powerlifting, general fitness, crossfit, etc.), kettlebells offer an amazing training tool to help you build strength and get results.
While the kettlebell may seem like a relatively recent “invention”, the truth is that it has been around for close to 300 years!
What makes the kettlebell truly unique compared to other free weights is that its weight is offset, which brings not only a novel training stimulus to your muscles, but also challenges your balance, stability, mobility, and coordination.
Today, we showcase 10 of our favorite kettlebell exercises that you can implement into your training right now.
Let’s get started!
Top 10 Best Kettlebell Exercises
The kettlebell swing is the foundational exercise of kettlebell training.
It helps develop raw power, strength, and explosiveness and offers a back friendly way to train the posterior chain for those who don’t feel comfortable deadlifting with a barbell. Swings also help you learn how to generate power from your core outward to the object you’re attempting to move.
Beyond its ability to develop power and explosiveness, kettlebell swings also offer a low-impact, yet high-intensity form of cardio.
Don’t believe us?
Try knocking out 10 swings every minute on the minute for 10 minutes.
Women can start with a 12- or 16-pound kettlebell, and men should start with a 25- or 35-pound kettlebell.
If that’s too easy (or you are a kettlebell vet), increase the weight of the kettlebell you are using or switch to performing single-arm swings.
Finally, avoid the common mistake of “squatting” the kettlebell down. The swing is essentially an explosive hip hinge, meaning there is virtually no movement at the knee. It’s all in the hips.
Speaking of squatting, there’s no better way to learn how to properly squat than the goblet squat.
It’s a great option for those new to squatting as well as more seasoned lifters who are looking to shake up their routine and/or refine their squat technique.
Additionally, holding the weight in front of your body forces you to maintain a more upright torso (which shifts more tension onto the quads) as well as a tight core.
The goblet squat can be performed using a dumbbell or kettlebell, but our preference is for the kettlebell variation.
One of our favorite ways to program the kettlebell goblet squat is to perform a 50-rep burnout set using a kettlebell that is roughly half of your bodyweight.
Chances are very high that you will not be able to complete all 50 reps in one go...that’s ok.
Use rest-pause to complete all 50 reps. Just know that you cannot set the bell down until you finish all 50 reps.
Double Kettlebell Front Squat
The next step up from the goblet squat is the double kettlebell front squat.
Again, the weight is held in front of the body, which forces you to maintain an upright, tight torso all while hammering the quads and glutes.
This squat variation also trains scapular stabilization, a trait lacking in many individuals which in turn impairs performance during other upper body exercises (presses, pull ups, rows, etc.).
As opposed to barbell squats, the kettlebells act independent of one another (since you hold one in each hand). This can help identify any discrepancies (weaknesses) that may not be noticed when training solely with barbells and machines.
If you’re looking for a total body exercise that develops both mobility and stability—two requirements for maximal strength -- then you need look no further than the Turkish get-up.
Few exercises offer the ability to train across as many joints in so many different positions than the Turkish Get Up.
Sure, the get-up may not look as sexy as a max rep squat, deadlift or bench, but the tremendous increases you’ll experience in strength, hip and shoulder mobility, and overall athletic make it a top 10 exercise for all athletes.
Moreover, you’re also forced to stabilize the spine, scapulae, and shoulder joints under load, while training movement and mobility in hips, knees, and shoulders.
For more on this total body blaster, check out our comprehensive guide to the Turkish Get Up, here.
The dumbbell row is a staple movement of back training.
The gorilla row is a variation on the standard row that utilizes a shoulder-width stance instead of the traditional split stance.
Maintaining this static position while rowing recruits a higher number of motor units which will increase tension in the muscles of the back, hips, and legs.
The gorilla row position also reinforces proper hip hinge position, something sorely lacking in most fitness enthusiasts.
Although it emphasizes the back muscles, you'll be surprised at how much your legs are actually working while performing this row.
When performing the gorilla row, you can alternate sides or do all reps on one side before performing all reps with the other. This second option is ideal if you only have access to a single kettlebell.
Kettlebell Clean & Press
The kettlebell clean and press is an exercise that develops upper and lower body strength, power, and coordination.
Similar to the Turkish Get-Up, the clean & press is a total body workout within a single exercise as it hits virtually every major muscle group in the body from head to toe.
The kettlebell variation of the clean and press is also more joint friendly than its barbell-based relative, and kettlebells also offer a great entry into the world of Olympic lifts that seem less daunting than traditional barbell variations.
And, as you’ll find with nearly all kettlebell exercises, the kettlebell clean and press also provides a tremendous core workout that challenges both novice and elite gym rats.
Double Kettlebell Alternating Reverse Lunge
The lunge is one of the best leg exercises to develop strength, coordination, balance, and athleticism.
By using a double kettlebell front rack position, you’ll be engaging your core and upper body just as much, if not more, than your legs with each rep.
If the double front-racked position seems too daunting, you can simply hold a single kettlebell in the goblet position and perform alternating lunges.
Taking a larger step backward will recruit more of the hamstrings, while using a shorter step emphasizes the quads more. Regardless of your step length, the whole lower body is worked (as well as your core!).
Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift
The deadlift is an essential movement in life. There are countless times when you have to bend over and pick something up off of the ground.
If you lack the mobility, stability, and strength to execute the deadlift (hip hinge) pattern, you’re more prone to injury.
As such, you should be training the deadlift pattern regularly in your weekly training programs.
Notice that we didn’t say you have to do the deadlift with a barbell.
The kettlebell suitcase deadlift offers a low back-friendly, accessible alternative to the traditional deadlift ideal for gym goers of all strength and experience levels.
Since each arm is responsible for picking up a kettlebell, you’ll also be able to identify any weaknesses or strength discrepancies between the two sides of your body.
Kettlebell Floor Press
You didn’t think we’d forget about the chest (the favorite muscle group of millions of gym rats around the world), did you?
Of course not.
Now, moves like the clean and press and Turkish Get-Up will work the chest to some degree, but those don’t really emphasize the pecs.
The floor press, however, does.
We’ve gone in depth about the benefits of the floor press before, but as a quick recap.
Pressing from the floor is an ideal option for many gym goers as it's a lot more shoulder friendly. The reason for this is that the floor limits how far your arms travel down relative to your torso.
Since your upper arms (triceps) will contact the floor, the amount of shoulder extension that takes place is considerably less than what is possible during a traditional bench press.
Furthermore, the kettlebell floor press (similar to a dumbbell press) is unilateral, meaning both arms work independently, which helps develop stability and strength, while also identifying any potential discrepancies between the sides of your body.
And, since the majority of the weight of the kettlebell sits on your forearm, you are forced to keep your elbows tucked in close to your sides instead of flaring them out (which again supports joint health).
The kettlebell halo is a fantastic exercise to develop shoulder mobility and stabilization throughout a full range of motion.
This exercise also challenges core stabilization as well as scapular stabilization and control.
Now, make sure to take your time during the exercise. Do not rush.
Racing through each rep will cause you to move through your mid back instead of rotating through the shoulders, which is the whole point of the exercise.