Despite popular belief, kettlebells are not just for Crossfit training. Kettlebell exercises have been around since before the 20th century. These low key unknown pieces of strength equipment were used by circus strongmen long before Crossfitters took them for a spin.
Kettlebell exercises are the perfect tool for any functional fitness or strength training program. They offer a unique great alternative to traditional dumbbell and barbell movements. And unlike dumbbells and barbells, you don’t need a lot of different weights to reap the benefits of these movements.
Training with Kettlebells
Kettlebells generally go up by 4kg for each size. A female might start with an 8kg or 12kg kettlebell and a male might start with a 16kg kettlebell. It’s best to find a weight you feel comfortable moving, so if you need to use a lower weight that’s fine. If it feels too light, make sure your technique is on point before moving up to the next weight.
There is a wide range of movements and exercises that can be performed with a kettlebell. Some movements are variations of dumbbell or barbell movements – like a kettlebell snatch or a kettlebell overhead press. Others can only be performed with a kettlebell - like the kettlebell swing.
Kettlebell exercises are great for overhead stability training, as your muscles have to work hard to stabilise the odd shaped object. They are also good for teaching the hip-hinge movement that is utilised in many other exercises such as the Olympic lifts (the snatch, and the clean and jerk).
Kettlebell exercises can be used for strength training – higher weight, lower volume, or conditioning – lighter weight, higher volume. They are great exercises to incorporate into circuit training too.
Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners
The common kettlebell exercises below can be used if you’re just getting started or are looking to incorporate kettlebell training into your workouts.
Training with kettlebells isn’t easy. But they’re a great exercise tool and you’ll soon come to enjoy how they push your workouts to the next level. When you progress to the next weight it feels like you’re starting all over again as 4kg is quite a big jump. Reduce the volume of reps when you increase the weight until you feel comfortable with the increased load.
- Kettlebell Swing
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There are to variations to the kettlebell swing; American and Russian.
A Russian kettlebell swing is when you swing the kettlebell between your legs to just below shoulder level.
An American kettlebell swing is swung from between the legs to an overhead position. The movement is complete when the kettlebell is above your head, your arms locked out and your head is slightly through your arms. If you can’t comfortable hold the kettlebell over your head you will need to reduce the weight.
As a beginner, start off with the Russian kettlebell swing while you get used to moving and controlling the kettlebell.
Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, holding the kettlebell with both hands.
Then, drop into a half squat position, dropping your shoulders forward slightly. In one movement, bring your body into a standing position while swinging the kettlebell up.
- Kettlebell One-Arm Press
The kettlebell one arm press is similar to a standard dumbbell shoulder press. This exercise is very similar to a standard dumbbell shoulder press. However, you will only use one kettlebell at a time.
Start with the kettlebell handle over your shoulder, with the ‘bell’ resting against the back of your wrist. Press the kettlebell up into an overhead position as you would a normal shoulder press.
Carefully lower the kettlebell back to the starting position and repeat for the required reps.
As with a dumbbell, you may find it harder to complete with one arm than the other. Single arm kettlebell work is great for working on muscle imbalances. Use a weight that you can complete on both sides.
- Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is a great tool when learning the correct positions of the squat. The kettlebell acts as a counter balance so you can keep your torso more upright.
Start by holding the kettlebell with both hands on the sides of the handle close to your chest. Keep your elbows tucked in and the kettlebell about chest level.
Your feet should be in your normal squat position which will be about shoulder width apart and slightly pointed outwards.
Squeeze your glutes and your core as you lower yourself down into a squat. This will help you keep a rigid back. If your mobility allows, go below parallel. Otherwise, go as far as possible with good form. Stand back up into the starting position.
Goblet squats can be a great exercise to incorporate into warm ups before barbell squats.
- Shoulder Halo
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The shoulder halo is a great exercise for improving shoulder and tricep mobility.
Start by holding the kettlebell upside down by the sides of its handle at shoulder height. Your arms should not be extended out in front of you.
Then, move the kettlebell all the way around the back of the head in one motion until you reach the starting position. Then complete the movement in the opposite direction.
The movement should make a full circle around your head, hence the name shoulder halo.
- One-Arm Row w/ Kettlebell
The kettlebell one arm row is similar to a standard dumbbell one arm row, however, you will not be using a bench for support.
By not using any form of support for this exercise you are able to call on more stabilising muscles and develop more core strength. This will help boost other lifts like squats and deadlifts.
Begin by bending over with a rigid back. Your torso should be between parallel and 45 degrees to the floor.
Grab the kettlebell by the handle with one hand and perform a row by retracting your shoulder blade and pulling the kettlebell up into your side.
Kettlebell training can be a great way to get into fitness or change up your everyday workout routine. Kettlebell exercises provide mobility, stability and core strength development as well as strength and cardio gains. There are many more exercises that can be completed with a kettlebell. Once you master the basics you’ll be able to move on to more complex movements. Always start light with kettlebell exercises. Just as you use lighter weight dumbbells than you would barbell, you will most likely need to use lighter weight kettlebells than dumbbells as more joint stability is required.
Written by Gemma