You've probably done your fair share of traditional body-weight ab exercises, but to really get the results you're after, you might need to add a weighted tool to the mix. And the best solution when you need equipment to fire up your abs is none other than the kettlebell.
Kettlebells are holistic tools and my favorite to use in the gym and at home. The kettlebell's unique shape makes it ideal for strength and power training in the legs and shoulders and to increase grip strength.
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Made of cast iron or cast steel, kettlebells are shaped like a ball with a handle attached to the top. They are usually weighed in kilograms. Keep in mind that 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.
Essential kettlebell movements mimic real-life, functional patterns. Take, for example, farmer's walks. You have a kettlebell in each hand and walk forward, stabilizing the back of your body, called your posterior chain, by bracing your core — much like carrying groceries.
As a fitness coach, I like to have my client focus on core stability, or the ability to keep your spine from moving during physical activity such as walking, running or biking. A smart core program should train the trunk muscles not only to stabilize but also to assist as facilitators of trunk movement.
Some kettlebell exercises may target the core specifically — you'll feel the muscles in your midsection working hard throughout — while others are sort of sneaky, in that they are meant to target other muscles but simultaneously challenge your middle. You might not feel a burning sensation in your abs or feel like your core is getting as fatigued as the other muscles that are working, but trust, they're still putting in serious work.
The workout below will help you build strength, stability and work out that core — while challenging other muscles at the same time — in just 20 minutes.
Engage your core throughout each exercise. Imagine someone is going to hit you in the stomach — draw in your abs and brace for impact!
Move 1: Beast Crawl Slide
- Begin on all fours, hands stacked underneath your shoulders and knees stacked underneath your hips.
- With a kettlebell under your right shoulder, use your abs to lift your knees about 6 inches off the ground.
- Grab your kettlebell by the handle with your left hand and slide it from your right side to the outside of your left hand.
- Return your left hand to the ground and repeat with your right. That's one rep.
Move 2: Single-Arm Dead Bug Hold
- Lie on your back with your feet in the air, knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Hold the kettlebell in your right hand. Slide your right shoulder blade down your back until you feel resistance and press the kettlebell toward the ceiling. The kettlebell will remain overhead during the exercise.
- Flex your feet and press your left leg straight out until it hovers about 6 inches off the ground.
- Draw in from the lower abdominals to pull the left leg back toward you, ending in the 90-degree position.
- Complete all your reps on the left leg before switching the kettlebell in your left hand and repeating with the right leg.
Use your abs to keep your head off the ground, not your neck. If you feel any strain in your neck during this exercise, keep your head on the ground instead.
Move 3: Kneeling Twist to Overhead Press
- Start in a tall kneeling position with your left knee up.
- Place the right toes down for stability.
- Start with the kettlebell on the ground on your right side. Grab the handle with both hands.
- Pull the kettlebell across your body and press it overhead toward the opposite shoulder.
- Twist back down and place the kettlebell on the ground.
- Complete all your reps in one direction before repeating on the other side.
Move 4: Overhead Scissor Kick
- Lie on your back and hold the kettlebell by the bottom of the handle above your head.
- Extend your legs straight out 6 inches above the ground.
- Alternate kicking your legs up and down, drawing in from the lower abdominals.
- Flutter your legs for 30 to 45 seconds.
Move 5: Farmer's March
- Start standing, holding the kettlebell in your right hand by your side. Draw your shoulders down and back.
- Take a big inhale and brace your core.
- While keeping your core tight, draw your right knee toward your chest, then lower it back down to the ground.
- Draw your left knee toward your chest, then lower it back down. That's one rep.
- Continue alternating legs to march in place. Try to keep from swaying side to side.
- Finish all your reps and sets holding the kettlebell in your right hand before switching the kettlebell to your left hand. Complete the same number of reps and sets on this side.
Move 6: Clean and Press
- Start standing with a kettlebell on the ground between your legs.
- Hinge your hips back to grab the kettlebell with your right hand.
- Keep your upper right arm against your right side and pull the weight up as if starting a lawn mower.
- Immediately use an uppercut motion to bring the the bell end up between your forearm and biceps. This is called the rack position.
- From the rack position, lower down into a quarter squat.
- Drive through the heels to return to standing as you extend your arm to press the kettlebell overhead.
- Lower the kettlebell back into the rack position.
- Hinge your hips to return the weight smoothly to the ground without jerking your arm.
- Complete all your reps on the right before switching to the left side.
The kettlebell should not flip upside down during this exercise. Instead, keep it positioned around your hand with the uppercut motion.
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