Building lower-body muscle at home doesn't have to cost thousands of dollars or take up your entire garage: You can just grab a kettlebell.
"It takes up less space than a pair of shoes. It's affordable. It's versatile. Yes, it's just a tool. But it's a damn good one," says kettlebell-loving trainer Steven Head, CSCS, author of Not Another Fitness Book. "Anything you can do with dumbbells, you can do with a kettlebell — and that's not so much true in reverse."
That's because the unique shape of a kettlebell makes it an ideal tool for exercises like cleans, snatches and its most famous move, the kettlebell swing.
The single-handle, ball design also allows for balance and stability challenges that separate KBs from dumbbells, Head says: Holding the kettlebell with the ball pointing up and the handle on the bottom allows for exercises like the bottoms-up press, which adds a shoulder stability challenge that differs from a dumbbell.
Kettlebells can also build serious strength: In an August 2020 study in the Journal of Human Kinetics, experienced ballet dancers gained more explosive power for their jumps using kettlebells than those performing traditional ballet jumping training. Perhaps more surprising: The dancers improved their balance more with the KBs, too.
Build the same kind of strength with this 15-minute workout kettlebell leg from Head. The moves aren't as technical as swings and snatches, so you can try them at home without a trainer or coach on hand, and feel safe — and strong — with a home gym setup that's smaller than a carry-on suitcase.
How to Do This Kettlebell Leg Workout
This workout consists of five kettlebell moves and only takes 15 minutes. But the way to use those 15 minutes depends on your goals, Head says. If you're aiming to build muscle and some strength while increasing your conditioning, you'll want to do more work and less rest.
If your main goal is to get stronger, you'll want to find a heavier kettlebell and incorporate more rest. Research has shown that longer rest periods result in greater strength gains overall: In an April 2018 review published in Sports Medicine, scientists concluded that rest periods longer than one minute were better for strength gains — and for heavier loads, rest periods over two minutes were even better. To keep this workout short, the longer rest period will be 70 seconds.
- For endurance and building muscle: Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, then rest for 40 seconds and move to the next exercise. Perform 3 rounds in this way.
- For maximizing strength: Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, then rest for 70 seconds. Repeat for another set, then move to the next exercise: Do 2 sets of 20 seconds each, resting 70 seconds between sets and exercises.
For both options, think of the 15 minutes as a workout "block." Try to do at least three blocks per week, resting at least 24 hours between blocks for strength if you're just starting out. Aim for as many blocks as possible during the week: If you can do two in a row on one day, great! If you can do four, five or six during the week, that's great, too.
Each week, try to do more repetitions during the work portions of your exercises, do more blocks during the week or step up to the more advanced versions of each exercise, where applicable.
1. Kettlebell Goblet Split Squat
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Cup the ball of a kettlebell in both hands in front of your chest with your elbows pointing down and the handle pointing down between your hands — in this position, the weight and your arms will look like a goblet.
- Take a large lunge step forward with your right foot so that your feet are about three feet apart, with your feet still parallel.
- Bend your knees to descend until your knees both form 90-degree angles. Your front shin should be perpendicular to the floor, with your knee directly above your ankle.
- From this position, press back to the start position.
- Repeat for half of the prescribed work time, then switch legs and repeat for the other half of the prescribed time.
To make this move more difficult, try holding the kettlebell hanging at arm’s length in the hand opposite your forward leg. This will force your core to keep you upright.
Want to make it even harder? Perform lunges instead of split squats. Take a large lunge step forward with your right leg, descending as you step until your knees both form 90-degree angles. Press through your right foot to stand back up. Once you finish all your reps on the right side, do an equal number on the left side.
2. Kettlebell Goblet Step-Up
The key to a good step-up is pushing with the raised leg, not the one on the ground, and staying upright instead of leaning forward. Holding the kettlebell in the goblet position will help keep you from leaning forward. If you're cheating with your back leg, try a lower step.
- Stand with a step or bench in front of you. Cup the ball of a kettlebell in both hands in front of your chest with your elbows pointing down and the handle pointing down between your hands — in this position, the weight and your arms will look like a goblet.
- Keep your torso upright as you place your right foot on the bench and press through your heel to bring your left foot up so you’re standing on the bench
- Return to the ground, and repeat with your other leg. In the next set, hold the kettlebell in your other hand.
To mix up the challenge of this move, hold one or two kettlebells at your sides instead of in the goblet position.
3. Lateral Kettlebell Lunge
- Stand with your feet together, toes pointed forward. Cup the ball of a kettlebell in both hands in front of your chest with your elbows pointing down and the handle pointing up — in this position, the weight and your arms will look like a goblet.
- Spread your feet a few feet wider than shoulder width, keeping your toes pointed forward.
- Laterally squat to your right: Push your hips back and descend as you bend your right knee, keeping it tracking over your right toes. Keep your torso upright as you descend, the position of your arms not changing in relation to your body.
- Press back up to the wide standing position. Repeat on the left side.
4. Kickstand Romanian Deadlift
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in your left hand at your side, palm facing in.
- Step your left foot about 6 to 12 inches backward. Throughout the movement, you'll be perched on your left toes. Weight should be equally distributed between both feet.
- Keeping your right knee slightly bent, perform the deadlift by hinging forward at your hips. During this movement, make sure your hips remain square.
- Continue lowering the weight until your upper body is almost parallel to the ground.
- Keeping your back flat, engage your core and return to the upright position.
- Do half of the prescribed time in this way, then switch arms and legs, and repeat on the opposite side.
5. Kettlebell Goblet Squat
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out. Cup the ball of a kettlebell in both hands in front of your chest with your elbows pointing down and the handle pointing up — in this position, the weight and your arms will look like a goblet.
- Push your hips back to initiate the squat. Bend your knees to descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels.
- Keep the weight of your body in your heels and press back to standing.