How to Get Started Strength Training With Kettlebells — and 12 Exercises to Try

Both beginners and more experienced athletes can build muscle and lose weight with strategic kettlebell workouts.
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Kettlebells have become wildly popular strength-training tools — and the hype is totally valid.

"Not only can kettlebell workouts build strength and endurance, but they are great for balance, stability and coordination," says Katie Kollath, CPT, founder of Barpath Fitness. "In fact, you can get in a great workout with just a single kettlebell since they're so versatile." Keeping one heavy kettlebell and one lighter kettlebell handy, though, opens up your exercise options even more.

Don't be intimidated by bells' funky shape (and the unusual moves people do with them). "Beginners can and should use kettlebells," Kollath says. With a little form practice — and patience — even newbies can use kettlebells to build muscle mass, gain strength and shed body fat.

The kettlebell workout benefits you reap simply depend on how you use them.

  • To create a kettlebell workout for mass-building (yep, that means building muscle), challenge your body by using a heavier weight to perform squats, hinges, push movements, pull movements and carries, Kollath says.
  • To create a kettlebell workout for weight loss, meanwhile, a kettlebell circuit — in which you perform multiple moves back-to-back — will keep your heart rate up so you burn body fat, she says.

Whatever your fitness goals may be, know this: Kettlebells are also famous for working your abs.

"A lot of kettlebell exercises stimulate the core musculature extremely well," Kollath says. For example, even though the popular kettlebell swing doesn't feel like a traditional abs exercise, it requires you to properly engage your core, so you build core strength while working the rest of your body.

Perhaps the best news of all, though: As long as you're not always working at a high intensity, you can use kettlebells every day. "Just keep the intensity lower and approach your training as movement (aka technique) practice," Kollath says.

Otherwise, grab a bell and get ready to sweat. With these 12 exercises in your training arsenal, you can create an endless assortment of kettlebell workouts.

Tip

Start with one set of 8 to 12 reps of any of these exercises that are new to you. Work up to 3 sets over time.

1. Heart Pump

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Get your heart pumping and your legs burning with this squat variation. It works your entire body, with special attention on the core and legs. The goal here is not to go too heavy, so choose a lighter weight and stay solid through your core.

  1. Hold a kettlebell by the handle, bell side down, with both hands at your chest.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and squat below parallel (or as deep as you can go) while maintaining good form: Your heels should stay planted on the ground with your knees behind your toes and in line with your ankles.
  3. Take a big breath and brace your core as you extend your arms in front of you while staying in a deep squat position.
  4. Pump your arms out with control two to three times, and then stand up.
  5. Lower back into a squat and repeat.

2. Kayak

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The kettlebell kayak is a midsection-sculpting exercise that requires your obliques to fire and your core to stay braced the entire time.

  1. Take a seat on the floor and hold a kettlebell by the handle with both hands.
  2. Raise your legs off the floor with bent knees, balancing on your sit bones.
  3. Rotate your torso to the left, tapping the kettlebell on the ground next to your hip.
  4. While keeping your feet lifted, twist to the right, tapping the kettlebell to the outside of your right hip.
  5. Keep alternating sides.

3. Halo

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Once you get this exercise going, it's easy to see where the name comes from. The halo works on shoulder stability and mobility while also activating your core.

  1. Step one foot forward into a lunge. Rest your back knee on the ground.
  2. Place both hands on the handle of a kettlebell and raise it above your head.
  3. Keep your shoulders down and back and rotate the kettlebell around your head one way.
  4. Reverse and rotate the kettlebell around your head the other way.

4. Kettlebell Drag

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This exercise requires you to keep your core steady while moving other parts of your body. Lateral movement is also a great addition to more typical back-to-front movement patterns.

  1. Secure a strap around a kettlebell handle and wrap the other end around your right wrist.
  2. Step to the left of the kettlebell so that the strap is extended.
  3. Cross your right leg in front of your left leg as you drag the kettlebell next to you.
  4. Continue walking sideways for a few steps, and then switch to the other side and repeat.

5. Single-Arm Chest Press

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Compared to double-arm movements, you won't be able to mask any weaknesses in single-arm exercises. This one forces stabilization in your chest and shoulders.

  1. Lie on your back with your feet on the ground and your knees bent and pointed upward.
  2. Grab a kettlebell in one hand and keep your back pressed into the floor.
  3. Push the kettlebell away from your body and into the air, completely extending your arm.
  4. Lower back to the ground and repeat.
  5. Once you've done all your reps on one side, switch arms and repeat.

6. Kettlebell Good Morning

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The good morning exercise is perfect for a warm-up or active recovery days. It stretches and activates your hips as well as the entire posterior chain (all the muscles along your back from the glutes down).

  1. Grab a kettlebell by the handle with both hands behind your back and the kettlebell resting on your glutes.
  2. With your feet hip-width apart, hinge forward at the hips (maintaining a flat back) and slowly lower your chest toward parallel with the ground, allowing the kettlebell to glide up your glutes.
  3. Rise up to standing position with control and repeat.

7. Kettlebell Push-Up

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Kettlebells give the traditional push-up a special twist. The weights add an element of instability and allow you to go deeper into the push-up than normal.

  1. Place two kettlebells on the ground with your hands on the handles at shoulder width.
  2. Extend your legs behind you with your core tight.
  3. Slowly lower your chest down as deep as possible, keeping your elbows glued to your sides and your head in line with your spine.
  4. Push away from the ground and return to the starting position.

8. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

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Single-leg work is vital to training individual muscle groups and improving power.

  1. Hold the kettlebell with your right hand as you balance on your left leg (without locking the left knee).
  2. Keep your hips squared as you lower the kettlebell to the inside of your left leg while maintaining a flat back.
  3. Raise your right leg so it's parallel with the floor as you lower.
  4. Squeeze your glutes as you rise back to standing.
  5. Do all your reps on one leg before switching and repeating on the other leg.

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9. Farmer Carry

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It seems simple enough: Just carry a kettlebell from point A to point B. But with a challenging weight this exercise activates almost every muscle group in your body, including legs, core, back, arms and grip strength.

  1. Pick up a kettlebell in each hand and hold them by your sides.
  2. Keep your shoulders down and back as you walk forward across the length of the room.

10. Single-Arm Bottom-Up Carry

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Similar to the farmer carry, this exercise incorporates more shoulder strength. By placing the bottom of the bell up in the air, you're forced to stabilize your shoulder, which builds strength for other upper-body exercises.

  1. Place a lightweight kettlebell in your hand with the bell side up.
  2. Extend your arm overhead, keeping your core tight.
  3. Walk forward with the bell up in the air across the length of the room.

11. Double Overhead Squat

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Think you've mastered the squat? This kettlebell variation works shoulder mobility, balance and core stability all in one.

  1. Hold one kettlebell in each hand, allowing the bell side to rest against your forearm.
  2. With feet shoulder-width apart, raise the kettlebells overhead with your palms facing forward.
  3. Keep your chest tall and your core tight as you send your hips down and back, squatting toward the floor.
  4. Keep your arms overhead and push away from the floor to return back to standing.

12. Sumo Squat

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By placing your feet wider apart than normal for this variation on the traditional squat, you activate your adductors and glutes instead of focusing the work in your quads and hamstrings.

  1. Place your feet wider than your shoulders with your toes pointed to the side and a kettlebell between your feet.
  2. With a straight back and tall chest, grab the kettlebell with both hands and bring it up to standing.
  3. Squat back down so that the kettlebell barely touches the floor.

Try This Kettlebell Circuit Workout

When you're ready for a challenge, give this full-body kettlebell interval routine to torch fat a shot.

Additional reporting by Colette Stohler.