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56 best kettlebell exercises with demos and instructions

Kettlebell exercises are a mainstay in practically every celeb's workout routine (Jen An is the latest to have crushed a kettlebell sesh), and we can concur that they're well worth their weight (see what we did there?). So, from kettlebell exercises for your arms and legs to your core, here's everything you need to know.

Benefits of kettlebell exercises

1. Kettlebell exercises help build strength and cardio fitness

'Kettlebells requires very little space and their versatility means you can create a perfect whole-body workout with only one piece of equipment,' says Lucie Cowan, Third Space Soho's lead trainer.

'Kettlebells bridge the gap between strength training and cardio – you can focus on both or just one, depending on the goal of the particular workout.'

2. Kettlebell exercises work multiple muscle groups

'Kettlebell training is super efficient and allows you to reduce your overall training time as the majority of exercises are large compound moves which work multiple muscles at the same time. For example, you can use the same kettlebell for a circuit of a swing, a lunge, a squat, and even a push press,' explains Cowan.

Expect to feel the burn in your butt, quads, core and more.

3. Kettlebells are portable

It's stating the obvious, but a kettlebell is a 'free weight', which means it's not fixed to any external structure. Depending on how heavy the weight you're working with is, you can take them to the park, garden, living room floor – even chuck it in your car boot for your next Airbnb staycay!

4. You can improve your 'grip' with kettlebell exercises

'Kettlebells tend to have a thicker handle in comparison to dumbbells or barbells – so it helps build a strong grip,' explains Chloe Trigg, head strength and conditioning and HIIT trainer at BLOK.

How often should I train with kettlebells?

'Kettlebells are so versatile that your workout can be adapted to suit your particular training needs across a whole week, however frequently you wish to train,' says Cowan.

'For example, you can split upper and lower body days, or you can focus one day on cardio, and one day on strength. As long as you listen to your body and allow yourself rest when you feel any soreness, there are no limits to what you can achieve with a kettlebell workout.'

How heavy should my kettlebell be?

Well, that depends on quite a few factors, including your strength and experience with kettlebell exercises. As a guide, Trigg advises that a beginner may want to start with a 6-8kg kettlebell, while those with more experience may feel good to go with a 16kg kettlebell.

Bear in mind that the weight of kettlebell you use should also change according to the exercises you’re doing with it; you may be able to go heavier in an exercise that works larger muscles (like a deadlift) than with one that works smaller muscles (like a bicep curl).

Do kettlebell exercises burn fat?

Absolutely. As mentioned, kettlebell exercises cover both strength and cardio territory, both of which are beneficial in fat burn, if that's your goal.

On the cardio front, one study published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that kettlebell swings raised heart rate up to over 85% of their max heart rate. That's comparable to a good run!

Another directly compared kettlebell swings and running on a treadmill and found that heart rate increased almost exactly the same for both.

What's more, resistance training with weight like that of a kettlebell is proven to build muscle and muscle mass requires more sustained energy at rest, meaning that you burn more calories while resting. More muscle = less fat.

Is 20 minutes of kettlebells enough?

You bet it can. Many studies have found that short, intense workouts two to three times a week can improve both lung function and cardiovascular health, while experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that most adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, but you can cut that in half, to 75 minutes a week, if the workout is intense. Minimise rest time between each exercise set and I promise you'll get a sweat on.

Best kettlebell exercises to try now

According to Trigg, you should stick with one weight to begin with. Once you've got comfortable with the weight distribution, then move onto double or heavier weights.

Watch the video above for 56 kettlebell exercises to choose from, then read on for instructions and demos WH's fave kettlebell leg, arm and ab exercises.

Kettlebell arm exercises

1. American kettlebell swing

Targets: Hamstrings, back, quads, shoulders

a) Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell down in front of you, arms extended so that the weight is resting on your pelvis. Without rounding your lower back, bend your knees slightly, push your hips back, and swing the kettlebell between your legs.

b) Once the weight is behind you, forcefully contract your glutes and thrust your hips forward to swing the kettlebell overhead. You aren’t using your arms and shoulders to raise the weight; the momentum of your hip thrust should swing the kettlebell upward. At the top of the movement, contract your core, glutes, and quads as hard as you can.

c) Then allow the weight to swing back between your legs and repeat.

2. Kettlebell bent-over row

Targets: Back, glutes, biceps.

a) Holding a kettlebell in your left hand, stand with your feet a few feet apart — your left foot back and your right knee over your ankle — and your chest bent almost parallel to the floor, keeping your core active and your back strong.

b) Soften your knees and extend the arm then, clenching your bicep and tricep muscles, row your arm inwards and tense when the kettlebell is near your ribs.

Repeat, then swap sides and repeat.

3. Kettlebell crunch with pull over

Targets: Arms, shoulders & abs.

a) Start lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet lifted at 90º, and your upper back and shoulders lifted so that you can hold the bottom of the kettlebell in both hands above your knees.

b) At the same time as lowering your upper back and shoulders, extend your legs out so that they are hovering above the floor, as well as your arms and the weight. Remember to try and keep your lower back in contact with the floor as you lower.

4. Kettlebell curl

Targets: Upper body and core stability.

a) Stand hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell in your right hand by your side, palm facing upwards.

b) Curl the weight in your right hand up towards your left shoulder, forming a diagonal line and keeping the weight close to your body as you curl. Reverse the movement for as many reps as are in your set, then repeat on the other side.

5. Kettlebell press

Targets: Shoulders.

a) Stand with a kettlebell in one hand. Bend the elbow at 90º with the kettlebell at ear level and palms facing inwards.

b) Now straighten your arm and press the kettlebell towards the ceiling.

Repeat the movement for as many reps as are in your set, then repeat on the opposite side.

Kettlebell leg exercises

6. Kettlebell curtsy lunge

Targets: Glutes, thighs, core.

a) Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell with both hands. Take a big step back with your left leg, crossing it behind your right. Keeping your body upright, bend your knees until your right thigh is nearly parallel to the floor.

b) Return to the start and repeat, alternating legs.

7. Kettlebell deadlift

Targets: glutes, hamstrings, quads, upper back, core.

a) Pick up a kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip. Stand with your knees slightly bent, and your feet hip-width apart.

b) Hinge at the hips as you bend your knees, lowering your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor, and your arms so that they hang in front of your knees and shins. Remember to keep your back neutral i.e. not rounded.

c) Reverse the move by pushing your hips forward, squeezing your glutes, and pushing through the heels of your feet.

Repeat the movement for as many reps as are in your set.

Trigg says: 'The deadlift is great for building strong glutes, upper back and hinge movement patterns. Initiating the movement from the hips, whilst holding a flat, engaged back and core, hold the weight in a downward position.'

8. Kettlebell front squat

Targets: Quads, core, glutes.

a) Holding a kettlebell at shoulder height, stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. You can let the weight rest gently on your shoulders.

b) Keeping your weight in your heels, bend your knees and lower yourself down, as if you’re about to sit in a chair.

c) As you lower, engage your core, pull your weight back through your hips and ensure your shoulders don’t round.

d) When your thighs are parallel with the floor, pause for a second, then drive through your heels to push back up to the starting position.

Trigg says: 'If it's your first time using weight, or you've been doing mainly bodyweight squats, start light. Hold the horns of the kettlebell close to your chest with both hands, keep elbows tight so they come between your knees as you go into your squat. Notice how the kettlebell tries to pull your weight forward, focus on sitting back into your heels more. Build the weight as you get more confident.'

9. Kettlebell glute bridge

Targets: Glutes, core, hamstrings.

a) Lie flat on your back with your knees bent upwards and a kettlebell resting, held either side, on your lower stomach and hips.

b) Squeeze your glutes while holding the kettlebell so as to ensure it doesn't fall off. Raise your hips up as high as you can towards the ceiling - but, don't arch your back. Hold for three seconds before lowering. Repeat.

10. Kettlebell lateral squats

Targets: Glutes, thighs.

a) Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell in both hands in front of your chest.

b) Take a big step to the side with your left leg, then bend your left knee, push hips back and lower until your left knee is bent 90º. This should take around two seconds.

c) Push back to start.

You can alternate, or complete the reps on your left leg before moving on to your right.

11. Kettlebell plank with lateral pull

Targets: full body.

a) Start with your body in a high plank position (wrists under shoulders; black flat), making sure it's in a straight line, with your feet balancing on your toes. Place your kettlebell below one side of your torso.

b) In a swift movement pick the weight up with the hand closest, and place it over to the other side, all the while making sure your body is slightly shifting from one side to the other in order to stay balanced.

Repeat the movement for as many reps as are in your set, then repeat on the opposite side.

12. Kettlebell push-press

Targets: calves, quads, core, shoulders, arms.

a) Standing with your feet hip distance apart, hold a kettlebell in one hand on the front of your shoulder.

b) Squat slightly and then drive upwards, extending the weight overhead until your arm is fully straight.

Trigg says: 'Pressing with a kettlebell is a brilliant way to build your overhead strength and shoulder mobility, when done correctly. Similar to a dumbbell, you can get a lot more range and rotation through your shoulder, challenging smaller muscles that otherwise may go unused when handling a barbell. Though, unlike a dumbbell, the offset weight of the kettlebell will force more control, a tighter grip on the thicker handle and better posture to press from.'

Kettlebell ab exercises

13. Kettlebell Russian twists

Targets: Obliques, abs.

a) Sit on the floor or on a bench in a 'V' position. Lift your feet just off the floor and fire up your abs to hold this position steadily.

b) With your kettlebell in front of you, held on each side, slowly move your torso, twisting at the waist, from left to right. Don’t rush this movement or twist too far – it is much more effective if you’re slow and in control.

14. Kettlebell sit ups

Targets: Abs, obliques.

a) Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and your arms overhead holding your kettlebell at either side.

b) Roll yourself and the kettlebell up off the floor towards your knees, activating through the core, then slowly lower yourself down to the floor and bring the kettlebell back overhead.

Repeat the movement for as many reps as are in your set.

15. Kettlebell straight leg sit up

Targets: abs, obliques, hip flexors.

a) Lie down on your back with your legs extended, holding the bottom of a kettlebell in both hands at your chest, elbows bent.

b) Inhale as you extend your arms overhead, keeping a slight bend in the elbows so that the weight taps the floor behind you.

c) Exhale to bring the weight back up at the same time as lifting your upper body, keeping your back straight to come into an upright position with the weight in front of your chest. Your legs should still be on the floor. Slowly lower your upper body back to the ground and repeat.

16. Kettlebell around the worlds

Targets: abs, obliques, hip flexors, lower back.

a) Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart.

b) Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip in front of your pelvis.

c) Keeping your core strong, rotate the kettlebell around your body changing hands in the front and in the back. Be sure to focus on your posture throughout the entire movement.


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