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10 Best Kettlebell Exercises for a Total Body Workout

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kettlebell exercises

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The kettlebell, also known as the king of total body workouts, is a simple piece of equipment that is extremely versatile. From enhancing cardiovascular endurance to improving conditioning and power, this small but mighty tool can completely transform your workout.

“If I had to pick just one piece of fitness equipment to use for the rest of my life, it would be – without question – the kettlebell,” says Finley Funsten, Personal Trainer and Co-Owner of Madabolic Charlotte. “Whether its user is a novice or advanced athlete, the kettlebell is an incredibly versatile training tool and basically serves as a one-stop shop as far as equipment goes.”

Many kettlebell movements work hundreds of muscles at the same time, allowing for a complete total body workout. Kettlebells require a ton of technique and control, but when done properly can help you build up endurance, stamina and strength. The construction of the kettlebell demands coordination as well, since the base of the kettlebell — or the “ball” carries the majority of the weight and the handles — or the “horns” — can be gripped in a variety of ways.

Fitness experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Wellness Lab teamed up with Funsten to bring you the most effective kettlebell exercises. For beginners, our experts recommend starting out with a light kettlebell weight such as 10-to-15lbs to help master the movement and focus on form first. Since many kettlebell exercises require full body activation and recruit multiple muscle groups, you may be surprised that your body can handle a heavier kettlebell but be sure to master technique before progressing. Before you start any fitness or training regimen, be sure to consult your physician or healthcare provider. You can incorporate these moves into your existing workout regimen or try this 15 minute total body kettlebell routine:

15-minute kettlebell workout routine

  • Pick four moves from the list below.
  • Perform the first movement for 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off for a total of three times. Then, rest one minute before progressing to the next move.
  • Perform the second movement for 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off for a total of three times. Then, rest one minute before progressing to the next move.
  • Follow the same format for moves three and four of your circuit selection.

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Russian Kettlebell Swing

This simple yet efficient exercise is excellent at generating power and strength. Essentially a total body workout move, Funsten highly recommends the kettlebell swing as it activates the glutes, hamstrings, hips, core, back and even the arms.

How to: Stand with your feet hip distance apart and a slight bend in your knees. Engage your core and be sure to keep a flat back throughout the movement. Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip and start with the kettlebell hanging in between your thighs with arms straight and engaged. Hike the kettlebell through your legs using a strong hinge followed by an explosive drive. Hips come to extension at the top of the movement so you’re in the tall standing position, and the kettlebell comes to chest height before going back into the hinge.

Goblet Squat

Funsten loves this full-body exercise that works the core, quads, glutes, calves, grip strength and more. This is one of the best kettlebell exercises for legs.

How to: Start standing tall with feet shoulder width apart. Supporting the weight of the kettlebell at the base, hold it at chest height with your elbows down and tight to the ribcage. Keep your midsection braced and stay as upright as possible as you send your hips back and down into your full range of motion squat. Ideally, you’re at parallel or below and your knees are driving out (not buckling in). Press the floor away from you to stand tall and repeat.

Farmers Carry

Don’t underestimate this simple but effective move that requires a ton of core stabilization and activation to master. This variation from Funsten only requires one kettlebell, but the exercise can be progressed by holding a kettlebell in each hand.

How to: Stand tall with feet shoulder width apart. Firmly grip the kettlebell outside your hip. Keep your midsection braced and posture tall as you walk with control. Switch sides when appropriate.

Kettlebell Step Ups

Whether done in a gym or on a park bench, kettlebell step ups are a simple exercise that heavily work the lower body muscles as well as the core. Progress this exercise by holding a kettlebell in each hand.

How to: Find a sturdy surface or box that brings your knee in line with or slightly higher that your hip crease. Stand tall with feet shoulder width apart and hold the kettlebell outside your hip. Place your entire foot on the box, keeping the foot on the floor close to the box, and drive up vertically through your heel to come to extension at the top. Slowly lower to the ground with control. Repeat and switch sides when appropriate.

Halos

This exercise recommended by Funsten builds shoulder strength and mobility, but also requires core stabilization and activation.

How to: Start standing tall with feet shoulder width apart. Hold the kettlebell upside down and by the horns. The base of the bell should be at chest height with your elbows tight to the ribcage. Slowly and with control, trace the base of your neck with the kettlebell, turning it 180 degrees once you’re at the back of your neck. Keep your elbows as close to the body all the way around, and the kettlebell as close to the base of your neck as possible throughout. Your neck should be stationary and chin up at all times. Be sure to engage your midsection throughout the entire movement, focusing on drawing the belly button in towards the spine. Alternate directions with each repetition.

Single Arm Suitcase Deadlift

Think about how many times you have to carry something with one arm, be it a bag of groceries or a suitcase. Funsten swears by this deadlift variation that has quite a bit of practical use. This functional movement will build strength throughout the entire body.

How to: Start standing tall with feet shoulder width apart. Gripping the kettlebell outside your hip, keeping your shoulders pinned back and down and your back flat as you hinge your hips back. Let your chest come towards the floor and bring the weight all the way to the ground, setting it down outside your heel. Set your back, brace your midsection and keep your shoulders pinned back as you press through your heels and raise your hips and shoulders at the same time to stand tall (still gripping the kettlebell). Switch sides when appropriate.

Rack Squat

Holding a kettlebell in the front rack position can come in handy for many different exercises, like this particular move from Funsten. Your wrist should be straight, strong and locked out, and your elbow should be down tucked into your ribs and not flared out to the side.

How to: Start standing tall with feet shoulder width apart. Hold the kettlebell in the single arm racked position. Keeping your elbows down towards the ribcage, your shoulders locked down, and your midsection braced, stay as upright as possible as you send your hips back and down into your full range of motion squat. Ideally, you’re at parallel or below and your knees are driving out (not buckling in). Press the floor away from you to stand tall and repeat. Switch sides when appropriate.

Strict Press

A strong overhead strict press is one of the best kettlebell exercises for arms but truly requires engagement of the entire body. Focus on good posture and core strength throughout the movement.

How to: Start standing tall with feet hip width apart and the kettlebell in the racked position. Brace your midsection and squeeze your glutes as you press the weight overhead. Your bicep should line up with your ear, and your elbow should be locked out at the top. Control the weight back down to the rack position and repeat. Be sure to complete the movement on the opposite side when done.

Push Press

Transform a simple strict press into a total body move with this variation from Funsten that integrates powerful leg and hip strength and explosiveness.

How to: Start standing tall with feet hip width apart and the kettlebell in the racked position. Perform a shallow dip through your knees and explosively press your heels through the floor as you drive the kettlebell overhead. Your bicep should line up with your ear, and your elbow should be locked out at the top. Control the weight back to the rack position and repeat. Be sure to complete the movement on the opposite side when done.

Overhead Reverse Lunge

Novices may chose to start this exercise holding the kettlebell down by their sides or by their chest, but Funsten likes the overhead grip extension for a bit more of a total body workout and stability challenge.

How to: Start standing tall with feet shoulder width apart. Press the kettlebell directly overhead with one arm, keeping a neutral wrist with your knuckles facing the sky. Keep active shoulder pressure by pressing your shoulder down to the floor while your bicep lines up with your ear and elbow remains locked out. Step back into a reverse lunge, drop your back knee to gently kiss the ground, and then drive through the front heel to stand tall. Your back knee should be directly under your hip at the bottom of the lunge. Alternate legs with each rep, and switch which arm is holding the kettlebell when appropriate.

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