Updated: Jan 11, 2021
I love training with kettle bells and I love using them with clients. There is so much you can do with such a small range of weight. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just a few different sizes and weights of kettle bells and you’re good to go.
Kettle bells are just another form or resistance training just like a dumbbell or barbell. There are very few specific kettle bell exercise so a lot of exercises that you can do with a dumbbell for example, you can also do with a kettle bell.
Although the kettle bell allows you do some movements easier than if you were to do it with a dumbbell or barbell.
One thing I will say is that a good few kettle bell exercise/movements are quite difficult. There is a focus on compound exercise.
Movements such as swings, squats, cleans and snatches use a lot of muscle groups. This is what makes them such good exercise. However making sure they are done correctly, is very important.
Like a lot of exercises there are different ways to progress and regress these exercises so I will also touch on how you can adapt them to make sure that you know the one that will suit you best.
I’m not going to go too deep into technique. But I will give you a quick run through of how to do the exercises and the muscles that you will work doing them.
1. Kettle Bell Swings
I couldn’t not start with what, is probably the king of kettle bell exercises, the kettle bell swing.
The kettle bell swing is definitely a whole body exercise. You are working your entire lower body, training your core and working your lats too.
In fact, it has been proven that you can increase the amount of pull ups you can do without training pull ups but by doing kettle bell swings.
It is a hip hinge movement like a deadlift and has a lot of similar qualities. You are keeping the weight back more on your heels. You hinge at the hips and keep your back straight.
I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your core braced and you back straight when doing not just this exercise but all of these exercises.
In the words of Chubbs from Happy Gilmore, it’s all in the hips.
You drive your hips through into full hip extension. All while keeping your core engaged and your lats engaged.
It is also important to sync up your breathing. You want to exhale hard when you are swinging up and standing up all and breathing in as the kettle bell comes down.
A clean is basically how you would properly pick up a kettle bell (or dumbbell and barbell for that matter) into a rack position as if you are going to front squat your press the weight.
There are a lot of body mechanics shared with the swing. You still hip hinge and keep your back straight as if you are doing a deadlift.
You explode up as if you are doing a fast deadlift. Then it gets tricky.
You don’t want the weight to just flip over and hit you on the wrist. That can really hurt. Especially if you are doing multiple reps and you are just whacking your wrist over and over again.
The trick is to roll it on to resting on your forearm and shoulder and not let it flip over.
It can be difficult at the start and it’s not something I do with clients straight away but it definitely a great exercise to include.
Pairing with a press after you clean it is a great way to kick it up a gear.
Again, like the swing and clean, you go through a very similar hip position. Hinge at the hips and keep your back straight. I keep mentioning this every time because it is so important that you do that every time. If you get sloppy with your form while doing these exercises you will easily get injured.
Like the clean, you’d set up almost like you’re gonna do a deadlift and explode up.
And again, this is a pretty complex movement. But certainly one worth learning.
The trick is, as you are coming up, wait until the kettle bell gets to around head height. Then you are going to come under the kettle bell with your elbow and wrist and finish at a full extended position.
You are pressing the kettle bell at all. This is a difficult and complex movement and tricky to explain without demonstrating it. So if you are not completely comfortable doing this, do more research on the technique or get a trainer to show how to do it properly.
4. Turkish Get Up
This time we’re gonna be lying down and thinking about our core and shoulders. This is an amazing exercise for improving core stability but also the stability in your shoulder joint.
And as I’m sure you can guess from the previous exercises, that there’s quite a bit to this one too. But again it is certainly worth while learning. Just because it’s difficult or complex shouldn’t be a reason not to do something. In fact it should be the opposite. Because it does challenge your body, that’s exactly why you should do it.
The Turkish get up teaches you the most effective way. So as much as it is quite complex, this is a great skill to have.
Lie on your back with the kettle bell pressed above your chest. If you are have the kettle bell press up on your right side, then you are going bend your right knee and post on your right foot.
With your arm straight, drive off the ground with your right leg and come up to your left elbow. Then move from posting on your left elbow to your left hand.
From there, push off the ground with your right foot and lift your hips off the ground.
Bring your left leg underneath your hips while still posting on your left hand.
Then come up into an overhead lunge position and then stand up.
Now that is a very quick and not very detailed about the Turkish get up. But it goes to show how much is involved that why it is so important to be doing for a more mobile and stringer body.
Squats are the king of lower body exercises. These are must for any training regime.
Doing squats you’re working your glutes, quads, hamstrings, hips, core and training to keep your shoulders retracted.
Doing squats with a kettle bell gives you so many options as well. Depending on your strength, you might not even need extra weight. Which is completely fine. As you get better and stronger you’ll be able to more difficult variations.
You can use the kettle bell to do a goblet squat or clean it and squat with the kettle bell in a front rack position. Or use two kettle bells in a front rack position.
They are the most common and easiest. You can do an overhead squat but the is quite a lot strength and mobility involved and is definitely an advanced movement.
This is a great exercise for strengthening your shoulders and improving your core strength.
Pretty similar benefits to the get up. But this is done standing.
Press the kettle bell over head. Then step out slightly with the leg on the opposite side to the kettle bell. So if you have the kettle bell in your right hand, step out with your left leg.
While keeping your shoulder stable and arm straight, lean down towards your left leg. I like to put my hand on my leg and run my hand down my leg as much as I can.
Then once you’ve gone as low as you comfortably can, stand up straight.
This is a pretty demanding movement and would recommend starting with a light weight or even no weight to get used to the movement.
7. Over Head Press
I touched on this earlier because it is a great exercise to pair with your clean. It also works well with a squat in that front rack position.
Holding the kettle bell in a front rack, while maintaining a tight core, press the kettle bell up overhead.
Don’t compensate by leaning to the side or leaning back to press the weight up and first in a fully locked out position. I get people to think about getting their bicep close to their ear.
More straight forward than the others but really nice to pair with other exercises which is what makes it so useful.
Another great exercise for strong shoulders as it makes you internally and externally rotates your shoulders.
This can be done standing or kneeling.
Hold the kettle bell by the side handles with the weight up.
Then simply make a halo motion around your head by bring the kettle bell over one shoulder with the arm on the other side going over your head.
Bring the kettle bell around the back of your head and back around the other shoulder.
There is also a good bit of core stability involved in this exercise too.
9. High Ups
This is essentially a single arm swing with a row at the top. So you get all the benefits of a swing but you also get the lat and upper back engagement with the row.
Do a single arm swing and when the kettle bell gets to should-head height, pull back with your elbow into a row. Straighten your arm out after the row so the kettle bell lowers the same way it would on a swing.
10. Single Arm Rows
Single arm rows are very commonly done with dumbbells but they are probably my favourite back exercise and should definitely be incorporated if you are trying to strengthen your back muscles.
You train your lats, rhomboids and biceps. And because you train one side at a time, it means that each side it’s the attention it needs so should help iron out any imbalances you have.
It is typically done with dumbbells leaning on a bench. To do this with just a kettle bell, get in a wide lunge position. Use your hand to post on your thigh for extra stability.
Then row the kettle bell to the hip the way you would normally row with a dumbbell.
Some of these exercises are complex, others are straight forward enough if you are used to doing free weight training. But I would highly recommend having a good understanding of all of these exercises.
Learning these movements will allow your body to move better and be strong in positions that you previously would have struggled with.