Do you want to optimize your physical activity but you have minimal time available because of your busy lifestyles? All you require is a kettlebell and, of course, your mind and body present. There are literally hundreds of kettlebell exercises and variations, however, sometimes the basic, foundational, and traditional kettlebell movements are the most effective. Before we move on to my 5 top exercises let’s talk a bit about the kettlebell.
Kettlebells come in various weights, and kettlebell exercises can be progressed from simple full body movements to exercises that are unilateral or more complex involving rotation. Kettlebells are small, require less physical space, are more accessible and are perhaps less intimidating than barbells and weight plates. These qualities may make kettlebells more available to more diverse populations with vast ranges of training experience.
A kettlebell is a cast iron weight that resembles a cannonball with a handle and is often used to achieve gains in strength, power, and overall conditioning. A kettlebell’s design allows its center of mass to extend beyond the hand. This facilitates full body movements, similar to movements found in the snatch and clean and jerk in weightlifting. Common kettlebell exercises involve swings, lifts, and presses, but unlike weightlifting or powerlifting, kettlebell training can be performed bilaterally and unilaterally in all planes. Kettlebell exercises are ballistic in nature, and training through ballistic type movements have been reported to increase maximal power output and increase the rate of force development.
The following exercises are definitely not the only effective kettlebell exercises, they are simply 5 of my favorite:
- Kettlebell Deadlift
Start with the kettlebell on the floor in front of you. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes slightly turned out. Send your hips back and then lower down and pick up the kettlebell. Stand up and drive through your heels, keeping your chest up and back straight. Squeeze your butt at the top and return all the way back to the ground until the kettlebell lands between your feet. Make sure that your knees point in the same direction as your feet.
- Kettlebell swing
The swing action is a fundamental movement pattern of flexion and extension in the sagittal plane and very common in sports that involve jumping. For the kettlebell swing the kettlebell is placed between the feet. Your feet should be shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Sit into a deadlift to hold the handle. Ensure that your abs are tight, you maintain your lumbar curve and your chest is up. Stand tall and straighten the legs as you retract your shoulders with arms relaxed. Keep your knees soft. Gradually flex and extend at the hip to allow the kettlebell to begin swinging. The momentum is from the drive of the hip complex and not a shoulder raise.
- Goblet squat
Goblet squats are performed using the same mechanics as the back squat, the only difference is that in this case you hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest. Place the kettlebell against the top of your chest with your elbows underneath the kettlebell. Stand with your feet just farther than shoulder width apart and your toes turned out slightly 10 to 15 degrees.
Bend at your knees and hips and lower your body toward the floor as low as you can, without losing the arch in your lower back. Once you ‘ve gone as deep as you can, reverse the motion by extending your legs and returning to the standing position to complete the repetition. Your heels and toes should not lift off the ground. Push your knees out and keep them in the same direction as your toes.
- Kettlebell 1 arm Clean & Press
The kettlebell clean follows the same movement pattern of the swing regarding the hip complex and force production through triple extension. The difference is that the upper body is now involved in changing the trajectory of the kettlebell through elevation of the shoulder and a forceful activation of the trapezius. The clean requires that the kettlebell rests in front of the body in the rack position. Proficiency in the clean is demonstrated when the weight makes a very subtle contact with the arm rather than a forceful strike to rest on the body. Probably the most important teaching point with the kettlebell clean is that during the exercise the kettlebell never travels higher than the fist. Initiate a low pull to the sternum by performing a partial squat and a shrug to generate a forceful upward pull. Lead with the elbow. Brace the abs and glutes in order to keep the lower back supported. To begin the press first make sure your back is straight. Extend your other arm out to your side. Then, lift the kettlebell above your head. Pause briefly at the top and lower it to the starting position. Repeat the sequence with the other arm.
- Kettlebell 1 arm snatch
The kettlebell snatch is a ballistic movement that displays ultimate full body power and explosion. This movement is very physically demanding and technical but it’s worth learning as it is outstanding for total body strength and conditioning. If you want to build explosive strength, especially in the hips, and strong, powerful shoulders, this is the movement. The kettlebell snatch requires very similar movement to the clean with one significant difference. The pull is more forceful as the weight needs to travel more than twice the distance of the clean. To start the movement hinge at the hips while the knees flex slightly. The lumbar curved should be maintained as you send the hips back. The heels push down while the arms are maintained straight until the hips and legs come to full extension. Then you need to shoulder shrug and immediately pull with the arm till it extends overhead. Catch the kettlebell in a smooth manner (that requieres correct timing) in order to avoid the kettlebell from hitting your forearm.
- Turkish get up
Roll onto your side into a “fetal” position, and grasp the handle of the kettlebell with both hands. Holding the weight tight to your chest, roll onto your back until you’re lying faceup on the floor with your legs straight. From this position perform a one arm press. Keep the same side leg bent with the foot flat on the floor and the opposite leg straight and abducted about 20-30 degrees. Start by rolling to the elbow opposite the kettlebell. Drive your elbow down hard into the floor as you drive the kettlebell toward the ceiling. Then move from elbow to hand by pushing the floor away, lift the hips off the floor, and pull the opposite leg under the hips to rest on the knee in a windmill position. Keep your eyes to the hand that is holding the kettlebell at all times when the other hand is touching the ground. Look straight ahead when the support hand leaves the ground. From that half kneeling position step forward and stand tall with the kettlebell overhead. Keep the abdominals braced throughout the movement, in order to protect your lower back. Keep your knees soft at the top of the stand with strong legs. To get back, simply reverse the motion.
Using a kettlebell is an excellent way to build strength in your shoulders, back, hips, and legs. Kettlebell training can be a used as an effective method for improving fitness. Research suggests that kettlebells can improve strength, power and endurance (Manocchia et al., 2012) in both highly skilled and beginner athletes. Moreover, other findings support the use of kettlebell exercises as an alternative form of training (i.e weightlifting) for strength and conditioning coaches who are interested in improving the strength and power of their athletes (Otto et al., 2012).
These exercises will give you a solid foundation for more complex techniques that will challenge you in many more ways. Kettlebells are easily accessible; if you want to do a workout at the park or outside you could throw them in your car and be on your way in seconds. Kettlebells are certainly one of the most effective portable training tools to ever exist. However, caution should be exercized when training with kettlebells, because their use requires proper technique and appropriate intensity to avoid injury.