The Best Kettlebell Exercises To Work Every Muscle Group

We’ve all been there; you’ve shown up to the gym ready for a great lift, just to find that all of the equipment you need is taken. All of the squat racks are full, the benches are occupied, and the dumbbells are all being used. Now, what do you do?

Rather than waste time waiting for equipment to open up or figure out something else to do that isn’t in line with your training plan, you have another option. There’s really only one thing you need for a challenging, effective workout; a kettlebell.

Kettlebells are an extremely versatile piece of equipment that allow you to work every muscle group. Certified personal trainers call the kettlebell “the most underrated piece of equipment in the gym. The shape of the kettlebell allows you to train power, endurance and strength in one piece of iron.”

Why you should train with a kettlebell

According to Kettlebell Coach Jason Brown, there are 8 reasons you should train with a kettlebell:

  1. Kettlebell training amplifies your power output
  2. Kettlebell training teaches your body how to deal with a center of gravity that’s constantly changing
  3. Kettlebell training builds powerful forearms and a strong grip
  4. Kettlebell training improves your cardio – respiratory fitness
  5. Kettlebells don’t require a lot of space
  6. Kettlebell training allows you to reduce overall training time
  7. Kettlebell training bridges the gap between strength training and cardio
  8. Kettlebells ensure you’ll never miss a workout since they can be done almost anywhere

The benefits of kettlebell training

Personal trainers and fitness experts love kettlebells because they offer a low-impact workout that is full-body, doing everything from strengthening your muscles to improving your cardiovascular fitness. Plus, kettlebells give you a workout that is just as effective as training with heavier weights.

The unique shape of the kettlebell makes it a superior piece of equipment when it comes to building your core muscles. That’s because your body is working harder to lift and swing it than other pieces of strength training equipment, activating your core and keeping it engaged.

What you might find particularly surprising about kettlebells is that working out with them can net you bigger cardiovascular benefits than a Tabata workout, the same heart rate exertion as running on a treadmill, and is a more challenging cardiorespiratory workout than tradition circuit weight training.

And, if you’re someone who wants a full-body workout but also needs to reduce strain on your joints, kettlebells should definitely be part of your fitness routine. When you’re training with kettlebells, generally one or both of your feet are planted which makes it low-impact on your joints while being a high-impact workout on your upper and lower body muscles including your hamstrings and glutes, back, shoulders, and arms.

If you’re still not convinced, think about this. Swinging a 17-pound kettlebell gives similar strength training results as doing deadlifts with 52-pound kettlebells. That means you can get the benefits of heavy lifting without having to lift heavy weights.

Should you use a kettlebell or a dumbbell?

Okay, so maybe you’re convinced and want to start incorporating kettlebells into your workout but want to know when to use a kettlebell versus a dumbbell. There’s a lot of different opinions on this topic and, if you wanted, you could probably get into a pretty heated debate with your gym buddy, but the truth is there’s really no clear-cut winner. It all comes down to your workout goals.

While you can do the same exercise with a kettlebell or a dumbbell, you’ll want to consider:

  • The optimum weight distribution for the exercise you’re performing – Their different shapes give kettlebells and dumbbells different weight distributions and because of that, a kettlebell offers less stability than a dumbbell. That means it takes more effort of your body to keep stable and steady when you’re using it (hence its’ status as a full-body workout piece of equipment).
  • The optimum range of motion and power – Handle placement is a factor when it comes to the range of motion and power you’re looking for in your reps. Kettlebells, with their handle sitting above the weight, allows for a two-hand grip. A dumbbell generally has room for just one hand on the handle. So, for ballistic exercises (think cleans and snatches), the kettlebell wins.

When you have a handle on whether your goal is strength, stability, or power, you’ll know whether you should reach for the handle of a kettlebell or a dumbbell. If you’re going for strength building and higher reps, the dumbbell is a better choice. Focused on power or doing ballistic exercises, pick up a kettlebell.

The best kettlebell exercises

Next time you’re ready to workout, skip the other equipment, grab a kettlebell and try these three exercises. They’ll give you the greatest bang for your buck and leave you coming back for more.

Exercise 1: Kettlebell Swing

One of the best kettlebell exercises is a basic kettlebell swing. The kettlebell swing is a powerful movement that involves a thrusting movement from your hamstrings and glutes. Starting with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, bend your knees, and let the kettlebell swing back between your legs.

From there, drive your hips forward, keeping your back flat, and raising the kettlebell to shoulder height. Repeat the movement continuously to keep momentum. When performed quickly, kettlebell swings are an effective way to get your heart rate up and improve your anaerobic fitness.

Exercise 2: Kettlebell Thrusters

Kettlebell thrusters are one of the best kettlebell exercises out there because this full-body movement will challenge all of your muscle groups and requires a great amount of power. To perform a thruster, start by holding two kettlebells by the handle, resting the weight on the back of your shoulders.

From there, bend your knees slightly squatting down, and then drive through your legs to straighten them, and your arms as you raise the kettlebells above your head. Next, squat down and repeat the movement. This compound exercise is an effective one for a full-body burn.

Exercise 3: Kettlebell Clean & Press

Often known as a powerlifting move with barbells, performing the clean and press with a kettlebell allows you to build up strength and improve your grip. This movement starts by holding two kettlebells on the inside of your thighs, with your legs shoulder-width apart and knees bent slightly.

Next, slightly jump off the ground, while simultaneously raising your arms to extend above your head. You should land softly on your feet with your knees slightly bent, and your arms straight above your head, shoulder-width apart. This is a great movement to improve your overhead strength, as well as building a strong core.

Try The Best Kettlebell Exercises at Inspire Fitness Studio

Now that you know some of the best kettlebell exercises for every muscle group, you’ll want to learn how to properly do them at a gym near you. Come learn and workout with us at Inspire Fitness Studio in Arlington! We incorporate kettlebell exercises into our small group training sessions, as well as our personal training sessions. Contact us today to learn more or schedule a free consultation!

Joe Rindone, NCPT is a certified personal trainer and the Founder of Inspire Fitness Studio in Arlington, MA. He has earned many fitness and nutrition certifications including a Functional Flexibility certification and CrossFit L1 certification. Joe’s passion for fitness has motivated him to become one Greater Boston’s best personal trainers. An athlete throughout high school and college, Joe has always enjoyed being active. Currently he enjoys road races, working with his boxing coach, kettlebell training and getting out for a round of golf in his spare time.