Functional Fitness: Kettlebell Exercises For Strength And Stability

A functional kettlebell workout can develop muscular strength and dynamic stability from head to toe. Functional workouts train your body to move as a coordinated unit, by linking multiple joints and muscle groups. This sequence of movements, also called a kinetic chain, emulates the way your body works in the real world – bending, twisting, reaching, swinging, kneeling, squatting and more.

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Adding kettlebells creates an asymmetrical load that further strengthens your core stabilizers and primary movers.

How Much Weight Should You Use?

As with any new exercise, it’s best to start with a lighter weight and work on perfecting your technique. The rule of thumb when choosing kettlebell weights is to use slightly heavier weights for swings and two-handed grips than you would for one-handed moves. A good starting weight for men is 15 to 25 pounds, and for women is 8 to 15 pounds. Choose lighter weights for overhead lifts and single-arm exercises. As you become stronger, increase the kettlebell weight. Many kettlebell manufacturers recommend 35 to 44 pounds for men and 18 to 26 pounds for women.

Two-Armed Kettlebell Swing

The classic functional kettlebell exercise is the two-armed swing. The ballistic action of the swing improves core strength, hip mobility and cardiovascular endurance. The key to proper technique is to allow momentum to keep the kettlebell swinging freely up and down in a smooth arc.

Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward. Grip the handle with two hands and bend at the waist and knees. Start the kettlebell in an upward arc with a strong push from the hips, straightening your trunk and knees. In a proper swing, the kettlebell should almost float upwards and stop at about shoulder height. On the downward swing, bend at the waist and knees and let the kettlebell swing between and past your legs. Keep your core engaged and lumbar spine neutral throughout the movement. Don’t allow your lower back to flatten or round at the bottom of the swing.

Kettlebell Forward Lunge And Press

The forward lunge and press helps train the core muscles that stabilize the left and right sides of your body, as well as your upper back and shoulders. At the same time, this functional movement strengthens the primary movers of your hips, legs and calves.

Start by gripping the kettlebell handle with both hands near the main body of the kettlebell. This grip is similar to a goblet grip used with a single dumbbell. The top of the handle should show above your grip and the body of the kettlebell should hang just below. Bend your elbows, keeping the kettlebell at chest level. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Step forward with one leg and slowly drop into a lunge by bending both front and back knees. Straighten your knees and bring your front leg back to the starting position. Keep your torso upright throughout the movement. Hold the kettlebell steady and do not let it bounce or drop. Alternate between left and right legs for each forward lunge.

Kettlebell Squat And High Pull

The squat and high pull combination is another functional exercise that connects your upper and lower, and right and left stabilizer muscles, while also strengthening your legs, hips, shoulders and arms.

Start standing in a wide stance, gripping the handle of the kettlebell so it rests ont he ground between your feet. Keeping your chest up, lower your hips toward the ground and grab it with both hands. In one fluid motion, extend through the hips and knees, simultaneously pulling the kettlebell up under your chin, leading the movement with your elbows. Pause and hold, then lower the kettlebell and your hips to reverse the movement and repeat.

Single-Leg Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift

The single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) is among the most challenging functional exercises for the core stabilizer muscles. To perform it correctly, you must maintain stability from top to bottom and side to side, while moving through nearly maximum range of motion at the hip. Adding a kettlebell to one side increases the asymmetrical loading against which your core must compensate.

Grip the top of the handle with one hand. The kettlebell body should hang down freely, as if it were a bucket or tote bag. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing forward. The side with the kettlebell should be the opposite for your base of support. For example, if you’re holding the kettlebell in your left hand, your right leg will be the supporting limb and you’ll lift your left leg behind you. Hinging at the hip and keeping your lumbar spine neutral, slowly lift one leg behind you and tilt forward. Keep tilting forward at the hip until the kettlebell touches the ground, then stand back up to the starting position. Ideally, there should be a flat plane across your leg, hip and back throughout the movement. The only joint flexing should be the hip joint. Also try to keep the plane that runs from left to right across your hips and shoulders parallel to the ground. If your core stabilizers are weak, one of your hips or shoulders will fly open (tilt upwards) as you hinge forward.