It wasn’t long ago that kettlebells were practically unknown, and nobody knew anything about how to train with them. These days you can find kettlebells at almost any gym in the world, and they have become an incredibly popular tool for fitness. One could argue people still don’t know how to train with kettlebells though, which is why this series of articles exists: to eliminate the mystery around how to safely and effectively start training with kettlebells.
In part one of our Kettlebell Workouts for Beginners Series, we will perform a full body workout focusing on seven major compound movement patterns. This workout is designed to develop a solid foundation of strength, increase muscle definition, and improve endurance in all major muscle groups.
The workout requires only one kettlebell. We recommend women start with a 6-8 kg (13-18 lbs) kettlebell and men start with a 10-12 kg (22-26 lbs) kettlebell.
The workout can be performed in two different ways:
A. Consecutive Sets – perform three sets of 8-12 reps per exercise with 30-45 seconds of rest between sets.
B. Circuit – perform each exercise for 60 seconds back-to-back, then rest for 60 seconds. Complete 3-4 circuits.
1. Goblet Squat
Primary Muscles Targeted: quadriceps, gluteal muscles, and hamstrings
- Stand upright with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold the sides of the kettlebell handle in both hands at chest height while keeping your elbows tucked in.
- Squat down, bending at the hips and knees while maintaining an upright, neutral spine.
- Lower down until your thighs are parallel or slightly below parallel with the floor, and your elbows tap the inside of your knees.
- Push through your heels and return to the upright position, finishing with fully extended hips by contracting the glutes.
2. Single Arm Overhead Press
Primary Muscles Targeted: deltoids, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and triceps
- Start with the kettlebell in rack position: hand fully inserted through the bell handle so the handle lays diagonal across your palm, and the kettlebell is resting in the V of your shoulder, elbow, and hand.
- Activate your lats by depressing and retracting your shoulder, then press the kettlebell overhead, extending your arm fully and locking your elbow out in the top position. Make sure to squeeze your glutes and brace your core throughout the press.
- Lower the kettlebell back down to the start position, keeping the lats active by depressing the shoulder (this will set you up for a strong rep to follow).
- Repeat movement on the other side.
3. Single Arm Bent Row
Primary Muscles Targeted: latissimus dorsi, rear deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae
- With your feet in a staggered stance, hinge at the hips and place the kettlebell on the floor on the side opposite to your front foot, holding the handle with the opposite side hand. Maintain a neutral (flat) spine position throughout the movement.
- Lift the kettlebell by drawing your elbow toward your belly button, and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Instead of pulling your elbow up as high as you can, focus on creating tension through the lats and upper back by pulling your shoulder blade down and back. The elbow should just come to the side of the ribs or slightly above if the goal is targeting your back muscles.
- Lower the kettlebell back to the floor and release the shoulder blade before reengaging it for the next repetition.
- Repeat movement on the other side.
4. Stiff Leg Deadlift
Primary Muscles Targeted: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and erector spinae
- Start with your feet about hip width apart, the kettlebell between the feet. Hinge at the hips with a slight bend in the knees and grab hold of the kettlebell handle with both hands. The shoulders should be over the toes. Spine should be neutral, shoulders at or above hip level, and upper back muscles engaged.
- Drive through the floor and extend the hips into a standing position, contracting the glutes to complete the movement.
- In subsequent repetitions, only go down as far as you are able to while maintaining a neutral spine with a slight bend in the knees. If you cannot maintain a neutral spine bringing the kettlebell all the way down to the floor, use a box or elevated platform to bring the floor to you.
5. Lying Chest Press
Primary Muscles Targeted: pectoralis major, deltoids, and triceps
- Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent. Bring the kettlebells into position on either side of your body, hands fully inserted through the handles and elbows tight to the body.
- Press the kettlebells up and over the chest, locking out the elbows. Lower the kettlebell back down until the elbows touch the floor. Keep the lower back flat throughout the movement.
6. Straight Arm Crunch
Primary Muscles Targeted: rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and hip flexors
- Lie on your back with your feet flat and knees bent, holding onto either side of the kettlebell handle (weighted side of the kettlebell up toward the ceiling).
- Engage your core by peeling the shoulder blades and then the upper back up off the floor a few inches, and pressing the kettlebell toward the ceiling. Keep your neck in a neutral position (avoid excessively pulling chin into chest).
- Slowly lower the shoulder blades back down to the floor, vertebrae by vertebrae. Keep your arms straight throughout the exercise.
7. Offset Farmer Carry
Primary Muscles Targeted: full body
- Use a single arm deadlift with a neutral spine to come to a standing position, holding the kettlebell by the handle in one hand to the side of your body.
- Walk at controlled speed, maintaining an upright neutral spine with core engaged and shoulder blades pinched together.
- Switch the kettlebell to the other side and repeat.
- Carry the kettlebell for about 30 seconds – 1 minute per arm.
As you build strength and endurance, you will be able to increase weight and reps. You should always ensure that you are executing all kettlebell movements with proper form to avoid injury.
The kettlebell may seem intimidating at first glance, especially for the beginner or novice. After all, a kettlebell is basically a cannonball welded onto a thick handle that you swing around your body in a ballistic manner; it’s natural to have a bit of fear!
Learning how to use a kettlebell isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s worth the time investment to get the fat-burning and muscle-building benefits that lifting kettlebells provides. Kettlebell training specifically targets the areas that most people are lacking strength and flexibility in, from spending so much time sitting at a desk: glutes, hamstrings, upper back, and core. While most often used for ballistic movements like swings, cleans and snatches, kettlebells can also be used for all the standard exercises that would typically be performed with a dumbbell. The versatility and applicability of kettlebell training makes a kettlebell the perfect tool for both at-home fitness as well as group classes at a gym. Little space is needed, and an effective workout can take as little as 20 minutes and require just one or two kettlebells.