Whether you’ve been training for many years or are just beginning your fitness journey, kettlebells are a fun and versatile piece of equipment to add to your workouts. Kettlebells can be used for strength training and ballistic exercises — so you can get your heart rate up with some cardio while simultaneously improving your strength, endurance, flexibility, grip, and mobility!
This article breaks down how to use kettlebells safely. You’ll learn:
While we’re going to cover a lot of the basics here, if you’re just starting then I always recommend learning the proper technique from a certified kettlebell instructor. Many now offer online training options, and they can provide video feedback to help ensure you progress safely and confidently.
The unique shape and uneven weight of the kettlebell make it a super effective functional training tool. You can take advantage of its structure to have fun with dynamic movements that may not be possible or safe with other equipment, like dumbbells or barbells.
While there are many different types, styles, and even colors of kettlebells, they all share the same basic anatomy.
Fully utilizing the handle, corners, horns, and bell allows for a variety of training techniques (e.g., bottoms-up kettlebell training).
There are two main types of kettlebell:
Kettlebell weights usually increase in increments of 5 lbs or 4 kg, depending on the type.
Interested in learning more about kettlebell sport? Here’s the scoop.
When you’re just starting, it can be tricky to know what size kettlebell to start with. Ideally, try to work with two different weights so you can perform a larger range of exercises and variations: a lighter weight (8–16kg) will be useful for exercises like kettlebell overhead presses or Turkish get-ups, while a medium-to-heavy one (12–20kg) may work better for squats and deadlifts.
To select a weight that is manageable for all movements, you need to test out the bell first so you don’t over- or underestimate your strength. Start on the lower end of the spectrum and work your way up to a heavier weight, rather than vice versa.
And remember: Choosing a kettlebell will depend on several factors, such as your age, strength, fitness level, and personal goals. Listen to your body about what weight challenges you without setting you up for form that can put your safety at risk.
There are four important safety tips beginners should keep in mind during their kettlebell workouts.
When you’re picking out a spot to train, find a non-slip training area where you’re not afraid to drop a kettlebell. Make sure the space around you is clear — don’t leave your equipment out!
Being able to anchor your feet into the ground is important in kettlebell technique. Ideally, you’ll want to train either barefoot or while wearing shoes with flat, thin soles where your toes have room to spread.
Treat every kettlebell as if it weighs 100 pounds. Practice proper form when picking it up and setting it down! (We don’t want any injuries here.)
The kettlebell can have a mind of its own. If it’s falling, don’t try to force the rep. Simply guide the kettlebell to fall as softly as possible, and move quickly out of the way if necessary.
Many of the functional movements in kettlebell training have carryover in everyday activities, such as picking something up off the floor, sitting down and standing back up, hauling in groceries… the list goes on. By learning how to perform these basic movements efficiently and appropriately (this is where working with a certified kettlebell instructor may come in handy), you can improve your strength and stability, reduce your risk of injury, and enjoy the crossover benefits in daily life.
The following five movements are fantastic functional exercises for anyone learning how to use a kettlebell.
The deadlift is a hip-hinge movement that helps build muscle in your glutes, hamstrings, and core while giving you the basis you need for kettlebell swings, which you’ll see next. Plus, there are tons of kettlebell deadlift variations you can take advantage of.
The kettlebell swing is the foundation of kettlebell training. It can improve your athletic performance, boost your strength and cardiovascular endurance, and make you feel like a badass!
Keep in mind that the kettlebell swing is a ballistic exercise meant to be executed fast.
Learn how to improve your kettlebell swing with these five training tips.
Goblet squats are a fantastic lower-body exercise to develop strong glutes, strengthen your quads and calves, increase mobility, and improve flexibility.
This exercise is a powerhouse movement that works your entire body. Carries can help you:
There are several types of weighted carry you can accomplish with kettlebells (e.g., suitcase carries, racked carries, overhead carries, one-arm carries), but today we’ll start with the most basic: the farmer’s carry.
You can perform the farmer’s carry either for time or distance. If the target is time, start by setting a timer for 30 seconds, increasing the time gradually as you build up strength. If you choose to go by distance, try starting with 20 meters. Remember, your goal is NOT to cover the distance in the shortest possible time, but rather to keep the best form you can.
With the Turkish get-up (TGU), keep it simple, fun, and unrushed. Make sure to pause and check your pace, space, and eye position at every step. The TGU is a total-body workout that will challenge your core, shoulder stability, mobility, and overall resilience.
Ready to take your kettlebell workout up a level and try something new? Check out this step-by-step guide on how to do a kettlebell snatch.
Kettlebells are for everybody, regardless of size, shape, age, or experience. While these five exercises are the basics, they can become the building blocks of a robust kettlebell training program.
Working with a certified instructor or personal trainer will help you master these skills, and taking videos while you train can be a great tool to make sure your movements follow the cues we reviewed here.
At the end of the day, have fun and enjoy the versatility of kettlebell training!
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