Kettlebells are now everywhere. This is a good thing, as they are an excellent training tool with several unique applications. But when it comes to deciding which exercises I should do with a kettlebell, you really have to look at it and what it is best for. The Kettlebell is a fixed weight. The handle is off-center as opposed to the dumbbell where the handle is in the centre. Other than that it’s a lump of iron like any other.
But, the shape of the kettlebell does mean certain movements become readily available, where they would be much more difficult or even impossible with another tool. These are the key kettlebell exercises which all build from the kettlebell swing.
Next, we have the unique rack position of the kettlebell. As your hand can sit deep in the handle with the weight of the bell hanging below, resting on the forearm, we can take the wrist out of the exercise. This means we can add more weight or do more reps as the small joint of the wrist or even our grip is no longer a limiting factor.
The rack position of the kettlebell on the chest is also fairly comfortable, in that the kettlebell rests on our chest, nestled into the crook of the arm. So, if we were to put together a list of essential exercises that everyone should do, we already have a good start point just by examining the unique shape of the kettlebell.
Top 4 Essential Kettlebell Exercises
#1: Kettlebell Swing.
The quintessential kettlebell exercise. If all you ever did with your kettlebell was swing it, you’d be doing ok. Heavy swings are great for power and power endurance. Lighter swings are great for cardio. 1 handed swings place more stress on the core.
#2: Kettlebell Turkish Get Up
Ok, so it is not technically a kettlebell exercise, but as we discussed the unique shape of the kettlebell takes the wrist out of the equation making the lift a lot more comfortable. The half get up, where you just come to a seated position is a staple in my gym. Swap to a bottoms up grip (kettlebell held upside down) and you’ve got and incredible shoulder stability exercise.
#3: Kettlebell Press
Overhead pressing is awesome but problematic for many. I have one dodgy shoulder which makes pressing barbells impossible, yet the I can press kettlebells all day every day. I’m not alone here, something about the weight distribution, the ability to keep a neutral wrist and the deeper start position (due to the rack position on the chest) seems to take an awful lot of stress away from the shoulder allowing many to return to pressing with frequency.
#4: Kettlebell Goblet Squat
There are many ways to hold the kettlebell for this, mist hold either side of the handle. I find this less than optimal as the arms are often the weak link. Instead, flip the kettlebell upside down with the handle perpendicular to the chest, this way you can cup the kettlebell by the ball with the elbows underneath.
Now you can goblet squat all day long! The kettlebell held on the chest is an ideal way to practice your squat prior to moving into barbell squats. If you already do barbell work, the goblet squat makes for a great warm up and assitance work.
Those four are the essential essentials. But special mention should also go to these favorites.
3 More Kettlebell Movements
#5: Renegade Row
Set up in a plank with the hands on the handles of a pair of kettlebells. Now, transfer your weight onto one kettlebell, drive it down through the floor. Then row the other one. Do not twist, maintain that plank as you pull. Again, not strictly a kettlebell exercise, but the kettlebells make it a bit more user-friendly. By doing this you create an awesome exercise, one of my all time favorites.
#6: Loaded Carries
Simple walk with a kettlebell held:
– By your side
– Goblet position
Or a pair of kettlebells:
– Held by the sides
– in the rack
– one by the side, the other racked
– one by the side, the other overhead
Go for time or distance, change the style at intervals. Enjoy.
#7: Around the World
Pass the kettlebell around the body, swapping hands in front and behind. Hold it in the corner of the handle to make swapping easier. Allow the body to rock slightly to counter balance the bell and feel your entire core light up!
Why haven’t I included the classical kettlebell exercises of Jerk and Snatch? Well, I don’t believe they are essential, especially if your new to kettlebells or adding kettlebells into a wider training program. The lifts are awesome, but also very technical. I think you can get most of the benefits of a snatch with just the swing and the jerk is unnecessary for most people.