Best Kettlebell Exercises

By George Dudziec, PT, DPT

What are Kettlebells and How are they Useful?

Kettlebells (KB) have been around for a couple centuries now & can be a great addition or variation from one’s typical workouts. Like dumbbells, kettlebells are free-weights that challenge muscle groups better than most machine workouts, as they only have one or two planes of motion.

Man at home with kettlebell for workout. JOI Rehab

Kettlebell Exercises

Keep in mind that free-weights in general will challenge the person to keep the weight balanced and therefore will activate more motor units (think amount of nerves paired with their muscle fibers) within a targeted muscle group than most strength training machines. In addition to challenging the core, as most free-weight exercises are not performed in sitting, free-weight exercises are more functional. This means that they mimic day-to-day movements that will benefit us & reduced injury risk in the long run.

Kettlebell Exercises

This following is designed to be for the general population and will be a broad guide for all adult age groups. Do keep in mind that explosive movements, like kettlebell swings, or excessively heavy kettlebell (KB) exercises will increase the risk for injury as it gets applied to older and older age groups. For the elderly, 65 years & older, some of these movements may even be adequately challenging enough to perform without a kettlebell.

Those with wrist injuries should be cautious doing kettlebell exercises outside of the selected exercises below, especially if they repetitively twist the wrist or flip the KB from the hanging position to the back of the wrist, such as KB “cleans”. Seek professional help to get started, if you believe you are prone to injury or have injuries that you may need to work around.

Warmup for Kettlebell Exercises

As a general rule, for general population, you should strength train at least twice a week on non-consecutive days in order to get a moderate metabolic effect and strengthen bones. Four days every week would be even better to build muscle & burn fat, but this all depends on the overall workload each workout. For more personalized recommendations, you can always consult a professional.

Step 1: Start with a warm-up of cardiovascular exercise such as a bike, walk, or dynamic warm-up before attempting the below work out.

Step 2: Start with a weight that you can perform for 10-15 repetitions without straining. Successive sets can be done with heavier weight depending on your goal.

Step 3: Perform each movement for 2-3 sets each.

Step 4: Stretch & cool down for 10 minutes or more.

Woman doing goblet squats with kettlebell. JOI Rehab

Goblet Squat with Kettlebell

5 Best Kettlebell Exercises

Here’s the best kettlebell exercises that we’ve narrowed it down to build muscle & burn fat:

  1. Goblet Squats – Holding the sides of the KB handle, place feet hip width apart with feet turned out slightly. Squat down, while keeping your chest high & eyes straight ahead. Return to standing without the chest dropping. Depth of the squat is to preference. Hips below the knee level would be ideal, but many people may get enough of a challenge getting ½ way there.
  2. Turkish Get-Ups – It is strongly suggested to master this movement holding an imaginary weight & review the movement by video many times.
  3. Deadlifts – Start by standing centered over the KB, with your feet at least shoulder width apart. Pick up the KB with both hands, driving your hips forward & keeping you chest high to stand up. Lower the KB back down, with the hips shooting slightly back, knees slightly bending. Keep the chest from dropping and low back from arching.
  4. One-arm Rows – Place one foot a full-stride length forward & support yourself with the same-sided hand on a chair or on the forward knee. Pull the KB weight toward your stomach while retracting your shoulder blade & keeping your shoulder down away from your ear. Lower the KB down just to the point where your arm is straight, without your back rounding out.
  5. KB Swings – As one of the more explosive movements, the weight of the KB will be multiplied the faster it moves. That said, in my opinion, the KB swing will have the higher reward for strength & power, but will have the higher risk for injury. Back injury is likely the most common with the movement, even when performed with the best of form.

Risk of Injury

As with any movements, in or outside of the gym, or field, the risk of injury is always there. Always remember to consult your physician or physical therapist before starting a program such as this. Start these movements slow & light. Again, if you are prone to injury, there is no shame in performing them with very light weight, or no weight, for a whole session. Additionally, This can ensure that most joints or old injuries can tolerate the movements. You can always go heavier next time.

Written By: George Dudziec, PT, DPT

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