10 Killer Kettlebell Exercises

Updated: Feb 18

Discover 10 killer kettlebell exercise that will revolutionise your training sessions.

a man performing the kettlebell jerk with two 32kg kettlebells

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the kettlebell is one of the best exercise tools for developing whole-body, all-round fitness. In another Hungry4Fitness article – Advanced Kettlebell Techniques – I discuss at length the health and fitness benefits you can expect if you make kettlebell training a permanent addition to your exercise regime.



However, in order to avoid coming across as repetitive, I won’t go into detail but instead advise the interested reader either to follow the above link or see below the brief encapsulation of those benefits in the Quick FAQ.



One point I will heap emphasis on, though, is the imperative of participating in regular kettlebell training. Of course, as with anything that confers either health or fitness benefits, or both, we must make it a recurring, habitual feature of our routine.



The occasional kettlebell session is about as useful as the occasional branch of broccoli. In order to get those health benefits from either you’ve got to make them a prominent part of your diet.



So, with that said, find at least one weekly training session where you could include kettlebells or, better still, convert it into a kettlebell only session. By implementing this advice, if it could be called that, the sooner you will be enjoying the superior physicality kettlebell training can confer.


Quick FAQ

Why is kettlebell training so effective?

When swinging, pressing or pulling a kettlebell, whatever your preference (personally mine’s all three), you are engaging in one of – if not the – most effective forms of training. Bold statement I know – made bolder still by that italicised the. However, I feel I can confidently support my statement on a sound justification. Here goes – in a nutshell:



Because traditional kettlebell exercises (and I’m not talking about those pathetic Western adaptations: no Russian would be seen dead ‘curling’ a KB – to be caught committing such a heinous crime would land you a 6 to 10 stretch in the gulag!) . . . but because traditional kettlebell exercises stimulate both the muscular and cardiovascular systems whole-body fitness is promoted. Few if any other modalities of exercise offer such a broad spectrum of physical improvement.


Benefits of kettlebell training?

The benefits of kettlebell training are many and varied. Instead of waffling on about them in one almighty paragraph I’ve encapsulated the benefits in a simple list. Behold!


Superior muscular endurance
Improved cardiovascular performance
Enhanced proprioceptive sensitivity
Improved coordination
Cast iron core strength
Gorilla-like grip
Augmented mental toughness
And palms as rough as tree bark (though some won’t see this as a benefit)

How to begin kettlebell training?

Simple: start with a nice light bell and firstly focus on a couple of core movements – such as the swing and single arm clean. Once you’ve mastered these movements, and you can swing and clean like a seasoned Girevoy competitor, consider expanding on your parochial repertoire of exercises and increase the weight. Also, ensure that you are incorporating kettlebells into your training regime at least twice a week. The longer you leave it between sessions the slower your progress will be – obviously. Remember: the royal road to superior proficiency is heavily soiled with sweat (tears and blood).


Does kettlebell training build muscle?

Yes . . . and no. That contradiction needs clarifying. Regular kettlebell training will build muscle in a person who is under trained – but that’s not saying much, even one of Joe Wicks’ home workouts would marginally increase the muscle mass of a couch addict. However, kettlebell training doesn’t build muscle the way strength training would. But then the kettlebell is not a muscle-building tool. It’s a training tool designed to develop superior muscular endurance and stamina. And in that it excels.



Also, the way in which kettlebells are used (should be used) is not conducive to building muscle. You see, the objective of traditional kettlebell training is about the number of repetitions an athlete can perform in a certain duration of time – usually 10 minutes – which is muscular endurance training. And muscular endurance training doesn’t build muscle. It increases the fibril density and definition of the muscle but not its size. To develop mass the weights must be heavy, the number of repetitions performed low and the rest periods long. Kettlebell training is almost completely the opposite.


On with the show

Ok then, now we’ve covered the theoretical side of kettlebell training let’s get practical! Following this sentence you will discover 10 killer kettlebell exercises that, once you have mastered the techniques, will help you advance your physicality, burn fat and sculpt a lean defined physique . . . so what are you waiting for . . .


The 10 killer KB exercise include

1: The Swing
2: Under the leg pass
3: Goblet Squat
4: Single arm clean & press
5: Single arm Jerk!
6: Single arm pulls
7: Turkish Get-up
8: Squat to Press
9: Snatch!
10: The Long Cycle!
a kettlebell in a gym


Killer Kettlebell Exercise #1: The Kettlebell Swing

Muscles worked: all of them! Honestly, the kettlebell swing is such an effective whole-body exercise that no muscles escapes unscathed from this wrecking ball of a movement. But from the ashes superior physicality will emerge like a fiery phoenix!


In his ok book The Russian Kettlebell Challenge (see end of article) Pavel Tsatsouline cites a 1920s weightlifting champion as having said that the swing: ‘brings into action and develops practically every group of muscles on the back of your body and legs, and a good many others besides . . . If you have time on your schedule for only one back exercise, make it this one . . .’



Tsatsouline himself likens the swing to a physical altercation with a Russian bear because, after a good hundred reps, your muscles feel as though they’ve been torn to shreds (that’s a good thing by the way).



If you decide to become a regular swinger you’ll develop superior grip, core and pelvic thrusting strength whilst enhancing your physical functionality – for few exercises force you to fight to maintain correct posture and foot positioning.



Amazing really how such a simple exercise can bring about so many benefits.


Teaching Points

As exercise names go the kettlebell swing couldn’t be less ambiguous if it tried. After taking the kettlebell from the floor with both hands we initiate the movement with a short backwards pull then thrust forwards through the hips propelling that gravity-loving lump of pig iron level with our shoulders.



Congratulations! You are now a certified swinger!



But wait, don’t go anywhere yet. If you’ve never swung before ensure to familiarise yourself with the detailed list of teaching points below. Though an indubitably simple exercise there’s a number of technical considerations that, well, you ought to consider.



  1. Centre your mass over a kettlebell the weight of which is commensurate with your current strength and ability. In short, don’t go heavy – keep it light to begin with!

  2. Bending at the knee whilst ensuring to keep the back ironing-board straight grasp the bell with both hands.

  3. Firing through the quads squat into the standing position.

  4. Before initiating the movement organise your feet – they should be just over shoulder width apart – fix your eyes on an indefinite point in the distance and prepare your mind for the exercise. I call this bit the calm before the storm!

  5. With knees still slightly bent rotate slightly at the hips so as to create space to pull the bell back between your pins.

  6. On receiving the kettlebell in your groin fire through with the gluteal muscles and, with arms straight, propel the KB forward. Instead of trying to get the KB all the way up in the first swing I find it best to elevate it in stages. Usually after the third swing I’m in full flight – so to speak.

  7. Once the kettlebell has reached the desired height – roughly level with your chin – arrest the movement and allow gravity to do its thing. Ensure to control the kettlebell during its descent.

  8. Again receive the KB in the groin harnessing the kinetic energy generated.

  9. Use that energy (and a bit of your own) to complete the next repetition.

  10. Now you are swinging!


Methods of Modification

Modifications abound! But I’ll be quick – promise. Once you mastered the standard swing – described above and displayed in the video tutorial below – try single arm swings. Also, you can swing the bell all the way up so that it is directly above your head, pausing for a mo before allowing it to drop (I call this the big dipper). And then there’s the option of fastening a resistance band to the kettlebell for added resistance. By tethering the KB to an RB resistance increases throughout the range of movement eventually peaking at maximal contraction – where it’s most effective. I’ll sum by saying: when you get your confidence with this exercise just play about with it – though best to do this outside.


Dos

  • Keep control throughout the exercise

  • Relax during the movement – you shouldn’t strike the appearance of a soldier on parade

  • Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the swing

  • Fix your eyes on a point roughly head height

  • Ensure the arms are slightly bent throughout

  • Keep your core tight whilst swinging

  • Squeeze your bum cheeks together at precisely the moment when the KB reaches the top position


Don’ts

  • Do not bend or round your back – keep it straight or slightly concaved

  • Do not at any point lock the legs out

  • Do not over-rotate or ‘collapse’ at the hips during the downward phase. The kettlebell should not pull you down so that your torso becomes parallel with the floor. This is a common mistake which places a lot of stress on the lumbar region of the spine.



Killer KB Exercise #2: Under the leg pass (ULP)

Muscles worked: mainly lower back (erector spinae) quadriceps and core stabilisers. But also this exercise is a terrific brain stimulator – for if you ‘switch off’ when ULPing you’ll careen the bell into your shin or ankle which hurts like a bitch.


The ULP is a touch more technical than the swing. With this exercise we pass the kettlebell through and around the legs tracing out as we do so a figure of eight pattern. When performing the ULP you kind of take on the appearance of a stationary basketball player as she dribbles the ball between her legs. But instead of bouncing a soft ball you’re circulating a steel bell, and instead of playing a sissy sport you’re subjecting yourself to a singularly sadomasochistic exercise, and . . . wait, actually the ULP’s nothing at all like playing basketball!



Scratch out the above and proceed on with the tutorial.



Prior to performing this exercise there are a couple of technical points that you ought to consider. As per normal those points are presented below:


Teaching Points

  1. Position yourself directly over the bell.

  2. Your feet should be spaced a little over shoulder width.

  3. Bending at the knee grasp the bell with one hand – I find it best to hold the nook of the handle as this creates more space for when swopping hands.

  4. Keeping the back straight perform a partial squat.

  5. At this point the KB should be suspended majestically between your legs and you should strike the appearance of Burden’s ass: confused as whether or not to squat up or down.

  6. Now ‘feed’ the bell back behind either the left or right leg – your choice – ensuring to have the receiving hand open ready and waiting.

  7. The pass should take place when the KB is almost directly in line with your Achilles.

  8. Once safely in the receiving hand, in one seamless movement follow an elliptical path and orbit the bell back round the opposite leg.

  9. Mirror what you’ve done but on the opposite side.

  10. Now just keep tracing those infinity signs until you get bored or keel over from malnutrition (to conclude Burden’s paradox).


Methods of Modification

There’s a couple of modifications you can use to spice up this movement. For example, after passing the bell though the legs a set number of times you can close them and begin circumnavigating your torso. Once you’ve completed, say, ten clockwise rotations, you would stop the bell with your free hand and proceed in the opposite direction. From here – we’re still going around the torso by the way – attempt to squat down: Yes! whilst whirring the KB. Isn’t that a bit dangerous? Perhaps. Using the bell as a counter weight the idea is to see how low you can go.


a man performing the kettlebell under the leg pass exercise

Dos

  • Keep control throughout the exercise

  • Engage the core muscles

  • Relax during the movement

  • Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the UPL

  • Ensure the arms are slightly bent throughout<