kettlebell compound exercises
If you’re looking to build strength and size add these four kettlebell compound exercises to your workouts.
But they do more than develop bigger stronger muscles.
The four kettlebell compound exercises below will also help you forge functional power while enhancing muscular endurance.
These fitness development qualities make them ideal for promoting whole-body conditioning. In addition, the following kettlebell compound exercises will also add variation to your training routine.
What’s a compound exercise?
A compound exercise transitions through two or more joints and engages one or more of the major muscle groups. For example, when performing a deadlift, which is widely regarded as the best compound exercise, flexion occurs at the hip, knee, and ankle joints.
In addition, when performing this relatively simple exercise, you will engage muscles in the legs – primarily the quadriceps and glutes – the back – primarily the erector spinae – and a whole host of synergist muscles – such as the trapezius, deltoids, and forearms.
Why are kettlebell compound exercises good?
For building strength and size compound exercises are essential. According to Anita Bean, author of The Complete Guide to Strength Training, ‘compound, or multi-joint, exercises cause the greatest stimulation of muscle fibres and should form the basis of strength- and mass-building programmes.’
But what Bean is talking about here is more your traditional compound exercises – squats, deadlifts, bench press, and the like.
However, these exercises are excellent for developing strength, their obvious limitation is that they are static. Meaning when you perform a bench press, say, your body remains completely stationary as you execute the movement.
The drawback with static exercises is that they a) aren't as effective at engaging the core or smaller, synergist muscles, and b) they don’t replicate how we use the body in everyday life, or during sport.
compound exercises kettlebell
Compound kettlebell exercises, by contrast, bring you both the strength-building benefits synonymous with compound movements, and the muscular functionality that is more representative of how we use our bodies. This accounts for why kettlebells are becoming ever increasingly popular among athletes.
In addition, kettlebell compound exercises engage the muscles of the core and a whole host of stabilising muscles. Unlike a barbell deadlift, when performing a kettlebell swing you are pulled off balance. This may not initially sound like a good thing, but it is.
By being pulled off balance you are required to engage a wider range of muscles to stabilise your position. Also, and this is a rarely mentioned benefit of kettlebell training in general, you must maintain mental focus throughout the lift. When swinging, snatching, or squatting a kettlebell you cannot switch off or lose concentration.
It's this quality of the kettlebell that accounts for why gireviks (kettlebell lifter) say that the kettlebell builds both a strong body and a strong brain.
The 4 best compound kettlebell exercises
1: Kettlebell swing
Muscles worked: the Kb swing stimulates a staggeringly wide range of muscle groups. Of all the kettlebell compound exercises available, the swing is arguably the simplest and safest way to activate the major muscles. When swinging you will promote strength in the glutes, lower back, core and deltoids. But here we’re only scratching the surface. In truth, the Kb swing recruits more or less every muscle in the body.
Hold the kettlebell between your legs, palms facing inwards, feet a little over shoulder-width apart.
Keeping the back straight pull the kettlebell back and, using your glutes, propel the kettlebell forward until it’s level with your shoulders.
Ensuring to keep your core engaged throughout the movement, allow the kettlebell to return to the start position and repeat.
russian kettlebell swing
The Russian kettlebell swing is the standard movement of the many swing variations. The Russian version of the swing is a quintessential compound kettlebell exercise and is a foundational movement. As described above, the range of movement is considerably compact.
Typically, the mistake made by many beginners is to excessively hinge at the hips during the downward phase of the exercise. This is unnecessary and, if performed incorrectly, increases injury risk in the lower back.
american kb swings
Personally, I’m disdainful of this terminology. Anyone who is familiar with the heritage of kettlebell training and Girevoy Sports knows there’s no such thing as an ‘American kettlebell swing’. This usurpation of what is merely an extension of the Russian swing, is a consequence of the hegemony of the CrossFit movement.
According to CrossFitters, by swinging the kettlebell beyond the shoulders and up above the head, you are performing the American version of the swing. Of course, this is pure poppycock. This extended version features in Pavel Tsatsouline’s book The Russian Kettlebell Challenge – which was published before CrossFit was conceived.
However, denunciations aside, the overhead swing is an excellent way to amp the intensity and increase power in the muscles. To propel the bell above your head requires a lot more oomph!
single arm kettlebell swing
The single arm kettlebell swing is a simple yet effective way of increasing the resistance. When your 16kg kettlebell starts feeling a little light for the swing, switch to the single arm variation. By doing so you’ll soon be ready for the 24kg.
From a technical standpoint, single arm swinging is exactly the same as its double-arm comrade. The only minor difference is what you do with your unencumbered arm. Typically the single-arm swinger will hold their free arm out to the side for balance.
2: kettlebell front squat
Muscles worked: primarily the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. But because the kettlebell is held to the front between the legs, you’re also kind of performing a quasi-deadlift. As a consequence, your lower back is also actively engaged throughout the kettlebell front squat. Not forgetting the trapezius and forearm muscles as well.
Adopt the same position as above: kettlebell between your legs, palms facing inwards, feet a little over shoulder-width apart.
Fix your eyes on a point to your front and, keeping a straight back, bend at the knee.
When your knees reach 90ᵒ pause and return to the start position. Remember: don’t lock your knees at the top.
Kb goblet squat
The goblet squat is an advanced variation of the front squat. Whereas with the front squat you hold the Kb between you legs, for the goblet squat you must suspend it in front of your chest. By changing the position of the kettlebell in this way, you engage the muscles of the arms, shoulders and upper chest.
Stand with your feet set wider than shoulder-width and hold a kettlebell with both hands up at your chest.
The kettlebell should be upended: your gripping the handle at the curves and the base of the Kb is facing the ceiling.
Also, the kettlebell should be held at your front and there should be a 90°angle at your elbows. Holding the bell in this way works your biceps, forearms and anterior deltoids.
Sit back into a squat, keeping the kettlebell fixed in front of your chest, drive back up and repeat.
3: kettlebell thruster
Muscle worked: besides the long cycle, clean to press, swing, and snatch, no other kettlebell exercise works as many muscles as does the thruster. Scratch that. The Turkish Getup works as many. But, my point is, the thruster is still a Titan of a compound exercise that will build Olympian strength in your legs, back, shoulders and arms.
Standing over the kettlebell, take a reverse grip of the handle. In one clean movement swing upturn the kettlebell and hold it in front of your chest. In this position, the base of the kettlebell should be facing the ceiling.
Keeping your back straight squat until your knees are at a 90° angle.
Power out of the squat ensuring, as you do so, to push the kettlebell high above your head.
From the outstretched position lower the kettlebell back to your chest while simultaneously sinking into the next squat.
4: Kettlebell row
Muscles worked: the bent-over row primarily works the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius and biceps. But also, the erector spina, the muscles that support the lumbar region of the spine, are isometrically stimulated along with a whole host of other synergist muscles.
You’re going to perform the kettlebell bent-over row exactly how you would with a barbell. The only difference being, of course, is that you will be rowing two Kbs.
Stand over your bells ensuring to adopt a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance.
Grasping the handles execute a perfect deadlift.
From the upright standing position lower until the kettlebells are level with your knees. There should be a slight bend at the knee. Remember: to adopt the correct postural alignment you must ‘hinge’ at the hips. Do not round the back or flex at the knee.
If you’re in the correct position your back should be ironing board-flat, your knees slightly bent, your eyes fixed on an indefinite point to your front, and a big pair of kettlebells dangling majestically between your legs. Lucky you!
Now, to execute the bent-over row, simultaneously pull the kettlebells until your hands touch your upper torso.
Momentarily pause then return.
Repeat for the stipulated number of reps.
Best competition kettlebells
If you’re still flirting with the idea of getting a kettlebell my advice is, grow a pair and buy a pair!
I promise you will not regret it. Why?
Of all the exercise equipment available, and there’s a lot, kettlebells are by far the best. And that’s not up for argument.
Kettlebells, unlike, say, dumbbells or Olympic barbells, are not only more versatile, they’re also more durable. I’ve broken a number of dumbbells and barbells in my time, but I’m yet to break a competition kettlebell.
Furthermore, unlike the aforementioned resistance training equipment, you can perform power-building ballistic exercises with kettlebells. Find a patch of grass and start tossing, throwing, and flipping your bells.
Below I’ve sourced two bomb-proof competition kettlebells from Amazon. These bells have been selected because they meet the following criteria:
They meet the National and International Kettlebell Sports size requirements. Meaning:
They’re competition kettlebells
One-piece cast-steel (meaning no welding at the handles)
Professionally machined handles and contact points (which reduces blisters and abrasions)
Gorilla Sports’ one-piece solid cast steel competition kettlebell sets have received over 140 5-star reviews. These bells have been designed and constructed for elite athletes and commercial gyms. Thus, as one customer put it, when you buy a Gorilla kettlebell ‘you’ll never need to buy another one’.
Bell weights range from 8kg up to 32kg, incrementally increasing by 4kg.
ATREQ competition kettlebell
ATREQ competition kettlebells are manufactured to the highest standards. The weights range from 8kg through to 36kg at 4kg increments.
Furthermore, ATREQ’s kettlebells boast a professional finish with their uniformed size and highly polished handles. These are features to look out for in kettlebells as they reduce sores and abrasions after prolonged training.
Try this simple compound complex
This kettlebell compound complex has been designed to facilitate lifting competency while also developing strength.
The Kb exercises have been organised into a circuit format. But you shouldn’t maintain a high intensity as you would with a circuit. Take your time as you progress through the compound complex and focus on the lifting technique.
Related: check out our Complete Guide To Circuit Training
With this complex, your objective is to complete five sets of the four exercises. The repetitions stay the same. However, for the bodyweight movements, which interlace the kettlebell exercises, the reps increase.
These movements have been included to provide a physical change of focus between the heavier lifts.
1: Kettlebell swing – 10 reps
Press-ups – 25 reps
2: KB squats – 10 reps
Plank – 25 seconds
3: Kettlebell thruster – 10 reps
Burpees – 25 reps
4: Kettlebell row – 10 reps
(Repeat 5 times through.)
full body compound workout
The training methodology changes with this full-body compound workout. Whereas with the first workout the focus is orientated to specific sets and reps. Here your are to maintain consistent output for a time duration.
Organised into mini AMRAPs, your objective is to perform as many reps as possible for each of the four exercises.
Related: everything you need to know about AMRAP training
But, because these are comparatively technical compound exercises, and you will be lifting heavy, you should still take your time. This runs contradictory to the AMRAP ethos I know.
With this workout, though, the time is merely supposed to motivate you to maintain output. And that output should be methodical and the lifts technically flawless.
5min AMRAP: Kettlebell swing
5min AMRAP: KB squats
5min AMRAP: Kettlebell thruster
5min AMRAP: Kettlebell row
For more kettlebell workouts and exercise tutorials, see our dedicated Kettlebell Page.