We love kettlebells. They are a fantastic tool to get stronger, build muscle and improve conditioning. But are you sick of doing the same old Kettlebell Swing? If you're suffering from Swing fatigue, fear not—there are many, many ways to use a kettlebell in your workouts to become a better, stronger athlete. Below, we describe 12 of our favorite unconventional kettlebell exercises recommended by strength and conditioning experts.
1. Kettlebell Kneeling Plank
At a quick glance, this hardly even qualifies as an exercise. You simply kneel and hold a kettlebell behind you. But if you try it out, you'll quickly feel its effects. Holding this position corrects a forward hunched posture caused by sitting with rounded shoulders. "We love this exercise because unlike other popular anterior core exercises, this one actually opens up your chest and shoulders," says Brian Nguyen, owner of Brik Fitness (Redondo Beach, California) and trainer to Mark Wahlberg. It also activates your core muscles—it is a Plank, after all—and may even improve your technique on Squats and Deadlifts.
- Kneel on the ground with your hips fully extended. Keep your chest up and core tight.
- Hold a kettlebell with both hands behind your butt.
- Hold this position for the specified amount of time.
Sets/Duration: 1x60-90 sec.
2. Kettlebell Single-Arm Squat Clean
The Squat Clean is similar to the traditional Clean, but with a full Squat incorporated into the movement. This is a safe way to learn Olympic lifts like the Power Clean, and moving the weight over such a large range of motion makes it quite difficult. "I love this because it involves a strong triple extension through the hip, knee and ankle joints, and it is a great tool for learning Olympic movements," says Ben Boudro, owner of Xceleration Sports (Auburn Hills, Michigan).
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a kettlebell in your right hand at hip height.
- Hinge at your hips and bend your knees to squat down, lowering the kettlebell between your legs.
- Extend your hips and knees, and pull the kettlebell up, keeping it close to your body.
- Drop under the kettlebell with bent knees, catching it in the rack position at your shoulder.
- Lower into a full Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Drive up out of the Squat and perform another Clean.
Sets/Reps: 3-4x5-8 each arm
3. Kettlebell Single-Arm Windmill
Holding this position is tough with only your body weight, let alone with a kettlebell. Boudro explains that your core has to work overtime while your shoulder stabilizers fire to balance the kettlebell with your arm in the air. Also, the twisting motion increases hip and t-spine mobility.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width, and hold the kettlebell in your left hand.
- Raise your left arm straight up in the air directly over your left shoulder.
- Slowly lower your right hand toward the ground in front of you. Once you reach the ground, your arms should form a straight line from the kettlebell to the ground.
- Engage your core and reverse the move back to starting position, maintaining straight arms throughout the move.
Sets/Reps: 3-4x5-8 each arm
4. Kettlebell Goblet Squat and Curl
"There's a huge core challenge with the lowering portion, which then carries over to better lumbo-pelvic control," says Tony Gentilcore, co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance (Hudson, Massachusetts). By training your core in a squat position, you provide a new challenge to your muscles. This is particularly beneficial for athletes, because they often have to stabilize and produce power from this position. A stronger core equates to a stronger and more powerful movement with less risk of injury.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a kettlebell by the horn in front of your chest.
- Sit your hips back and lower into a Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Keeping your core tight, slowly perform one Curl with the kettlebell.
- Drive through your heels and extend your hips to stand up to the starting position.
5. Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
The Turkish Getup looks weird, but it's one of the best exercises you can perform to train your entire body. "I make all my athletes do it because you get a lot of bang for your buck in one movement," says Boudro. "Core stability, flexibility, shoulder stability, lower-body strength and stamina are all trained here."
- Lie on the ground holding a kettlebell with your right hand overhead, your right knee bent and your opposite arm extended to the side. Fix your eyes on the kettlebell.
- Slowly sit up by shifting your weight to your left elbow and then your hand.
- Drive through your left hand and right heel to extend your hips and raise your body into a bridge position.
- Swing your left leg under your body and assume a kneeling position.
Sets/Reps: 3x5 each side
6. Kettlebell Arm Bar
Named after the arm bar submission used in MMA, this exercise is different from anything you've ever done. By holding the kettlebell in the air and rolling your body, you increase shoulder stability in multiple planes of motion, which is important for maintaining a strong shoulder joint in all directions. "This is big for me as some of my celebrity clients want big shoulders, because they need a solid foundation," says Nguyen.
- Lie on your back and bend your right knee.
- Hold a kettlebell with your right hand and extend your arm in front of your chest, while your left arm is extended overhead.
- Keeping your right arm in a vertical position, drive through your right foot to roll onto your side. The kettlebell should be directly over your shoulder.
- Pull your shoulder blade down and back.
- Continue rolling as far as you can while keeping your arm vertical. Hold this position for 3-5 counts.
- Roll back in control to the start position.
Sets/Reps: 3x3 each side
7. Kettlebell Flamingos
Flamingos involve standing on one leg and passing the kettlebell in a circle around your body, which trains core strength and balance at the same time. "This is a great move for basketball players or any athletes in sports that require you to hold a single-leg stance while moving with your core," says Boudro.
- Stand on a single leg with your knee slightly bent and hold a kettlebell in one hand at your hip.
- Swing the kettlebell behind your body and pass it to your opposite hand.
- Swing the kettlebell in front of your body and pass it to your starting hand, completing a full circle.
- To make it more challenging, stand on a BOSU ball.
Sets/Duration: 5x30 sec. each direction
8. Kettlebell Halos
The Kettlebell Halo is similar to the Flamingo, except you circle the kettlebell around your head. It is often used as a warm-up exercise since it takes your shoulders through a large range of motion while supporting heavy weight. Boudro also uses it to train the core by having his athletes stand on one leg.
- Stand on one leg and hold a kettlebell upside down by the horn in front of your face.
- Rotate the kettlebell around your head by circling your arms up and over your head.
- Make sure not to hit your head with the kettlebell.
Sets/Duration: 5x30 sec. each side
9. Kettlebell Bottoms-Up Press
It's difficult to maintain your grip on a kettlebell when holding it upside down with one hand. The weight is above your hand and it naturally wants to fall to the side, so you have to squeeze extra tight to keep it upright. When you use this grip on a Shoulder Press, the added tension activates your shoulder stabilizers, creating an overhead exercise that's easy on the shoulders. "I like this one for grip and shoulder stability," Boudro says. "This is great for athletes who are concerned about their shoulder health and still want to build overhead pressing strength."
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell upside down with your right hand positioned in front of your shoulder.
- Keeping your core tight, press the kettlebell overhead.
- Lower the kettlebell in control to the starting position.
10. Kettlebell Bottoms-Up Walks
This has a similar benefit to the Press. However, the walking motion makes it even harder to grip and stabilize the kettlebell. "It's a great exercise to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, prepare an athlete for overhead lifts or improve throwing strength," says Chris Hitchko, owner of Show-Up Fitness (Santa Monica, California).
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell upside down with your right hand in front of your shoulder.
- Press the kettlebell up.
- Keeping your core tight, walk forward for the specified distance.
Sets/Distance: 1-2x25 yards
11. 3.5 Month Kettlebell Pullover
"This core exercise is great for keeping your breathing in sync with your movements, which helps you be efficient with your power production," says Nguyen. It also improves core strength and fixes common posture problems that are often at the root of injuries.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet together. Hold a kettlebell by the horn in front of your chest.
- Drive your knees out as far as possible while maintaining contact with your feet.
- Exhale and press your lower back into the ground.
- Keeping your arms straight, lower the kettlebell until just before your lower back comes off the ground.
- In this position, take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth.
- Bring the kettlebell up in front of your chest to return to the starting position.
12. Kettlebell Rotational Deadlifts
Hitchko has his athletes and clients perform this move at the end of deadlifting workouts. The rotational variation offers a unique challenge to your hips, and it strengthens your back because you have to pull the weight across your body.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of your hips.
- Keeping your back flat, bend at the waist and lower the kettlebell to the outside of your right foot.
- Drive up to the starting position.
- Repeat to the left.
Sets/Reps: 3x5 each side
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock