4 Foundational Kettlebell Exercises

STACK Expert Alex Isaly says kettlebell exercises strengthen your arms and legs and work your core like no other exercise, then offers 4 foundational moves.

Kettlebell exercises strengthen your arms and legs and work your core, heart and lungs like no other exercise. One thing that makes them unique is how they shift your center of gravity, forcing you to work harder to keep your balance.

Kettlebell training starts with four basic moves, which you can build on with time and practice. They work your whole body and enhance your performance. On busy days you can easily fit them in for a quick workout.

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1. Kettlebell Swing

One of the most effective kettlebell exercises, it works most of the major muscle groups and is one of the few exercises that can actually increase your V02 max, a measure of your overall lung capacity.

There are 3 major variations of the Kettlebell Swing:

  1. Double-Arm Swing to Shoulder Height
  2. Double-Arm Swing to Overhead
  3. Single-Arm Swings (alternating or one-arm focused) to Shoulder Height

Each variation challenges the same muscle groups at varying levels of difficulty. If you are new to kettlebell training, start with the Double-Arm Swing to Shoulder Height, and as you get more comfortable, progress to the other variations.

  • Start with your feet spread a bit wider than your hips.
  • Grab the kettlebell with both hands at the corners of the handle.
  • Drive your hips back, maintaining a slight bend in your knees without fully squatting.
  • Drive your hips forward, swinging the kettlebell up to shoulder height. The kettlebell should reach zero gravity.
  • Pause for a moment, then use your shoulders, core and hips to guide it back down in a fluid motion through your legs.
  • Repeat the movement. For maximum results, stabilize your core.

The Kettlebell Swing strengthens the legs, glutes, hips, shoulders and back (all posterior muscles).

2. Squat with Kettlebell Shoulder Press

If you want to increase your speed and power, this is the exercise for you. By combining a lower-body movement with an upper-body press, it not only builds strength but also increases cardiovascular fitness by forcing your heart to work harder, pumping blood to more working muscles.

There are 2 variations of the Squat with Overhead Press:

  1. Squat with Double-Handed Press
  2. Squat with Single-Handed Press

Both exercises work the legs, glutes, arms, core and shoulders.

  • Hold the kettlebell close to your chest with both hands.
  • Stand up straight.
  • To begin the squat, put your weight in your heels and squat down, pushing your hips back until your quads are parallel to the ground, or close to it.
  • While squatting, make sure to keep your back straight, core braced and chest up.
  • Stand back up, pushing through your heels, and flexing your legs and glutes for maximum power.
  • As you move back to a standing position, press the kettlebell over your head until your arms are fully extended, or close to it.
  • Once you reach maximum range of motion, go back into a squat, bringing the kettlebell back to your chest.
  • Repeat the movement.

Keep your core braced for stability. The movement should be in a single vertical plane (straight up and down). Try not to hinge at the hips or lean forward. Keep your weight in your heels throughout the movement.

3. Side Lunge with Upright Kettlebell Row

This is a great exercise for building lateral upper- and lower-body strength. Good for engaging your legs, glutes, core and shoulders, it's guaranteed to help with any side-to-side movements in your sport.

  • Start in a standing position holding the kettlebell to the side with your right hand.
  • Lunge laterally to the right (left leg is stationary and used to anchor the body).
  • Simultaneously raise the kettlebell up and out to the right until it reaches shoulder height. Your elbow should be bent, pointing directly to the right at shoulder height as you hold the kettlebell in front of your chest.
  • Reverse the move back to the starting position.

Perform this exercise 10 times to the right. Switch and lunge in the other direction 10 times. Rest for 15 seconds. Repeat for 2 more sets.

For good lunge technique, make sure the knee on your lunging leg is aligned directly over your foot. To help maintain proper alignment, focus on pulling your right knee back toward your left knee when lunging to the right. Keep your anchor leg in a straight line throughout the move. Keep your back straight and chest up and your core engaged at all times.

4. Half Turkish Getup

This is the perfect kettlebell exercise to strengthen your core and back from a horizontal position.

  • Lie on your back with the kettlebell in your right hand. Your left leg should be flat on the ground and your right foot flat on the floor and knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Straighten your right arm, holding the kettlebell directly over your right shoulder.
  • Keep your left arm flat on the floor away from your body, palm down.
  • Using only your abs, come to a sitting position, raising the kettlebell up toward the ceiling.
  • Using your opposite arm for balance and support, come to where your arm is straight and only your hand is on the floor.
  • Raise your hips toward the ceiling using your abs while squeezing your glutes at the same time.
  • Once you have reached your maximum range of motion, slowly lower your hips back to the ground and reverse the movement back to the starting position.

Perform this exercise 10 times holding the kettlebell in your right hand, then switch to your left hand. Repeat 10 times on the left. Rest for 15 seconds. Repeat for 2 more sets. For that six-pack chiseled look, really focus on using only your abs to lift your body.

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