Disclaimer: This is a subjective statement made by the author and is subject to change and possibly already has!
The kettlebell is simple and basic, yet highly effective at building strength, power, endurance, and flexibility. You may have seen one in the gym and wondered what to do with it or witnessed someone performing swings that made you cringe and wonder what the heck they were doing. However, when used properly the kettlebell is one small piece of equipment you can do a whole lot with. You could even go as far as to say it is the swiss army knife of weightlifting equipment from Russia, or China, maybe Greece? It has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, and it flat out works. Before I discuss some of my favorite exercises to do with a kettlebell, I thought I would lay down a little background for you.
The actual history of the kettlebell is somewhat unclear. Some suggest they date back to ancient Greece; others say it is similar to the stone lock in China, however, the first concrete evidence pins the kettlebell to the beginning of the 18th century in Russia. Kettlebells were originally used as handled counterweights to weigh out dry goods on market scales. People started throwing them around for entertainment then were later used in weightlifting. The kettlebell became popularized in the US and UK in the late 90’s by Pavel Tsatouline who is now considered the “modern king of kettlebells.” I recommend reading some of his literature if you are interested in learning more about training, certification programs and competitions specific to kettlebells.
Alright, now to the good stuff. Below is a list of some of my favorite exercises to perform with a kettlebell. Which obviously means this is a list of the 10 GREATEST KETTLEBELL EXERCISES EVER… Okay, maybe there is a little sarcasm or inflation there, but really, these are some pretty darn good exercises!
Sorry, one more thing to check off the list… My caveat before you try performing these exercises is do not hurt yourself. I know, easier said than done. However, if you have not perfected the squat, hinge, lunge, and basic pressing and pulling movements, make sure you start there before adding weight or progressing on to more advanced movements. And of course, if you are currently under care of a physician or physical therapist, please seek their permission before you attempt any of these. Now that we got that out of the way, here they are…
- BUKB TGU – The Turkish Get-Up is an advanced movement that requires good shoulder and core stability along with great shoulder, hip, and ankle mobility. Performing the movement with the bell up or bottom up kettlebell (BUKB) forces increased stability throughout the shoulder joint and kicks the rotator cuff muscles on more. This exercise is considered a full body pushing movement. If you are attempting the BUKB position for the first time, please don’t drop the weight on your face. Control it down or get out of the way!
- KB Swing – Whereas the TGU is a full body push, the swing is a full body pulling movement. Combine these 2 exercises into a workout and you’re pretty much covering everything. I’ve never been into swinging the bell way over my head, I think that’s more of a crossfit thing. Instead, I like the Russian kettlebell training style where you retract the shoulders back and focus on a good hip hinging motion without hyperextending. That’s just my preference and from an injury standpoint it is way more friendly on the shoulders.
- KB Snatch – Unlike the barbell snatch which places the arms in a wide position that can be harder on the shoulders, the KB snatch keeps the arm in a vertical line with the body and is much easier to learn than the barbell snatch. It reminds me of opening a garage door manually, if you’ve ever had to do that (not many people do these days). Either way, it’s an awesome full body exercise that creates power and stability.
- KB Clean and Jerk – Just like the KB snatch, the KB clean and jerk is a great starting point for teaching or learning Olympic lifts. They don’t quite mimic the barbell exactly but they’re way less technical and can help identify and correct strength imbalances in the extremities.
- Half Kneeling BUKB Shoulder Press – Performing any exercise in a half kneeling or split stance position is a great way to reduce the stress on your low back and also force the hip muscles to work a little harder. It’s important to keep those abs tight and spine neutral especially when performing an overhead press. This exercise will challenge your balance and improve core strength and shoulder stability.
- KB Offset Squat – I think this exercise should be required for everyone who is about to have a kid and will experience carrying a load on one side of the body more than normal. It teaches you how to maintain good squatting form when weight distribution is uneven. By having the weight off to one side you force your spinal stabilizers and core muscles to work harder to keep things in alignment.
- KB SLDL to Row – The single leg deadlift by itself is a great exercise to help improve balance, hip strength, and hamstring flexibility. By adding a row into the equation, you increase dynamic stability and work 2 muscles that were meant for each other. It’s actually referred to as the posterior oblique sling which consists of the latissimus dorsi, opposite side glute max, and the fascia in between them.
- KB Windmill – If you have tight hamstrings the KB windmill is a highly effective way to increase your hamstring flexibility along with shoulder stability. Before trying this exercise make sure you have perfected the hip hinge and know how to maintain a neutral spine while bending over.
- KB Lateral Lunge – With this exercise you can hold the weight at your chest in a goblet position or offset like the squat above. Being offset will simply challenge those spinal stabilizers and core a little more. The lateral lunge helps to build strength and flexibility to the hip muscles.
- BUKB Carries (Farmer, OH, Cross body, Chaos) – Weighted carries of any sort are an awesome way to build dynamic core strength and endurance. They work your entire body, improve grip strength, help with posture, improve shoulder stability, and challenge your mental toughness. I love to throw them in at the end of a workout for a good core finisher.
Hopefully, you were able to learn a thing or two. If you are interested in learning these exercises but not quite up to trying them on your own or know where to start, I would be happy to help you out. Along with Athletic Training I am also a Personal Trainer and love helping people attain their health and fitness goals. You can reach me at Gresham SportsCare Physical Therapy or schedule an appointment online to meet with one of our physical therapists.