If your aim is body recomposition, then you will do no better than to get yourself a kettlebell or two. Period.
Kettlebells for the uninitiated, are essentially weights but shaped differently from barbells or dumbbells. These are heavy balls of iron with a single rounded handle attached to the top, like a teapot without the spout.
What makes the kettlebell an interesting piece of training equipment, is that this shape is highly conducive to swinging them around and holding them at all kinds of unusual angles. In other words, you can use kettlebells in ways that you just can’t use dumbbells and specifically this allows you to work the core and to train more muscle groups in unison for a greater hormone response (it’s ‘compound’).
Kettlebells are also ideal because they allow you to build up momentum allowing you to continue moving for long periods of time. This lets you train in a more cardio-intensive manner allowing you to burn fat as well as building muscle. Specifically, this form of cardio that also involves resistance against the muscles is known as ‘resistance cardio’ and it’s an ideal way to burn fat that won’t also burn muscle. It’s great for toning if you’re interested in that, and by involving the muscles you will trigger a hormonal response leading to greater fat burning and a higher metabolism throughout the following day. In short, it’s an ideal form of exercise for cutting fat.
But what exercises are there that you can do with kettlebells? Here we’ll look at some of the most effective and most popular for you to get started with…
The Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is one of the most well-known and highly regarded kettlebell exercises out there. What makes it so popular is the fact that it engages the posterior chain (in a similar manner to the deadlift) and can be maintained for a long period of time for great cardio. Many women love this one because they believe it can build them a great rear end, and they’re not wrong!
To perform kettlebell swings, starting with two arms, your aim is to swing the kettlebell down between your legs bending slightly at the legs but more so at the waist, and then straight back up so that it’s just in front of your face. Keep straight arms the whole time and only use your waist and upper legs to drive the movement. In other words this is a ‘swing’, not a lift, and it should look like a pendulum when you get it right. It’s worth watching a video of this to get the technique down before you go heavy or long. The easy variation on this one is just to use one arm. You can still swing the spare arm to aid the momentum.
Figure 8s as you might imagine, involve drawing a ‘figure of 8’ with the kettlebell. You do this by positioning yourself in low squat position with one arm holding the dumbbell, then by swinging it around the outside of the leg on that side and back through the middle. Now pass the weight to the other hand and go around the other leg with the other arm.
You all know what squats are… well front squats are basically that except that you’ll be using a kettlebell to provide the weight. You do this while holding the kettlebell to your chest with both hands, keeping your elbows tucked in and close to your body as you go. This is called a front squat because the weight is in front of you instead of across your shoulders as would normally be the case on the squatting rack.
Similarly, it’s also perfectly possible to perform deadlifts with kettlebells which is great if you don’t have a barbell to hand.
Simply place the kettlebell on the floor in front of you with a shoulder-width stance. Then bend slightly at the knees while leaning forward with your upper body and grabbing the handle of the kettlebell with both hands. Keep looking up and make sure there’s no arch in your spine (imagine there’s a ruler down your back and you’re trying not to break it). Stand directly up, and as you do, pull the weight up with you with straight arms. Then repeat the movement to put it back down and you’re ready to go again.
Kettlebell Clean and Press
This is a powerlifting move normally performed with a barbell, but you can use a kettlebell to perform them on just one side at a time. Starting with the kettlebell in front of you again, deadlift it with one arm, then bring it straight up close to chest resting on the forearm (so it’s on the outside of your body) to rest (the ‘rack position’) and press it straight upwards.
Kettlebell Clean and Jerk
What’s the difference between clean and press and clean and jerk? In a clean and press you’re aiming to essentially put a shoulder press on the end of a deadlift and that means performing a press with good technique and legs still.
On the other hand, when you do a clean and jerk you’re allowed to use the legs as much as necessary in order to help drive up the weight. This lets you use a higher weight and is an even more ‘compound’ movement.
Kettlebell Around the Worlds
This sounds like the name of a strange film, but it’s actually a move that trains the core in a great way – particularly the obliques which you use to torque the upper body.
For this exercise you essentially stand and swing the weight around the outside of your body, passing it from one hand to the other behind your back and in front of your stomach.
The halo is similar to around the worlds in theory, except you’re going around the head rather than the body. There are some differences though. For starters, you’ll be holding the kettlebell upside down with both hands, and secondly you’re going to be reversing direction with each repetition. Make sure to keep your body still and to avoid hitting your head obviously…
Curls are another very ‘normal’ workout that you can do with kettlebells. Curling a kettlebell isn’t quite as comfortable as curling a dumbbell, but it’s a great way to vary your usual biceps workout as it will alter the angle of the resistance thus engaging your biceps in a different way.
These are simply twisting sit ups (which train the obliques) performed while holding a kettlebell close to your chest.
Turkish Get Ups
This one’s a little different. Lie on the ground while holding the kettlebell straight out above you in one arm. Then… get up. Do this by bringing one leg up then pushing through the heel on that side while using your arm on the opposite side to push up your upper body. The whole time, the aim is to keep the arm straight with the dumbbell and pointing directly upwards (as though you’d fallen in a river and were trying to save your watch). Again, seeing a video on this one is a good idea!
So there you go: a whole selection of kettlebell exercises to get started with! All of these will help you to build compound strength, to burn fat and to train in a manner that’s fun and different. With one cheap kettlebell, you pretty much have a whole gym!