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High-intensity interval training is no longer the forbidden secret in a world awash with the best treadmills and step aerobics, as it once was.
Instead of avoiding HIIT because they know nothing about it, now people tend to just avoid it because it’s hard. Words like “Tabata” and “AMRAP” send them into cold shivers and rest periods that look more like hibernations.
Still, there are yet some brave souls who want to know how to build muscle, increase endurance or tackle weight loss. For them, we offer up here some of the best kettlebell HIIT workout ideas.
The Moves in a Kettlebell HIIT Workout
These exercises require a single kettlebell and some mental toughness. These are double- and single-arm lifts with an explosive element (moving fast is what cool kids do to boost physical performance1.)
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Why Do It: Kettlebell swings are like the push-ups of kettlebell training; each is the most ubiquitous movement of its subspecies. If you have a kettlebell, or have ever had a kettlebell, you’ve done swings.
This is because the kettlebell swing is the doorway to the world of explosive lifting. Less unwieldy and intimidating than the kettlebell snatch, Strongman sandbag load, or banded sumo deadlift, the swing lets just about anybody see benefits from tossing weight through the air.
How to Do It:
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart and the kettlebell on the ground between your feet.
- Move your hips back and bend your knees as little as possible to grab the kettlebell off the ground.
- Deadlift the kettlebell.
- Instead of stopping there and locking it out like a deadlift, pop your hips and use the upward momentum to throw the kettlebell forward.
- When the momentum dies, allow gravity to move the kettlebell to travel back to your groin.
- Avoid getting hit in the groin by lowering the kettlebell between your legs.
- Dynamically reverse direction and throw the kettlebell out again.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Why Do It: This is the easiest loaded squat to get just about anybody to do. I’ve loaded goblet squats with sacks of flour, cats, and even a prop goblet (to really drive the point home).
What with the price of grain these days, and the difficulty in finding a compliant cat, I usually recommend just using a kettlebell.
How to Do It:
- Hold the kettlebell by the horns directly under your chin.
- Keep your forearms as vertical as possible.
- With a tall torso, drop straight down into a squat.
- Keeping the kettlebell over your center of gravity, stand straight up.
Kettlebell Russian Twist
Why Do It: One of our many names for strength training movements derived from the Eastern Bloc, the Russian twist is a sneaky hard ab and oblique exercise. If using your kettlebell is too difficult, you can do these as a simple bodyweight exercise. Just hold an imaginary kettlebell in your hands.
How to Do It:
- Lie on your back with the kettlebell on your stomach.
- Lift your feet, knees, and shoulders off the ground, and hold the kettlebell off your stomach.
- Twist your shoulders (and your hands) the the left, and “place” the kettlebell just off your left hip.
- Immediately reverse direction and “place” the kettlebell just off your right hip.
- Complete all requisite repetitions.
Kettlebell Clean and Press
Why Do It: A good lift in its own right, the single-arm clean and press can also be used to build up to the kettlebell snatch. The kettlebell clean and press works both the upper body and lower body explosively; something that can be good for total body power and taxing the cardiovascular system (and throwing around a weight is just more fun than doing endless burpees).
How to Do It:
- Start with the kettlebell in your right hand with your arm hanging straight.
- Think about “jumping” the weight up to your right shoulder.
- Slightly bend your legs, and think about “throwing” the weight up from your shoulder.
- Hold the top position with your right arm fully extended.
- Return the kettlebell to the starting position.
Kettlebell Squat and Press (AKA Thruster)
Why Do It: This is basically a single-arm kettlebell thruster, and mimics the bottom portion of a deep kettlebell snatch or Turkish get-up. In addition to working your deltoid, lats, and core, this will light up your aerobic system in a hurry.
How to Do It:
- Start with the kettlebell in your right hand in the rack position.
- Put your left arm out for balance if necessary.
- Get down into the deepest squat you can while maintaining tension.
- Explode from the bottom and try to throw the kettlebell through the ceiling (don’t let go unless you actually want a hole in the ceiling).
- Stabilize at the top for a beat.
- Drop your right hand back into the rack position.
Alternating Hang Clean
Why Do It: The hang power clean is the king of Olympic lifts for personal trainers who don’t actually want to spend the time needed to teach the Olympic lifts (this may be a population of one; myself).
The single-arm version of the lift may be one of the best kettlebell exercises around. Furthermore, by adding in a force absorption element, alternating rack positions between hands may be even better yet.
You can do this with one kettlebell or two; by using one you get to integrate a “catch” by switching hands, and by using two you get the added difficulty of holding onto a weight with one arm while using the other.
This is for the minimalist, single kettlebell variant.
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How to Do It:
- Standing with feet shoulder width apart, holding onto a kettlebell with your left hand.
- “Jump” the weight up to your left shoulder by using an explosive hip hinge/high pull combo.
- Catch the weight gracefully. The bell will rotate to rest on the back of your forearm.
- Bring your hand back down to your waist.
- Release the kettlebell, then catch it with your right hand.
- Repeat and alternate.
Try This Kettlebell HIIT Workout
Buy-in: 50 kettlebell swings
After you buy-in, you have 2 minutes to complete as many rounds as possible of the following:
- 4 Alternating kettlebell hang cleans (2 per side)
- 2 Kettlebell clean and press- right side
- 2 Kettlebell clean and press- left side
- 2 Kettlebell squat and press- right side
- 2 Kettlebell squat and press- left side
- 4 Goblet squat
Rest 90 seconds
There is no time limit. Stop when you can longer buy-in.
*This can be a fun workout to do with a partner or small group. We’re going to use kettlebell swings as buy-in for the rest of the workout; you get to really mess with your friends by continuing to buy-in when they want to stop. If you are in a group, anybody can buy-in at any time and force the group to go through the circuit.
What Is HIIT?
High-intensity interval training is a modality of working out that focuses on short, sharp sequences of all-out work. It may be more efficient for fat loss2 than its rival, steady-state cardio, and is perfect for getting in a full-body workout that can both tax the lungs and provide a muscle building stimulus (you can build muscle with light weight3).
RELATED: Steady-State Cardio vs HIIT
Why Use Kettlebells?
The best reason to use a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell is because you have one already.
Having the weight imbalance on a kettlebell, where most of the weight is below the handles, works out much better for things like swings and farmer’s walks (with a dumbbell the weight will want to roll out of your hand).
Having a lighter weight with a handle lets you really exert dynamic force into the load, while holding the weight unilaterally will also force your torso to brace against an unbalanced load.
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Kettlebell HIIT Workout: Final Thoughts
HIIT workouts let you go from warm-up to cool down in under half an hour. For pursuing general fitness goals and ingraining some mental toughness, they are among the most time-effective options available4.
Don’t sleep on the difficulty of moving a light throw through space as quickly as possible with short rest times. This is not a workout for people who do not want to work hard.
Kettlebell HIIT Workout: FAQs
Is 20 minutes of kettlebells enough?
The answer no one wants to hear: It depends. Twenty minutes of kettlebell cleans or snatches may be too much. Intense workouts like these aren’t about time, they’re about training density.
Unless your kettlebell training regime consists of throwing a kettlebell into a backpack for runners and taking a 40-mile hike, you should be focusing on increasing effort rather than increasing time.
One of my favorite workouts is the 10,000 rep kettle swing challenge. You do 500 kettlebell swings a day for 20 days; that’s it! It only takes between 20-30 minutes and the hamstring and glute soreness after the first few days is unbelievable.
(Pro tip: I wouldn’t do it after eating a large meal.)
Will kettlebell swings burn belly fat?
All movement, including kettlebell exercises, burns fat, and some fat is certainly on the belly.
Targeted reduction is probably as mythological as Medusa5, which means we have to lose body fat from all over in order to look leaner in our belly.
If you want to burn fat you have to burn calories, and the simplest way of doing that is by doing exercises that get your heart rate up.
The more muscles the heart needs to perfuse with oxygenated blood, the harder the heart has to work; this is one reason why full body training is so awesome!
Will I lose weight doing 100 kettlebell swings a day?
When it comes to weight loss, nutrition typically trumps activity. I love incorporating 100 kettlebell swings into a daily workout! As the motion gets easier it transitions from a workout to a warm-up to something you do between sets without even thinking about it.
Doing the same thing every day won’t keep giving you results. Keeping 100 repetitions of a swing as part of your daily ritual will help build general cardio and work capacity and allow you to train harder in the future.
How many calories does a 30-minute HIIT kettlebell workout burn?
Calorie math can be overwhelming, because there are so many variables that affect how many calories an individual burns. According to Harvard Health6, a 150-pound person will burn 216 calories doing “vigorous weight training” for 30 minutes. If you weigh more or less, that number can vary.
1. Iaia FM, Bangsbo J. Speed endurance training is a powerful stimulus for physiological adaptations and performance improvements of athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Oct;20 Suppl 2:11-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01193.x. PMID: 20840558.
2. Viana RB, Naves JPA, Coswig VS, de Lira CAB, Steele J, Fisher JP, Gentil P. Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Br J Sports Med. 2019 May;53(10):655-664. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928. Epub 2019 Feb 14. PMID: 30765340.
3. Schoenfeld BJ, Peterson MD, Ogborn D, Contreras B, Sonmez GT. Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Oct;29(10):2954-63. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958. PMID: 25853914.
4. Ito S. High-intensity interval training for health benefits and care of cardiac diseases – The key to an efficient exercise protocol. World J Cardiol. 2019 Jul 26;11(7):171-188. doi: 10.4330/wjc.v11.i7.171. PMID: 31565193; PMCID: PMC6763680.
5. Ramírez-Campillo R, Andrade DC, Campos-Jara C, Henríquez-Olguín C, Alvarez-Lepín C, Izquierdo M. Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Aug;27(8):2219-24. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827e8681. PMID: 23222084.
6. Harvard Health. Calories Burned in 30-minute Activities. Updated March 2023.
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