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My first memory of kettlebell training comes from searching for free workouts on bodybuilding websites on the previously named World Wide Web. Instead, I found an article about the trainer who worked on the newly released movie, The 300.

The author was aghast that somebody would promote such archaic movements as the best kettlebell exercises, along with bodyweight exercises, instead of traditional bodybuilding movements. He noted that nobody had used the kettlebell since the Russians, and it would never catch on.

Five minutes after the article was published, the kettlebell became the biggest fitness fad of the 2000s. The trend has been going strong ever since. Pretend you’ve never heard about CGI abs and try this kettlebell workout program for cardio and strength gains.

RELATED: The Best Kettlebells for Your Home Gym

Master the Moves: 6 Great Kettlebell Exercises 

The nature of kettlebell movements is to include the entire body; stabilizing can be just as hard as actually moving the bell around. For this reason, we want to focus on keeping tight and on correct technique before we push the number of reps.

If you have never used a kettlebell it may feel awkward. It’s easy to beat up your forearms with the swinging bell design. One of the best cues for kettlebell swings and single-arm snatches involves deliberately trying to hit yourself in your privates, then finding a way to miss at the last second.

All that said, practice these movements independently before putting them into a kettlebell workout.

Kettlebell Romanian Deadlifts 

Why Do Them: These can be inserted into a workout routine as a warm-up to help loosen up the hamstrings and lower back, or as a posterior chain assistance exercise. If you don’t feel comfortable with the kettlebell swing, do these for 2-3 weeks first to build up the muscles and movement pattern1.

You can call these stiff-legged deadlifts if you want. Literally nobody on earth knows the difference between the two lifts. (Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration.)

How To Do Them:

  1. Grab your kettlebell with both hands and stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. With soft knees, push your hips back and extend your hands down your legs until you feel a good stretch.
  3. Under control, reverse direction and pull your body up with your hamstrings, finishing at the top by squeezing the glutes.
  4. Don’t lock out your body all the way (like you would with a heavy barbell deadlift). Stop at the top before you feel the pressure coming off your glutes and hammies.
kettlbell romanian deadlift

Kettlebell Overhead Press

Why Do Them: Single-arm overhead press variations are some of my favorite lifts. Not only do I get to work on vertical pressing power and deltoid hypertrophy, I get the biggest lat pumps from having to stabilize the weight overhead.

This is a good position to practice if you are interested in moving on to the kettlebell snatch. Learning to be comfortable with the kettlebell draped over your forearm can take work.

How To Do Them:

  1. Start with the kettlebell in your right hand in a front rack position.
  2. Keeping your abs and upper back tight, raise your right hand directly overhead. You can bring your left hand out to the side for balance.
  3. Slowly control the weight back into the rack position.
kettlebell press

Kettlebell Halos

Why Do Them:  These open up your shoulders and make your “yoke” feel super swole (if you’re into that kind of thing). There is a tract from ancient Rome describing a Strongwoman (essentially) doing these at a Roman gym.

How To Do Them:

  1. Hold the kettlebell by the horns with both hands in the “goblet” position.
  2. Move your hands around your head as widely as possible (give yourself a halo) in a clockwise direction.
  3. Make sure you’re not just making a circle around your face; actually bring the weight behind your head.
  4. Change directions and repeat.
kettlebell halo

Kettlebell Front-Rack Reverse Lunges 

Why Do Them: This front rack position may be the most functional way to hold on to a weight. It taxes your core and upper back while efficiently placing the weight over your center of gravity.

The double kettlebell front rack position mimics the front squat position with an Olympic barbell, and is an essential skill to learn for movements involving two kettlebells. For this version we’ll use the single arm rack position.

Hold the bell in one hand and bring it to your chin. Fold the weight over your arm so the bowling ball portion is resting on the top of your forearm. Squeeze your shoulder blade back and push your lat out to create a kind of a shelf for your arm.

Reverse lunges are great as a bodyweight workout, and even better with a slightly unbalanced load.

How To Do Them:

  1. Start with the weight in the front rack position on your right side.
  2. Keeping your torso tall, extend your right leg behind you as you bend your left knee.
  3. Keep the back leg as straight as possible.
  4. When your left knee reaches a 90-degree angle, explosively stand up and return your right leg to its starting position.
  5. Complete the requisite number of reps and change sides.
kettlebell front rack reverse lunge

Kettlebell Swing 

Why Do Them: Single-arm swings and double kettlebell swings are both efficient ways to pile volume onto your hamstrings and glutes. This is a great way to train for speed and explosivity without needing to invest years into developing the Olympic lifts.

Don’t overdo the range of motion on these at the bottom by making them a squat or stiff legged deadlift. Think of the range of motion as being the same as shooting free throws “granny style.”

How To Do Them:

  1. Grab your kettlebell with two hands and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Push your hips back and lower the kettlebell between your legs.
  3. Ram your hips forward and squeeze your upper body and try to throw the kettlebell upwards and forwards. Don’t “lift” the kettlebell with your shoulders; you are throwing it from the bottom.
  4. Let the kettlebell fall back into your crotch.
  5. Do NOT actually hit your crotch. Evade the kettlebell by moving your hips back and dropping the weight underneath you.
  6. Reverse direction explosively.
Russian kettlebell swing

Kettlebell Goblet Squat 

Why Do Them: I’ve stolen a lot of what I know about fitness from Dan John. In his book “Intervention,” Dan says the goblet squat “is the greatest lifting movement of all time.” 

Physiological limitations in shoulder mobility, femur length, hip width, and all sorts of other physical imperfections make barbell squat variations more or less appropriate for all kinds of populations (my lower back hurt for years because I convinced myself I needed to high bar ATG squat).

The kettlebell squat is a loaded squat variation unencumbered by extremes of physical necessity. The front rack position puts as much pressure on your quads as a barbell front squat, and can tax your upper back and abs as much as a Zercher squat.

You might find you can comfortably reach a much lower depth on these compared to the barbell squat variations.

How To Do Them:

  1. Hold the weight by grabbing the horns with both hands and put it under your chin.
  2. This is the “goblet” part of the goblet squat. You have to pretend you’re holding a chalice full of expensive wine you don’t want to spill (this keeps you upright).
  3. Spread your knees to initiate the movement and drop down into a full squat.
  4. Stand straight up.
kettlebell goblet squat

4-Week Kettlebell Workout Program 

This program is a three-day program that can be repeated once or twice a week if you have time and energy to work out as much as you want. You’ll see below that there is a way to split up one of the workouts and have a flex fourth day if it fits your schedule better.

  • Day 1: Kettlebell Upper-Body
  • Day 2: Kettlebell Lower-Body
  • Day 3/4: Kettlebell Core and Conditioning

Kettlebell Upper-Body Workout Program

Kettlebell upper-body workout

If you don’t have one of the best adjustable kettlebells, and you don’t want to buy a dozen different kettlebells, there isn’t a way to use traditional progressive overload with your kettlebell training. Instead, we need to use intensity techniques. The first part of the workout is for a little bit of pre-fatigue to make the pressing harder2.

The Workout 

  • 4 Rounds:
  • 30 Kettlebell Swings
  • 20 Kettlebell Halos (10 in each direction)
  • 10 Kettlebell Overhead Press (each side)

Kettlebell Lower-Body Workout Program 

Kettlebell lower-body workout

This is a timed workout designed to allow you to make progress without having to go on Amazon and buy a new kettlebell every two weeks.

The goal each day is to try to get farther in the pyramid than the previous day. If this gets too hard, you can set a goal to reach a certain number at the top, then work your way back down to the bottom before time expires.

The Workout 

You have 20 minutes to go as far as possible on this pyramid.

20 minute AMRAP:

  • 2 rack position reverse lunges left side
  • 2 rack position reverse lunges right side
  • 2 goblet squats
  • 2 Romanian deadlifts

**Keep adding 2 reps to each exercise each round. You can’t put the kettlebell down and rest until you have finished each round.

RELATED: Adjustable Kettlebell vs Standard

Kettlebell Core and Conditioning Workout Program 

kettlebell core workout

I know what you’re saying. “The upper and lower days both seem like conditioning AND my obliques were sore.” Think of this as a functional full-body day if it helps you make peace with it.

We’re going to be using a lot of unilateral work for this day. All circuits should be performed entirely on one side before switching. The rest period between the left side and the right side should be longer than you think. So long, in fact, that you can move it to an entirely different day if you prefer! 

The Workout 

4 Rounds:

  • 8 Kettlebell dead bugs (hold kettlebell with both hands behind head)
  • 8 single-arm floor presses (each side)
  • 8 Turkish get-ups (4 each side)
  • 50-foot suitcase carry
  • 50-foot waiter walk (if too heavy do another suitcase carry)
  • 8 single-arm rows (each side)

How to progress this workout:

  • Week 1: 4 circuits
  • Week 2: 6 circuits
  • Week 3: 4 circuits with 10 reps
  • Week 4: 6 circuits with 10 reps

Why Use Kettlebells? 

There are many kettlebell benefits, such as:

  • They are space-efficient
  • They are versatile
  • They build strength and improve conditioning
  • They can correct muscle imbalances

For experienced lifters, throwing in a full-body training cycle with kettlebells after a contest (or intentionally heavy phase) can help to reset your body. Likewise, someone looking to start heavy strength training can use this type of program to prepare their body for the weight and intensity to come.

For general fitness enthusiasts, having one kettlebell of an appropriate weight can be all they need to meet their strength training and conditioning goals.

How Long Should I Rest Between Rounds and Circuits? 

This isn’t like hitting heavy triples. Your intra-workout rest should be the minimum needed to keep going forward. This might even be good for your hypertrophic gainz3.

In the absence of increasingly heavy kettlebells, you should be focused on cutting down the time you are resting.

What If I Can’t Keep Up with the Kettlebell Workout Program? 

If you have access to a lighter kettlebell, you can start with that. If you only have the one kettlebell (or your ego is too big to go lighter) increase the rest periods for every set. If you can keep up with that it may mean your strength is fine, but your work capacity needs work. Slowly decrease the rest periods until you have built it up enough to continue with the kettlebell training program.

If all that isn’t enough (or you are equipment deficient) think about breaking up each workout into multiple workouts. Cut the number of sets in half and have a Day 1A and a Day 1B.

RELATED: 3 Full-Body Kettlebell Workouts

CoopAdjustableKettlebellRoundup

How Do I Pick the Best Kettlebell for Me? 

It’s important to make sure you have similar interests and to really focus on being friends first.

If you have room in your budget and home gym for two kettlebells, getting a light one and a heavy one is perfect. If you only have room for one, don’t try to split the difference with a medium kettlebell. Just go for the light one. 

Kettlebell Workout Program: Final Thoughts 

Kettlebells have gone from being The Red Menace to being featured on everything from silver pendants to restaurant graphics.

Kettlebell training is some of the most effective and brutal minimalist training out there. Your lungs and legs will thank you for picking one up.

Kettlebell Workout Program: FAQs

Is a 20-minute kettlebell workout enough?

If you are going all-out with an explosive kettlebell routine for 20 minutes, it may be difficult to finish. A full body kettlebell HIIT workout that gets your heart rate up in a hurry is fantastic for fat loss4. You could program your own workouts with more equipment than a single kettlebell and 20 minutes of free time.

Can you really build muscle with kettlebells?

A rep with a 45-pound kettlebell counts the same as a rep with a dumbbell (I think I’ve heard of people building muscle with the best dumbbells). You probably won’t hit a one-rep max with a kettlebell, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less useful than a barbell when it comes to hypertrophy.

Can I train with kettlebells every day?

Typically, people who ask if they can work out every day are looking for a reason to not work out.

“I can’t train on Wednesday, so I can’t train at all this week!”

Others just really enjoy training. If you’re one of the latter, go nuts! If you are a beginner looking to improve your cardiovascular system and look better in, and out, of clothes, stick to a three or four times a week program for awhile.

Can you get in good shape with just a kettlebell?

Yes, as long as you understand that the kettlebell isn’t going to be doing the work for you. You can hit all your muscle groups with a kettlebell and move fast enough to sweat while doing it.

Cobbling together a full body workout is as easy as doing high-rep kettlebell cleans until you can’t move anymore.

Being in “good shape” means something different to someone involved in powerlifting and someone watching reruns of The Biggest Loser. If we agree building muscle and encouraging fat loss are things that help you to be in shape, then a kettlebell workout plan can help you achieve that.

References

1. Calatayud J, Vinstrup J, Jakobsen MD, Sundstrup E, Brandt M, Jay K, Colado JC, Andersen LL. Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016 Mar;116(3):527-33. doi: 10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7. Epub 2015 Dec 23. PMID: 26700744.

2. Trindade TB, Prestes J, Neto LO, Medeiros RMV, Tibana RA, de Sousa NMF, Santana EE, Cabral BGAT, Stone WJ, Dantas PMS. Effects of Pre-exhaustion Versus Traditional Resistance Training on Training Volume, Maximal Strength, and Quadriceps Hypertrophy. Front Physiol. 2019 Nov 19;10:1424. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01424. PMID: 31824336; PMCID: PMC6882301.

3. Fink J, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Effects of rest intervals and training loads on metabolic stress and muscle hypertrophy. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2018 Mar;38(2):261-268. doi: 10.1111/cpf.12409. Epub 2016 Dec 28. PMID: 28032435.

4. 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.

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My first memory of kettlebell training comes from searching for free workouts on bodybuilding websites on the previously named World Wide Web. Instead, I found an article about the trainer who worked on the newly released movie, The 300.The author was aghast that somebody would promote such archaic movements as the best kettlebell exercises, along with bodyweight exercises, instead of traditional bodybuilding movements. He noted that nobody had used the kettlebell since the Russians,  » Read more about: Kettlebell Workout Program For Improved Strength and Cardio   » Read more

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My first memory of kettlebell training comes from searching for free workouts on bodybuilding websites on the previously named World Wide Web. Instead, I found an article about the trainer who worked on the newly released movie, The 300.The author was aghast that somebody would promote such archaic movements as the best kettlebell exercises, along with bodyweight exercises, instead of traditional bodybuilding movements. He noted that nobody had used the kettlebell since the Russians,  » Read more about: Kettlebell Workout Program For Improved Strength and Cardio   » Read more