If you are new to the gym, you may have seen people lifting weights using various exercises such as pressing, pulling, or swinging them around. The kettlebell can help you build muscle, burn fat, and develop cardiovascular fitness and work capacity. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough space for a complete home gym. If you want to improve your fitness, using a single kettlebell is a great way to meet your fitness goals.
Remember that being a “beginner” is relative. You might be new to lifting entirely, or you might be a seasoned powerlifter. Whatever your specific experience, know that athletes at any level can benefit tremendously from cultivating a beginner’s mindset. Keep it green, and you’ll always be in the frame of mind to learn something new.
This article will take you through the basics of kettlebell training, including why you should bother training with kettlebells, the benefits of kettlebell training, and how to incorporate kettlebells into your program. Also, we’ll share some tremendous introductory exercises.
What is Kettlebell Training?
Simply put, kettlebell training is any structured work you’re doing in your program with kettlebells. This might include simply incorporating kettlebell versions of certain lifts into your accessory work. Or it might mean you’re using kettlebells for active recovery or for making cardiovascular gains.
Kettlebell training might also constitute the bulk of your overall exercise program by becoming your main focus of skill set acquisition. Kettlebell-only programs can dramatically improve your strength, endurance, and overall athleticism. These programs can look like “regular” training, featuring traditional lifts like overhead presses, deadlifts, squats, and bench presses but with variations provided with kettlebells.
On the other hand, kettlebell programs might primarily focus on conditioning while building strength, emphasizing moves like swings and snatches. Kettlebells are incredibly versatile pieces of equipment that can help with almost any fitness goal.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training
Unlike many of the come-and-go fitness products of today, there’s a reason kettlebells have stood the test of time. Training with this powerful fitness tool has long been known to provide a hefty list of benefits.
Here are some of the things kettlebells can do for you:
- Improve your cardiovascular fitness and build excellent work capacity,
- Stimulate your nervous system with explosive movements,
- Improve functional strength for everyday life and athletic performance,
- Improve your balance, coordination, and mental focus,
- Improve flexibility,
- Teach your body how to work as a unit
- Develop exceptional mental toughness
- Develop dense, intelligent muscle
- Incredible fat loss potential due to the high metabolic nature of training
- Develop incredible grip strength
- Build a rock-solid posterior chain
- Improve your overall core strength
- Effective rehabilitating tool
- Improve the strength of connective tissues
- Improve workout efficiency
- Allow you to train anywhere and everywhere while saving money
What to Consider Before Starting Kettlebell Training
The benefits seem promising, but it is natural to have some apprehension before undertaking a new exercise style. Before you chalk up and hit the bells, let’s review some important considerations.
Manage Your Expectations
Kettlebells are possibly the most versatile piece of fitness equipment out there. Their applications are highly varied, and so are the benefits. That said, there’s nothing in the gym that works like magic. If you need to up your conditioning game, pack on some extra muscle, or get a little stronger, kettlebells can work great. But only if you work too.
More Isn’t Always More
With so many promising exercise modalities, it can be tempting to turn to something new. Novelty is a potent persuader, but before you run to the kettlebell rack, take stock of your current exercise routine.
I love kettlebells because they allow you to be creative with your exercises and workouts.
There are two types of kettlebell exercises:
- Traditional kettlebell exercises
- Non-traditional kettlebell exercises
Traditional kettlebell exercises originated from sports and are still used in competition today. These include the snatch, jerk, and long-cycle clean & jerk.
But there are several other exercises that I think, although not used in competition, still fall under the traditional exercise umbrella because they’re known to be done with a kettlebell only. These include the ever-popular kettlebell swing (and all its progressions and regressions), the clean, and the Turkish get-up.
Non-traditional kettlebell exercises are typically done with dumbbells and barbells but can also be done with a kettlebell.
When getting started…
If you’re just getting started with kettlebell training, your first step should be to develop good grip strength. Without good grip strength, you’re limited in what you can do.
Programming Kettlebell Training for Beginners
Whether you’re new to lifting in general or just new to kettlebells, always prioritize your form first and foremost. You probably don’t want to program high-volume swings if your swing isn’t crisp. Instead, perform a few sets a few times a week with a light-to-moderate weight to fine-tune your form and get acclimated.
But if your form is locked in, you can level up your kettlebell programming. If your primary focus is improving your barbell lifts, integrate kettlebell training into your routine as an accessory for conditioning and recovery work. Slowly switch out some of your dumbbell work for kettlebell moves rather than just tacking them on at the end. You want to maintain a reasonable volume but avoid overtraining. If you’re going to emphasize kettlebells in your program, proceed the same way you would when designing any workout routine. Assess your goals first and foremost. Are you trying to get strong? Build muscle? Change your body composition?
Any kettlebell work will likely help with all these goals to some degree. But the type of kettlebell training you focus on will be dictated by your specific goals. As long as you’re keeping an eye on your volume and intensity for recovery purposes, you can train with kettlebells as often as you can with a barbell.
Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners
These exercises are by no means the full lineup of “foundational” kettlebell exercises, but they represent some foundational movement patterns in kettlebell programs.
The American kettlebell swing is the standard for functional fitness competitions. While there are variations, the standard swing involves using the hips to drive the weight from behind the body up over the head in one smooth maneuver.
The standard swing requires active shoulder mobility, so ensure your shoulders and lats are thoroughly warmed up first. This exercise is fantastic for developing power and muscle in the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
This unilateral movement is excellent for developing strength and stabilization of the shoulder and core muscles. If you’re looking to firm up your pressing mechanics, the one-arm strict press can help refine form and add to your power.
With similar benefits to overhead pressing, this kettlebell variation will undoubtedly deliver all the same benefits unilateral training offers while allowing you to build out your arsenal of kettlebell exercises.
The goblet squat offers all the same benefits of squatting without having to learn complicated techniques or develop extreme mobility. It is a very natural squatting position for beginners.
This front-loaded squat variation can teach proper squatting mechanics, increase range of motion, and even be built into warm-up routines as a primer for your barbell work.
The kettlebell lunge (with the weight held in the front rack, goblet, or overhead positions) is a fundamental unilateral exercise for the lower body to balance out the squatting and hinging in this lineup.
What’s great about this movement is that it can be used with any variation of lunging in multiple planes of motion. Including single-leg work in your training is crucial from day one in the gym to maintain a balanced body.
Kettlebell High Pull
This high pull variation is a precursor to the clean and snatch and should be mastered to develop the control and timing necessary for those explosive Olympic-style movements.
Developing solid timing is essential for the performance of the exercise. Allow your lower body to impart force on the bell before pulling with your arms. With the timing locked in, you can improve athleticism and train your upper back simultaneously.
Loaded carries are a great way to teach core stability and total body awareness. Whether you use one kettlebell or two, you can vary the carries to diversify your full body strength and awareness, which can impact your overall athleticism and injury resilience.
Kettlebells will allow you to be creative with your workouts and highly efficient.
Since many of you are often strapped for time, kettlebells can give you the freedom and power to create short yet very intense workouts. Within 20 minutes, you can get your heart rate up and muscles firing.
There are several ways you can incorporate kettlebells into your workouts:
Circuit training: kettlebell exercises can be mixed into circuits or exercise sequences. You can choose 4-5 kettlebell exercises and put them in a circuit. Or you can combine your kettlebell exercises with bodyweight exercises, jump rope exercises, or cardio drills to build a variety of workouts. The possibilities are endless.
Reps for time: performing as many repetitions (with good form) as possible in a short, limited time span is the structure used in most competitive kettlebell events. This kind of training is tough, but it improves your work capacity like nothing else. Choose one exercise and set a short time (like 5-10 minutes), and see how many proper repetitions you can crank out. Keep writing your numbers down, and get ready to be spent.
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training): HIIT is a prevalent form of training because of its metabolic effects. Choose a kettlebell exercise (for example, the kettlebell swing) and set up your intervals, say 30 seconds of swings and 30 seconds of rest (a modest 1:1 high-intensity to low-intensity ratio). Now alternate between the two for a set period, like 5 minutes, and perform this sequence a few times. This modality should leave you completely tapped out.
Ladder format: This is a strength training strategy outlined in Enter the Kettlebell! You start the ladder with one rep and then rest very quickly. Move to two reps and take another short rest. Three reps; another short rest. Move your way up to whatever number you want. This works great with single-armed exercises like the clean & press, snatch, or jerk, but you can use it for any kettlebell exercise you want. If you want to make it even more challenging, once you reach your final rep, go backward (down the ladder) until you reach one rep again.
As a warm-up: This isn’t necessarily a workout structure, but I thought it would be helpful to point out that the kettlebell can be used as an effective warm-up tool, particularly on days that involve a lot of pulling movements.
The kettlebell training programs below can give you more insight into the kind of workouts and training programs you can take advantage of.
Fun Full-Body Kettlebell Workout For Beginners And Pros
Here’s a simple but challenging 15 to 20-minute kettlebell workout for both beginners and pros alike.
All you need for this workout is a kettlebell, a timer (your phone has an app), and some space to work with.
Okay, let’s dive in!
- Kettlebell: Between 35 and 50 Pounds
- Timer (Plenty of apps on your smartphone)
Before starting this workout, I suggest you do a proper warm-up for a few minutes. I am doing a light aerobic activity, some corrective stretches, and a series of mobility or dynamic movements.
This will be a 3-round workout built around simple, full-body bodyweight and kettlebell exercises.
You will need to set your timer to 5 minutes.
The objective is to cycle through the following series of exercises as quickly as possible for the entire five-minute round. Try to get in as many complete rounds as you can.
- 5 X bodyweight squats
- 5 X kettlebell deadlifts
- 5 X kettlebell deadlift to 2-handed press
- 5 X squat thrusts
After every 5-minute round, take a rest break between 1-2 minutes and repeat for a total of three rounds.
With rest, this workout should take anywhere from 16-20 minutes.
You don’t have to be a gym veteran to be a badass with kettlebells. Kettlebell training can help you bust through barbell plateaus, improve your grip strength, and boost your work capacity. Grab a bell and get to work if you want to grow into a well-rounded, stronger, and more skilled athlete.