I have been using kettlebells in my training for over 10 years now. And throughout my journey, I have consumed hundreds of articles and dozens of books on kettlebell training. I have spent countless nights reading forums to help me understand the ins and outs of kettlebell training better.
I became obsessed with kettlebell training and wanted to use this tool with my personal training clients.
What I have found is that kettlebell training is fun for most people. However, the challenge is getting used to the movements initially since kettlebell training differs from dumbbell and barbell training in several ways.
First, there are a few essential exercises uniquely suited to the kettlebell. The swing is a prime example.
Secondly, many exercises will feel different with a kettlebell because of the unique shape of the bells.
And thirdly, some dumbbell or barbell exercises are not suited for kettlebell training. For example, you wouldn’t try to do a bench press with a pair of kettlebells. A barbell or a pair of dumbbells is clearly better suited for that.
What I love about kettlebells is that they are highly versatile, and you can train multiple aspects of fitness with just one tool.
Besides, they take up very little space. They are the perfect tool for home workouts, especially when you have neither space nor money to set up a more sophisticated home gym with dumbbells and barbells.
And finally, kettlebell workouts are an incredibly effective use of your workout time. Especially when you design your program intelligently.
If you are a beginner, use the following 3 exercises as your starting point.
1. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is the most important squat variation anyone could do. Why? Because it teaches how to squat with good technique. Besides, it is the safest squat variation for beginners.
Here’s how to do it:
Position your feet in your squat-wide stance or approximately shoulder width apart. Bring the kettlebell to chest level.
You can either hold it, so its bottom points to the floor or hold it, so the bottom points up.
Keep your elbows close to your body and your chest up. Inhale and descent. Imagine sitting down and pulling yourself down to the bottom position. Keep your core tight and your chest upright.
When you have reached the lowest point, you can squat, pause for a moment and then reverse the movement by pushing your feet into the ground and squeezing your glutes. Keep your core engaged. Make sure to come up with the hips and knees simultaneously. Your hips should not shoot up first when you stand up.
2. Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing was the first movement I tried when I purchased my first kettlebell. And for many strength trainees, it is one of the first exercises in their kettlebell journey, for a good reason.
The kettlebell swing is a fundamental movement in kettlebell training. Mastering the swing lays the foundation for more advanced exercises, like the clean and the snatch.
However, I see more poorly executed kettlebell swings in my gym than properly executed ones. This is unfortunate, considering a correctly executed swing builds full-body strength, power, and endurance.
Here’s how to complete the perfect two-hand kettlebell swing:
Place the kettlebell in front of you and take a step back. Draw your elbows back and imagine pulling your shoulder blades together. You should generate the feeling of having a proud chest. Now hinge at your hips and extend your arms to grab the kettlebell. At this point, you should feel a stretch in your hamstring and glutes.
Engage your lats and hike the kettlebell between your legs. Then stand up tall, squeeze your glutes, and tighten your core. Imagine you are performing a standing plank. The kettlebell should float momentarily at chest level before it comes back down.
Either hike the kettlebell for a second repetition or park it in front of you.
If you hike it for a second rep, beware of not hinging too quickly. Before initiating the hinge, you should wait until your arms connect with your body again.
3. Farmer's Walk
The farmer’s walk is hands down my favorite exercise for building full-body strength. It works every muscle in your body, is deceptively simple to execute, and has enormous carry-overs into real life.
All you need to do is to stand between two kettlebells, pick them up and walk around with them.
And if you only have one kettlebell, no problem!
Simply walk around with a kettlebell in one hand only. This is called a suitcase carry and mimics carrying a heavy grocery bag or suitcase in one hand. You can do the exercise either timed or for distance.
I like to program carries at the end of the workout, but some coaches prefer to include them in the beginning. Either way, heavy carries are an absolute must in any training program.
Why I don't think the Turkish Get Up is a great beginner's exercise.
Many kettlebell coaches sing the praises of the Turkish Get Up. This exercise has you standing up with a kettlebell that you hold in one hand overhead and then reverse the movement. The Turkish Get Up is frequently taught in beginner kettlebell classes and is recommended for people new to kettlebell training.
However, I believe the Turkish Get Up is not a good exercise for beginning strength trainees. For several reasons.
First, the Turkish Get Up includes a forward and a backward lunge, two movements many people new to strength training struggle with.
Secondly, many people don’t have the required shoulder mobility to execute the movement safely.
And thirdly, balancing a free weight overhead without having a spotter can quickly become dangerous. There’s a reason why you should only barbell bench press on your own if you are using a smith machine.
And finally, the Turkish Get Up (TGU) involves a series of steps and needs a lot of cueing and correction if you lack the required stability, mobility, and, most importantly, body awareness.
Does that mean the TGU is a useless exercise?
No. I love the TGU and think it is a terrific strength builder.
However, in my opinion, it is only for you if you have been strength training for some time already and can properly execute a forward and backward lunge and the hip hinge.
What weights should you use?
Most fitness professionals recommend a starting weight of 8 kg for the average woman and 12 kg for the average man. These weights are based on the assumption that you are new to strength training.
However, in my work with clients, I have found that many sedentary women who have never strength trained before need to start with a 6kg or even a 4 kg kettlebell.
I am not training men, but the same rule applies: If you are a guy who works a desk job, doesn’t do any physical exercise in his free time, and is brand new to strength training, start with a 10 kg.
I also recommend getting your form checked by a certified instructor. Ideally, you would also enlist a coach to assist with programming your workouts.
Having a coach that helps with program design is invaluable in the beginning stages of your strength training journey. You will avoid a lot of trial and error and see results quickly. A coach will guide you every step of the way and can modify the training quickly based on your individual needs and life circumstances.
However, whatever you do, listen to your body and gradually increase your training volume and kettlebell weights. Have patience and practice the movements until you perfect them 😊.