The 5 Best Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners

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Don’t be intimidated by the hulk-ish bodybuilder types you see swinging around their kettlebells at the gym. Though kettlebells were originally created to train the Russian army, they provide a great, full-body workout for anyone. Just grab a bell that’s comfortable to lift (recommended: 8 kg/18 lb. for women and 16 kg/35 lb.) and incorporate these five moves into your next workout.

5 Russian Twists

These twists provide the perfect alternative to crunches because they target your abdominal muscles and challenge your balance. Even though a lot of kettlebell exercises engage your core, it’s important to incorporate this move into your workouts for better performance (and six-pack abs). How to do Russian twists: Sit with your legs out in front of you, bent at the knees. Lower your upper body halfway to the floor and pick up your kettlebell with both hands, holding it near your chest. Exhale as you twist your upper body to the left side so that the bell almost touches the floor on that side. Inhale as you return to center. Repeat on the right side, making sure your core stays tight and your back doesn’t arch. For an added challenge, raise your feet a few inches off the floor.

4 Presses

Like the deadlift, this move is used by a lot of barbell weight trainers, but unlike the deadlift, it targets the upper body. And the unusual shape and size of the kettlebell challenges core strength as the center of gravity shifts through the range of motion. How to do presses: With your feet shoulder-width apart, hike the kettlebell up to rack position, holding the bell in your left hand near your left shoulder and keeping your elbow in towards your side. Bend slightly at the knees and straighten as you push the bell above your head. It should travel in a straight line from your shoulder to the top of the move. Slowly lower the bell back to start.

3 Swings

Swings may seem similar to a squat, but the idea is to hike the bell back behind you instead of lowering it. Swings target all your lower body muscles as well as the muscles in your back and shoulders. How to do swings: Start with your legs a bit wider than shoulder distance apart and hold your kettlebell with both hands in front of you. Bend your knees and hips enough to allow you to swing the bell through your legs towards your butt. Don’t arch your back or collapse your chest forward. Next, thrust your hips forward and straighten your knees as you swing the kettlebell forward, stopping it as it approaches eye level. The forward motion is an explosive swing that engages your hips, quads, and shoulders. For variation, hold a kettlebell with only one hand and move through the standard range of motion.

2 Squats

These are one of the most versatile moves in kettlebell training. Goblet squats, front squats, sumo squats, single-leg squats, overhead squats. The variations are nearly limitless. Once you perfect the basic form, you can move on to more challenging versions. How to squat: Start in the same position as a deadlift. Bend at the hips and knees, lowering your butt towards the ground as if you were about to sit in a chair. Don’t let your knees come out over your toes or in towards each other. Keep your back straight and your abs tight as you straighten back to start. You don’t need a kettlebell at first, but eventually you can either hold one with two hands in front of your chest (goblet squat) or one in each hand held near your shoulders (front squat).

1 Deadlifts

These are the foundation for most kettlebell exercises. Knowing how to do them correctly not only gives you an excellent lower body workout but also ensures you won’t pull or strain anything while performing advanced moves. How to deadlift: Place your kettlebell on the ground a little bit in front of you. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and pointed slightly outward. Hinge forward from your hips and lower towards the ground by bending your knees. Reach forward and grab the bell with both hands then straighten back up to the starting position without raising your shoulders. Keep your back flat and abs and quads engaged. For additional reps, keep holding the bell as you lower and raise, barely touching the bell to the floor at the bottom.

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After eight to 10 reps of each of these exercises in one sweat session and it’s easy to see why kettlebells are such an efficient workout. In one study, participants burned about 14 calories per minute, which is the same as running at a six minutes per mile pace. So master these exercises, then move on to more advanced ones like snatches, windmills, and Turkish get ups.

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