If you’re looking for one exercise that works your entire body, the kettlebell swing makes a strong case. It’s an explosive movement that blasts calories, tones your muscles, and ups your power. But if that’s all you’re doing with these super-popular orb-shaped weights, you’re really missing out. There are plenty of creative kettlebell exercises out there.
“Kettlebells are versatile because they can be used like traditional weights when held in certain positions but then turned into a tool that has a varying influence when moved away from the body,” says Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City. The difference stems from the shape of the weight and its handle. The load shifts as you go through a motion, similar to when you exercise with a sandbag. The kettlebell is also versatile because you can handle it with two hands pretty easily, unlike a dumbbell.
Simple changes can make your workout more interesting and work your muscles in a whole new way. Switching up a regular swing to a single-arm move, for instance, challenges your stability and targets your abs even more, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Another way to mix up your kettlebell moves: Put them together. “Combining movements into complexes or flows is an amazing way to add variety and make things more challenging,” Gary says. Kettlebells are a great choice for these complex movements because it can be easier to transition your grip with them as compared to dumbbells. Gary also recommends adding side-to-side movements, such as twists or lateral lunges. Regular swings work your muscles only forward and backward; working them in multiple planes is more difficult and will lead to even better results.
You can get creative with kettlebell moves to target your muscles from different angles. Here are a few to try that work your entire body. They’re powerful movements, so you only need to do about six to eight reps each.
Because you’re moving the weight with you laterally, this exercise focuses on your core even more than a regular swing.
Try it: Hold a kettlebell with both hands, with your arms extended in front of your body. Hinge at your hips, letting the weight swing back between your legs. Then thrust your hips forward, swinging the kettlebell in front of you. Step your legs together while raising the weight, then step apart as you lower it.
This is a variation of a regular single-arm swing. You’ll move the weight outside your legs. It has the explosive power of a traditional swing but also works your stability.
Try it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand and extend your arm out to the side. Hinge forward at your hips, and swing the kettlebell in your right hand to the right side of your legs. Then thrust your hips forward, swinging your right arm up to chest height in front of you. Do all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Staggered-Stance Clean With Squat and Press
To do a clean with a kettlebell, swing the weight up to shoulder height and hold it there against your body. Staggering your feet a bit with this move will challenge your core and balance as you work hard to stay stable.
Try it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right foot back slightly, so your right toes line up with your left heel. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, with your arm extended in front of you. Hinge forward at your hips, and swing the kettlebell between your legs. Then thrust your hips forward, swinging your right arm up to chest height in front of you. Let the kettlebell slide over your hand to your wrist as you pull it toward the front of your right shoulder. Do one squat, then press the weight overhead as you push up to stand. Lower the weight to starting position to complete one rep. Do all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Cross-Body Kettlebell Clean
Adding a twist to this move targets your obliques.
Try it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place a kettlebell on the floor by your left foot. Pivot on your right foot and turn your body toward the weight, leaning down to grab it in your right hand. Clean the weight across your body by thrusting through your left leg and swinging the kettlebell across your body until it’s at chest height. Let it slide over your hand to your wrist as you pull it toward the front of your right shoulder. Return to the starting position, and repeat. Do all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Add these kettlebell exercises to your weekly strength training workouts to add an effective twist to your regular strength exercises.