Back in the day, only the most hard core weightlifters used kettlebells. Now, everyone’s catching on to their effectiveness and versatility. With just 3-4 sizes of kettlebells stashed away behind your sofa, you can do a full-body resistance workout that you feel the next day.
The free weights at the gym are great, but you don’t always have time to get there. Or maybe your gym is still closed. Investing in a few kettlebells will give you the means to emulate some of the more savage strength-building movements that you get with an expensive trainer, without having to leave your house or cough up a membership fee. You can even incorporate kettlebells into your microworkout regime.
Until about 10 years ago, mainstream fitness favored barbells and dumbbells over kettlebells. More recently, people started understanding the benefits of kettlebell workouts:
They work the body and mind. Because moves involve leverage and a little bit of balance to execute the moves, kettlebells engage several muscle groups at once, along with your concentration and coordination.
Versatility. Their size and maneuverability make kettlebells incredible versatile. Because they are relatively small but incredibly dense, almost any natural movement – twisting your body, raising your hands above your head, swinging your arms – can be enhanced and turned into a serious exercise with the addition of a kettlebell.
Portability. You can ramp up the intensity of a weekend hike by bringing along your kettlebells. Just think of yourself as a Primal huntsman stalking his prey with a skull-crushing rock, and you’ll be fine. Going out of town and need to maintain your exercise regimen? A couple nice-sized kettlebells on a road trip will take care of your fitness needs on the go and help you avoid paying outlandish single-use gym fees.
They’re awkward – in a good way. Unlike dumbbell moves, kettlebell exercises usually involve momentum. A kettlebell swings. Working out with something that swings and has momentum means working out your entire body – stabilizer and primary muscles alike – to account for the added movement.
Kettlebells feel Primal. The kettlebell is perhaps the most Primal piece of exercise equipment available. Its very appearance can be intimidating – a heavy metal ball with a handle. Using one tends to release the baser instincts that make for the best workouts.
3 Basic Kettlebell Exercises for a Full-body Workout
There are hundreds of kettlebell moves out there, and lots of combo moves to keep things interesting. Whether you’re just starting out or want to refine your kettlebell routine, here are three kettlebell exercises that everyone should know and be able to do well.
How to Do a Kettlebell Swing
The basic kettlebell exercise is the kettlebell swing.
To start, squat as low as you can. Maintain proper squat position – feet shoulder width apart, toes slightly out, slight curve in lower back, weight on your heels, chest out, shoulders back, eyes straight ahead – with the kettlebell resting between your legs.
Grab the bell and, as if in a deadlift, rise up while pushing your hips out. Drive the kettlebell up primarily with your lower body and core; your shoulders will help, of course, but they shouldn’t be the main agent of movement.
When you reach the top of the motion, actively pull the kettlebell down to the start position.
Tip: Try to resist pulling with your shoulders and instead actively engage your legs, hips, and stomach in the movement, and you’ll be able to handle higher weights sooner.
What Muscles Does a Kettlebell Swing Work?
Either performed with one or both hands, the kettlebell swing enlists your shoulders, core, and thighs. Such a compound movement leaves room for error, so be cautious of your form. Correct form is absolutely essential to avoid injury and maximize output.
These Olympic lifts aren’t only possible with a barbell; the kettlebell works as well. From the basic swing, you can transition into numerous other movements.
For the clean, start in the swing position. Still pushing with your hips and legs, swing the bell up while keeping your elbow in.
As the bell reaches your shoulder, dip your knees and get your elbow underneath the kettlebell. Hold it at your shoulder.
From the clean, you can move into the press. Simply push the kettlebell up over your head with your shoulder and slowly lower it.
Return to the squat/swing position and repeat.
Turkish Get Ups
Turkish get ups have long been a staple for Eastern European strongmen, and incorporating them into your workout will strengthen your body’s foundation and improve your core strength. This is a fun one, but also a bit difficult to describe. For clarity’s sake, let’s use a specific hand.
Lie on your back while holding the kettlebell straight up in the air with your left hand. Keep your elbow locked and the kettlebell resting against your forearm. Keep the elbow locked throughout the exercise.
Prop yourself up on your right hand (obviously, not the one attached to the arm holding the kettlebell) while bringing your left foot toward your buttocks.
Put your right knee and left foot on the ground, so that you’re in a half-kneel.
Maintain the straight arm and stand up. Always keep your eyes on the kettlebell.
Any natural motion a Primal man might have made, from crushing animal thigh bones with a rock for the marrow, to hoisting up a prey’s carcass for transport, can be simulated with a kettleball. Have fun with it, and from here, branch out and find other moves to master.
What is your favorite kettlebell move or combo? Let me know in the comments below.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.