11 Beginner-Friendly Exercises to Do With Kettlebells

11 Beginner-Friendly Exercises to Do With Kettlebells
Photo: Day Of Victory Studio, Shutterstock

Want to add some kettlebell exercises to your routine, but aren’t sure where to start? Here are 11 mostly beginner-friendly moves you can do with those kettlebells that are lurking in the corner of your gym, or with a bell you might have at home. We’ll start with the more accessible stuff, and get into some useful but slightly tougher moves toward the xend of our list.

For any of these moves, use a light kettlebell the first time you try them. If that’s too easy, try a heavier one, and move up as needed. Many of these moves can be done with dumbbells or other weights, so consider dipping into this list anytime you need something new — no matter your equipment.

Halos

These are a great warmup for your upper body. You’ll use a fairly light bell at first. Hold it upside down, with your hands on the “horns,” and just slowly move it in a circle around your head. Switch directions either every circle, or halfway through your set.

Slingshots

This is another exercise that’s great for warmups, but it’s trickier than it looks, so go slow at first. (Or to put that another way: I dropped the kettlebell on the floor behind me the first time I tried it.) It’s the same idea as the halo: You’re just passing the bell around yourself. But since you do it while holding the handle and passing it around your hips, you need to switch hands behind your back. Start slow, then speed up once you’ve mastered that transition. You can go as heavy as you like on this one, up to whatever will be your working weight for the day.

Kettlebell deadlifts

Kettlebell deadlifts made it into our list of the best beginner exercises because they’re such a simple movement, and it’s hard to do them very wrong. About the only form cues you need are to keep your back flat instead of rounded, keep your upper arms close to your body instead of letting them dangle, and to not “lift with your legs.” Your knees can bend, but the movement is driven by a hingeing motion from the hips.

Swings

The best thing about kettlebells is that you can swing them. There are a few different ways to do swings, but here’s a simple one to start: the hardstyle swing (also known in the Crossfit world as the “Russian” swing). Start with the bell a step or two in front of you, so that you pull it toward you to get some momentum for your first swing. Again, this is a hip motion, so don’t bend your knees any more than necessary.

Carries

If you’ve heard of farmer’s carries, you may think you know where I’m going with this. But kettlebells allow for a bunch of different carry variations, and it’s worth doing more than one. In addition to farmer’s carries with two bells down at your sides, you can also do suitcase carries with just one bell; front rack carries, with one or two bells at shoulder level; and overhead carries, where you hold weights in one or both hands overhead. All of these are great for your core, since you have to keep your upper body stable and stacked while your legs are moving.

Windmills

Windmills challenge you to keep your body stacked and stable while you’re changing positions. The motion here is a simple hinge from the hips, but you need to keep your overhead arm stacked directly over your shoulder. Practice with light weights at first, and move up when you’re ready. You may also want to try holding a second kettlebell in your bottom hand, so that you’re deadlifting it each time you stand up.

This video includes some tips on how to hold a kettlebell overhead, in case you didn’t quite figure that out when you were doing carries. Instead of holding it in the middle of the handle, you’ll want to find a comfortable position with your hand near the corner of the handle and the body of the bell resting on, but not crushing, your forearm.

Goblet squats

After all those hip-driven exercises, you might be wondering when do I get to use my legs? Well, good news: The goblet squat is a classic in the kettlebell world. You hold a bell at your chest (upside down, right side up, doesn’t matter) and squat down with your butt going in between your feet. You don’t have to squat as deep as the person in the video, but you may find that it’s easier to hit a deep squat this way than with a barbell or even an air squat.

Rows

An underrated kettlebell move is the row. While you can do any style of dumbbell row with a kettlebell, they’re especially great for Kroc rows, especially if you can find a bell that seems intimidatingly heavy. A Kroc row uses some body motion to get momentum to “cheat” the bell up. This allows it to double as a core exercise, while allowing you to handle heavier weight than you could otherwise — which will ultimately make you stronger.

Use them as parallettes

You don’t have to actually lift kettlebells to use them in your workout. A pair of large bells can serve as convenient handles for exercises where you want your hands near but not on the ground. They’re great for pushups, since your wrists are in a neutral position and the fact that your hands are elevated makes them a bit easier so you can do more reps. (You can still prop your feet up on a block or bench if you want more of a challenge.) Kettlebells also make a good substitute for parallettes for L-sits and other balancing moves.

Clean and press

In the world of weights, to “clean” something means to raise it up to shoulder level so that you can do overhead movements. (See also: Olympic weightlifting’s “clean and jerk.”) So in a clean and press, you do that, and then press the kettlebell overhead. You can either clean it once and press many times, as in the video above, or clean every rep.

Cheat cleans

If your brain told your body “get the bell up to the shoulder before we press,” your body may have done the right thing. Some folks figure this out intuitively. But if you ended up banging the bell into your forearm or getting confused about how the clean is supposed to work, you probably want to practice your cleans. One way to do this is with a two-handed clean, sometimes called a cheat clean. Using two hands forces you to keep the bell close to the centre of your chest, and it also lets you clean a heavier bell without worrying about your grip failing.

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