The Best Kettlebell Exercises

on-the-lineIn this blog I’m going to list my 7 best kettlebell exercises. I’ve been a great fan of kettlebells when few people had heard of them.

Here are my top 7 kettlebell exercises, the muscles they work, teaching points, alternative options, common mistakes, corrections and a quick youtube clip on how they should be performed.



1. Kettlebell Front Squat

The kettlebell front squat exercise has all the benefits of a traditional front squat and is a good introductory exercise to kettlebells. Holding a kettlebell as compared to a barbell keeps the weight closer to the body making it easier to perform.

Primary Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, calves and core

Teaching Points:

  • hold the kettlebell in a double handed ‘racked’ position
  • feet shoulder width apart
  • brace the abdominal and back muscles
  • initiate the squat by flexing from the knees and hips
  • lower slowly to a comfortable position (thighs parallel to the floor)
  • from the bottom position push the ground away keeping the chest lifted throughout to maintain a neutral spine
  • keep knees in line with toes and heels down throughout
  • return to the standing position and concentrate on getting the hips forward and squeezing the glutes

Alternative Options:

  1. Single arm racked position
  2. Double kettlebell front squat
  3. Single or double kettlebell lunges
  4. Single leg front squat (pistol squat)

Common Problems & Solutions

Error: spinal alignment falling into flexion (curving the back)

Correction: keep chest lifted and kettlebell tight to the body

Youtube clip:



2. Kettlebell Swing

This is the fundamental kettlebell exercise. It strengthens the posterior muscle chain within a dynamic exercise that includes both acceleration and deceleration phases. The swing has a massive carry over to general activity and sports due to the powerful snapping hip extension involved. It is also a great exercise for mastering techniques, positions and postures for other exercises. The swing must be completed with competence before progressing to exercises such as kettlebell cleans, high pulls and the snatch.

Primary Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, erector spinae and the core

Teaching points:

  • start position – grasp the handles of the kettlebell with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  • in a standing tall position switch on the glutes but keep the spine neutral. While keeping the arms long and shoulders relaxed, look forwards with the chest open
  • lowering phase – start the swing by lowering the kettlebell between the legs
  • push the hips back, while also flexing the knees. Continuing to flex at the hip – ultimately hiking the kettlebell towards the buttocks
  • upward phase – drive through the heels whilst moving the hips forwards dynamically
  • as a result of the powerful dynamic hip thrust the kettlebell will arc upwards
  • keep the arms relaxed as the kettlebell arc height is a consequence of the hip thrust – at the top of the arc there will be some ‘hang time’
  • make sure the glutes are squeezed and the core braced
  • begin the downward phase by letting the kettlebell naturally drop between the legs
  • push the hips back letting the kettlebell swing between the legs, keep the chest open

Alternative Options:

  1. Single hand swing
  2. Single hand alternating swing
  3. Double kettlebell swing
  4. Travelling swing – forward walk, side walk, 90 degree rotating

Common Problems & Solutions

Error: allowing too much knee bend and performing a ‘squatting’ action

Correction: focus on keeping the knees still and pushing the hips back during the lowering phase of the swing. You should have a similar pulling sensation as a hamstring stretch.

Youtube clip:


 3. Kettlebell Clean 

Advancement from the single hand swing incorporating the upper body to develop upper body strength and power. It is important that clients understand the top ‘racked’ position of the kettlebell – a pre-requisite for overhead kettlebell exercises.

Primary Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, upper back, deltoids, trapezius and biceps

Teaching Points:

  • begin as when attempting a kettlebell swing
  • rather than arching the kettlebell, clean it up to a racked position by bringing the kettlebell up vertically close to the body using the power generated from the hips as the arm stays loose
  • lead with the elbow to do this then dynamically whip the elbow underneath the kettlebell to gain a vertical forearm (keep the wrist strong). Allow the kettlebell to wrap around the forearm
  • the kettlebell should be close to the body in the ‘racked’ position on the outside of the forearm
  • in this position do not relax or let the kettlebell drop away to the side
  • to reverse the action let the kettlebell drop in towards the midline of the body while simultaneously brining the elbow out and high

Alternative Options:

  1. Clean and press
  2. Clean and split press
  3. Double kettlebell clean
  4. Double kettlebell clean and press

Common Problems & Solutions

Error: generating too much power from the hips causing the the kettlebell to move too fast over the hand and hitting the back of the wrist

Correction: reduce the drive from the hips and ensure the kettlebell moves around the outside of the hand (rather than over the top) to rest gently on the wrist. Keep the shoulder and elbow tight to the body.

Youtube clip:


 4. Kettlebell One-Arm Shoulder Press

A very effective upper body strengthening exercise that works the shoulder through a good range of motion and increases shoulder stability

Primary Muscles: deltoids, triceps, upper trapezius, latissimus dorsi and core

Teaching Points:

  • start with the kettlebell in a strong ‘racked’ position with the feet well grounded
  • press the kettlebell up vertically, keeping the forearm vertical and the wrist fixed throughout
  • straighten the arm with the palm of the hand facing forwards
  • stabilise the shoulder and contract the triceps so the arm is straight
  • lower the kettlebell under control and pull it back into the ‘racked’ position

Alternative Options:

  1. Double kettlebell shoulder press
  2. Alternating kettlebell shoulder press
  3. Front squat to shoulder press

Common Problems & Solutions

Error: locking the hips into full extension of hyperextension whilst allowing the kettlebell to drift behind or out the side of the body

Correction: keep the hips soft in small amount of flexion with the chest lifted to ensure the core muscles are activated. Ensure the kettlebell is stabilised directly above the shoulder joint.

Youtube clip:


5. Kettlebell One-Arm High Pull  

An excellent exercise for helping teach the kettlebell snatch. Working the upper back muscles dynamically for endurance, strength and power. Useful for throwing sports and martial arts. To avoid shoulder injuries it is important not to perform this exercise in the same way as an upright row – the movement instead comes from the lower body.

Primary Muscles: quadriceps, gluteal muscles, trapezius, biceps, deltoids, hamstrings, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi

Teaching Points:

  • the pull is an extension of the kettlebell swing but at the top of the arc on the swing you pull the kettlebell towards the outside of the shoulder
  • as the kettlebell reaches chest height dynamically retract the shoulder girdle and in a fluid movement pull the kettlebell towards and to the outside of the shoulder
  • keep shoulders relaxed, the forearm straight, the wrist fixed and body strong
  • keep the movement going by punching the kettlebell forwards and reversing the action while dropping into a stable kettlebell swing

Alternative Options:

  1. Split stance high pull
  2. Double kettlebell high pull

Common Problems & Solutions

Error: creating too much upward drive and leading with a high elbow as though a typical dumbbell high pull

Correction: ensure the exercise begins with a good single arm swing, arcing the kettlebell out in front. The pull and shoulder girdle retraction is quickly performed when the kettlebell is momentarily weightless at shoulder height.

Youtube clip:


6. Kettlebell One-Arm Snatch

The ultimate whole body kettlebell exercise that is technically very demanding. A continuation of the kettlebell swing and high pull. Often used as a test of kettlebell competence and strength.

Primary Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids, pectorals and triceps

Teaching Points:

  • begin the snatch by performing a one-arm swing
  • utilise the ‘hip-snap’ to get the arc of the kettlebell high but at the top of the arc continue to the move the kettlebell up to a vertical arm position
  • use an almost high pull action by bending the arm followed by a fast vertical punch upwards to fully straighten the arm
  • use a fast, smooth action to catch the bell at the top and prevent it from banging the forearm
  • pause, looking forwards with the arm straight next to the ear and the shoulder stable
  • fluidly lower the kettlebell so it drops down between the legs

Alternative Options:

  1. Alternating one arm snatch
  2. Double kettlebell snatch

Common Problems & Solutions

Error: squatting to start the movement. Allowing the kettlebell to swing/float over the top of the hand impacting with the back of the wrist.

Correction: ensure a correct swing initiates the movement with a powerful hip drive. At the top of the movement pull and punch upwards in a small rapid movement to bring the kettlebell more gently onto the back of the wrist.

Youtube clip:


 7.Turkish Get Up (TGU)  

An all over functional body conditioning exercise. Targets most muscles of the body but particularly good for developing the core as well as shoulder strength, stability and range.

Primary Muscles: all over body / core

Teaching Points:

  • start in supine position (lying on your back) with one hand on the kettlebell handle
  • drive the arm with the kettlebell up above the chest into a straight arm position. The other arm should move out to the side
  • look at the kettlebell the whole time
  • flex the knee on the same side as the kettlebell with the foot planted
  • sit up keeping the kettlebell arm vertical until the other arm is straight to the side of the body grounded
  • lift the hips and move the straight  leg underneath the body into a lunge position, again keeping the kettlebell arm vertical and looking at the kettlebell
  • when in a lunge position look forwards and push up to a standing position
  • reverse the actions under control to the start position

Alternative Options:

  1. Breakdown TGU into separate sections / exercises
  2. Kettlebell windmills

Common Problems & Solutions

As this exercise has so many different parts it difficult to address them all. Make sure that you are constantly looking at the kettlebell throughout the whole exercise.

Youtube clip:

For more kettlebell exercises (111 to be exact), please click on the link below:

111 Best Kettlebell Exercises for Men and Women



While considered by many as a modern training phenomenon ‘kettlebells’ are, in fact, steeped in history and are long established training tools. As well as being able to perform similar lifts as performed with barbells and dumbbells there are many more kettlebell lifts that can be used to get great results. I personally use kettlebells with my clients on a regular basis and find them to be great cardiovascular training tool.


What is a kettlebell

A kettlebell is a traditional Russian cast iron weight that looks like a cannon ball with a handle; essentially a Russian dumbbell.


Kettlebell weights?

The recommended starting weight for men should be around 16kg, progressing to 20-24kg or more depending on the exercise.

The recommended starting weight for women should be around 8kg, progressing to 10-12kg or more depending on the exercise.


Kettlebell training

Kettlebells are viewed by many (including myself) as the ultimate conditioning tool. Kettlebells can be used to develop and improve:

  • Strength and power
  • Hypertrophy (bodybuilding)
  • Muscle endurance (toning)
  • Core function
  • Sports performance
  • Active flexibility
  • Cardiovascular fitness

There are a number of lifts utilised in kettlebell training that target the posterior kinectic chain; these include:

  • Erector spinae
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings

These muscles are some of the biggest and strongest muscles involved when performing big lifts. The posterior chain is important for sports performance as it is fundamental to generating forward motion and acceleration. The posterior chain drives performance in jumping, sprinting, throwing, kicking and punching.

Many of the exercises involve integrated movements, that is, strengthening groups of muscles rather than just one at a time. There are also many exercises that include the different planes of motion – sagittal (forwards or backwards), frontal (side-to-side) and transverse (rotation). The lifts, therefore, are great for developing whole body strength and improving motor skills for many every day activities and sports.


Improving core function

Kettlebells can improve the function of the core, since the core has to support and stabilise the trunk during kettlebell lifts. This improvement in core function can play a significant role in preventing conditions such as lower back pain.


Flexibility improvements

Having a good static range of motion may be an indicator of flexibility bit does not necessarily transfer to the flexibility requirements of everyday movement or during sports performance. Many kettlebell lifts are completed through larger ranges of motion than those provided by other training methods. This will better encourage the more movement-based flexibility we require.


Cardiovascular improvements

Kettlebell lifts are energy demanding (try them, your heart will be pumping like mad after a few kettlebell swings) and can be used to provide an overload on the cardiovascular system. Workouts can be specifically designed to target any of the energy systems; creatine phosphate, lactate and aerobic. I’ll discuss these energy systems in more detail on another blog.



If you haven’t yet used kettlebells in your training routine, you’re missing out on what I think is one of the best ‘bang for your buck’ training tools.

I’ll create another blog on my preferred kettlebell exercises and how to perform them correctly and safely soon…keep an eye out!