5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners to build muscle and strength (2023)

By Sam Hopes

published

New to kettlebells? These five exercises should be your go-to

5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners to build muscle and strength (1)

If you’re a beginner looking to expand your fitness repertoire, these are the five best kettlebell exercises and the only introduction you’ll need to kettlebells. Trying a new workout or using unfamiliar equipment in the gym can feel intimidating, so why not lock down these staple kettlebell exercises now?

As a coach, I encourage clients to train with kettlebells. They’re versatile and can be used for most exercises and workouts to target and strengthen your major muscle groups like your chest, shoulders, back, legs, and core muscles. But it takes some skill to use them. That’s why learning how to use a kettlebell properly and getting to grips with the basics early on could help you maximize your results when lifting them.

(Video) 5 Best Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners

If you plan to kettlebell-swing your way to better fitness, these five exercises will target most of your muscles, build strength, muscle mass, and power, and improve your cardio fitness when used regularly. If you already consider yourself a seasoned swinger, find out what happened when our fitness writer did 100 kettlebell snatches a day for a week, or read on for the best kettlebell exercises for beginners.

Benefits of kettlebells

Kettlebells are a strength and conditioning exercise fit for any workout routine and exercises like rows, presses, and cleans. Whether your goal is to build strength across your entire body or boost your cardio fitness, the benefits of kettlebells are endless.

And you only need one weight to reap the benefits of kettlebells. Working one side of your body at a time (known as unilateral training) could improve core activation, coordination, and balance, and strengthen your weaker muscles while helping to build power and muscle.

According to research by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning (opens in new tab), consistent biweekly kettlebell workouts could improve maximal and explosive strength. For example, coaches could use kettlebell training to improve power in athletes who sprint or powerlifters perfecting their one-rep max squat. Moreover, research by the Journal of Human Kinetics (opens in new tab) found that kettlebells work well in functional resistance training to build neuromuscular power by recruiting multiple muscle groups.

Best kettlebell exercises for beginners

If you’re new to working out with kettlebells, I believe these are the five best kettlebell exercises for beginners, tried and tested by us. I also recommend the best cross-training shoes to support your workouts.

1. Kettlebell swings

5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners to build muscle and strength (2)

It’s no surprise that kettlebell swings take the top spot for the best kettlebell exercise for beginners, but there’s plenty you can do to increase difficulty. For example, American swings require you to swing the weight up to shoulder height to increase shoulder activation and test your control. Alternating swings adopt the unilateral training approach we mentioned earlier.

My tip: Focus on the hip hinge. Avoid squatting or sending focus into your arms. Remember to squeeze your glutes as the kettlebell reaches shoulder height. I recommend learning how to do kettlebell swings here.

How:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider), toes pointed 45 degrees outwards
  • Grip your kettlebell with both hands
  • Maintain a soft knee bend and set your shoulders back and down. Brace your core
  • Hinge forward at your hips and send your bum back while maintaining a flat back. Swing the kettlebell back between your legs
  • Explosively drive it forwards while extending your hips until the weight reaches shoulder height, then control the descent back down.

2. Kettlebell clean and press

5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners to build muscle and strength (3)

It might sound complicated, but once you nail your form, the clean and press can translate into any workout style, from full-body strength training to cardio.

(Video) The 5 Best Kettlebell Exercises for Building Muscle

My tip: Keep your biceps close to your ear as you press upward.

How:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place the kettlebell between your feet
  • Grip the handle overhand, just off center.
  • Keep your back flat and chest forward-facing and brace your core, then swing the kettlebell back slightly and pull it upwards close to your body
  • Bring your arm under the kettlebell into a racked position, with your elbow close to your ribs and the weight resting on your forearm
  • Drive the kettlebell above your head in an overhead press and extend your elbow. Switch sides.

3. Farmer’s walk

5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners to build muscle and strength (4)

Recently, I did the farmer’s walk every day for a week, and I believe it’s one of the best kettlebell exercises for building strength all over. Here’s how to nail it.

My tip: Avoid leaning backward or favoring one side and keep your core braced.

How:

  • Stand feet hip-width apart with two kettlebells placed on either side of your feet
  • Bend your knees and lower into a squat position with your chest proud and weight evenly distributed across your feet
  • Grip both kettlebells, brace your core, and set your shoulders back and down
  • Keep your chest proud, look forward, and push the ground away to stand
  • Begin walking with small and controlled steps.

4. Kettlebell bent over row

Kettlebell rows work the muscles in your back, including your lats (the large muscles down the side of your back), middle and lower traps, rear delts (backs of your shoulders), and deeper back muscles, but also your core muscles, biceps, hamstrings, and glutes. You could row one weight or two, depending on your ability.

Tip: Graduate to two weights when comfortable. Learn how to do a dumbbell row here.

How:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outwards
  • Place one kettlebell between your legs
  • Maintain a soft knee bend and set your shoulders back and down. Brace your core
  • Hinge forward at your hips and send your bum back while maintaining a flat back, into a bent-over position.
  • Grip your kettlebell in both hands, then pull the weight towards your belly button, rowing toward your hips rather than your chest
  • Control the descent back down.

5. Kettlebell deadlift

5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners to build muscle and strength (6)

(Video) Unlock Your Potential Top 10 Kettlebell Exercises for Power and Speed

The deadlift is a staple functional exercise and hits most major muscle groups in one fell swoop (or lift, I should say), and learning proper kettlebell skills also translates to dumbbells. You can expect to work the muscles in your posterior chain — namely your back, glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles.

Tip: Learn how to deadlift in detail to set up for success.

How:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes forward, and place the kettlebells on either side of your feet.
  • Bend your knees and squat down to grip both kettlebells
  • Roll your shoulder blades back and down, engage your core, and squeeze your shoulder blades to engage your lats.
  • Sit your bum down, chest forward facing, with a flat back. Look ahead and inhale.
  • Exhale as you drive through your feet to stand, keeping the kettlebells close to your legs.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top and fully extend at your hips.
  • Begin to lower the kettlebells with a soft bend in the knee, sending your hips backward with a flat back.
  • At knee height, re-bend your knees and lower your bum to bring the kettlebells back down to the floor.

Next up: For more kettlebell content, our writer did 100 kettlebell swings a day and I tried this 30-day kettlebell challenge.

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SamHopesis a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and resident fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. Having trained to work with mind and body,Samis a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods. When she's writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and workouts.

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    (Video) Top 8 Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners | Chandler Marchman

    FAQs

    Which kettlebell exercise works the most muscles? ›

    Kettlebell swings are one of the most effective kettlebell exercises for building muscle. They work your core, glutes, and legs all at once, making them a great choice for anyone looking to get stronger and build muscle. To do kettlebell swings, start by holding the kettlebell with both hands.

    Which kettlebell is best for beginners? ›

    Cast-iron kettlebells are considered the classic design for beginners, supporting exercises that require gripping the usually V-shaped handle with two hands. They're typically made from one piece of metal and when you move up in weight, the kettlebells become larger.

    Can you build muscle with just kettlebells? ›

    Kettlebells are a versatile tool for building muscle, increasing power, and shedding body fat. Like most training programs, building muscle with kettlebells is highly dependent on: load/intensity. overall training volume.

    Are kettlebells enough for strength training? ›

    Strength: Yes. The kettlebell is an effective weight that will build muscle strength.

    How long does it take to see results from kettlebell? ›

    How quickly do you see results from kettlebells? With a good diet and a sensible kettlebell training program you will start to see cardio, strength, muscle and fat loss improvements within 30 days.

    How many times a week should I do kettlebells? ›

    Kettlebell Training is intense. Most exercises use the whole body and over 600 muscles at a time. Workouts should be kept short and repeated often. So a regular schedule may include a 10 – 15 minute workout 3-5 times per week.

    What size kettlebell for seniors? ›

    For seniors asking “What size kettlebell should I use?” the average male senior should start with 20-26LBS and the average female senior should start with 15-18LBS.

    What kettlebell should a woman start with? ›

    An average, active women should start with a kettlebell between 6 kg - 13 lb and 8 kg - 18 lb. An athletic woman should start with a kettlebell between 8 kg - 18 lb and 12 kg - 26 lb and out of shape, inactive women should try a bell between 4 kg - 9 lb and 6 kg - 13 lb.

    How many kettlebells do I need beginner? ›

    As a beginner I recommend that you start with just one kettlebell but once you have mastered all the basic exercises you can progress to 2 kettlebells.

    What are kettlebells not good for? ›

    Along with benefits, kettlebells have some risks. One is obvious: dropping the weight on your foot (nothing a goddess would do, but I might by accident). Other pitfalls: lifting too much too soon or lifting a kettlebell the wrong way can lead to muscle strains, rotator cuff tears, and falls.

    Is it OK to do kettlebells everyday? ›

    It is possible to use kettlebells everyday but it will depend on the intensity of the workouts, your current experience and how quickly you recover from the workout. The kettlebell swing is one exercise that you may be able to perform daily.

    What size kettlebell should I get to build muscle? ›

    To gain more strength, the recommended kettlebell sizes for one-handed kettlebell swings are: 26lbs (12kg) for women. 35lbs (16kg) for men.

    Do kettlebells make you stronger than weights? ›

    One study showed that, compared to dynamic moves with kettlebells, basic weightlifting exercises (think power cleans and squats) led to significantly greater improvements in strength over a six-week period. Effects of weightlifting vs. kettlebell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition.

    What happens if you do 100 kettlebell swings a day? ›

    100 kettlebell swings a day improves your posture, reduces back pain, promotes health testosterone and growth hormone levels, and builds a habit of movement and fitness into your daily lives.

    Is a 10 minute kettlebell workout enough? ›

    A 10 minute kettlebell workout is enough time to activate every muscle in your body while at the same time challenging your cardio. For those short on time the following workout is the perfect recipe to maintain and improve your overall strength, mobility, cardio and burn those unwanted calories.

    Are kettlebells good for seniors? ›

    Using kettlebell exercises for seniors and older adults can be highly effective at improving health, fitness and wellbeing. Regular kettlebell training can improve balance, strength, your metabolism, help with fat loss and confidence.

    Do kettlebells tone your stomach? ›

    Kettlebell exercises are excellent for intense full-body workouts, to build strength and muscle tone, burn calories and help you get rid of your belly fat.

    Do you need rest days with kettlebells? ›

    If you're getting a little winded, that's okay: rest if you need to, but only as needed. Try to keep with the circuit as much as you can. But remember that this active recovery is all about going light while training your body to be able to go harder, so listen to your body first and foremost.

    What muscles are kettlebells good for? ›

    While kettlebell swings are a full-body workout, they mostly target the muscles along the posterior chain (back of the body). The main muscles used are the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and muscles of the upper back.

    How do you buy a kettlebell for beginners? ›

    Choosing the right weight depends on your gender, age, fitness goals and overall fitness level. For women (18 years and older), SetforSet suggests beginners start out with a kettlebell that is 13 to 18 pounds. For men, it suggests a starting weight of 24 to 35 pounds.

    Do I need two kettlebells of the same size? ›

    Unlike dumbbells, you only need one kettlebell of each size. This is because kettlebell training is functional exercise at its best. In fact, working only one side of your body at a time allows you to work more muscle groups.

    What does swinging a kettlebell between your legs do? ›

    The kettlebell swing strengthens your core, glutes, hamstrings, quads, back, delts and arms. Research shows that kettlebell swings improves balance and posture, even for elite athletes. When you use a kettlebell, you naturally learn what good posture feels like.

    Are kettlebells good for over 50s? ›

    Kettlebells can absolutely help you to build strength and power, two key things that help keep you active in different ways than dumbbells, bands, and exercise machines can. Here are three reasons you should be using kettlebells after 50: Kettlebells can help improve muscular power. Muscle power is strength + speed.

    Is a 20 minute kettlebell workout enough? ›

    20-30 minutes twice a week is all you'll need. And if you own a kettlebell, you don't even need to leave the house.

    What muscles do kettlebells miss? ›

    Kettlebell swings work throughout the body, from your arm, and shoulders to your chest, abs, hips, quads, and hamstrings. But their main specialty is actually the part often neglected the most during workouts – your upper back muscles.

    How do I know if my kettlebell is too light? ›

    “If you're using too light of a weight in a kettlebell swing, for example, it's easy to squat and use your arms to lift the bell, rather than power the move with your hips,” she tells SELF. “And when you aren't using your muscles in the proper way, that's when you get hurt.”

    Where should you be sore after kettlebell swings? ›

    After a swing workout, your hamstrings should be sore. But if you're lower back is bothering you instead, the problem is probably your hinge. Some hinging pointers: Guide the kettlebell toward your groin as it falls.

    Are kettlebell swings good for belly fat? ›

    Benefits: Kettlebell swing is an ideal exercise to lose body fat and it helps to improve cardiovascular fitness. This exercise is even good for building strength and power.

    How many kettlebell swings equal a mile? ›

    This means that it takes approx 2112 steps to cover a mile. Now imagine swinging a kettlebell each and every time you take a step. That's a total of 2000 swings to be done as you walk.

    How many kettlebell reps should I do? ›

    8 – 12 reps = Muscle Development (Hypertrophy)

    For many popular kettlebell workouts you will be working within this rep range. A classic lifting format is 10 reps x 3 – 5 sets. Rest between sets will be around 60 – 90 seconds each.

    What type of kettlebell is best? ›

    For beginners, we recommend choosing a solid cast-iron kettlebell (rather than a competition one) as they tend to have more-rounded handles. The other main difference is that cast-iron kettlebells increase and decrease in proportion to their weight, whereas, competition bells are the same size regardless of weight.

    How heavy should my first kettlebell be? ›

    How Much Weight Should You Start With? Murdock and Masiello suggest women start with 8kg (or 18lb) kettlebells, and Masiello suggests men start with 16 kg or 33 lb ones. Murdock also notes that kettlebells generally come in kilograms and not pounds (1 kg lb is 2.2 lbs), so make sure to pay attention to the numbers.

    What kind of body do kettlebells give you? ›

    Short Answer: Kettlebell use will cause your forearms to be visibly stronger, upper arms and shoulders toned and more defined as fat is lost, legs and rear tighter and more shapely, posture will improve. You will appear (and be) balanced, stronger and more graceful with a general air of healthy athleticism.

    How do you build muscle with kettlebells? ›

    The simplest way to build muscle with kettlebells is to perform an exercise, rest for 1-2 minutes and then repeat for 3 sets before moving on to the next exercise. However, workouts like this are slow. You can be much more time efficient by using super sets.

    What's better dumbbells or kettlebells? ›

    Kettlebells are great for beginners and all-around high-performing athletes. With dumbbells, you get an evenly distributed weight and more stability. Dumbbells allow for heavier weights, which helps you achieve a bulky mass of muscle. When you use kettlebells, you gain an overall toning of your muscles.

    Do kettlebell swings hurt your knees? ›

    The Kettlebell Swing is the perfect exercise choice for those suffering with bad knees because it works your cardio hard without you needing to fully bend your knees or use knee jolting impact. It is a great cardio workout for bad knees.

    Can you get big legs from kettlebell swings? ›

    CAN YOU BUILD LEGS & GLUTES WITH KETTLEBELLS? You can definitely build your legs and glutes (both in terms of muscle and strength) with kettlebells. However, not in the same way that you can with barbells. This is simply because you can use much heavier loads with barbells than you can with kettlebells.

    Can kettlebells change your body? ›

    Kettlebell exercises increase your body's amount of lean muscle tissue giving you a firmer, leaner and more toned appearance. Because of the higher repetitions and shorter, more intense workouts, your body builds dense muscle tissue while torching fat, making your muscles appear tighter and your body trimmer!

    Can you do full workout with just a kettlebell? ›

    Any exercise you can do with a dumbbell, you can probably do with a kettlebell too. Kettlebell variations distribute the weight differently and allow you to work through slightly different ranges of motion. In short, this means they offer a somewhat different challenge to doing the same exercise with a dumbbell.

    Is walking with a kettlebell good? ›

    Walking works your lower body, but incorporating kettlebell rack walks into your routine can increase upper-body strength. Aim to keep your elbows low and close to your ribcage and your hands close together. These walks can get difficult fast, so use lighter kettlebells than you did in the exercises above.

    How do you bulk up with kettlebells? ›

    So to build muscle with kettlebells you need to ensure that every set challenges you between 7 – 15 reps. If the weight is too heavy then you will build strength and tire out before 7 reps and if the weight is too light you will fly past 15 reps and build endurance instead.

    What kind of physique will kettlebells give you? ›

    Short Answer: Kettlebell use will cause your forearms to be visibly stronger, upper arms and shoulders toned and more defined as fat is lost, legs and rear tighter and more shapely, posture will improve. You will appear (and be) balanced, stronger and more graceful with a general air of healthy athleticism.

    Can you get a six pack with a kettlebell? ›

    And even today, both male and female gym enthusiasts tend to use this film as a benchmark of fitness, especially when it comes to achieving the perfect six-pack. The good news is that you can still craft a Spartan six-pack at home using one-piece of equipment: the kettlebell.

    How many reps should I do with kettlebells? ›

    8 – 12 reps = Muscle Development (Hypertrophy)

    For many popular kettlebell workouts you will be working within this rep range. A classic lifting format is 10 reps x 3 – 5 sets. Rest between sets will be around 60 – 90 seconds each.

    Is kettlebell good for belly fat? ›

    Benefits: Kettlebell swing is an ideal exercise to lose body fat and it helps to improve cardiovascular fitness. This exercise is even good for building strength and power.

    Is kettlebell good for seniors? ›

    Using kettlebell exercises for seniors and older adults can be highly effective at improving health, fitness and wellbeing. Regular kettlebell training can improve balance, strength, your metabolism, help with fat loss and confidence.

    Can kettlebells help tone stomach? ›

    Kettlebell exercises are excellent for intense full-body workouts, to build strength and muscle tone, burn calories and help you get rid of your belly fat. They should always be combined with a balanced diet if you're aiming for weight loss.

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