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.

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.

(Video) 5 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.

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

How:

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

  • 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

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

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)

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:

(Video) The Best Kettlebell Exercises to Build Muscle

  • 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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FAQs

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.

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.

Are kettlebells enough for strength training? ›

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

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 days a week should you do kettlebells? ›

The amount of times per week you should use your kettlebell depends on the intensity and what type of exercises you are using. Using good workout programming then 3 – 5 times per week is usually enough to see excellent results.

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.

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 heavy should a kettlebell be for a beginner? ›

For beginners, a good starting place is a 6- to 8-kilogram kettlebell, Karisa explained — that's the equivalent of 13-to-18 pounds. For lower-body movements, where you naturally have more strength and power, she recommends a heavier kettlebell that's 12-to-16 kilograms (or 26-to-35 pounds) to start.

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.

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 older people? ›

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.

What is the best size kettlebell for a woman? ›

The perfect kettlebell weight for women to start with an 8kg (15lbs) or for those with weight training experience a 12kg (25lbs). Later you will progress to a 16kg (35lbs). Often when ladies pick up an 8kg (15lbs) they say “it's way too heavy” and “I can't exercise with that!

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

What happens if you only do kettlebell swings? ›

Kettlebell swings have a plethora of benefits, such as improved cardiovascular fitness, strength, and power. They're also a high intensity yet low impact workout that can burn a ton of calories in a short period of time, making them convenient for anyone with a busy schedule.

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.

Do you need 2 kettlebells for a workout? ›

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 kettlebell exercises get rid of belly fat? ›

Put together the exercises into a kettlebell fat loss workout like this:
  1. Kettlebell Squat and Press x 30 seconds each side.
  2. Kettlebell Clean x 30 seconds each side.
  3. Kettlebell One Arm Swing x 30 seconds each side.
  4. Kettlebell Lunge and Press x 30 seconds each side.
  5. Rest 30 – 60 seconds and repeat 2-4 times.

Why do kettlebells make you so strong? ›

Due to the thicker handle (thicker than a dumbbell or barbell), a kettlebell improves grip strength. By maneuvering a kettlebell, its center of gravity moves with your grip and give you more dynamic muscle contractions.

How do you start a kettlebell only workout for beginners? ›

Here's that Beginner Kettlebell Workout one more time to recap:
  1. Halos: 8 reps each side.
  2. Goblet Squats: 10 reps.
  3. Overhead Presses: 8 reps.
  4. Kettlebell Swings: 15 reps.
  5. Bent Over Rows: 8 reps each side.
  6. Front Rack Reverse Lunge: 6 reps each side.
Nov 22, 2022

What size kettlebell is best? ›

Choosing a Kettlebell Size Based on Fitness Level

The best type of kettlebell for this group, which is comfortable yet challenging, is 8 kg for women and 16 kg for men. Intermediate level lifters include those who can bench press at least 200 lbs. or 90 kg without a lot of effort.

How heavy should my kettlebell be? ›

To attain balance and coordination, the recommended kettlebell sizes are: Kettlebells between 18lbs (8kg) and 26lbs (12kg) for women. Kettlebells between 26lbs (12kg) and 44lbs (20kg) for men.

Does the shape of the kettlebell matter? ›

If it's round, like a ball, then when you're in the racked position it's going to really dig into your forearm the same problem will apply to the top position of the overhead press or kettlebell snatch too. So you want a slightly oval kettlebell body and a handle that smoothly moulds into the body of the kettlebell.

How heavy should kettlebell swings be? ›

Choosing the Right Kettlebell Weight

And because most kettlebell movements are dynamic, you can stand to pick up something heavier than you would with a dumbbell. According to Daily Burn kettlebell expert, Cody Storey, women might want to start with 8 kg (18 lbs) or 12 kg (26 lbs), and men with 16 kg (35 lbs).

What weight of kettlebell should I use? ›

As a male beginner, start with a 10 or 12kg kettlebell. For women, starting with a 6 or 8kg kettlebell is most effective. Going to use the kettlebell for leg exercises? For men, start with a weight of 16kg and for women, a weight of 12kg.

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.

Should I buy 2 of the same weight kettlebell? ›

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.

How quickly do you see results from kettlebells? ›

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.

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 many kettlebell swings a day for beginners? ›

Experienced athletes should aim for 100 in a single set, beginners should do sets of 10 to 25 reps. Beginner athletes should complete the 100 swings in smaller sets in order to healthily and gradually ease into the workout. Completing the 100 swings in sets of 10 to 25 swings per set is recommended.

What are the two styles of kettlebell training? ›

The extreme tension of the hard style swing burns calories, builds strength, and squeezes the muscles to create a uniquely intense workout. On the other hand, the SOFT STYLE kettlebell workout emphasizes fluidity, efficiency, and endurance.

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