If someone told you that you could work your entire body efficiently and effectively, and that it would actually be fun, you’d jump at the chance, right? Well, all you need is a kettlebell—the free weight alternative that’s made of cast iron and looks sort of like a cylindrical purse (or, some say, a cannonball) with a handle.
What makes the kettlebell such a great workout partner is that the moves it’s used for combine strength training and cardio. Plus, you’re so busy focusing on not dropping the bell that time flies by. The result? Maximum results with a minimum time commitment.
If you’re concerned about throwing out your back, or accidentally hurling the bell through your living room window, fear not. “Wearing training gloves or rubbing hands with chalk before you begin can help you keep a firm grip on the kettlebell until you feel more confident,” suggests Terri Arends, group fitness instructor at the Aaron Family JCC of Dallas, who has two kettlebell certifications.
The five-move kettlebell workout that Arends generated below can be done at the gym or at home—in less than 30 minutes. So clear some space, grab a bell, and start swinging.
Kettlebell Reps and Sets
Kettlebells come in various sizes and weights. The weight you use and number of reps you perform of each move depends on your goal. Are you looking to amp up your cardio? Use a lighter bell (9-12 pounds) and do three sets of 10-20 reps. If you’re hoping to build muscle mass, go a little heavier (15+ pounds) and do three sets of 6-10 reps.
Move 1: Kettlebell Deadlift
Body parts worked: Back, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders
Stand with feet hip-width (8-12 inches) apart. With arms straight, grip kettlebell handle with both hands so that it hangs between your legs. Hinge at the hips, tilting your torso forward and keeping your back straight as you lower the kettlebell toward the floor. Hold for a count of three. Press your feet into the floor and return to starting position, keeping back straight.
Tip: Only go as deep as your hips will allow. When your hips move back, keep your spine neutral to avoid back strain. (No rounding or hyper-extending your back!)
Move 2: Kettlebell Squat
Body parts worked: Quads, glutes, hamstrings
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Place both hands on kettlebell handle and hold at chest height, elbows bent. Lower body as far as you can by driving hips back and transferring weight to heels. Return to start position.
Tip: Be sure to brace your abs and keep your chest lifted throughout the move to avoid putting undue pressure on your lower back.
Move 3: Single-Hand Kettlebell Squat
Body parts worked: Hips, glutes, hamstrings, core
Hold kettlebell by handle with right arm. Bend elbow, resting the bell in the nook of your upper arm and shoulder on same side. Extend left hand to act as a counterbalance. Drive hips back, transferring weight to heels, simultaneously bending knees into squat position. Return to start position and repeat on left side.
Tip: Make a fist with the extended hand and squeeze hard to elicit more tension in the body.
Move 4: Single-Hand Kettlebell Row
Body parts worked: Back, rhomboids, rear deltoids, triceps, trapezius, core
With kettlebell handle in right hand, lunge forward with left foot, keeping body in a long, forward-leaning angle. Prop left elbow on left thigh for support, and drive right elbow back, keeping it close to body and pointing it toward ceiling. Lower the weight. Repeat on opposite side.
Tip: Keep body as still as possible and isolate the arm movement for maximum results.
Move 5: Kettlebell Swing
Body parts worked: Glutes, hamstrings, lats, abs
Standing with feet hip-width apart and gripping kettlebell handle with both hands, hike the bell back between legs, knees bent. Drive feet into ground while using the momentum of your hip thrust to bring bell in front of you. Raise bell to eye level. Let the bell hang there for a count of three. Hinge hips back and repeat.
Tip: Control the descent of the kettlebell by keeping your abs engaged. As the bell lowers, move immediately and fluidly into the next rep.
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