• Mark Turnbull

Kettlebell Exercises


1. One Arm Kettlebell Swings The one armed kettlebell swing is a good exercise for those new to kettlebell training.  Using only one arm minimises the weight of the kettlebells that can be used, and thus minimises the risk of the client loosing their balance as their centre of mass moves away from their base of support, as the weight swings away from the body.

The kettlebell is grabbed from the floor and swung between the legs to start generating momentum. With the arm fully extended, momentum is generated from the bottom position (second image to left) to swing the kettlebell up to head level.  From head level the kettlebell is pulled back down between the legs to complete the repetition.  The arm holding the kettlebell stays extended throughout the movement. 

As the kettlebell lowers between the legs the client should move into a partial squat position.  Upward momentum is generated by the upward phase of the squat combined with the shoulder extending and essentially ‘throwing’ the kettlebell away from the body. Ensure that your knees remain soft or ‘unlocked’ throughout the movement. 

2. Two Arm Kettlebell Swings Once you are able to perform a one armed kettlebell swing safely you can progress to the two armed swing.  The two armed kettlebell swing is essentially the same as the one arm swing, the main difference is that heavier kettlebells can be used to help generate more power and progressively overload.

The movement starts by grasping the handle of the kettlebell with both hands and lowering into a squat position and swinging the kettlebell between the legs behind the body as shown on the far left image.  From this position momentum is generated through the combined actions of squatting back up to an erect standing position while swinging or ‘throwing’ the kettlebell away from the body.

Note that the arms remain extended throughout the movement.  There is no benefit in swinging the kettlebell above the head so the ideal end position is shown in the second slide from right above, where the kettlebell reaches head height.  From this position the kettlebell is pulled back down into the body to the position shown on the far left slide, to complete the repetition.  As with the one arm swing, care should always be taken to ensure the client braces their abdominals throughout to keep their spine safely locked in neutral.

3. Kettlebell High Pulls The Kettlebell high pull is a good exercise to master before moving onto the more complex cleans, clean and jerks, and snatches.  The exercise is essentially a deadlift combined with an upright row (and by virtue of this pretty complex in its own right). 

The exercise can be performed initially holding a kettlebell in one hand or holding the kettlebell in both hands.  A progression from these options is to hold kettlebells in either hand.

With a slightly wider than shoulder width stance the client squats down to their bottom squat position to pick the kettlebell up from the ground.  From this position momentum is generated by the combined action of squatting back up to standing position while pulling the kettlebell up to shoulder height.   Note that the elbow should always be higher than the wrist during this exercise.

Care needs to be taken to keep the kettlebell close to the body throughout, (this is a pulling exercise not a swinging exercise) and ensure that an abdominal brace is held for the duration of the exercise.  From the top position the kettlebell(s) can be slowly lowered back to the start position to complete the repetition, the kettlebell is not ‘pulled’ forcefully back into the body as with the swinging exercises.

4. Kettlebell Cleans The kettlebell clean is very similar to the kettlebell high pull.  The start position is identical and momentum for the exercise is created in exactly the same way.  The major difference is that when the kettlebell reaches about waist height the elbow is pulled into the waist and kept at this level allowing the forearm and wrist to ‘swing’ the kettlebell up the shoulder as shown in these images.  The clean can be performed with either a kettlebell in one hand or kettlebells in each hand.

As with all kettlebell exercises care must be taken to ensure your spine is locked into neutral with an abdominal brace that is held throughout the duration of the exercise. 

5.  The Kettlebell Clean and Jerk (or Clean and Press) The kettlebell clean and jerk is simply a progression from the kettlebell clean. The exercise is exactly the same as the clean with the addition of a shoulder press (or jerk) at the end as shown in the adjacent images.  This exercise can also be performed with one arm or with kettlebells in both hands.  You should note that this is a ‘progression’ of the kettlebell clean which is a progression of the kettlebell high pull – i.e. you should only perform the clean and jerk if you have mastered the kettlebell clean, and previously, the kettlebell high pull.

6. The Kettlebell ‘Snatch’ The kettlebell snatch is arguably the most complex of all the kettlebell training exercises. 

Similar to the Clean and Press the Kettlebell is swung up from the ground straight to the overhead position.  The difference is that the arm holding the kettlebell stays extended (there is no shoulder press) as shown in the adjacent images 1-5.  As there is no press in the snatch there is a requirement for more momentum to be generated to get the kettlebell from the ground to the top position in one fluid movement. 

The images here show a one arm kettlebell snatch being performed with the kettlebell being transferred between hands between images 7-8.  The kettlebell snatch can be performed this way (alternating hands) or with one kettlebell in each hand.  Please note that this is quite possibly the most technically challenging weightlifting exercise there is, so I hope I don’t have to point out the obvious…this is definitely not an exercise for beginners! Conventional Exercise’s…with Kettlebells Ultimately kettlebells, just like dumbbells, stability balls and machine weights, are simply exercise tools.  Just because kettlebells are associated with a particular type of power oriented training doesn’t mean that they cannot be used to add load to conventional resistance training exercises.  The kettlebells design actually provides a mechanical advantage for some conventional resistance training exercises, such as the…

1. Kettlebell Squat The design of the kettlebell actually makes it a great tool for helping clients learn how to squat correctly, and then progress with.  When learning to squat for the first time many clients feel like they’re going to tip over backwards.  Holding a kettlebell in front as pictured here acts as a counterweight to help balance as the hips lower into the squat and move behind your base of support. The client can easily progress the exercise by simply holding progressively heavier kettlebells. And the whole time the client is increasing the size of the kettlebells they will be (or at least should be!) reinforcing a safe, effective squat technique in preparation for squatting with a barbell across the shoulders or learning how to do the exercises that characterise kettlebell training.

This is a much better way to learn to squat than the often used smith machine or stability ball where you essentially lean into the machine or the ball, and don’t learn how to balance, and exposes your lower back and knees to a significant risk of injury. 

2. Kettlebell Bent over Row By having the handle on top of the kettlebell there simply isn’t as far to bend down and pick them up from the floor.  This will certainly help to save the lower backs of many of you that have desk bound jobs.  So for exercises like bent over rows and one arm rows, kettlebells can simply be a more comfortable alternative to use than dumbbells.

3. Kettlebell Bench Press Kettlebells can also be more comfortable for a range of pushing and pressing exercises such as the shoulder press or the bench press as shown here.  With the high handle on the kettlebell, you will find it much easier to pick the kettlebell up and lower it back to the ground, than they do with dumbbells.  And as the high handles make it easier to lower kettlebells safely to the ground there should be no need to drop (or throw) the weights onto the floor at the end of each set, as happens so often with dumbbells!

4. Kettlebell One Arm Supported Row And for your more ‘advanced’ personal training clients, the kettlebell design does lend itself to exercises that would be dangerous if performed with dumbbells.  The flat base of the kettlebell means that when it is placed on the floor it provides a stable base to perform exercises such as the one arm supported row as shown here.  The stable base means that a relatively heavy weight can be used without fear of the supporting dumbbell ‘rolling away’ during the movement resulting in the you ‘eating the floor’, tearing a muscle, or spraining a wrist.


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