All About Kettlebell Training

The kettlebell is a cast iron or cast steel ball with a handle attached to the top (resembling a cannonball with a handle).
It is used to perform many types of exercises, including ballistic exercises that combine cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training.

Russian kettlebells (ги́ри giri, singular ги́ря girya) are traditionally measured in weight by pood, corresponding to 16.38 kilograms (36.1 lb). The English term kettle bell has been in use since the early 20th century.

Similar weights used in Classical Greece were the haltere, comparable to the modern kettlebell in terms of movements another comparable instrument was used by Shaolin monks in China and Japan.

Every exercise stems from the basic kettlebell swing, which, contrary to the way it looks isn't a swing powered but the arms, but is rather great for developing strength in the posterior chain - back, shoulders, hamstrings and glutes. That is as long as it's performed safe and correctly. By their nature, typical kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength.

This is a list of common kettlebell exercises, most of which are uniquely suited to the kettlebell for some reason, rather than just acting as a weight that could be replaced with any other kind of weight.

The following movements can be done with one or two kettlebells:

  • Conventional swing: The kettlebell is swung from just below the groin to somewhere between the upper abdomen and shoulders, with arms straight or slightly bent, the degree of flexion depends on the trajectory of the kettlebell.

  • High pull: A swing variation where the kettlebell is thrusted a little higher than the Russian swing, and at the apex the bell is pulled in towards the shoulder, and then pushed out again and back down into the swing. Sometimes the "high pull" instead refers to a deadlift that continues into a pull straight up to shoulder level.
  • Hang clean: The kettlebell is held in the rack position (resting on the forearm in the crook of the elbow, with the elbow against the chest), lowered to below the knees, and then thrust back up in to the rack.
  • Swing clean: The kettlebell is held in the rack position, dropped into the back-swing behind the knees, and then back up in to the rack via the up-swing. The clean is often combined with a press or jerk to make a clean and press or a clean & jerk (also called a long jerk). This is the most common clean, hence, it's referred to as 'clean' rather than 'swing clean'.
  • Dead clean: The kettlebell is pulled up dead from the ground, straight into rack position.
  • Snatch: There are two styles of snatch, Hardstyle Snatch and Kettlebell Sport Snatch. The kettlebell is held in one hand, lowered to behind the knees via hip hinge, swung to an overhead position and held stable, before repeating the movement. The dead snatch or true snatch begins with the bell on the ground. The lunge snatch lowers into a lunge while the bell goes to the overhead position.
  • Strict press: Also called the military press or standing press, the kettlebell is held in the rack position and pushed overhead with one arm, keeping the body rigid. The tree press, a press standing on one leg, performs a similar function. Other variations include the walking press, taking a step forward with each press, perhaps alternating hands, and the seated press, where the trainee sits on the ground with straight legs while pressing overhead.
  • Floor press: A press performed lying on the ground. A variation is the bridge press, a press in the wrestler's bridge position.
  • Push press: As a strict press, but with a single dip of the hips to provide assistance.
  • Jerk: As a push press, but with two dips, for more leg assistance (as in the barbell clean and jerk)
  • Thruster: A rack squat with a press at the top using momentum from the squat.
  • Squat: The basic squat is performed holding one or more kettlebells in the rack position, or a single a bell in the goblet position, which can help develop hip mobility by using the elbows to push the knees out at the bottom of the squat.
  • Overhead squat: A squat with the kettlebell held overhead, requiring good hip and shoulder mobility.
  • Sots press: Named after world record olympic weightlifter Viktor Sots, also called the squat press, this exercise is a rack squat with a press at the bottom of the squat.
  • Lunge press: Sometimes called the tactical lunge, this is a press from a lunging position.
  • Pistol squat: A single-leg squat with one leg held straight in front parallel to the ground, holding the bell in the goblet or rack position. An easier variant for those with less hip mobility is to perform the squat parallel to a step or ledge, so that the foot of the free leg can dip beneath the pushing leg at the bottom.
  • Deadlift: Can be performed different styles, sumo, squat or hip hinge, with one or more kettlebells between the legs, it can also be performed with the kettlebells on the outside (suitcase). Deadlifts can also be performed with one-arm, one-leg, or both.
  • Carry: Walking with the kettlebell held in various positions, such as suitcase, rack, goblet, or overhead.
  • Row: While bent over anywhere from 45 degrees to parallel with the ground, the kettlebell is held hanging from a straight arm, pulled up to the hips or laterally, and lowered again.
  • Lunge: A lunge performed with the kettlebell held in either the hanging, racked, overhead or mixed position.
  • Lateral lunge: A lateral lunge with the bell in either the racked or overhead positions. The deepest form of this is called the cossack squat.
  • Lateral lunge clean: A clean performed along with a lateral lunge.
  • Squat Get-up: A variation of the Turkish get-up where the feet are pulled into the buttocks to get up squat style.
  • Windmill: Standing with a bell held overhead, the hips are pushed to the side of the bell. Keeping the bell arm vertical, the upper body is bent to one side and rotated until the other hand is touching the floor. This improves mobility and stability through the hips and shoulder. Alternatively the bell may be held in the other hand, or with one in each hand. An easier version is the bent-leg windmill where the off-side leg is bent, or the supported windmill where the free hand rests against the off leg.
  • Farmer's Walk: Walking holding kettlebells at your sides. The single kettlebell version is called the suitcase walk. These build grip strength while challenging your core, hips, back and traps.
Turkish get-up

The following movements can be done with a single kettlebell:

  • American swing: Also called the overhead swing, this swing variation ends with the kettlebell directly overhead instead of at chest level.
  • Turkish get-up: A kettlebell exercise that combines the lunge, bridge and side plank to build strength, the get-up is a slow and controlled movement, unlike the other exercises that have a power or ballistic element. Keeping the arm holding the bell extended vertical, the athlete transitions from lying supine on the floor to standing, and back again. Get-ups are sometimes combined to make get-up presses, with a press at each position of the get-up: floor press, leaning seated press, high bridge press, single-leg kneeling press, standing press.
  • Halo: The kettlebell is held by the horns in front of the shoulders, usually upside-down, and moved in a circle around the head while keeping the head straight in place. This movement is done to improve mobility of the shoulders and triceps.
  • Arm bar: Along with the other slow exercises, the windmill, get-up, and halo, this drill also improves shoulder mobility and stabilization. It starts lying on the ground with the kettlebell over the shoulder in a straight arm position, as in the top of a floor press, but with the other arm along the floor straight overhead. The trainee then gradually turns their body away from the kettlebell until they are lying partially on their front.
  • Slingshot: The kettlebell is held hanging in one arm and moved around smoothly the body, switching hands in front and behind. In the slingshot figure-8, the trainee moves the bell in a figure-8 through the legs while in a partial squat, and a wider variation of this is the cossack slingshot.
  • Slingshot lunge: Also called a front leg pass, this is a backward lunge, circling the bell around the front leg, returning to the standing position, and repeating.
  • Circular swing: Like the slingshot, but the bell is swung all the way to arms parallel at the front.
  • Figure-8 swing: Like a 1-arm swing, but the bell goes down on one side of the body, switching hands and up through the legs, and then down the other side.
  • Circular clean: Starting with the bell in the rack, the bell is pushed away to the side slightly, the swung down to the other side in front of the body, and reversed back up into the rack.
  • Deck squat: The kettlebell is held in two hands by the ball instead of the handle. The trainee squats down deeply, then rocks back on their back and lowers the bell overhead so that the handle touches the ground, before reverse the movement and standing back up.
  • Helping hand press: A variation of the press where the other arm assists by pushing open palm against the ball.
  • Bent press: A press utilizing a bent-leg windmill position to lift heavier weight than is otherwise possible.
  • Arm bar floor press: A floor press in the arm bar or partial arm bar position.
  • Russian twist: While seated the trainee leans back to around 45 degrees and balances with the knees held at 90 degrees from the torso. The bell is held by the horns and moved from side to side of the torso.

The following movements can be done with two kettlebells:

  • Renegade row: Also called a plank row, the trainee starts in the plank position holding the handles of two grounded kettlebells. One bell is rowed to the chest while maintaining the plank position, then returned to the ground and repeated with the other arm. Alternatively performed with a single kettlebell, one arm at a time.
  • Alternating clean: A clean is performed with one arm while the other kettlebell is kept in the rack position, then repeated with the other arm. AKA gorilla cleans.
  • Pushup: Starting in the plank position holding the handles of two grounded kettlebells, the trainee performs a pushup. This requires more control than an ordinary pushup and results in a greater range of motion. This is often combined with the renegade row. Feet may be elevated to increase the difficulty, until the trainee is performing a handstand push-up on the kettlebells.
  • Carry: Walking with two kettlebells held in various positions, such as waiter (one arm overhead, one arm rack, either hand or both with waiter hold) or cross (one arm overhead, one arm suitcase).

For some exercises, multiple kettlebells can be held in the same hand, for trainees lacking sufficiently heavy kettlebells. In any movement involving the rack or overhead position, the kettlebell can be held with the ball in an open palm (sometimes called the waiter hold) for a greater stabilisation challenge, or for even more precise control and added grip challenge, the bottom-up hold, squeezing the kettlebell by the handle upside-down. This is especially useful for training to stay tight while pressing. Holding a single kettlebell in the rack position bottom-up with two hands ("by the horns") makes for goblet exercise variants.