Kettlebell swings have topped trainers’ lists of must-do exercises for a few years now. And for good reason: Traditional swings with the orb-shaped weights can improve your core strength by a whopping 70 percent, research has found. Plus, when you switch to single-arm moves, you challenge your stability and target your abs even more, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
But sticking to those regular old forward-and-back kettlebell swings isn’t the only way to whip yourself into shape. Adding other innovative movements to your kettlebell workout will target your muscles from different angles, keep you from hitting a plateau — and they can’t be done with other strength equipment.
“When you move a kettlebell through various planes of motion, the weight feels like it’s changing because it’s displaced from its center — unlike other tools, like a dumbbell, which has a load symmetrical to its center of mass,” says Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City. “So while you could do moves with either tool, they feel much more challenging with a kettlebell.”
Gary is all about functional strength training movements that stray from the norm. (For proof of his plethora of ideas, just check out his Instagram feed.) So we asked him to develop an outside-the-box routine of creative kettlebell exercises you’ve likely never tried before. Give them a go to add variety to your fitness routine — and work every muscle of your body in the process.
7 Kettlebell Exercises You Haven’t Tried Before
More kettlebell, coming your way. For these advanced moves, “start with a weight you can swing comfortably,” Gary says. You might need to do some trial and error to find what works best, but he suggests women try 12 kilograms for a swing, 10 for a clean and 8 for a snatch. Men, aim for a 20-kilogram swing, 16 kilograms on the clean and 12 for the snatch. Now grab those kettlebells and start ringing in a stronger body.
1. Anchored Swing
This adds a fancy twist to the tried-and-true kettlebell swing, which burns major calories and works your core, glutes, hamstrings and shoulders. You’ll swing one kettlebell, while holding another at your side. Gary says this intensifies the stability challenge, meaning you build more strength in your midsection. Hello, sculpted abs.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, arm extended down in front of your hips, and another in your left hand, arm extended at your side (a). Hinge forward at the hips and swing the kettlebell in your right hand between your legs (b). Then thrust your hips forward, engage your glutes and swing your right arm up to chest height and straight out in front of you. Keep your left arm extended at your side during the entire movement (c). Do 8 to 10 reps, then switch sides.
2. Cross-Body Kettlebell Clean
The clean is a great explosive movement that works your whole body and ups your power and coordination. You’ll also target your obliques thanks to the turn you take with each move.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Place a kettlebell between your feet (a). Pivot on your right foot and turn your body toward the kettlebell, leaning down to grab it in your right hand (b). Clean the weight across your body by pushing through your left leg and pulling the kettlebell diagonally until it’s at chest height. Let the kettlebell slide over your hand to your wrist as you pull it to the front of your right shoulder (c). Return to the starting position and repeat (d). Do 8 to 10 reps, then repeat on opposite side.
3. Staggered-Stance Clean with Squat and Press
A total-body combo move that’ll soon be your gym-time staple. Putting more weight on one foot means you get that increased core challenge, as your abs fire up to keep you stable. With both feet still on the ground, though, you don’t have to worry about toppling over.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right foot back slightly so your right toes line up with left heel (a). Holding a kettlebell in your right hand, hinge forward at the hips so the kettlebell touches the ground (b). Then thrust your hips forward, and pull the kettlebell up to your right shoulder. Once the kettlebell reaches chest height, let it slide over your hand to your wrist for the clean (c). Then lower down into a squat, still keeping your weight on your left foot (d). As you stand back up straight, push the kettlebell straight overhead (e). Lower the weight back to the ground for the starting position. That completes one rep (f). Do 6 reps, then repeat on the other side.
4. Mixed Clean and Snatch
This complex exercise, in which you perform a clean with one kettlebell while snatching another one overhead, “requires a lot of coordination and motor control and is very taxing on the nervous system,” Gary says. Translation: It’s super tough but super effective, too. Just remember to stay focused and warm up with some swings first if you need the momentum.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold two kettlebells, one in each hand, arms extended down in front of you (a). Hinge forward at hips and swing the kettlebells between your legs (b). Then thrust your hips forward. Swing your arms up to chest height in front of you (c). At this point, let the kettlebell in your left hand slide over to your wrist as you pull it toward the front of your left shoulder. Simultaneously let the kettlebell in your right hand slide over to your wrist as you push it overhead (d). Lower both kettlebells back down to the starting position (e). Do 8 reps, then repeat on opposite sides.
5. Snatch to Forward Lunge
Adding a lunge to a typical snatch obviously gets your lower body in on the action. But it’s not all about toning your butt and thighs. Holding the kettlebell overhead while you step forward also makes your core work overtime to keep you upright.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand (a). Swing the kettlebell between your legs (b). Thrust your hips forward and your swing the kettlebell to chest height (c). Let the kettlebell slide over your hand to your wrist as you push it overhead (d). Lunge forward with your left leg until right knee is hovering just off the ground (e). Stand back up and lower the kettlebell to the starting position to complete one rep (f). Do 4 to 6 reps, then repeat on opposite side.
6. Lateral Lunge to Clean
Lateral lunges work your lower body one side at a time, making the motion more difficult and improving your balance skills. Better yet, this exercise is awesome for toning your glutes, quads and inner thighs.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in each hand at your chest, elbows bent (a). Push your hips back and lunge to your left, as you drop and swing both kettlebells between your legs (b). Thrust your hips forward, as you push off your left leg to return to the starting position. As you stand, thrust the kettlebells forward and bring them up to your chest, letting the weight slide over your hand to your wrist. That’s one rep (c). Do 6 to 8 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
7. Single-Leg Deadlift to Row to Clean
We saved the best for last! This variation of a deadlift will improve your balance, strengthen your core and sculpt the posterior muscles of your leg (aka your hamstrings and glutes).
How to: Stand on your right leg, with a slight bend in your knee. Hold a kettlebell in your left hand, arm down at your side (a). Lean your torso forward, keeping your back straight until it’s parallel to the floor. At the same time, raise your left leg behind you and lower the kettlebell toward the floor (b). While holding this position, bend your left elbow, pulling the kettlebell up toward your chest (c). Extend your arm again (d). As you lower your left leg back toward the ground and bring your chest up, pull the kettlebell swiftly up toward your chest. Let it slide over your hand to your wrist as you pull it toward the front of your right shoulder and stand straight up. That’s one rep (e). Do 4 to 6 reps, then repeat on opposite side.