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Home Workouts Beginner-Friendly Kettlebell Workouts for Both Upper and Lower Body

Beginner-Friendly Kettlebell Workouts for Both Upper and Lower Body

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Your instructor: Michael Wittig is an ISSA trainer, three-time IPE natural pro champion, and author of multiple fitness books. You can find him at wittigworks.com or @wittigworks.

Sun Tzu once said that to defeat your enemy, you must first become your enemy. When it comes to physical fitness, the Russians have long been regarded as formidable opponents. So, how do they train their muscles? Kettlebell training, which has a rich history, is the national sport of Russia. While kettlebell-like devices have been used by various cultures throughout history, the modern kettlebell as we know it originated in Russia 350 years ago. Kettlebells are essentially cannonballs with handles, made from cast iron or steel. What sets them apart is that their center of mass extends beyond the hand by 6-8 inches, unlike dumbbells. As a result, kettlebells can be lifted, pressed, swung, and manipulated in innovative ways to challenge different muscle groups. Kettlebell lifting is an excellent way to lose weight, build muscle strength, improve cardiovascular endurance, and enhance joint health, mobility, and flexibility.

There are numerous ways to incorporate kettlebells into your workout routine, but if you’re primarily a bodybuilder looking to build and maintain muscle, the following exercises will deliver impressive results. You can purchase a set of kettlebells for home use, which will add variety to your training regimen. The key is to step out of your comfort zone and embrace new challenges. Personally, I discovered the benefits of kettlebell exercises during gym closures and found myself working muscles that I hadn’t previously targeted. Here are some kettlebell exercises that have proven effective for me as a natural bodybuilder, and that I plan to incorporate into my future routine:

Protect Your Back

When picking up or lowering a kettlebell, it’s important to maintain proper form and avoid rounding your back. Instead, use the correct deadlift technique.

Proper Breathing

Forceful exhaling is crucial when exerting force while lifting kettlebells.

Lower Body Exercises

Goblet Squat: 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps and glutes

Hold a single kettlebell by the horns (sides of the handle) with both hands close to your chin level. Keep your lats contracted, chest out, and position your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with toes pointed slightly outward. As you squat down, keep your hips low and chest upright. Ensure that your knees do not go beyond your toes, and your forearms stay inside your knees throughout the movement. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly lower.

Double Bell Squat: 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps and glutes

Hold a kettlebell in each hand by the handle, resting them on top of your hands and wrists just below your chin. As you squat down, keep your hips low and your chest upright. Ensure that your knees do not go beyond your toes, and your forearms stay inside your knees throughout the movement. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly lower.

Swing: 3 sets of 15-20 reps

Muscles targeted: Glutes and hamstrings

Hold a kettlebell by the handle with both hands. Swing the kettlebell at the top of the V your body makes, just below the groin area. Focus on hinging your hips rather than excessively bending your knees. Swing the kettlebell back up by explosively driving your hips forward. The power for this exercise primarily comes from your glutes and hamstrings, not your quadriceps or arms.

Deadlift (suitcase style): 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Muscles targeted: Lower body and back

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and place a kettlebell on the outside of each foot. Lower yourself into a squat position by dropping your hips, making sure your knees stay behind your toes and your back remains straight. Grab each kettlebell by the handle and return to a standing position. Focus on keeping your shoulder blades together and your chest upright throughout the movement. Gently touch the kettlebells to the ground with each repetition, avoiding any bouncing motion.

Upper Body Exercises

Row: 3 sets of 15 reps

Muscles targeted: Lats

Hold a kettlebell in each hand by the handle. Hinge at your hips until your upper body is bent over, while keeping your back straight. Aim to have your upper body nearly parallel to the floor. The kettlebells should hang straight down from your outstretched arms in front of your shins. Maintain good posture but allow a stretch in your lats. Row the kettlebells upward by raising your elbows until you feel a full contraction in your lats, then slowly lower them back down.

Pull Over: 3 sets of 15 reps

Muscles targeted: Lats

Lie down on the floor facing upward. Hold a single kettlebell by the horns above your chest with your arms slightly bent. Lower the kettlebell back over your head, nearly touching the floor, and then pull it back up using your lats. Maintain a slight bend and consistent angle in your arms throughout the movement. Focus on engaging your lats throughout the exercise.

Press Out: 3 sets of 12 reps

Muscles targeted: Chest

This exercise can be done kneeling or standing. Grab a single kettlebell by the horns and hold it in front of your sternum. Apply inward pressure with both hands, pressing the kettlebell straight out and then back in.

Floor Chest Press: 3 sets of 15 reps

Muscles targeted: Chest

Lie flat on the floor facing upward. Hold a kettlebell in each hand by the handle and assume a pressing position. Maintain a shoulder back position and keep your chest upright. Your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor, with your arms forming 90-degree angles at the bottom position. Avoid bouncing the kettlebells off the floor. Instead, when your upper arms gently touch the floor, press the kettlebells back up. At the top of each repetition, the kettlebells should be positioned above your shoulders. Squeeze your chest inward at the top of each rep. Be cautious when grabbing the kettlebells to get into the starting position.

Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 15 reps

Muscles targeted: Triceps

Lie flat on the floor facing upwards, holding a single kettlebell by the horns. Your arms should be straight and the kettlebell positioned above your forehead. Keep your upper arms and elbows stationary while slowly lowering the kettlebell behind your head, fully stretching the triceps. Lift the kettlebell back to the starting position and flex your triceps by straightening your arms.

Kettlebell Curl: 3 sets of 15 reps

Muscles targeted: Biceps

This exercise can be done kneeling or standing. Hold a single kettlebell by the horns and perform a biceps curl. Keep your elbows stable and prevent them from drifting forward. Flex your biceps at the top of each curl, and slowly lower the kettlebell to fully stretch your biceps.

Create Your Workout

If you only have one set of moderate-weight kettlebells, an excellent way to structure your workout is to perform these exercises in a circuit format, moving from one exercise to the next without rest. You can create a full-body circuit or separate circuits for the lower body and upper body. Aim for 3-4 rounds per circuit, with a two-minute rest between rounds.

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