Kettlebells, which look like cannonballs with handles, have become a popular strength training alternative to traditional barbells, dumbbells, and resistance machines. And, according to research, working out with these cannonball-like weights comes with plenty of benefits.

Kettlebell exercises often involve several muscle groups at once, making them a highly effective way to give your arms, legs, and abs a great workout in a short amount of time.

Kettlebells can be used for a variety of exercises that improve both your strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Here’s a look at seven versatile kettlebell exercises to include in your workout. And, if you want to learn more about the benefits of working out with a kettlebell, we’ve got that covered, too.

Russian strongmen in the 1700s developed kettlebells as implements to build strength and endurance. You’ve probably seen depictions of bare-chested carnival strongmen hoisting them over their heads.

But despite their centuries-old origins, working out with kettlebells can be an excellent way of getting a total-body workout.

Kettlebells are usually made of iron or steel, and sometimes they’re covered in a colorful vinyl with a handle that has a comfortable rubber or vinyl grip.

Kettlebells are available in a wide range of weights. On the lighter end, you can find kettlebells that weigh 8 pounds, while on the higher end they can weigh as much as 80 pounds or more.

You can create a full-body workout using just kettlebells, or you can pick and choose specific kettlebell exercises to add to your strength training regimen.

Fitness experts suggest using kettlebells with the following weights if you’re just beginning a strength training workout, or if you haven’t used kettlebells before:

  • For women: 8- to 15-pound kettlebells
  • For men: 15- to 25-pound kettlebells

Using lighter kettlebells at first allows you to focus on using the proper form and technique for the different exercises. You can always increase the weight once you’re comfortable with the correct form for each exercise.

Fitness experts suggest using kettlebells with the following weights if you’re at an intermediate to advanced level with your strength training:

  • For women: 18-pound kettlebells
  • For men: 35-pound kettlebells

Try to perform these exercises two or three times a week. Start off by doing six to eight repetitions of each exercise at first. Aim to add more reps each week, then work toward adding more sets as you build strength.

These exercises target the gluteal muscles (glutes) in your buttocks, the large muscles in the front of your thigh (quadriceps or quads), and the muscles in your back.

To do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place a kettlebell just outside each foot on the floor.
  3. Engage your abdominal muscles and lower your shoulders as you try to squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. Push your hips backward, and bend your knees to reach the kettlebell handles.
  5. Firmly grip the kettlebells, keeping your arms and back straight.
  6. Slowly raise your body until you’re standing straight.
  7. Pause and inhale before lowering your body.
  8. Repeat 6 to 8 times. Perform 1 set to start, and work up to 3 to 4 sets as you build up your strength.

Although kettlebell swings work your arms and shoulders, they actually work your glutes and quads even more. This is an excellent exercise to boost both your muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.

While your shoulders and arms will do a lot of the work, most of the effort should come from the hips and legs.

You may need to use a lighter weight to begin with to get used to the movement and technique. Once you get used to this exercise, you can switch to a heavier weight. Be sure to maintain a firm grip on the kettlebell throughout this exercise.

To do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a kettlebell between your feet.
  2. Engage your abdominal muscles and set your shoulders back.
  3. Push your hips back and bend your knees.
  4. Grab the kettlebell with both arms.
  5. Exhale as you make an explosive upward movement to swing the kettlebell out in front of you.
  6. Your arms should finish parallel to the floor.
  7. Lower your body, bringing the kettlebell down between your calves.
  8. Repeat for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, then repeat for another 20 seconds. As you build up your strength, try to shoot for 6 to 7 sets of 20 seconds each.

Squats are an excellent lower-body exercise that work your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, as well as your abdominal muscles. Using a kettlebell adds more effort to the squat.

To do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out slightly.
  2. Hold a kettlebell with both hands around the side of the handle, not from the top of the handle, and keep it close to your chest.
  3. Slowly bend both knees so that your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Keep your elbows locked and your back straight.
  4. Using your leg muscles, with your upper body still, straighten up to your starting position.
  5. Repeat 6 to 8 times. Perform 1 set to start, and work up to 3 to 4 sets as you build up your strength.

Like traditional lunges, kettlebell walking lunges target the glutes and the hamstrings. It’s an effective balance exercise, too.

To do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet together.
  2. With both hands around the handle, hold the kettlebell close to your chest. Alternatively, you can hold a kettlebell by the handle in one or both hands, with your arms at your sides.
  3. Slowly step forward with your left leg, bending your knee while keeping your right foot in place. Make sure your left knee doesn’t extend over your toes.
  4. Pause for a few seconds, then push your body upward, and bring your right foot up next to your left foot.
  5. Continue alternating legs with each lunge. Shoot for 1 set of 6 to 8 reps on each leg to begin. Aim to do 3 to 4 sets as you build up your fitness.

A great exercise for working your abs and obliques (the muscles on the sides of your abdomen that run from your hips to your ribs), the Russian twist can also be done with a weighted medicine ball or barbell plate.

When using a kettlebell, be sure to keep a firm grip so that you don’t drop it on your lap.

To do this exercise:

  1. Sit with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Holding the kettlebell handle with both hands, lean back so that your torso is at about a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  3. With your heels a few inches above the floor, rotate your torso from right to left, swinging the kettlebell slightly across your body.
  4. Rotate from side to side 6 to 8 times.
  5. When you’ve completed your repetitions, return to your starting position.
  6. Do 1 set to start. Try to work up to 3 to 4 sets as you build your fitness and strength.

Pushups target your chest, triceps, and core muscles. Be careful to keep your wrists in a neutral position, and stop if you feel that your wrists can’t support your weight.

To do this exercise:

  1. Place two kettlebells approximately shoulder-width apart on the floor.
  2. Grip the handle of each one, and assume a pushup position.
  3. Keeping your back straight and your upper body rigid, lower your body toward the floor.
  4. When your chest is even with the kettlebell handles, exhale and push your body back up to its starting position.
  5. Repeat, always being careful not to arch your back.
  6. Repeat 6 to 8 times and do 1 set to start. Aim for 3 to 4 sets as you get stronger.

The shoulder press not only targets your shoulders, but also your triceps. For this exercise, be sure to use a weight you can manage safely.

To do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a kettlebell by the handle so that it rests against the outside part of your shoulder. The palm side of your hand should be facing your chin.
  3. While exhaling, push the kettlebell upward so that your arm is almost straight.
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebell to its starting position, keeping your wrist and forearm in a neutral position and your elbow close to your body.
  5. Do 6 to 8 repetitions with one arm, and then switch arms. Aim for 1 set with each arm to begin. Try to work up to 3 to 4 sets for each arm as you become more advanced.

There are many benefits to working out with kettlebells, for both men and women, across all age groups.

  • According to a 2019 study, a kettlebell workout is a highly effective way to improve your strength, aerobic power, and overall physical fitness.
  • Compared to resistance circuit-based training, the same study found that a regular kettlebell workout is just as effective at improving cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength.
  • A 2013 study reported that participants who completed an 8-week kettlebell training session saw noticeable improvements in their aerobic capacity.
  • Kettlebell exercises have the ability to restore muscle mass and improve grip strength in older adults, according to a 2018 study.
  • According to Harvard Health, kettlebell exercises can also help improve your posture and balance.
  • You typically use your core muscles more with kettlebell exercises than with dumbbells or barbells.
  • A kettlebell workout is affordable and easy to do anywhere. All you need is one or two kettlebells, and enough room to do the exercises.

  • If you’re new to kettlebells, start slowly. Take your time learning the correct form and technique of each exercise. If possible, ask a certified personal trainer at your local gym or fitness center to show you the proper form for kettlebell exercises.
  • Kettlebells tend to swing, so get used to the feel and movement in your hands before using one.
  • Start with lighter weights at first. Once you’re comfortable with the technique and the exercise, you can increase the weight.
  • Breathe normally throughout your exercise. Don’t hold your breath when exerting yourself.
  • Stop immediately if you feel sudden or sharp pain. A little mild soreness after a workout is normal, but you shouldn’t feel sudden, sharp pain while working out.

Kettlebells can take a little getting used to, but working out with them is a highly effective way of improving your muscle strength and cardio fitness.

Another benefit of doing kettlebell exercises is that you can work several muscle groups simultaneously with a single kettlebell. This makes it a great total-body workout tool.

Kettlebells are also small enough to use anywhere, and you typically don’t need much space to do a variety of kettlebell exercises.

The key is to start slow and, if possible, with the help of a certified personal trainer. Once you know how to do the exercises with the right form using a lighter weight, you can move on to using a heavier weight and increasing your reps and sets.