Kettlebell workouts exercise several muscle groups at once, giving your arms, legs, and abs a great workout in a short amount of time. They can improve both your strength and your cardiovascular fitness.

New exercise equipment can inject some excitement into your routine — or even help motivate you to start your fitness journey.

Kettlebells, which look like cannonballs with handles, have become a popular strength-training alternative to traditional barbells, dumbbells, and resistance machines.

Originally used as farm tools in Russia, kettlebells were reinvented as an exercise weight after strongmen performers used them in impressive feats of strength.

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.

Here’s a look at 7 versatile kettlebell exercises to include in your workout. If you’ve been thinking about giving kettlebells a try, or want to learn new ways to use them, we’ll help get you up to speed. Read on to learn about kettlebell techniques, benefits, risks, and safety.

This article uses the terms “women” and “men” to refer to sex categories that exercise science professionals have used to make training recommendations. These categories are not inclusive of all sexes at birth or gender identities.

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.

Kettlebell weight for beginners

If you’re just getting started with strength training, or if you haven’t used kettlebells before, fitness experts suggest:

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

Using lighter kettlebells allows you to focus on learning 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.

Kettlebell weight for intermediate to advanced training

If you’re at an intermediate to advanced level in your strength training, fitness experts recommend:

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

Pacing your kettlebell workouts

Try to work in your kettlebell exercises 2 or 3 times each week.

Start off by aiming for 6-8 repetitions of each exercise. Once you can comfortably complete the reps, work toward adding more sets as you build strength.

Don’t forget to prep with 5-10 minutes of warmup exercises before starting your kettlebell workout.

Your choice of kettlebell weight and training pace may also be influenced by factors like your:

These exercises zero in on your buttocks, thighs, and back. They may be a good first move to get your kettlebell workout started.

  • Muscles worked: glutes, quads, back muscles
  • Reps: 6-8

How to do kettlebell deadlifts

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place a kettlebell just outside each foot on the floor.
  3. Engage your abdominal muscles and draw your shoulders down as you squeeze shoulder blades together.
  4. Push hips back and bend knees to reach kettlebell handles.
  5. Firmly grip kettlebells, keeping arms and back straight and feet flat on floor.
  6. Slowly lift chest and press hips forward until you’re standing up 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.
Person with long hair doing a kettlebell deadlift
Active Body Creative Mind

This is an excellent exercise to boost both your muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. While your shoulders and arms will do some work, most of the effort should come from the hips and legs.

You may need to start with a lighter weight at first to get used to the movement and technique. Keep a firm grip on the kettlebell throughout this exercise.

  • Muscles worked: glutes, quads, hamstrings, arms, shoulders
  • Reps: Do as many swings as you can manage in 20 seconds while also keeping proper form. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat.

How to do the kettlebell swing

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with a kettlebell centered just in front of your feet on the floor.
  2. Engage abdominal muscles and roll shoulders back.
  3. Push hips back and bend knees.
  4. Grab kettlebell with both arms.
  5. Inhale and pull the kettlebell back quickly until your wrists are between your thighs and the kettlebell is slightly behind your legs, near your butt.
  6. Exhale as you make an explosive forward movement with hips to swing kettlebell upward and out in front of you.
  7. Your arms should finish parallel to the floor.
  8. In one motion, lower chest towards the floor and push hips back, to swing kettlebell between your legs and behind you.
  9. Repeat for 20 seconds. Rest for 30 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.
Amy Crandall

Squats are an excellent lower-body exercise that works many different muscles. Using a kettlebell adds more effort to the squat.

  • Muscles worked: quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abdominal muscles
  • Reps: 6-8

How to do the kettlebell goblet squat

  1. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out slightly.
  2. Hold a kettlebell with both hands around the sides of the handle, not from the top of the handle, and keep it close to your chest.
  3. Slowly bend both knees so that thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Keep elbows forward and back straight.
  4. Using your leg muscles, with your upper body still, stand up to your starting position. Your feet should remain firmly on the floor.
  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.
Active Body Creative Mind
  • Muscles worked: glutes, quads, hamstrings
  • Reps: 6-8

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

You can hold a kettlebell in both hands to increase the difficulty.

How to do the kettlebell lunge

  1. Stand with feet together.
  2. Hold kettlebell by the handle in one hand, arm by your side.
  3. Keep shoulders back and chest upright.
  4. Slowly step forward with left leg, bending knee while keeping right foot in place.
  5. Pause for a few seconds, then push down through your forward leg to move your body upward to standing.
  6. After you finish your reps on one leg, switch sides so that the kettlebell is in your other hand and your right leg steps forward.
  7. 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.

If you don’t have a kettlebell, 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.

  • Muscles worked: abdominal muscles, obliques
  • Reps: 6-8

How to do the Russian twist

  1. Sit with your legs bent, 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 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.
Active Body Creative Mind

When doing kettlebell pushups, be careful to keep your wrists straight, not bent. Stop if you feel out of balance or like your wrists can’t support your weight.

  • Muscles worked: pecs, shoulders, triceps, core
  • Reps: 6-8

How to do the kettlebell pushup

  1. Place two kettlebells approximately shoulder-width apart on the floor.
  2. Grip the handle of each one, and assume a pushup position. Feel free to use a modified pushup position if that’s more doable for you.
  3. Keeping your core engaged, back straight, and upper body rigid, lower body toward 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.
Active Body Creative Mind
  • Muscles worked: triceps, shoulders
  • Reps: 6-8

For this exercise, be sure to use a weight you can manage safely.

How to do the kettlebell shoulder press

  1. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a kettlebell by the handle with your right hand so that it rests against the outside part of your right shoulder. The palm side of your hand should be facing your chin, and your elbow should be close to your body.
  3. While exhaling, push the kettlebell upward so that your arm is almost straight overhead.
  4. Slowly lower the kettlebell to its starting position, keeping wrist and forearm in a neutral position and 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.
Active Body Creative Mind

Working out with kettlebells may help you exercise more efficiently, improve your health, and even save you money. Studies have shown benefits for men and women across all age groups.

It’s like two workouts in one

  • Kettlebell exercises target both strength training and cardiovascular fitness.
  • 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 study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise reported that participants who completed an 8-week kettlebell training session saw noticeable improvements in their aerobic capacity.
  • After a single session of kettlebell exercises, a small 2016 study showed improved glucose tolerance in young inactive men — a result that could help prevent diabetes. Kettlebell training was as effective as high intensity interval running.

It can improve balance and stability

  • Kettlebell exercises can also help improve your posture and balance.
  • A small 2020 study found that kettlebell training improved female ballet dancers’ balance significantly more than standard dance training. Their jumping ability also showed greater improvement.
  • You typically use your core muscles more with kettlebell exercises than with dumbbells or barbells. This can benefit your back health, as your core helps to stabilize your spine.

It’s shown to improve fitness and health in older adults

  • Kettlebell exercises have the ability to restore muscle mass and improve grip strength in older adults, according to a 2018 study.
  • Older adults also appear to have lower levels of inflammation after resistance training with kettlebells and elastic bands. This was reported in a 2021 study.

It’s cost-effective

  • 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.

Kettlebell training can add a lot to your workout, but it also comes with some injury risks. According to a 2017 study, these risks include injury to your:

  • Forearm. If the kettlebell swings while you’re moving, the weight can hit your forearm. You might end up with a bruise or a more serious injury.
  • Wrist. If you hold the kettlebell handle incorrectly, you can strain the tendons in your wrist and hand.
  • Lower back. The motions involved in some kettlebell exercises, like the swing, can increase your risk of lower back injury. The risk is higher if you have an existing lower back condition, or if you have trouble keeping your spine in a neutral position during the exercise.

And don’t forget about your feet. If you drop the kettlebell, you could hurt your foot or any other part of your body that’s in the kettlebell’s path. Keep a controlled grip on the kettlebell at all times so that it doesn’t hit you, or anyone else.

You can reduce your risk of injury and improve the effectiveness of your workout with the following tips:

  • 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.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear stable, closed-toe shoes when handling kettlebells. A certified personal trainer can also give you advice on safety gear like weightlifting gloves and wrist guards.
  • Kettlebells tend to swing, so get used to the feel and movement in your hands before using one. Keeping a good grip on the kettlebell is crucial, so that it doesn’t accidentally hit you or someone else.
  • Pay attention to posture and alignment. If you notice yourself struggling to maintain proper form during kettlebell exercises, it’s important to stop and rest before continuing your workout.
  • Start with lighter weights at first. Once you’re comfortable with the techniques, 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. Mild soreness after a workout is normal, but you shouldn’t feel sudden, sharp pain while working out.

If you’re making a major change in your activity level, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor first.

Kettlebells can require a little patience at first. But with proper technique, they can deliver results in both muscle strength and cardio fitness.

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.