With their easy-to-grab handle and bowling ball-like shape, kettlebells are highly versatile (they can do everything a dumbbell can, and more), making them the ideal workout tool for challenging multiple muscle groups with dynamic moves. As a result, incorporating kettlebells into your workout routine can help improve your overall strength, core stability, grip strength, posture, and more.
That said, kettlebells can feel a little intimidating if you’re new to them—and since many staple movements involve an element of explosivity, it’s important to have your form down in order to avoid injury (and accidentally launching a bell through the wall of your garage).
Whether you’re just hopping on the kettlebell bandwagon or want to fine-tune your skills, we’ve got you covered. Here are six foundational kettlebell moves to master, why they’re must-do’s, and how to execute them properly, all according to fitness pros themselves.
1. Kettlebell swing
You had a hunch we’d start with this one, didn’t you? “Kettlebell swings build power, stability, and strength in your hips, back, and glutes,” says trainer Rachel MacPherson, C.P.T., pain-free performance specialist at Garage Gym Reviews. “Your body works as a unit when performing a kettlebell swing, which means it’s a functional movement that can improve your daily performance in anything like bending down, lifting groceries and kids, and doing household chores.” Plus, this exercise improves your core strength, which can help reduce back pain in the long run, especially if you sit at a desk for long periods of the day. Plus, since swings get your heart rate up, they also count as cardio, she adds.
Since kettlebell swings are all about your hips, make sure you’re not overcompensating with your arms to lift the kettlebell up in front of you, warns MacPherson.
How to do it:
- Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell on the floor just in front of them.
- Keeping your back flat and chest up, bend at the knees and hinge at the hips to reach down and grab the kettlebell with both hands using an overhand grip.
- Push your hips back and swing the kettlebell back between your legs (imagine hiking a football).
- Explosively extend your hips to force the kettlebell forward and up until your hips are fully locked out. (The power of your hips should raise the kettlebell up to shoulder height, but not higher)
- With control, allow the bell to lower back to its original position on the ground. That’s one rep. Or, move right into your next rep by hinging and swinging the bell back between your legs again.
2. Turkish get-up
This floor move works the entire body and helps build coordination and stability. “Holding the kettlebell above your head requires stabilizing muscles that might be missed with a lot of other exercises,” says MacPherson. It also helps with activities such as lifting your suitcase into the overhead bin of a plane.
The Turkish get-up might appear complex, but that’s a good thing! Using your brain to coordinate your movements increases your kinesthetic awareness, which helps build physical skills and muscles, MacPherson adds.
How to do it:
- If you’ve never done this move before, do a slow run-through first without a kettlebell. This way, you can get the movement down before adding in weight to avoid injury.
- To start this move, lie on your side in a fetal position and hold a kettlebell.
- Roll onto your back, and fold your right leg in, extending your left. Press the kettlebell up with your right hand, extending your left arm out on the ground beside you.
- Keeping the kettlebell extended above you and eyes on it, press up onto your left elbow and then curl up onto your left hand.
- Lift your hips up and swing your right leg back behind you into a kneel, rotating onto your right foot so your right leg is in a lunge position.
- Push through your heels to step forward and stand up, keeping the kettlebell still in the air.
- Reverse the motion to return to the floor.
3. Goblet squat
Leave the barbell squat behind and try a goblet squat with a kettlebell, which can give you access to a greater range of motion and put more muscles (think glutes, quads, calves, and core) to work.
Another perk of goblet squats: “They are less fatiguing than barbell squats so are ideal for adding to a high-volume hypertrophy program,” says MacPherson. (That means you can do more reps and build more muscle!) Just be sure that your knees don’t cave in, which puts your ACLs at risk, MacPherson notes.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and hold a kettlebell at chest height with a hand on each side of the handle and elbows tucked in. (Alternatively, grasp the ball of the kettlebell, holding it with the ball between your palms and the handle pointing downward.)
- Bend at your knees and hips to squat down, keeping the kettlebell in place and your back straight.
- Squat as far down as you can while maintaining that straight back, then powerfully push through your heels to return to the starting position.
4. Kettlebell clean
This simple but explosive movement is great for core stability and building strength in the legs, says trainer Bill Daniels, C.P.T., of BeyondFitnessOnline. It’s also guaranteed to get your heart pumping and make you feel like a total badass.
Keep in mind that this move should be driven by your lower body, not your arms!
How to do it:
- Begin standing with a kettlebell on the floor between your feet.
- Keeping your back flat and chest up, hinge at the hips and bend your knees as needed to reach down and grab the kettlebell with one hand using an overhand grip.
- Push through the floor to explosively extend your hips and force the kettlebell up off the floor.
- As the kettlebell reaches chest height, bend your elbow and flip your wrist so the bell can swing around your hand, landing on the back of your forearm as it reaches chin height.
- Stand up straight with your core engaged and the hand holding the kettlebell out just in front of your chin.
- Carefully return the bell to the floor.
5. Kettlebell Windmill
A truly unique challenge for your midsection, this exercise should be a part of any kettlebell routine. “The windmill is one of my favorite core exercises to do for both myself and my clients,” says Daniels. It forces you to use a lot of core muscles, building strength throughout your midsection—especially around your lower back—and helping prevent back injuries.
Read More: 18 Abs Moves That Work All The Core Muscles
Word of caution: It’s important not to move beyond the range of motion in which you can maintain control. Otherwise, you risk injury, Daniels says.
How to do it:
- Begin by standing with your feet hip-width distance apart and turned 45 degrees to the right. (Your feet should still be parallel to each other.) Hold the kettlebell in your left hand.
- Press the kettlebell up overhead until your arm is straight and look up at the bell.
- Keeping your eyes on the bell, extend your right arm down the inside of your right leg, shift your hips back and to the left, and bend at the hips to lower your torso and trace your right hand down toward the floor.
- Lower down only as far as you can maintain an engaged core and a straight back, then press back up to a standing position with the kettlebell up overhead.
6. Kettlebell carry
The kettlebell carry is a great way to focus on grip strength and core stability, according to trainer Jesse Feder, C.P.T., of Strength Warehouse USA. This seemingly simple move works your deep abdominal muscles, obliques, and more.
To reap the benefits, make sure you “keep your core strong and body straight during the entire movement,” Feder says. You don’t want to be slanted!
How to do it:
- Stand straight up holding a medium-to-heavy kettlebell in each hand.
- Keeping your core engaged, your shoulder blades pulled back and down, and your chest up, walk forwards.
- After about 30 or 45 seconds, turn around, and repeat.