Kettlebells can be traced back to 18th century Russia, where they were used as utilitarian exercise equipment. These days, you can find them almost anywhere, in a huge array of colors and sizes. For good reason, too: Studies show kettlebells make excellent tools for building muscle strength and endurance.
If you’re already a kettlebell devotee, chances are you’ve done your fair share of snatches, get-ups, and swings. But there are a few things you’re probably not doing with your ‘bell that can help make you stronger, fitter, and less injury prone.
1. One-armed movements
You might be sticking to two-handed kettlebell moves, like the Russian swing or the kettlebell row. But unilaterally-loaded movements are a terrific option to try with your trusty kettlebells, says Garnet Henderson, a certified personal trainer and certified corrective exercise specialist in New York City. “Anything you can do with two hands, you can do with one. Chest presses, rows, shoulder presses, and even step-ups.”
Doing these moves with a kettlebell in only one hand will make you work much harder, forcing you to focus more on your control and balance. This video demonstrates:
Think ‘bells are only for strength? Not so fast. Henderson says that you’re missing out if you’re not using kettlebells in your cardio routine. Instead of doing moves like the classic swing slowly, Henderson says you’ll get the max benefit if you do them as fast as you can. Sets of swings and deadlifts (done quickly) will get your heartrate up and your muscles pumping. Just be sure to stabilize your core and warm up first to prevent any injuries.
Check out this video for an example of how to properly incorporate kettlebells into your cardio routine:
3. Holding the kettlebell upside down
If you want to improve your grip strength, control, and balance, holding your ‘bell upside down will definitely add a worthwhile challenge to your workout. Henderson advises that you hold your kettlebell with the bottom up, while balancing the actual bell above the hand. Just be sure to use a lighter kettlebell, since this approach is way, way harder than holding it traditionally by the handle.
Because this move feels so unstable, it’ll recruit different sets of muscle fibers—training your body in new ways. This is a great exercise for anyone hitting a plateau with their ‘bell training. Check out this video for a demonstration:
Note to beginners
If you’re new to these moves, start with lighter weight kettlebells. When to increase weight? “The last one-three reps of your set should be difficult,” Henderson explains, “but you should be able to complete them with proper form. If you aren’t feeling it, you can probably go with more weight, especially if you have good form.”