How to Use Kettlebells

Get training tips and sample workouts for kettlebells

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #68

This episode is brought to you by www.betterment.com/getfit 

I’ve received a ton of questions about kettlebells recently. Are kettlebells good for building muscle? Can they be used for burning fat?  How do you safely use kettlebells? What is a good kettlebell workout? Today’s episode will tell you everything you need to know about kettlebells – from the fact that they’re in fact not a cooking device, to the fact that they’re actually quite good at getting you fit fast if you use them correctly.

What Is A Kettlebell?

A kettlebell is a cast iron weight that looks like a cannonball with a handle. Originally a tool used by Russian strongmen for training and competition, multi-colored, vinyl-coated kettlebells are now becoming a popular fitness device that you can find at many gyms.

Kettlebell sizes range from 4 pounds to 175 pounds, but because a kettlebell is shaped differently than a dumbbell, a 4 pound kettlebell can actually feel a bit heavy or awkward. This is because the kettlebell’s center of mass is extended farther out from your body, so it can be tougher to handle and maneuver – which is one reason why kettlebells can be so effective at improving your strength, balance, and explosiveness.

In most situations, kettlebells are used for increasing grip strength, or for performing specific movements that are designed to build strength and endurance in the lower back, legs, and shoulders. These movements include full body exercises like the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk.

How To Use Kettlebells

Because they handle so much differently than a dumbbell, you can easily hurt a body part (particularly your wrist, shoulder, or lower back) if you don’t use a kettlebell properly. Trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way. The first time I hoisted a kettlebell overhead, I tried to push it just like a dumbbell, felt as through my wrist was going to snap, and had a sore arm for the next few days!

First, for nearly every kettlebell exercise you do, you should keep your feet planted and your weight on your heels. This will ensure that your body is forming a strong foundation to lift and move the kettlebell.

Next, you should never lift a kettlebell directly over your head. Compared to a dumbbell or barbell, it is much easier for your grip to slip or for you to drop the weight – and the last thing you want is a cannonball on your skull!

Finally, just like in any exercise, you need to protect your lower back when using a kettlebell. Whether you’re picking it off the ground or swinging it up in the air, you should never slouch your lower back. Instead, the power and force for all movements should be generated by your hips and legs.

While there are many exercises you can do with a kettlebell, the most popular is a kettlebell swing. To perform this motion, you:

1)      Spread your feet shoulder width apart and lean forward while holding on to the kettlebell with two hands and allowing it to hang down between your legs.

2)      Keeping your feet planted, push off the ground and allow the momentum from you legs to begin to swing the kettlebell up in an arc as you keep your arms straight.

3)      Thrust your hips forward as you continue to swing the kettlebell up the level of your head, and then simply reverse the motion to be back in the ready position for the next repetition.

Kettlebells are not quite as easy to use as many other gym devices, and slightly more dangerous, so be sure to ask at your local gym if there is a personal trainer or a class that specifically specializes in kettlebell instruction. If you want to begin the learning process at home, you can order light kettlebells from Perform Better, and then use a couple of good resources for learning more, including these Kettlebell Instructional DVD’s  and this Kettlebell Fat-Burning program.

A Sample Kettlebell Workout

Believe it or not, with that single exercise that I just described (the kettlebell swing) you can perform a workout that builds lean muscle and burns fat! Here is a good kettlebell workout. If you complete just 3-5 rounds of this circuit, you’ll feel a full body burn, and develop both strength and cardiovascular endurance:

1)      Warm-up for 5-10 minutes

2)      Do 10 kettlebell swings with your right hand

3)      Perform 30 seconds of cardio as hard as you can. Jumping rope works well for this, or you can hop on a nearby stationary bike, do jumping jacks, or hop or step on and off a bench.

4)      Do 10 kettlebell swings with your left hand

5)      Do the 30 seconds of cardio again.

6)      Perform 10 push-ups, then 10 pull-ups or pull-downs, rest for 1 minute, and then return back to step 1.

If you have more questions about kettlebells, simply share them below in Comments or on the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page!


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 Kettlebell image from Shutterstock


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.