Kettlebell exercises: get a whole-body workout with the best kettlebell exercises for abs, legs, glutes and arms

Burn fat and check off cardio in one, sweaty go

Man and woman throwing up after exercise with 8KG kettlebell in the gym
(Image credit: Taco Fleur from Pixabay)

The best kettlebells are highly nifty, slightly caveman (caveperson, sorry) weights designed to not only build strength through anaerobic activity, but also increase the user's aerobic activity and therefore cardiovascular fitness.

Some people are put off by the kettlebell's unusual shape and prefer to stick to the humble dumbbell – and it's true the two weights can be used interchangeably for many exercises – however, the kettlebell can add more than just weight to your workout. 

• Find out how aerobic and anaerobic exercise can help you lose weight fast

The kettlebell weight is made up of two parts: the ball and the handle (or horns).

What makes the kettlebell different from the dumbbell is the motion you can get with it. The handles enable you to swing the ball in front of you, to the side of you, or all around you. In particular, kettlebells are recommended for movements that involve some kind of explosion of power when you want to combine strength training and intense cardio. 

Kettlebells are incredibly versatile weights, and can be used to add resistance to exercises for pretty much any part of your body. This workout is designed to work your whole body, but if you're looking for a good kettlebell ab routine or a kettlebell arm routine, we've got those covered too.

Woman stretching next to a kettlebell and medicine ball

(Image credit: Nathan Cowley from Pexels)

What weight kettlebell should I use?

This depends on two things: your existing strength level, and the kettlebell exercise you'll be doing. 

If you've exercised with kettlebells before you'll know how much you can lift, but if you haven't then our advice is to start light: around 4 - 6 KG. 

The key is to remember that you're not just lifting; you need to be able to lift and swing the weight around as part of an exercise. 

A guide for the kettlebell exercises featured in this workout it to use between 8KG and 14KG for leg work and between 4KG and 10KG for upper body and core. Where you fall within those windows will depend on your strength. 

If you're working out at the gym you should have access to a complete range of weights, and you should take advantage of that. Make the most of this workout by tailoring the weight to each exercise if you can, so that you're always able to do the kettlebell exercise, but you're always pushing your limits too. 

If you're working out at home and thinking about buying the best kettlebell for you, then we recommend trying these exercises with a few household objects first to get a sense of how heavy you want to go. If you are buying, buy at the heavier end of what you can handle, because the idea is you'll get stronger, as well as more toned, as you do these exercises over time. 

8KG kettlebell for working out in the gym

(Image credit: ZOE-Animation-Studio from Pixabay)

Lower-body kettlebell exercises 

Exercise: Goblet squats 

Reps: 20

Sets: 3

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hold your kettlebell by the horns with both hands. The ball should be close to your chest and your hands will be roughly inline with your shoulders.

Bend your knees and squat as low as you can, pushing back into your hips so that your bottom pushes back a bit, rather than simply dropping vertically.  

To avoid injury, your knees should not pass over your toes. You can stop this from happening by driving your weight into your heels, rather than the balls of your feet.

Do this 20 times before resting, and then repeat the set three times. 

Exercise: Single leg deadlifts

Reps: 10 on each leg 

Sets: 3

This time we'll be working one each leg in turn, so you'll be holding your kettlebell in each hand in turn also.  Try using the same weight as you did for your goblet squat, but if you're working out somewhere with a range of weights then you can drop a couple of kilograms if needed. 

With single leg deadlifts your stationary leg is one you're exercising, and you should hold your kettlebell on the same side as this leg. Starting with the kettlebell in your right hand, extend your left leg out behind you, keeping it straight. As you do, tilt your body forward and lower the kettlebell as far to the ground as you can without bending your right leg.  

Do 10 deadlifts on your right side and then switch to your left and repeat. There's your first set. 

Exercise: Suitcase lunges

Reps: 20 (alternating legs)

Sets: 3

For this exercise you can either use one kettlebell, holding it in the same way you did for the goblet squat, or two – lighter if needed – kettlebells, which you'll hold by the handle, one in each hand. Hold them like a bag and you know you're doing it right. 

The next part is easy: step forward with one leg, lunging until your knee is in line with your front foot. Do not let your knee go over your foot or you might throw your balance and damage your knees (and more if you fall over). with your right leg and bend at the knee so that you are in a lunge position. Return to standing and repeat on your other leg. 

Lunge on each leg in rotation, 20 lunges in total.

Athletic man swinging a kettlebell outside

(Image credit: Taco Fleur from Pexels)

Upper body and core kettlebell exercises 

Kettlebells can also be used to add weight to your upper-body and core workouts. For a full ab or arm routine using kettlebells check out the guides below, but we've picked our two favourite exercises from each to feature in this full-body kettlebell workout.

Exercise: Kettlebell swings 

Reps: 20

Sets: 3

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and your kettlebell on the floor in front of you. As you lift the kettlebell pull it back between your legs and then swing it forward to shoulder height. Your legs will straighten as the ball elevates, but they should not bend more than in your starting position when you bring the ball back down. This is because the momentum and drive should be coming from your hips, not your knees. 

The key thing to remember with a kettlebell swing is to use your legs you would for a deadlift, not a squat. We're not squatting and using the upward momentum to swing the kettlebell; we're driving from our hips and only then using our arms to swing the kettlebell. 

Exercise: Single arm shoulder press

Reps: 10 on each arm

Sets: 3

A shoulder press is a kettlebell exercise that will really target our arms.

With the shoulder press you have the option of holding the weight by the handle, or grasping the ball instead. Opt for the latter if you're not 100% sure of your ability to raise the weight fully above your head, as it's more stable this way.

Pick up your kettlebell and bring it level with your shoulder. Your arm will be folded in half at the elbow. Then, pushing through the tricep, extend your arm fully above your head. This is one press. 

Do this 10 times on the same arm before switching and doing 10 reps on the other arm. Repeat the set three times. 

Exercise: Russian twists 

Reps: 20

Sets: 3

For our last exercise we're going to use our kettlebells to target our abs. 

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold your kettle in both hands, close to your chest. 

You can make this exercise tougher by lifting your feet off the floor and working up to fully extending your legs. 

Lean back slightly and turn your upper body to the right, and then the left. All the twist movement should come from your waist.  The easier option is to keep the kettlebell central at all times but if you can, try moving it towards the ground each time you turn in either direction.