HARDCORE kettlebell workout for strength will get you lean... but it is MEAN

This kettlebell workout is not for the faint hearted

kettlebell workout for strength
(Image credit: JaxJox)

Considering it's just a lump of iron with a handle, the best kettlebell is probably one of the most versatile home gym equipment you can find. It can be utilised for a variety of purposes: you can get fit for 2021, burn fat and build functional muscle with it, but most importantly, it can be also be used for this kettlebell workout for building strength.

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It might seem like an intimidating piece of fitness equipment to the uninitiated, but when used properly, the kettlebell has the ability to raise the pulse, torch fat and build strong muscle, without necessarily adding the unwanted bulk associated with simply lifting heavy weights.

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"Think of this workout as total body movement medicine!" exclaims Alastair Crew, Master Trainer at David Lloyd Clubs and the man to turn to for kettlebell advice. "This workout will dose your body with a plethora of movement patterns, allow for a varied range of motion and work on functional core conditioning," he adds.

Obligatory warning: this is NOT a beginner workout

Good kettlebell technique requires excellent balance and the ability to activate different muscles through varying phases of a move - this is what makes them so good at rising the heart rate. 

"You will squat, lunge, push, pull, bend, carry and twist your way to a fitter, stronger, more mobile you," says Crew.

The other huge benefit of a kettlebell workout is that it requires just one small piece of equipment. Of course, as you progress, you might want to increase the weight to ensure you are making progress, or you can just get an adjustable kettlebell, such as the excellent Bowflex SelectTech 840 kettlebell or the JaxJox KettlebellConnect and not worry about having to buy more home weights for a while.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to perform this kettlebell workout for strength

Start every workout with a good dose of limbering up. Get the the joints and muscles going with an active warm-up, so aim for 30 seconds of butt-kickers, jumping jacks, arm circles and lunges. This should engage those muscle groups that will be worked throughout the routine.

"If you are new to kettlebell training, a sound appreciation of posture and form is essential for safe and effective exercise," explains Crew. This means avoiding any rounding of the back or jerking movements that could cause injury.

It pays to pop in to any beginner kettlebell classes that a local gym – when they reopen – might put on, or at least check out a few Youtube videos, especially before committing to the heavier weights.

"Remember quality reps will trump quantity every time. If the quality of a movement or technique starts to break down, we call this technical failure. If you reach this point with a particular movement or exercise, you must stop and then think of the four Rs. Rest, recovery, re-set, and return to action when ready," says Crew.

"Complete this workout as a circuit. Finishing two rounds should take approximately 45-60 mins inclusive of warm up and a cool down," he adds.

(Image credit: Unsplash)

A word on nutrition

Intense training will grab your energy reserves and keep coming back for more, so make sure you stock up on complex carbohydrates and protein, as well as all of the other components that make up a healthy diet.

Fibre, fats, vitamins, minerals and plenty of water will be key, while those planning a long workout session should eat a low GI carbohydrate rich meal at least an hour beforehand to provide that long, slow energy release. 

Brown rice, sweet potato, oats and fruit are all good choices. A big bowl of porridge and fruit for breakfast is a good idea if you're going to train that day. Then, 30 minutes or so after your workout try and take on-board some carbohydrates to replenish all the energy you used in your workout. 

Additional protein is also required to aid recovery and promote muscle growth.

Kettlebell workout for strength

Double kettlebell thrusters

Aim for: 10 reps with 30-60 secs rest before next exercise

"Exercise combinations, such as a front squat with an overhead press, are referred to in the industry as ‘complexes’. Thrusters are a full-body move that can dramatically elevate the heart rate and improve cardiovascular fitness too," explains Crews.

To perform this move, follow Alastair's simple steps:

STEP 1: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a kettlebell in each hand in the ‘Rack’ position (hands close to chest with palms facing body).

STEP 2: Lower into a deep squat position, while maintaining a straight/neutral spine. Aim to finish at the bottom of the squat with knees driven out (not collapsing inward) and elbows travelling to inside of the knees.

STEP 3: Drive up powerfully through the hips and knees pushing the floor away from you and activating the glutes as soon as you start to move.

STEP 4: Continue the movement by pressing the kettlebells overhead, rotate arms so that palms face away from body. Return to the start position and that's one rep. 

Renegade row with push-up

Aim for: 10 reps with 30-60 secs rest before next exercise

"A challenging compound move that truly integrates strength and stability. It provides an anti-extension and anti-rotation core exercise. It targets chest, shoulders and triceps, as well as the back. Your lats work overtime to help stabilise your shoulders too," says Crews.

Need some help with that? Check out the steps below:

STEP 1: Get into a full plank position over the top of the two bells. The bells should be directly below the shoulders.

STEP 2: Push one kettlebell into the floor as hard as possible, whilst you row the other one to the side of your ribcage. Perform this on both arms, do not rotate or twist your hips or torso.

STEP 3: Perform a push up maintaining a solid braced plank throughout the movement.

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Kettlebell swing

Aim for: 15-20 reps with 30-60 secs rest before next exercise

Crews says: "With solid technique, the swing will bulletproof your entire posterior chain, but the opposite can be said if you have poor technique! This move is great for improving posture and utilises a considerable amount of muscle dynamically that, in turn, elevates heart rate, making it a great calorie-burner too".

Have a go, but follow these instructions first (or any least watch a YouTube tutorial):

STEP 1: The set-up; 

STEP 2: The swing or drive phase (unloading). From a wedged hip-hinge position - where quads, hamstrings and glutes are ‘loaded’ - drive the hips forward with a strong snapping motion.

STEP 3: The hip-drive should push the arms and bell into the air. At the end of there swing, the arms should be about chest height, parallel to the floor. The base of the bell should be facing forward. The body should be well-braced here and mimicking a vertical plank position. At the top of the swing, there should be a moment of weightlessness – in other words the bell should 'float' at end, before the final stage.

STEP 4: The swing recovery phase (loading). Let the arms and kettlebell fall from the float position back to the body. As the back of the arms touch the ribs, hinge from the hips returning to the wedge position loading the quads, hamstrings and glutes to absorb the swing. Now repeat.

Duck walk

Aim for: 30-60secs walk with 30-60 secs rest before next exercise

"An intense deep squat strength move that requires good balance and agility. It promotes ankle strength and flexibility, as well as hip mobility and extension of the thoracic spine"

This move is simple, just follow these instructions:

STEP 1: Hold a kettlebell in each hand in the ‘Rack’ position (hands close to chest with palms facing body).

STEP 2: Lower into a deep squat position whilst maintaining a straight/neutral spine.

STEP 3: Begin walking (or waddling like a duck) from the bottom of the squat position sweeping the knees close to but not scraping the floor.

Kettlebell halo

Aim for: 10 clockwise rotations followed by 10 anti-clockwise with 30-60 secs rest before next exercise.

"This move challenges shoulders, triceps, back and core. This move will also enhance shoulder and thoracic mobility as well as core stability"

STEP 1: Grab the kettlebell by the horns and stand tall. Do not let the bell move too far away from the head. The closer you can keep the bell to your neck the more you will work on improving shoulder mobility.

STEP 2: Rotate around the head in a halo motion, while maintaining stable hips, relaxed shoulders and keep the head still.

Kneeling woodchop

Aim for: 10 reps on both sides, with 30-60 secs rest before next exercise

"Twist patterns are fantastic for a healthy trunk and core. This move targets abdominals and shoulders and provides a real finisher to a tough kettlebell workout"

STEP 1: Begin with the right foot forward in a half kneeling stance.

STEP 2: Holding the bell by the horns next to your left hip, drive the straight arms explosively across the body to finish above and wider than your right shoulder.

STEP 3: During the lowering phase control the bell back to the outside of the left hip. Repeat for 10 reps and swap sides. 

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Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.