Next time you find yourself perusing the weight rack, skip the dumbbells and opt for a piece of equipment with a little more pizazz. Though they’re often overlooked, kettlebells are a strength trainer’s not-so-secret weapon. In addition to building muscle through low-impact movements, the kettlebell is a great way to switch things up and add variety to your workout routine. (Plus, you only need one to get a full body burn.) If you’re new to the fitness world or are ready to jump back in, this roundup of kettlebell exercises for beginners is the perfect place to start. You’ll learn the basics of form while stockpiling moves that can be compounded together or progressed on their own. Before we dive in, here’s everything you need to know about kettlebell exercises.
8 Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners to Level Up Your Strength Training
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What Are the Benefits of Kettlebell Exercises?
Though the kettlebell might seem advanced (and, let’s face it, a little intimidating), it’s actually one of only a few pieces of equipment that can provide a low-impact workout at maximum intensity. As we age, keeping up with a fitness routine becomes more and more important, but dealing with cranky knees and stiff hips can quickly set us back. That’s why low-impact moves that increase both muscle mass and bone density, but put little to no pressure on our joints, are so important. “That’s where the kettlebell shines through,” Kom says, “because you can do most of the workouts without hopping, skipping or jumping.”
In addition to being low-impact, kettlebells are masters at firing up your posterior chain, or the big groups of muscles along the backside of your body that don’t see much action in our day-to-day lives (this includes your hamstrings, glutes, calves, traps, lats and delts, as well as the muscles that surround your spine). “Amplifying your posterior chain has tons of benefits,” Kom explains, “such as improving your posture, helping you run faster and move more smoothly.”
Another win for the kettlebell club? It’s an efficiency machine. With just one kettlebell, you can work your entire body, from your triceps and shoulders to your hamstrings and quads. And unlike complicated exercise machines or clunky squat racks, these kettlebell exercises for beginners are easy to follow and were made to be compounded into multi-step moves that target multiple muscle groups in a single rep (meaning a higher energy output in a shorter amount of time). Kom calls compound exercises “the holy grail of strength training,” we just call it smart time management.
Oh, and did we mention kettlebells were made to fit small spaces? “Unlike a lot of other full-body workouts, your entire kettlebell training system takes up about as much space as a pair of boots,” Kom says, albeit heavy boots. All you need to start is a single weight, and once you feel like you’ve mastered your form, you can begin incorporating different sizes, challenging your limits and playing with your rep amount.
How Much Weight Should I Use & How Often Should I Do Kettlebell Exercises?
For beginners, Kom suggests incorporating kettlebell strength training one to three times per week, “starting slow with around 10 to 15 reps for whichever movements you decide to do.” As you get more comfortable, you can gradually increase your weight and rep amount.
To find your ideal starter weight, Kom shares a simple trick. “Start by picking up a smaller kettlebell,” we suggest something around 10 to 15 pounds. “If the weight feels a little too comfortable and manageable, chances are it’s a little light. But if it’s a struggle to even lift, it’s too heavy.” As you progress, you’ll notice a shift in effort and intensity, but above all else, listen to your body (and always lift with the legs!).
Ready to swing, squat, snatch and curl your way to a stronger you? Here are eight kettlebell exercises for beginners and beyond.
1. Kettlebell Swing
Works your core, glutes and hamstrings.
Suggested weight: 10 to 20 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart with the kettlebell directly below you. Squat down, sending your hips back while keeping your chest tall, to grab the kettlebell with both hands. Push through the floor to return to standing, lifting the kettlebell off the ground.
Step 2: To begin the swing, engage your core and bend your knees slightly while tipping your hips and pelvic floor under to avoid unwanted pressure on your lower back. Your stance should resemble a mini squat, not a full squat, and the kettlebell should be hanging between your knees.
Step 3: Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your glutes to drive your hips forward, using that momentum to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height (no higher) as you straighten your legs, coming to a full standing position.
Step 4: As the weight swings back down, bend your knees and engage your glutes to help steady the motion, then immediately press your hips forward to continue the swing. Complete 15 to 20 reps total.
Fitness Pro Tip: The kettlebell swing is a continuous motion, and, as with any exercise, form is everything. “Be sure to keep your back and head straight and neutral and remember that your body’s entire force when swinging up comes from your glutes and hamstrings,” Kom explains, not your upper body or lower back.
2. Goblet Squat
Works your quads and glutes.
Suggest Weight: 5 to 15 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a kettlebell at the center of your chest. Bend your knees and press your hips back to begin the squat, keeping your chest open and your head and neck in line with your spine.
Step 2: Lower down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, pressing your knees out to keep them from caving in. Hold at the bottom for a beat, then press through your heels to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top. Complete 3 sets of 8 reps.
3. Kettlebell Snatch
Works your quads, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, upper back and triceps.
Suggested Weight: 5 to 15 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart with the kettlebell directly below you. Squat down, sending your hips back while keeping your chest tall, and grab the kettlebell with one hand.
Step 2: In one fluid motion, press your hips forward and swing the kettlebell up until your working arm is vertical and stacked directly above your shoulder. The ball of the kettlebell should flip over and end up behind your wrist at the top of the motion.
Step 3: With control, reverse the motion by dropping the kettlebell back down between your legs and repeat. Complete 10 reps on both sides.
4. Kettlebell Squat And Curl
Works your biceps, upper back, abs, quads and hamstrings.
Suggested Weight: 5 to 15 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly turned out. Hold the kettlebell loosely at your side in one hand. Extend the opposite arm directly out in front of you, even with your shoulder.
Step 2: Squat down, keeping your chest tall while sending your hips back, until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Squeeze your glutes while pressing through your heels to return to a standing position.
Step 3: After completing the squat, curl the kettlebell up toward your shoulder, keeping your elbow glued to your side to help target the bicep muscle. Slowly lower back down to the starting position and repeat. Complete 10 reps on each side.
Fitness Pro Tip: Not sure what to do with that extended arm? Squeeze your hand into a tight fist. This will help you maintain balance and engagement, keeping your muscles warm even as the non-working arm rests.
5. Kettlebell Lunge
Works your shoulders, abs, glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Suggested Weight: 2.5 to 10 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet a few inches apart holding a kettlebell in one hand. Extend the weighted arm up above your head, keeping your wrist in line with your shoulder (the ball of the kettlebell should be flipped and resting on the back of your wrist). Extend your opposite arm out to the side for balance–don’t forget that fist!
Step 2: Step your opposite foot (from the arm holding the kettlebell) back while lowering your body down into a lunge, dropping the back knee as close to the ground as possible while keeping your front knee in line with your toes.
Step 3: Press through your front foot to lift up and return to the starting position, all while keeping your arm straight and your gaze forward. Complete 10 reps on each side.
Fitness Pro Tip: When in a lunge, make sure your front knee never extends past your toes (take a peek down, you should be able to see the top of your sneaker). This will help avoid any unwanted knee pain.
6. Kettlebell Curl And Press
Works your shoulders, biceps and triceps.
Suggested Weight: 5 to 15 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a kettlebell in one hand at your side. Extend your opposite arm out to the side for balance.
Step 2: Curl the kettlebell up toward your shoulder, keeping your elbow glued to your side to help target the bicep muscle.
Step 3: At the top of the curl, flip your wrist so your palm is facing out, and press the weight above your head, keeping it in line with your shoulder. Slowly lower back down to the starting position and repeat. Complete 3 sets of 8 reps on each side.
7. Single-leg Romanian Deadlift
Works your hamstrings and glutes.
Suggested Weight: 10 to 20 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet a few inches apart, holding the kettlebell in your left hand at your side. Shift your weight into your right leg and lift your left foot up off the ground.
Step 2: Start to hinge forward at the hips, lowering the kettlebell down toward the ground as your opposite leg extends back behind you, maintaining one straight line from the top of your head to the tip of your toes.
Step 3: Extend until your torso is parallel to the ground, then squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to lift the kettlebell back up to the starting position, simultaneously lowering your leg back down. Complete 3 sets of 12 reps on each side.
8. Angel Of Death
This move combines a kettlebell halo with a squat (and we promise it’s not as scary as it sounds). Works your quads, glutes, shoulders, abs, biceps, triceps, back and chest.
Suggested Weight: 5 to 15 pounds
Step 1: Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a kettlebell with both hands at the center of your chest.
Step 2: Lift the kettlebell up and around your head, engaging your core to maintain stability. Once the weight is back at your chest, squat down sending your hips back until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
Step 3: Press through your heels to return to the starting position and repeat, swapping the direction of the halo each time. Complete 3 sets of 8 reps.