You can coat it in rubber or paint it bright colors, but the kettlebell is essentially a hefty iron bowling ball with a handle. But what it lacks in sex appeal, it more than makes up for in versatility, and the kettlebell can be utilized to target just about any bodypart in multiple planes of motion, improving strength, functionality and total-body power.
The swing is the conventional exercise associated with kettlebells and there are sundry variations on the standard, all of which engage the core, challenge the grip, strengthen the posterior chain and burn mega calories — more, in fact, than most traditional forms of cardio. One study published by the American Council on Exercise found the calorie burn of a 20-minute kettlebell snatch workout was comparable to sprinting at a six-minute-per-mile pace. Among the five variations presented here, master the Russian swing before progressing to the others since they require additional timing, shoulder stability and core strength. Start with a light or moderate weight to get the hang of it, then ratchet up.
1. Russian Swing
Stand about a foot behind a kettlebell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hinge at the hips and bend forward with a flat back to take an overhand grip on the handle with both hands, knees slightly bent. Maintaining a flat back, straight arms and tight core, hike the kettlebell back between your legs, and then as it swings forward, squeeze your glutes, snap your hips and stand upright to create enough upward momentum to lift the kettlebell to chest height. At the apex of the swing it should feel weightless. Guide it back down through your legs and repeat.
2. American Swing
The movement is the same as with a Russian swing, but with a harder hip snap to generate more momentum, raising the kettlebell overhead. Keep your core tight so your back does not arch at the top, and control the kettlebell so the bottom faces the ceiling at the apex without flipping over onto your wrists.
Perform a Russian swing; as the kettlebell comes to chest height, flip the bottom toward the ceiling, pull your elbows down and in, and release the kettlebell, catching it with both hands by the ball. Hold it at your chest as you do a goblet squat. Stand back up, push the kettlebell forward and flip it back over, grabbing the handle. Extend your arms and go into the next repetition.
4. Single-Arm Swing
For the setup, hold the corner of a kettlebell handle with one hand and extend your other arm to the side for balance. As you swing the ’bell back, internally rotate your arm so your thumb points backward, then as the kettlebell comes forward, externally rotate your working arm so the palm faces downward at chest height. Perform all reps on one side, place the kettlebell on the floor and switch hands. For an added challenge, alternate arms midair: Bring both arms forward as you swing; at the apex (when the kettlebell feels weightless) grab the handle with the other hand, performing the next rep on that side.
5. Single-Arm Snatch
Perform a Russian-style swing, but as the kettlebell travels upward, decrease its arc by bending your elbow, to move it closer to your body. As the kettlebell reaches chest height, shrug that arm, pulling the elbow high and outside, then “punch” your hand upward through the kettlebell handle, so the ’bell ends up resting against the forearm as your arm extends overhead. Keep your elbow close to your body as you retrace the path of the kettlebell on the return. Don’t let the kettlebell bang your wrist, but keep your fingers loose so your hand can easily travel around and through the handle.