Plus, the shape of a kettle bell lets you work your muscles a little differently than a traditional dumbbell, Jessica Sims, a NASM-certified personal trainer at the Hitting Room in New York City, tells SELF. When you take a class with kettle bells, or any other new type of equipment, it's normal to feel a little lost.
Oh, and a quick lesson on the lingo: The “ball” refers to the heavy sphere at the bottom, and the handle is the part attached to it. The handle is also referred to as the “horns,” and can be gripped at the top, on the sides, or near the base where it meets the ball.
Adding a kettle bell increases the resistance your body has to work against to stand back up, challenging your muscles even more. In addition, holding the kettle bell close to your chest helps you nail proper form.
“When you pick up heavy grocery bags, you should squat down like this so you don't hurt your back.” Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, gripping the sides of the kettle bell handle with both hands at chest height.
They also secretly challenge your core, since you have to keep your abs tight to avoid arching your back. Sims says to choose a heavier weight with a dead lift—since you're not bending your elbows at all, you're mostly using your glutes, which are likely the strongest muscles in your body.
Hinge at your hips and push your butt back as you lower your torso and the weight toward the ground. “Make sure that you don’t let the kettle bells swing, keep them stable by your side like actual suitcases,” Sims says.
Push through your heels, putting most of the weight on the back foot, to return to the starting position. Adding weight to a sit-up adds an extra challenge for your core, and the press at the top works your shoulders and arms, too.
For these sit-ups, Sims says you can either keep your knees bent or put them in butterfly position, depending on what feels comfortable for your hips. Start in a sit-up position, lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
Kettle bell swings are great for your butt, legs, and lower back, Sims says. You can probably go heavy here, but she suggests nailing the technique with a lighter kettle bell before adding too much weight.
To perform a swing with proper form, you have to “thrust your hips aggressively to get the kettle bell up, don't use your arms,” Sims explains. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettle bell handle with both hands.
Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips to swing the kettle bell between your legs. Stand back up; use the momentum from your hips to swing the weight to chest height.
Your form here should be similar to a traditional dead lift, except your legs should be wider than shoulder-width distance and your feet should be turned out a bit. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and toes angled out.
Switching to one-handed swings isolates one side at a time, which makes it harder and helps improve stability. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettle bell handle with one hand.
Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips to swing the kettle bell between your legs. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettle bell handle with one hand.
Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips to thread the kettle bell between your legs. Bring your now-empty hand to meet the weight at the top of the movement (so you don't slam it into your chest).
Grasp a kettle bell in each hand, palms facing out, arms bent so the weights are resting at each shoulder. Bend your knees just a few inches, and as you stand back up, press the weights straight up overhead.
To protect your lower back and make sure you're using your triceps, don't arch your back, Sims instructs. The key here is to straighten your arm completely at the top—that'll let you work the triceps through a full range of motion. Grip the kettle bell by the ball at the base of the handle with both hands and raise it directly overhead.
Keeping your elbows close to your ears, lower the kettle bell behind your head to neck level. The trick is to keep your core tight and hold your torso stable as you rotate your arms and the weight.
Lift the ball to eye level and slowly circle it around your head to the left. Hold the kettle bell handle in your right hand with your arm hanging straight at your side.
Holding a kettle bell above your head at the top of a crunch challenges your core and lower abs—so does the flutter motion of your legs. Start with the weight above your shoulders, and to make it more difficult, bring it a little behind your head, Sims says.
Make sure to keep your core super tight and lower back flat on the ground. If your back comes off the ground, or you feel any strain, bring your legs up a couple more inches.
Stand in front of a box or step, holding a kettle bell by the handle with both hands at your chest. Crew Performance Zip-Front Sports Bra (jcrew.com, $45), Cotton On Body Pocket Crop Tight (, $35), and Puma Fierce Evoking Women's Training Shoes (, $120).
If you have an Instagram account, then we’re willing to bet the face (and abs, Delta, and quads) of Eric Lava has graced your 6.5-inch screen before. The Innit coach, aka primal.soldier, is known for performing quick-hitting and dynamic kettle bell exercises for his 500,000 followers.
He still implements the barbell and dumbbell training he picked up as a teenager from Arnold Schwarzenegger ’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, but his routines don’t require as much heavy lifting now—for good reason. I use kettle bell movements to maintain my level of strength without putting my body under a lot of stress.”
You cannot (and should not) build up to a heavy one-rep max using kettle bells, Lava says, but he likes them for two major reasons: First, you can train hard with them and still tax your muscles using submaximal weight. Lava likes to spice up kettle bell exercises by adding movement to them, such as a twist at the top of a press or a lunge after a clean.
This, he says, is a more athletic way to train and prepares your body for the type of movement you experience in real life—such as swinging a golf club or tossing your kid (safely) in the air. To add kettle bells to your program, Lava recommends performing them either with light weight, as a warm up, or after your main compound movements as accessory work.
If you’re tight on time, you can also string a few kettlebellmoves together to form a sequence or, as Lava calls it, a flow, for a complete training session. Hinge at your hips, keeping your back neutral, to bend over and grab the kettle bell with one hand.
Pro-tip: “Suck in your pelvis as far back as you can, you should feel your hamstrings light up,” Lava says. “Even if I’m focusing on my chest and shoulders, I like to hit the legs a little just because they’re our foundation,” Lava says.
Get into a bridge position with your heels and upper back planted on the ground and your hips high up in the air. Pro-tip: “Tuck your heels in close to your butt, and instead of thinking about sticking your hips up as high as you can, think about driving your knees forward and extending the hips,” Lava explains.”
“This move works your core through anti-rotation , as you’re fighting not to twist away from the elevated hand,” Lava says. Get into a standard push up position with one of your hands on the base of a kettle bell turned onto its side.
Pro-tip: “Make you go slow and controlled with every rep,” Lava explains. You really want to strengthen the entire range of motion, retracting and protracting your shoulder blades with control.”
“When you pick up any object or your kids, for example, you’re hardly ever in a perfectly straight position,” Lava explains. Brace your core and then pull the kettle bell across and up, rotating your torso outward and pivoting inward with your left foot.
You should end up in the front rack position with your elbow tucked down and i and your body facing out to the left. Pro-tip: “Make sure you allow your shoulders to rotate but that you’re keeping your spine as straight as you can,” Lava says.
Pivot on the foot opposite the arm that is loaded and rotate slightly toward the bell. Then, pivot outward on the other foot and press the kettle bell overhead to full extension.
Get into a standard push up position with your right hand on the base of a kettle bell, resting on its side. Then, drive your hips forward, stand up, and raise your loaded arm 90 degrees, as if you’re drawing a pistol from a holster, so that the bottom of the kettle bell is facing outward.