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).
At this point in the pandemic, you may be getting tired of your same old home workout routine and inspired to try something new. As a personal trainer who is missing working out in the gym, I certainly have started looking for ways to keep exercise interesting.
They have an odd center of gravity that requires you to recruit your stabilizing muscles to do traditional exercise moves. They’re a great piece of workout equipment to use to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time.
One study found that during a twenty-minute kettle bell workout, participants were burning about 20 calories a minute. Kettle bells are a great investment for your home gym because they give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Many of the workout moves allow you to be stationary on a mat or in a small section of your home that allows for movements like swings, squats and overhead presses while lunging. A quick Google search will turn up dozens of exercises that you can perform using a kettle bell.
As you squeeze your glutes and straighten both legs to stand, use the momentum to swing the kettle bell out in front of you. With this simple exercise, you're working your entire backside and core, while also getting your heart rate up.
Kettle bells do provide a better cardio workout because of the swinging action and extra movement involved in the exercises. Kettle bell exercises also activate all the muscles in the back of the body in a way that dumbbells do not.
Plus, since the weight isn’t balanced like a dumbbell, your body needs to work harder to stabilize your core because the center of gravity constantly changes. Stephanie Man sour is health and fitness expert, certified personal trainer, yoga and Pilates instructor and weight-loss coach for women.
They're great tools for metabolic conditioning and can be used for resistance work too, if you can't access dumbbells or barbells Kettle bells have helped usher in a new way of totally blitzing your workout, whether it’s on an isolated or full-body basis, helping to cut fat with high-rep sets of swings, snatches and jerks — moves that bodybuilders and athletes alike swear by.
“Kettle bells are arguably one of the most versatile bits of equipment you can find in a gym,” says Sam Wrigley, a London Bridge-based PT. “They're great tools for metabolic conditioning and can be used for resistance work too, if you can't access dumbbells or barbells.”
“The most common injury that occurs using a kettle bell is in the lower back,” explains Wrigley, when quizzed about the mishaps he’s noticed over his career, in and out of the gym. “Typically, it’s with the kettle bell swing, because of its dynamic nature — moving back and forth quickly at the hip joint”.
Wrigley explains: “This exaggerated flexion and extension at the hip puts a lot of force through the lower back.” When it comes to getting injuries from poor form, the “arching of the back and not engaging the glutes in an overhead press or folding in a goblet position” can put you at risk of busting your lower back. Avoid any signs of turning it into a squat, “…so the posterior chain is engaged and not the quads,” says Wrigley.
— Gradually build momentum through the hip and drive until your arm reaches a horizontal position and is parallel to the floor. What people get wrong: Putting too much extension through the lower-back and failing to engage the anterior core.
What people get wrong: Bending forward, resulting in an unnatural back position. — Begin in a standard squat stance, with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your torso upright.
— Hold a kettle bell in each hand with palms facing each other, grasping them to your chest. The dangers: Be wary of the bending waist, the added spine flexion can cause a disc to displace or hit a nerve, so if it feels wrong, it probably is.
— Begin in a bent-over position, with feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, and your torso leaning forward at the hips. Edward Cooper Ed Cooper is the Deputy Digital Editor at Men’s Health UK, writing and editing about anything you want to know about — from tech to fitness, mental health to style, food and so much more.
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