Strength & conditioning: 003 | Kettlebells Part 1

Kettlebells (KBs) are versatile strength training tools.

With KBs you can work on improving the strength of almost any muscle group of the body.

Secondly, KBs will challenge your technique and movement coordination.

They teach you that true strength comes not only from the size of your muscles but from how well you can control them.

Finally, any exercise with KBs has so many variations that you can easily individualise them to areas that you want to improve. For me, kettlebells have always been one of the most useful strength tools to complement my running training.

Some advice before you start:

  • Start with simple exercises before progressing to advanced ones. Pick a few exercises from the list to make a set - you don't need to do them all in the same session.
  • Start from a KB weight that doesn't compromise your movement and technique. Quality > quantity!
  • Complete KB exercises in a controlled fashion.
  • Useful KB weights to have at home: 8kg, 10kg, 12kg, 16kg (or 20kg if you are particularly strong!)
  • A single KB is great, but having two of the same weight allows for many more exercises.

Disclaimer: This exercise routine is not designed as an injury rehab routine, but rather a supplementary session to improve muscle strength and coordination. You should not experience any discomfort or pain doing these exercises. Please avoid doing them if you are currently injured or unwell. Prioritise correct exercise technique over speed. 

Wood choppers

Hold the KB by its handle with both hands while standing. Bring KB to one side of your body closer to your hips while bending forward and lightly bending your knees. Then, while straightening your body bring the KB across to the opposite shoulder. Keep your core tight. The challenge here is to maintain a stable posture without rotating too much or bending from side-to-side. 

Complete 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps each side. 

Single arm KB swing

Hold a KB in one hand. Swing it back between your legs while hinging forward and bending your knees lightly. Then "throw" the KB in front of your body while straightening up in your waist. Your arms should only be playing a supporting role during this exercise, as the muscles at the back of your body (your buttocks) should be doing the hard work.

Complete 2 sets, 6-10 reps each side.

Around the body

Make sure your stance is wide and you are standing comfortably. Slowly gain momentum by passing the KB around your body. You will notice that to maintain good balance, you need to engage your core. The heavier the KB, the bigger the workout for your core.

Complete 2-3 sets with as many reps as you can using good form.

KB squat and push

Make your stance a bit wider. Squat down while extending the KB in front of your body at the same time. The challenge is to keep the KB extending forward without dropping it down. This exercise will challenge your upper body and shoulder stability. 

Complete 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps.

Bent-over rows

Bend forward at your hips, keeping you back straight and knees slightly bent. Hold the KB in one hand and try to keep your shoulders level. Pull the KB towards your chest while maintaining your balance and keeping your core tight. Remember not to let your shoulder drop!

Complete 2 sets with approx. 8-10 reps on each side.

KB up and downs

Grab a KB with one hand close to your chest. Go into a kneeling position. Put one foot forward (like in a lunge position) and finish the move by standing up. Use the same or the opposite leg to come back to a kneeling position. The challenge is to keep your body straight throughout the exercise without excessive bending from side-to-side.

Complete 2-3 sets, with 4-6 stand up and downs.

KB deadlift

Make your stance a bit wider and hold the KB with both hands and in a low squat position. Stand up straight, pause and repeat again. Look ahead when you do the exercise. You may want to use heavier KBs for this exercise to challenge your glutes.

Complete 2-3 sets, 6-10 reps or until fatigue.

Bottom-up hold and walk

Start off with a light KB for this one. Drive the KB up from the ground and 'catch it' so that the bottom of the KB is facing up. You will need a strong grip, but remember that your entire upper body should be working to keep your balance, not just the muscles around your wrist. You can also challenge yourself by walking a few steps forward and back.

Complete 3-5 reps for each side. 

Single leg KB deadlift

Start from a standing position with the KB in one hand. Shift your weight to the same side and hinge forward through your hips, lifting the opposite leg and keeping your grounded foot stable. Take it slow and maintain good movement control from start to finish.

Complete 2-3 sets, with 6-10 reps on each side.