The Ultimate Kettlebell Blueprint

Your how-to guide on how to pull off the five best kettlebell moves — without making a single mistake!

Myatt Murphy CSCS | December 05, 2016

Kettlebells have been around for centuries, and some of the earliest illustrations of old-timey strongmen depict men in singlets hefting some huge homemade kettlebells. But even these icons of iron were flawed in their technique, and if chiropractic medicine had been around in the 1800s, all these guys would have been regular customers. Because while kettlebells are incredible, versatile tools, they are also some of the most abused when it comes to form, and on any given day in any gym in the world, you can see some truly heinous, YouTube-worthy versions of kettlebell moves that would make you millions if caught on camera.

More: The Kettlebell Crush Workout

So it’s simply not enough to just pick up a kettlebell and start swinging it around — you could get injured (or injure someone else) and will definitely look odd. “When used properly, the kettlebell builds muscle and burns fat using functional, total-body, non-impact movements that give your knees and joints a break,” says kettlebell expert Madison Doubroff, NASM, director of fitness at Bionic Body in Hermosa Beach, California. “It’s one of the most impressive tools for boosting agility, balance, endurance, stamina and strength simultaneously.” 

Doubroff broke down five of the most effective (and most slaughtered) kettlebell exercises, highlighting the most common errors, then detailing the how-to on proper form and function. 

Before you launch into the workout, spend some time learning the exercises, practicing them until you can get a sense of proper form. And if you do know these, go through each description and see whether you’re doing the movements correctly. Master these moves and you’ll be a star strongwoman on YouTube and beyond — even without the requisite singlet. 

  • Bent Press

    Targets: total body, especially legs, back, shoulders, triceps, glutes and core

    The Problem: “Getting into the right stance,” Doubroff says. “If you don’t position your arms, legs and feet correctly before starting, you can minimize your range of motion and increase your risk of injury. 

    Setup: Stand your feet shoulder-width apart holding a kettlebell in your left hand, right arm at your side. Curl (or clean) the kettlebell up to your left shoulder — at the top, your palm should face inward toward the midline of your chest, elbow pointing down with the kettlebell resting on the back of your forearm. Turn both feet to angle away from the kettlebell (to the right in this case) at about a 45-degree angle, and press your hips to the left while keeping your legs straight.

    Move: Keep the kettlebell where it is in space and move your body (by bending at your waist) away from it, downward and to the right. Simultaneously, with your left leg straight, slowly slide your right arm down the front of your right leg toward the floor as far as you can, straightening your left arm as you move away from the kettlebell without pressing it upward. Your right knee should naturally bend as you lower, and at the bottom of the move, your left arm should be extended straight above you, perpendicular to the floor. Keeping your arm straight and the kettlebell above you, stand slowly back up, then lower the kettlebell back to your shoulder to complete one rep. Do all reps on one side before switching.

  • Half Turkish Get-up

    Targets: legs, glutes, lower back and core

    The Problem: “A lot of people treat the get-up as one, super-fast movement instead of looking at it as a series of slower steps,” Doubroff says. “That type of thinking leads to sloppy form, diminished results and a greater risk of injury.”

    Setup: Lie on your back and hold a kettlebell straight up above your shoulder in your left hand with the kettlebell resting against your forearm. Bend your left leg and place your left foot flat on the floor, right leg straight and right arm extended out to the side, palm flat. Look up at the kettlebell and keep your eyes there for the duration of the move.

    Move: Keeping your left arm perpendicular to the ground, roll onto your right side and prop yourself up on your right elbow, then straighten your right arm until your right hand is supporting your weight. Next, press your hips up until your body is straight from your torso through your right leg. Reverse the steps to return to the setup position, then repeat. Do all reps on one side before switching.

  • Halo

    Targets:  back, shoulders and core

    The Problem: “Many women tend to over-exaggerate this movement, moving their arms and body more than necessary,” Doubroff says. “Keep the motion under control and tight to your head.” 

    Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes forward, knees unlocked. Hold a light kettlebell with one hand on either horn, in a bottoms-up position in front of your chest, with elbows bent. 

    Move: Tighten your core, then slowly circle the kettlebell clockwise around your head (in a “halo”) — from your right ear to the back of your head to your left ear — until the kettlebell is back in the start position. Switch directions to complete one rep. Continue, alternating sides.

  • Swing Snatch

    Targets: full body

    The Problem: The catch. “Most people bruise the backs of their forearms because the kettlebell slams against it as it rotates around their hand,” Doubroff says. “Gripping the handle to the side — instead of holding it dead center — can help prevent this.”

    Setup: Hold a kettlebell in your left hand using an overhand grip toward the inside of the handle, and let your arm hang straight down in front of you, right arm at your side. Space your feet slightly beyond shoulder width, knees slightly bent, toes pointing forward. 

    Move: In one fluid motion, hinge at the waist and swing the weight back between your legs while keeping your back straight. Then drive your heels into the ground, tighten your glutes and snap your hips forward — the kettlebell should swing forward and upward at arm’s length. Once the kettlebell reaches eye level, punch through the horns to allow it to flip onto your forearm and continue to lift the weight up over your head with your arm straight. Reverse these steps and continue, linking your reps together fluidly and continuously. Do all reps on one side before switching.

  • Two-Arm Kettlebell Swing

    Targets: legs and glutes, back, shoulders and core

    The Problem: “Most people do this move in a squat position instead of in a hip-hinge position, bending their knees as they go,” Doubroff says. “This places a ton of tension on your lumbar region, and if you have any kind of lower-back pain or have overactive hips from sitting all day, it can really compromise your lower back, especially if you’re using heavy weight.”

    Setup: Hold a kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip, arms hanging straight down in front of you, shoulders packed. Space your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, toes pointing forward.

    Move: Keeping your spine straight and your head neutral, hinge at the waist (approximately 45 degrees) as you swing the weight back between your legs. Then quickly snap your hips forward and tighten your glutes, using just enough force so that the kettlebell swings forward, ending the swing about chin height. Let gravity reverse the motion and bring the kettlebell back down through your legs. Link your reps using an even cadence.