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Fancy equipment is great, but wanna know a secret? You don’t need it to get a great workout in. You may have already learned that as you worked through pandemic lockdowns and the resulting virtual fitness craze we’re still in the midst of. This full-body kettlebell workout is even further proof.
For exercises that mostly involve the lower body (swings, deadlifts, squats), trainer and author of the book Kettlebells for Women Lauren Brooks recommends beginning with an 18-pound (or eight-kilogram) kettlebell. For exercises mostly engaging the upper body, begin with less weight — Brooks suggests roughly 10 to 12 pounds, or four to six kilograms.
Try doing a combination of these moves three to five times a week, performed for 10 to 30 minutes. (The workout as prescribed in order below is approximately 30 minutes.) Brooks recommends resting 20 to 40 seconds between sets, depending on the intensity of your sets and your fitness level.
The Full-Body Kettlebell Workout
Do it instead of: the leg curl machine, donkey kicks, back extensions
Why: This exercise strengthens, tones and firms the hamstrings, glutes, back and abs.
Set Up: Stand over the kettlebell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and shift your butt behind you as if sitting down in a high chair. Keep your head aligned with your spine and maintain a flat back.
Action: Grab the bell’s handle as you actively hinge your hips behind you, keeping your heels planted on the floor. Keep your legs straight as you extend your hips to stand, squeezing your glutes at the very top. Slowly lower, then repeat. Do 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps.
- Don’t look down; this will cause your lower back to round.
- Keep your shoulders pulled back and down at the top of the deadlift.
- Don’t lean back when you come back into the standing position.
Do it instead of: the elliptical trainer, leg press, leg extension and leg curl machines, back extensions, abs crunch machine
Why: The swing works a ton of muscles, including the glutes, legs, back and abs, while also providing a cardio effect.
Set Up: Stand with your feet between hip- to shoulder-width apart, with the bell on the floor roughly half a foot in front of you. Hinge your hips behind you, keeping a slight bend in the knees. Maintain a flat back as you grab the handle of the ‘bell (still on the floor) with both hands and tilt it slightly towards you. (This position engages the hamstrings and lats for optimal swing performance.)
Action: Swing the bell through your legs behind you while keeping it close to your upper inner thighs to help protect your back. Next, thrust your hips forward, squeezing your glutes and allowing your legs to extend to a standing position. At the top of the swing (the ‘bell should not go beyond chest level), contract your abdominals. Allow the momentum to bring the weight and your hips back to the start at the same time. Do 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps.
- For optimal power, gently lock your knees at the top without hyper-extending them.
- As you thrust your hips forward, drive through your heels, keeping them planted on the floor.
Do it instead of: the leg press, leg abductor/adductor machines
Why: This squat variation boosts leg and glutes strength in addition to aiding core stability. It also improves the range of motion in your inner thighs, allowing you to drop lower to the ground as you squat.
Set Up: Stand with feet anywhere from hip- to shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell by the horns close to your chest, with your elbows pointing downward. Plant your heels on the ground and point your toes out slightly.
Action: Bend your knees and hips to sink into a squat, bringing your butt down with control. Lower your butt below knee level, allowing your knees to open slightly out to the sides. Squeeze the glutes as you return to standing. Do 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps.
Tip: At the bottom of the squat, try making an “s” sound (like in “hiss”) for a few seconds to help brace your core.
Do it instead of: lateral raises, front raises, triceps kickbacks, military presses
Why: This move not only activates the entire shoulder complex, but when done properly, will also strengthen and sculpt the triceps.
Set up: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the ‘bell in a racked position with one hand (under chin-level but in front of the working shoulder).
Action: Keep your knees slightly bent and squeeze your glutes as you press the weight over your head in one straight line without bringing your elbow out to the side; as you lift the kettlebell, allow your knees to straighten. Note that, at the top, your palm should be facing forward and the weight should be slightly behind your head with your biceps beside your ear. Bring the ‘bell back down, slowly lowering your elbow back to the racked position (don’t let gravity take over!). Pause, then repeat. When your set is complete, switch sides. 3-4 sets of 5 reps (each side).
Tip: When the ‘bell is over your head, your elbow should be locked, with a straight wrist.
Do it instead of: Smith machine upright row, barbell row
Why: The pulling motion strengthens your biceps and back, and your abs and legs are contracted to help stabilize you throughout the entire set.
Set Up: Take a wide stance with your right leg forward, foot pointing straight ahead, and your back foot perpendicular to the front. Bend your right knee and hold the kettlebell in your left hand, with your arm extended towards the floor. Keeping a flat back, rest your right forearm lightly on your right thigh to stabilize.
Action: Pull the kettlebell up by bringing your left elbow behind you. Squeeze your back at the top, then slowly lower the kettlebell back down to the starting position. Repeat, finish your set, then switch sides. 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps (each side).
Tip: Keep your arm close to your ribs as you row upward.
Do it instead of: obliques crunches, abs crunch machine
Why: These will strengthen your rectus abdominis and obliques, as well as improve your rotational strength.
Set Up: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet lifted off the ground, holding the kettlebell by the horns in front of your chest. Lean back slightly from your hips.
Action: Slowly rotate the kettlebell to the left side of your torso, then to the right. 3 sets of 15 reps (each side).
Tip: Quickly exhaling on each rotation helps to keep the core tight.
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