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Ultimate Kettlebell Strength Training Guide: Build Muscle and Improve Performance

Kettlebell strength training combines equal parts strength, stability, and stamina. Kettlebell training is highly technical and will increase your strength, muscle mass, endurance, and flexibility.

12 min readOctober 19th, 2023

This guide will cover everything you need to know about this training style, including kettlebell training benefits, the five most important exercises to master as a beginner, and tips on adding kettlebell training to your workouts.

What is Kettlebell Training?

A kettlebell is a cast-iron or cast-steel ball with a handle attached to the top.

Its design allows for a unique training style where the lifter constantly changes their grip to swing, press, push, and dip the bell around their body.

Kettlebells vary significantly in weight, and standard competition bells range from 8 to 32 kilograms (or about 17 to 70 pounds).

Kettlebell training includes traditional strength training exercises, such as goblet squats, rows, and presses, as well as Olympic weightlifting variations, such as snatches and cleans.

Like any sport, kettlebell training has its own lingo. Traditional slow and controlled strength movements with a kettlebell are called grinds, while the dynamic exercises that swing the bell (including the Oly lifts) are called ballistic movements.

Kettlebell moves can further be divided into two styles: hardstyle and kettlebell sport. Hardstyle primarily focuses on maximum power production, so participants use higher weights and lower reps.

While kettlebell sport focuses more on endurance, utilizing higher reps with lower weights.

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History of Kettlebell Training

Kettlebell training traces its origins back to Russian farmers in the 1700s. Back then, kettlebells were used as counterweights at small-town farmer’s markets for measuring and weighing goods.

Eventually, these farmers realized the steel bells were helpful for more than measuring and started using them in feats of strength.

Later, kettlebell strength training became the official sport of the Soviet Union in 1948 and was incorporated into military training as well as gym classes for kids. It would take another 50 years for kettlebell training to catch on worldwide due to the rise of CrossFit and the functional strength movement.

Today, you’ll find kettlebells in almost every gym in the USA, as they’re recognized as a valuable and effective strength training tool, just like dumbbells and barbells.

Popularity of Kettlebell Training in the US

While kettlebell strength training has undoubtedly gained popularity since its days as a Soviet pastime, it’s still one of the lesser-known strength training styles today.

This is mainly due to how technical the movements are to learn and that finding a qualified kettlebell coach is hard. So, while most gyms in the US have kettlebells lying around, only some people are using them to their full potential.

Benefits of Kettlebell Strength Training

What is the full potential of kettlebell training? It’s a comprehensive strength style that can address all aspects of fitness, including strength, endurance, flexibility, and power.

Improved Strength, Muscle, and Power

First and foremost, kettlebell training is strength training.

Slinging heavy bells around works to build muscular strength and size effectively. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that kettlebell training is effective as a stand-in or alternative tool for power and strength sports.

You can think of power as strength + speed, and the ballistic nature of kettlebell swinging movements increases power production. This is excellent news for strength and conditioning coaches who may not have access to the equipment or knowledge required for coaching other power sports like Olympic weightlifting.

Enhanced Coordination and Movement Patterns

When athletes build bigger, stronger muscles, their bodies must adapt by increasing neuromuscular control and muscular recruitment speed. So an additional benefit of strength training for athletes is increased coordination and more efficient movement patterns.

Improved Cardiovascular Fitness

Kettlebell training is a rare pursuit that combines strength training work with cardio for maximum efficiency and results.

The dynamic and flowing complexes (multiple exercises performed sequentially without breaking your grip on the bell) featured in kettlebell training keep you moving constantly and raise your heart rate.

This provides all the benefits of a low-impact cardio session plus strength gains. Because of this, kettlebell training is often featured in military workout programs worldwide.

Compact and Convenient Fitness Anywhere

Another benefit of kettlebell strength training is its convenience. With one single bell, you can get a total body strength session plus a low-impact cardio workout with extremely minimal space requirements. What other strength sport can say that?

Essential Kettlebell Exercises for Strength Training

The following exercises are all highly effective compound movements that can be combined to create an efficient total body workout for beginners.

Note that most kettlebell exercises can be trained with one or two hands. Start by learning the two-handed variation first.

KB Goblet Squat

Squats are a foundational movement pattern and are unbeatable for strength-building.

The KB goblet squat is an excellent exercise for beginners as it will build strength and comfort with the different grip styles.

What it Targets

Quads, glutes, hamstrings, upper back

Form Breakdown

  1. Start with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out slightly. Feet position and toe angle will vary from person to person, so find a stance that feels good to you.
  2. Pick up the bell and hold it at a front rack height, directly in front of your chest. You can grip the bell in a few different ways. I recommend holding it bell down and handle up, gripping the handle equally in each hand (called a horn grip).
  3. Inhale and lower your body slowly to parallel (thighs are parallel to the ground). Never collapse into the movement, but lower yourself in a controlled fashion, maintaining muscle tension throughout the whole exercise.
  4. Ensure your chest remains high, your neck neutral (no looking up or down with your head), and the bell held close to your body at chest level throughout the lift.
  5. When you reach the bottom of the squat, visualize pressing hard through the floor and pushing your knees out while driving up.
  6. Stand up tall while maintaining the bell at chest height.

Progression & Regression Options

If you don’t have the ankle mobility for a goblet squat just yet, elevate your heels to reduce your range of motion.

Once you master the goblet squat, you can try more advanced variations, such as the single-rack and double-rack goblet squat. You can watch tutorials for all of those variations here.

Arm Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is the best-known exercise on the list for good reason. It’s a dynamic move that teaches you how to produce power, learn technique, and scorch your posterior chain.

The kettlebell swing has two main variations: the American and Russian swings.

The Russian swing is the traditional variation where the bell swings to chest height. In contrast, the American swing brings the bell directly overhead.

The American swing has many critics because it can be unsafe for your shoulders, so I recommend sticking with the Russian variation. You can check out the differences in the form here.

What it Targets

Hamstrings, glutes, core, lats, shoulders, and triceps.

Form Breakdown

  1. Setup is everything for your swing. Choose a stance approximately shoulder width apart with your feet slightly on an angle.
  2. Remember that the kettlebell swing is a lower-body exercise, not an upper-body exercise. The movement starts with a hip hinge, and you create momentum by snapping your hips forward.
  3. Start with the kettlebell centered on the floor, a foot or so from your feet, creating a triangle between the bell and your feet.
  4. Bend down in a hip hinge, driving your hips back while keeping your back flat and your neck neutral, and grab the bell handle with both hands.
  5. Drive your hips forward, keep your elbows soft (try to relax your arms and shoulders), and allow the bell to float up in a controlled fashion.
  6. Allow the KB to drift to chest level, then bring it back down to the starting position in the hip hinge.

Progression & Regression Options

To master a KB swing, you must first master a hip hinge.

Once you master the two-arm KB swing, you can advance to the one-arm KB swing, which requires even more coordination and control.

Kettlebell Windmill

The windmill is a highly challenging, low-impact mobility and stability exercise that works your core and shoulder muscles.

Like most KB moves, it’s technical and requires a foundation of upper-body strength and stability before attempting it.

What it Targets

Obliques, six-pack muscles, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and back.

Form Breakdown

  1. Your feet should be wide apart and on a 45-degree angle, pointing in the same direction.
  2. Hold the kettlebell in one hand with the arm opposite of the direction your feet are facing.
  3. Push your hips back while keeping your chest up and look at the hand holding the bell. Your upper body will rotate to face the bell.
  4. Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds.
  5. Reverse that movement and stand up while keeping your arm that’s holding the weight locked out.

Progression & Regression Options

Like the KB swing, the windmill relies on a solid hip hinge foundation, so you must master that before attempting this movement.

This video has an excellent regression flow to help you build the strength and stability to achieve a KB windmill.

Once you master the traditional KB windmill, you can try this one-armed variation.

Kettlebell Gorilla Row

The gorilla row is one of my favorite moves to throw in a KB circuit, which scorches your back, arms, and core.

What it Targets

Lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps, and shoulders.

Form Breakdown

  1. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width and place your two kettlebells between your feet with the handles parallel like tracks.
  2. Hinge down to grab the kettlebells, keeping your neck neutral and your back flat.
  3. Row one arm at a time, minimizing rotation at the waist.

Progression & Regression Options

If two kettlebells feel unwieldy, you can simplify the movement by starting with one and working on the technique at a lighter weight.

Turkish Get-up

Few exercises will challenge your body in all planes of motion and require equal parts strength, stability, and flexibility–but the Turkish get-up can.

This exercise is the most advanced on this list as it requires extreme stability in the least stable joint in your body, the shoulder. However, if you’re willing to learn the technique and build up your strength and stability over time, there are a few more effective exercises.

The Turkish get-up will also help you build the strength and stability necessary for the more advanced kettlebell moves like the snatch and clean.

What it Targets

Nearly every muscle in the body

Form Breakdown

  1. Start in the fetal position, facing the right side and the KB.
  2. Grab the KB with your right hand and roll onto your back. The KB should be in front of you in the front rack position, and your left arm should be outstretched on the ground for support. Keep your eyes on the bell.
  3. Press the KB out, tuck your right leg into your body while you sit forward, and extend your left leg and arm out straight each at 45 degrees for support. You should be sitting upright.
  4. Plant your right foot on the ground, and sweep your left leg from in front of you to behind so that you’re resting on your left knee and left arm for support, with your right leg at a 90-degree angle.
  5. Push off the ground with your left arm into a modified lunge position. Swipe your left leg into a traditional lunge position.
  6. Stand up while maintaining that lockout in your right arm.
  7. Stabilize at the top, then reverse each movement to return to the starting position.

Progression & Regression Options

If that sequence sounds complicated, it is. But never fear! You can learn to perform a Turkish get-up by breaking it down into its subsequent parts and mastering each one.

When you’re learning the movement, you’ll start without any weight to drill into movement technique and flow.

Check out this tutorial for learning the Turkish Get-up.

This tutorial shows different advanced ways to practice the Turkish Get-up when you master the traditional setup.

How to Add Kettlebell Training To Your Program

Like with any new strength training technique, you’ll need to start with light weights and learn the form for each exercise. If possible, I strongly recommend in-person coaching, as highly technical lifts are difficult to learn without in-the-moment coaching adjustments.

Tackle Technique First

Technique is always a priority when learning a new exercise, but this is especially true for kettlebell training.

Like Olympic weightlifting, KB training requires equal parts strength and stability to perform the lifts safely. You will need to practice thousands of repetitions before moves like the windmill and Turkish getup feel effortless, so don’t get discouraged.

Set reasonable expectations and celebrate the little victories along your kettlebell training journey.

Prioritize Reps & Recovery Initially

If you’re working on technique development, you’ll have to use much lighter weights than you can lift. For some, this can feel like a hit to the ego, but remember your why.

You’ve decided to learn a whole new sport, one that is complex and technical. High-volume work can be exhausting in its own way, so prioritize rest between workouts and get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Kettlebell Strength Training Resources

Best Kettlebell Coaching & Instruction

Best Free Kettlebell Programs & Articles

Best Kettlebell Training Books

Best Kettlebell Videos

FAQs about Kettlebell Strength Training

What are the benefits of using kettlebells for strength training compared to other equipment?

The benefits of kettlebell strength training include:

  • Improved Strength and Power
  • Increased Muscle Mass
  • Enhanced Coordination and Movement Patterns
  • Improved Cardiovascular Fitness
  • Compact and Convenient Fitness Anywhere

Are there any specific exercises that are beneficial for targeting specific muscle groups with kettlebells?

Kettlebell workouts are inherently multi-joint, compound movements that are designed to hit muscle groups at the same time.

If you want to isolate a single muscle group at a time, you are better off using machines or dumbbells, as those tools are superior for isolation.

How often should I incorporate kettlebell training into my workout routine?

If you’re new to kettlebell training, you should plan on kettlebell training at least 2 to 3 sessions a week as you’ll need lots of reps to master the technical exercises.

Bottom Line

Kettlebell training is a phenomenal option for anyone who wants to gain strength, stamina, and coordination with minimal equipment and space. It’s an excellent cross-training method for athletes as it improves overall coordination, yields more efficient movement patterns, and builds muscle.

Beginners should focus on mastering the goblet squat, gorilla row, kettlebell swing, windmill, and Turkish get-up. Kettlebell movements are highly technical, so be sure to find a qualified coach who can teach you the exercises correctly to prevent injury and maximize your progress.

More Strength Training Advice from GymBird Experts


The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Transference of kettlebell training to strength, power, and endurance.

SportMont. Analysis of Cadets’ Endurance Development at Higher Military Educational Institutions during the Kettlebell Lifting Training.