If your cardio routine is feeling stale, you may want to ditch the treadmill and grab some kettlebells instead.
“One of the things I like most about kettlebell training is that it’s an exciting way to do cardio,” says Chris Finn, StrongFirst Level 2 Kettlebell instructor and personal trainer at Life Time Athletic at Sky. “You can get a really good cardio workout using kettlebells, and it makes you stronger as well.”
Since most of us are familiar with the kettlebell swing, we asked Finn for some additional moves to get your heart rate up and build strength (because who doesn’t love an efficient workout?).
Finn recommends training with competition-style kettlebells (prices vary, available on amazon.com) like the ones featured here. “With competition-style kettlebells, the size of the kettlebell and the handgrip are always same,” says Finn. “The only thing that changes is the weight, so when you get used to a certain position, you don’t have to adjust it as you go up in weight.”
For experienced kettlebell users, a good starting weight is whatever you would use for a single-hand swing, according to Finn. However, if you’re a beginner, you’ll want to start with a lighter weight to get the form down and invest in a pair of forearm guards like Harbinger HumanX kettlebell arm guards ($20.99, amazon.com).
If you don’t have access to a trainer, you can videotape yourself to check your form. “With ballistic movements such as snatches and cleans, it’s hard to think about the action while you’re doing it,” Finn says. “The best way to learn it is to video it, and then watch the video back to self-correct.”
How to use this list: Warm up by foam rolling and performing a few dynamic exercises (found here). Choose 5 to 7 exercises and perform them as a circuit for 3 to 5 rounds, with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between each round. Or scroll to the bottom of the article to check out the Deep 6 workout Finn put together for us.
Before starting, Finn suggests testing your circuit by doing one rep of each exercise to make sure all the exercises flow well together. For a cardio burn, perform as many reps as possible as fast as you can without compromising your form. For a strength-focused workout, perform each exercise with the heaviest kettlebell you can manage without compromising form.
Start with feet hip-width distance apart, about a foot behind the kettlebell. Keeping your back straight, bend knees and send hips back to grab the kettlebell with right hand, tilting it toward you. In one smooth motion, drive through feet to swing bell between legs, then straighten legs as you flip your grip and pull the kettlebell up toward your right shoulder. At the top of the clean, your wrist should be rotated, so the palm faces in to midline of the body (point your thumb at your shoulder). Reverse the motion to lower the kettlebell back between your legs and then back to starting position. Perform 10 to 20 reps and repeat on other side.
Make it easier: Start with a lighter kettlebell to master the movement. Once you’ve perfected it, increase the weight.
Make it harder: Add a second kettlebell and perform the clean with both arms at the same time.
Start with feet hip-width apart and the kettlebell racked (kettlebell rests on forearm with wrist inside of elbow) at shoulder height with palm facing in. Drive fist up and straighten elbow to press the weight overhead. As you do this, your wrist should rotate, so palm faces forward at the top of the move. Return to starting position with control. Perform 10 to 20 reps and repeat on other side.
Make it harder: When you build up to a heavy weight, turn the press into a push press: Add a slight bend in knees and do a mini squat to push the weight up to a press.
Stand with feet just wider than hip width, hips stacked over knees, knees over ankles. Rack two kettlebells at shoulder height. Hinge at hips then send hips back and bend knees to lower body. Keep chest lifted and lower to at least 90 degrees. Your back should stay straight through the entire movement. Rise and repeat. Perform 10 to 20 reps.
Make it easier: Perform this exercise with a single kettlebell racked to one side.
4. Deadlift to Goblet Squat
Stand with feet hip-width apart, kettlebell between feet. Keeping your back straight, hinge at hips and slightly bend knees to grab the kettlebell with both hands. Use your lower back to lift the weight up to chest height as you straighten knees and lift chest. Send hips back to lower into a squat. Rise back up, then hinge at hips with a slight bend in knees to lower weight back to ground. Perform 10 to 20 reps.
Make it easier: Split the exercise into two parts. Practice just the goblet squat or just the deadlift, before putting the moves together.
5. Lateral Bend
Stand with feet hip-width apart with left hand holding a kettlebell and right hand by side. Engage your core, then bend at the waist to lower weight toward ankle. You’ll feel a stretch in the opposite side. Hips and shoulders should stay square to the front the whole time. Return to starting position then repeat on other side. Continue to alternate for 30 to 45 seconds and then repeat holding the kettlebell in left hand.
Make it harder: Try this move with a kettlebell in each hand.
6. Rack Walk
Rack one kettlebell in left hand at shoulder height. Right arm is by your side. Keeping left arm still, walk across the room as fast as possible. Check that back is straight and that you don’t lean to the left or backward as you perform this move. Perform for 30 to 45 seconds.
Make it harder: Perform this exercise with two kettlebells racked in each hand.
Hold the kettlebell bottom up by the horns at chest height. Stand tall and engage core as you move the bell to the right, behind your head, and to the left in a circular motion. Perform 10 to 20 reps and repeat in the opposite direction.
8. Goblet Lunge
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the kettlebell by horns at chest height. Step right foot back and bend knees to 90 degrees to lower into a lunge. Drive through left heel to return to starting position. Keep back straight and hips square as you perform the movement. Perform 10 to 20 reps and repeat on left leg.
Make it harder: Hold a kettlebell in each hand by your sides.
Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Hold the kettlebell in your right hand as if you’re getting ready for a single-arm kettlebell swing. Bend knees and swing the kettlebell back between legs. In one fluid motion, drive through your legs to swing the kettlebell up, flip grip (so palm is facing away and knuckles punch up), and press weight overhead. Rotate the bell down and swing it back between legs to start again. Perform for 30 to 45 seconds and repeat on other side.
10. Pistol Squat
Start standing and hold the kettlebell by horns at chest height. Extend right leg out in front of you, then sit hips back and bend left knee to lower down into a single-leg squat, keeping right foot off the floor. Return to starting position. Perform 5 to 10 reps and repeat on other side.
Make it easier: Make your range of motion smaller by sitting back onto a box or bench.
11. Turkish Get Up
The Turkish get up is a complicated move, so you want to be comfortable with the basic technique before adding the kettlebell. Finn suggests practicing with a water bottle or shoe. “The idea is that the arm holding the kettlebell is directly up in the air the entire time, because if it’s not directly over your head and your skeleton isn’t taking the weight, the shoulder is placed in a compromising position,” he says. If you can get all the way up and back down without dropping the water bottle and losing alignment, you know you’re ready to try it with the kettlebell.
Start lying faceup. Bend right knee and place right foot on floor and left arm straight out to the side. Extend right arm directly over shoulder and balance a half-filled water bottle on top of fist. Using your abs, roll right shoulder off ground. Keeping the water bottle balanced directly over shoulder, come onto left elbow and then left hand. Activate glutes and lift hips off the ground. Sweep left leg behind you. Take left hand off the ground and come into a standing position. You should be watching the water bottle the entire time. Reverse the process to return to starting position. Perform 1 to 5 reps and repeat on other side. Once ready, add the kettlebell. (For more information on perfecting the Turkish get up with a kettlebell, check out this article.)
12. Floor Press
Lie faceup with knees bent and two kettlebells racked at chest height. Drive fists up to ceiling to press the kettlebells straight up. Lower the kettlebells with control to return to starting position. Perform 10 to 20 reps.
13. Glute Bridge
Lie faceup with knees bent, feet on floor, holding the kettlebell on hips. Drive through heels to press hips up toward the ceiling. You should feel your glutes activate at the top. Return to starting position. Perform 10 to 20 reps.
Make it harder: Perform the bridge on one leg.
14. Deep Push-Up
Start in a plank position, wrists under shoulders with each hand on a kettlebell, palms facing in, core engaged. Bend elbows to lower chest to floor. Press into hands to return to starting position. Keep a long line from head to toe through the entire movement. Perform 10 to 20 reps.
Make it easier: Drop to your knees for the push-up.