Building muscle improves your life in different and sometimes surprising ways. For one, an increase in muscle mass increases your metabolic rate, which drives your body to burn fat. So if you’re looking to lose weight, building muscle is an efficient way to reach your weight goals.
Working on your muscles also sculpts the body into a walking fitness goal. Very few people would say no to a perfectly toned midsection. Definition in the chest, shoulder, and arm muscles also adds tons of personality to the humble t-shirt. There’s more: the aesthetics that result from building muscle come with health benefits.
Training your muscles also reinforces your tendons, ligaments, and bones. Athletes rely on this particular upside to minimize the likelihood of injuries, especially in combat sports. Building muscle also increases your strength, making it easier for you to move heavy things or open a stubborn jar of jam. The increase in your fitness level makes you more productive when it comes to any form of physical activity. We can’t forget to mention the benefits to your heart, blood vessels, nervous system, and overall mental health.
All these are excellent reasons to use the humble kettlebell to build muscle in record time.
How The Kettlebell Does What Other Weights Cannot
Kettlebells have an odd shape and an even odder weight distribution; qualities that make kettlebell exercises work your muscles to their limits. As you do a squat or a vertical press, the uneven weight distribution of the kettlebell will try to knock you off balance. You’ll have to compensate for the pull of the kettlebell by engaging certain muscle groups to keep from tipping over.
The result is a full-body workout that is difficult to replicate with other kinds of weights. We explore the different ways you can work different muscles with different kettlebell exercises.
Simple Kettlebell Exercises That Pack A Powerful Punch
You can use a kettlebell to turn regular exercises into resistance exercises. There are also specific exercises that only work with a kettlebell, an excellent example of this being the snatch. Here are a few of the most common kettlebell exercises that you should incorporate into a workout:
1) The Deadlift
Kettlebell deadlifts involve you lifting a weight to waist level. The kettlebell deadlift is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups in the lower and upper body. This variation of the deadlift targets the hamstrings, the glutes, and the quadriceps. It also works other muscles in the lower body, in addition to targeting your core.
Remember to keep your spine straight at all times if you want to execute a kettlebell deadlift in perfect form. Here are the steps that break down one rep of the kettlebell deadlift:
- Your starting position should be with your feet parted at hip-width, with the kettlebell between the feet.
- Bend your knees and hinge your hips back to bend your upper body. This should allow you to reach and take hold of the kettlebell.
- Lift the kettlebell by engaging the muscles in your legs, glutes, back, and core. These muscles should work to straighten your body back to a standing position.
- Lower the kettlebell back to the ground as per the second step.
Your arms should only be extensions of the kettlebell; they shouldn’t play much of a role in lifting the weight. Leave the heavy lifting to your legs, core, and back. Again, remember to keep your spine straight as you lift and lower the kettlebell. Good form allows you to target the right muscles and avoid injury.
2) The Squat
Make the simple squat more of a challenge by adding the asymmetric weight of a kettlebell to the mix. A kettlebell squat is another of those full-body exercises that target most muscle groups in the body. As usual, good form enhances the effectiveness and safety of the kettlebell squat. Here’s how to do one rep:
- Hold a kettlebell to your chest with both hands, using a grip that works for you. You can hold the weight by its handle or the rounded area.
- Stand with your feet apart and tuck elbows in towards your ribs.
- Keep your back straight, and the kettlebell at chest level as you lower your body towards the floor. This requires you to bend your hips, knees, and ankles as you squat.
- A good squat puts your thighs parallel to the ground, but you can go a little lower if you want.
- Use your feet to push off the ground as you rise from the squat position.
Be mindful of your form as you resume a standing position. For starters, use your feet to push off the ground as you straighten your knees. Engage your glutes and push your hips forward at the same time. Remember to keep your spine from arching or sagging the whole time.
3) Kettlebell Clean
Each rep of the kettlebell clean targets most muscles in the lower and upper body. This exercise is as close as you get to a full-body workout, thanks to the different movements that make up a single rep. Here’s how to bring a kettlebell up to the rack hold position:
- Start with your feet parted at shoulder-width, with the kettlebell between the feet.
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge your hips back to bend your torso towards the kettlebell.
- With one arm, take hold of the kettlebell and swing it backward and between your legs.
- Propel your hips forward and raise your upper body to a standing position. This will create the momentum you need to swing the kettlebell forward and upwards.
- As the kettlebell clears your navel, pull it towards your chest and let the weight rest on the back of your wrist.
- Move your arm to the rack position, where the hand that grips the kettlebell is next to your jaw. Your elbow should also tuck into your chest.
Good form is everything when it comes to executing kettlebell exercises. In the case of the kettlebell clean, keep your spine straight with each step. Also, you’ll need to master the art of getting the weight to rest on your wrist without smashing your wrist or forearms.
The backward swing of this exercise works the thigh and calf muscles as you control the kettlebell in a squat position. As you swing the weight forward and upwards, all the muscle groups in your lower and upper body come into play. Your chest, shoulder, and arm muscles complete the rep as you bring the kettlebell to rest on your wrist.
4) The Vertical Press
Each rep of a kettlebell press forces you to keep the oddly-shaped weight in an optimal (rack) position. You also have to compensate for the uneven weight distribution of the kettlebell by keeping your balance and your form.
The challenge in doing a vertical press with a kettlebell comes down to keeping good form. Other than that, the steps are pretty simple.
The starting point of the vertical kettlebell press starts at the rack hold position. Your arm should fold upwards to bring your hand to the level of your jaw. Tuck the elbow against your chest, and the kettlebell should rest comfortably against the outside of your arm. From the rack position, perform the following:
- Keep your wrist straight as you raise your arm straight up and above your head.
- Hold that position for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower your arm, retracing the path that the kettlebell covered as you raised it.
- As you lower your arm, return to the rack position.
Engage the muscles in your back (lats) before each rep. This action puts your back and shoulder muscles to work. A vertical kettlebell press targets most muscle groups in your torso.
5) The Windmill
This is yet another advanced full-body exercise that focuses on the oblique muscles at the sides of the torso. It also works the shoulders and the glutes as bonus perks for all your efforts. Here’s how you do a kettlebell windmill:
- Stand with each foot directly under its corresponding shoulder, with the toes pointing outward at a slight angle.
- Pick up the kettlebell with your right arm and raise the arm over your head, with the right palm facing forward.
- You should be standing straight with your right hand and the kettlebell over your head.
- Keep your right arm in position as you extend your left arm over your left leg.
- Swivel to your left so that your left arm slides down your leg and towards your left foot. The arm with the kettlebell should remain extended the entire time.
The kettlebell windmill is a popular and common component of CrossFit workouts. Like other advanced exercises on this list, it pays to have a trainer check your form as you perfect the exercise.
6) The Snatch
The kettlebell snatch or throw is a full-body exercise that targets the hamstrings, thighs, glutes, hips, and core. As you lift the weight above your head, you work your chest, shoulder, and arm muscles. It bears mentioning that this is an advanced exercise that you should only attempt after you master more straightforward kettlebell moves.
You perform one rep of this exercise by following the steps below:
- Start with each foot directly below your shoulder and the kettlebell in front of you.
- Bend forward at your hip while folding your knees slightly. This should put the kettlebell within your reach.
- Grip the kettlebell handle with your fingers and swing it backward so that your arm goes between your legs.
- Swing the kettlebell forward and upwards to waist level as you straighten your knees and hips.
- Propel the weight upwards with your arm and shoulder muscles while pushing forward with your opposite leg (if you’re holding the weight with the right hand, then use the left foot).
- As the weight is on its upward swing, change your grip so that your palm goes around the handle instead of your fingers.
It’s advisable to try this exercise with help from a trainer. This way, you can master the technique right from the get-go, which is an easier alternative to unlearning bad form.
Putting It All Together
You can use each of these exercises to form a short, simple workout. Most trainers will recommend incorporating one or more of these exercises in a high-intensity workout.
As an example, a simple workout would start with a warm-up session of cardio or dynamic stretching. The workout would proceed with several reps of deadlifts, followed by several kettlebell squats. You could conclude the circuit with vertical kettlebell presses, another round of squats, and a round of kettlebell cleans.
Perfecting each of these exercises is a quick and efficient way to build muscle that will serve you well in the long run.
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