Kettlebells are weighted implements that look like a cannonball with a flattened bottom and a horseshoe-shaped handle protruding from the top of the “bell.”
Many of the best kettlebell exercises are total-body movements that incorporate your legs, core, and upper body.
But, what are the best kettlebell workouts for mass, power, and strength? Which kettlebell exercises should you incorporate in your kettlebell training for a total-body strength and conditioning workout?
In this article, we will provide step-by-step instructions for kettlebell exercises that you can use in the best kettlebell workouts for strength, mass, and explosive power:
- Kettlebell Swings
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
- Kettlebell Goblet Squats
- Front Squats
- Kettlebell Dead Cleans
- Kettlebell Dead Snatches
- Kettlebell Overhead Forward and Reverse Lunge
Let’s dive in!
The Ultimate Kettlebell Workout for Strength and Power
Here are some of the best kettlebell exercises to build power and explosive strength:
#1: Kettlebell Swings
The kettlebell swing is one of the foundational kettlebell exercises, and it takes advantage of the variable center of gravity and resultant strength curve of the kettlebell.
According to a research study conducted by ACE Fitness, kettlebell swings are one of the most effective hamstring exercises, and studies have found that the kettlebell swing exercise is a highly effective movement for improving functional strength and decreasing the risk of low back pain.
As such, almost all of the best kettlebell workouts for strength and power include the kettlebell swing.
Here are the steps to perform this kettlebell exercise:
- Stand upright with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, gripping the horn of a moderately-heavy kettlebell with both hands. Your arms should be fully extended so the kettlebell is hanging down in front of your body.
- Keep your heels firmly planted but allow a gentle bend in your knees.
- Engage your core and glutes as you press through your heels and explode through your hips to drive the kettlebell upward until it’s roughly chest height and your arms are fully extended out in front of you.
- Control the kettlebell as it descends, loading your glutes and hamstrings. The kettlebell should swing back through the space between your legs somewhat.
- At the end of the arc of the swing, snap your hips forward again to drive the kettlebell back up to chest height.
- Complete 12-20 reps.
#2: Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
You can progress from the basic kettlebell swing to a unilateral single-arm kettlebell swing.
This exercise becomes much more difficult for your core because you have to maintain your shoulders and hips square and keep your spine stable despite the load being on one side.There will be some amount of rotation that occurs, but you should try to keep your core tight so that there is as close to a mirror image across your body as possible in terms of the positioning of your joints.
To perform this exercise, follow the exact same steps for the regular kettlebell swing, but hold the handle in one arm and allow the arc of the swing to come slightly towards the outside (the direction of that shoulder) as the weight comes up.
You may need to use a lighter kettlebell in order to maintain proper form with your hips and shoulders level.
With that said, many people mistakenly think that the kettlebell swing is largely an upper-body exercise and tend to go too light on the weight.
If you are trying to do kettlebell workouts to build strength and power, don’t be afraid to use heavier weights because the power and momentum are really coming from popping your hips forward. Your hips and glutes are quite strong.
#3: Kettlebell Goblet Squats
The design of the kettlebell lends itself well to being a weighted implement as you squat.
It is also a good beginner-friendly kettlebell exercise. Advanced athletes can go super heavy and focus on moving as slowly as possible.
In other words, use a weight that you can only handle for 4 to 6 reps, but try to draw out the entire length of the set as much as you can. The slower you move, the more muscle fibers you will activate, leading to greater mass and strength gains.
Here are the steps to perform this kettlebell exercise for power and strength:
- Hold the sides of the handle of the kettlebell, the horns, and each hand, pressing your forearms into the bell to secure it in place as you squat. This sort of allows you to hug the kettlebell though it shouldn’t be touching your torso.
- Try to keep your hands slightly away from your body if you have the strength and stability to do so. This will further activate your core muscles, glutes, shoulders, and quads. The handle of the kettlebell should be just under chin level.
- Try to keep your toes pointing forward, but if your hip mobility is poor, you can angle them slightly to the outside so that you can deepen your squat.
- Bracing your core and keeping your chest up, bend your knees and sit your hips back to squat down.
- Squat as deep as possible, aiming to bring the thighs at least parallel to the floor, but the closer you can bring your butt to the floor, the better.
- Pause at your lowest position for 2 to 3 seconds, and then squeeze your glutes, hamstrings, and quads as you press through your heels to stand back up.
- Perform 6-12 reps.
#4: Double Kettlebell Front Squats
Although people typically do front squats with dumbbells or a barbell, there’s no reason why you can’t use kettlebells.
The kettlebell front squat is a fantastic kettlebell exercise for leg strength and hypertrophy.
Plus, the nature of the weight distribution of the kettlebell makes it more challenging for your grip strength since the weight hangs downward.
Here are the steps:
- Stand upright with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, and keep your chest up and shoulders down.
- Hold a kettlebell in each hand with your palms facing forward, hooked through the handle so that the bell is resting on your upper chest and the backs of your hands are near your shoulders or the outer portion of the collarbones on either side of your body.
- Maintain a tight grip on the horn of the kettlebell.
- Keeping your chest pressed forward, bend your knees and sit your hips back as far as possible as you lower your body down into a squat.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, and your knees are bent to 90°, pause and hold the bottom position of the squat for 2 to 3 seconds.
- Press explosively through your heels to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 6-12 reps.
#5: Kettlebell Dead Cleans
The kettlebell dead clean exercise has you bring the kettlebell from the floor up to the hand position, right at your shoulder or collarbone, in one smooth motion.
This exercise helps build explosive power and total body strength.
Depending on your current strength and training goals, you can either perform it as a bilateral or unilateral movement.
Here are the steps for this advanced, metabolic kettlebell exercise:
- Stand with a wide stance such that your feet are further than shoulder-width apart.
- Place a kettlebell just to the inside of your foot, near the ball of your foot.
- Keeping your core tight, chest up, and back straight, squat down, and grip the handle of the kettlebell.
- Explode through your feet so that you pull the kettlebell up to the tacked position (hand just in front of the shoulder) in one smooth motion, flipping your wrist into extension so that the palm is facing up.
- Repeat for 8-15 reps.
#6: Kettlebell Dead Snatches
This is like the dead clean, but the end position is straight up overhead, like the end position of an overhead press.
As such, it’s an even more advanced kettlebell exercise for power and total body strength, requiring even more explosive force from the legs and fire and shoulder strength.
Follow the same steps as the dead clean, but bring the weight straight up overhead in one smooth movement.
Keep your core and glutes tight to keep your hips and shoulders level and to prevent your torso from leaning to the side with the weight.
Again, work up to 12-15 reps, depending on your fitness level and goals.
#7: Kettlebell Overhead Forward and Reverse Lunge
This is one of the most challenging, dynamic, total-body kettlebell exercises.
You will not only work your upper body by maintaining the overhead press throughout the duration of the exercise, but because the weight is held unilaterally on one side, you will activate all of your core muscles to maintain proper posture without leaning towards the side with the weight.
By holding the kettlebell overhead, the weight is centered directly over the quads during the forward lunge and over the glutes with a reverse lunge, helping better load these muscles for better gains.
Additionally, the hamstrings and glutes have to work harder to stabilize the lower body with the weight at a further distance from the center of mass as you move and drop up and down between the two versions of the lunge.
Here are the steps for this total-body kettlebell exercise:
- Stand upright with good posture, pressing a kettlebell straight up overhead in one arm. The kettlebell will remain in this position the entire time. Make sure that your hand is straight up over your shoulder. Do not allow your arm to lean forward or back during the exercise.
- Grip the handle and allow the bell of the weight to rest on the back of your wrist.
- Keeping your core and glutes tight, your hips and shoulders level, and your spine straight, take a giant step forward with the leg on the side that is holding the kettlebell.
- Bend both knees to drop down into a forward lunge.
- When your front thigh is parallel to the ground, and both knees are bent 90°, press through your feet to return to the starting position, but instead of stepping back to standing, keep bringing your leg all the way back as you drop into a reverse lunge.
- If possible, make this all one smooth motion without touching down in the neutral standing position.
- After dropping down into your reverse lunge with the leg on the side with the kettlebell in the back, press back up to the forward lunge.
- Complete 6 to 15 reps and then switch sides.
Work up to three sets of each exercise, depending on your fitness level and training goals.
Not sure if you want to train with kettlebells or dumbbells? You can learn more about the benefits of kettlebells vs. dumbbells here.