Erik’s Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebells Part 3: Basic Exercises

I've gotten great results from training with kettlebells. Several friends ask me for resources. I couldn't find a solid starting point for ultra beginners, so I made my own.

This part collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.

  • Part 1 is a short rant on why kettlebells are efficient training tools, especially for busy people.
  • Part 2 has my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.
  • Part 3 collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.
  • Part 4 has a list of helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises. 
  • Part 5 includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, trainer, fitness expert, or person of any particular talent. I’m just a dude trying to stay healthy. If you have concerns about injury or safety, consult an expert. A real expert, not that one guy across the hall from you who just started CrossFit and reminds you about it every day.

Be Modest and Start with the Basics

Let me start by opening up with some honesty. I think kettlebell exercises look a little weird. Some look downright goofy. And if you’re a beginner, you’re going to be starting with some small weights. You can get fancy with juggles and slingshots, but even those won’t make you look cool, and if you don’t have the basics down, they’re dangerous. So keep it simple.

If you’ve got a sensitive ego, train in the privacy of your own home. Or at least train where that cute guy or gal won’t see you. If you must impress someone, impress them with the results, not the routine.

I’m a beginner, so I won’t try to explain all the details of proper form myself. So I’ve collected some basic moves along some instructional videos* below. And you can easily find more guides for each exercise online. 

I can’t emphasize enough, the best part of training with kettlebells may be in the efficiency, part of which results from having simple exercises. The exercises below may look easy, but try them before you knock them. If you’ve been doing the typical gym routine, I promise the exercises will challenge you.

Part 4 has a handful of slightly more advanced exercises once you’ve nailed the form on the exercises below.

If you want a single, aggregated resource on proper form, Pavel Tsatsouline’s book, Enter the Kettlebell, is a great primer on kettlebell form and training programs.

*Some of the videos may have rad metal riffs to accompany the demonstrations. You’re welcome.

Swing

The swing is the most basic and fundamental kettlebell exercise. It’s great for increasing strength in your back, abs, it does wonders for hip flexibility, it’s easy on the knees, and, most importantly, it will give you a great ass. If you want a quick way to get your heart-rate up, you can bust out a few swings and be on your way.

The key thing to remember as you learn the swing is that hips are the driving force behind the exercise. Tim Ferriss deconstructs the swing in a helpful way:

The kettlebell should feel like it’s floating once you’ve driven out with your hips.

One-Armed Swing

Once you’ve gotten the swing down, you can do the one-armed swing. It’s the same thing as the swing, except with one hand holding onto the kettlebell. One-armed swings work your grip and your back a bit more than two-armed swings since you have to control all the weight with one hand and more with one side of your body. Make sure that your free arm is swinging along your body with the kettlebell. Don’t use it to support yourself or you could injure your back. Here’s a random bro doing one-armed swings correctly.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a low stress way to practice squatting, especially if you’re like me and have poor mobility restricting you from properly executing squats. As the guy in the video explains, you hold the kettlebell at chest level and squat. You can hang out at the bottom of the squat to work on opening your hips.

Halo

The halo is a good warm-up for shoulders, which are the work-horse once you get into pressing, snatching ad get-ups. The halo will help gradually increase your shoulder range of motion if you’re restricted.

Once you’ve gotten some reps in with these basics and you feel ready to put the kettlebell in places where it can hurt you, move on to advanced exercises.