No offence to sit-ups, planks and hollow holds, but basic core exercises can feel drab day after day. They work the abdominals, but if you’re looking for stronger, sculpted abs, let me introduce you to a secret weapon: the kettlebell. I’m talking about kettlebell core exercises, specifically.
First things first: “A kettlebell is a cast-iron ball with a handle attached to the top and due to its offset load and centre of gravity, the kettlebell is used to train power, endurance, speed and strength,” says Lauren Kanski, CPT, creator of the Body & Bell program on the Ladder app and a WH advisor. “It’s a very ballistic style of training, but in my opinion, it’s elite if you’re strapped for time and/or financial investment.”
The kettlebell also adds a fresh spin on core workouts because it uses your body, says Kanski. “Many people don’t understand that full-body complex movements are the best options to train the core compared to core-centric exercises,” she explains. And based on the pure versatility of a kettlebell, they allow for a well-rounded workout to build power, strength and endurance in the various movement patterns, all while sculpting your core, she adds.
Meet the expert: Lauren Kanski, CPT, is the creator of the Body & Bell program on the Ladder app and a advisor.
Another perk? Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or beginner, kettlebell exercises are effective for anyone and everyone, stresses Kanski. These moves are easy to adapt to your goals and level by changing up the load, speed, time under tension, isolation and tempo.
As for how often you should do kettlebell exercises, Kanski recommends four to five days a week for optimal results. “The best part about the kettlebells is all the goals go hand in hand,” she explains. “You get leaner, stronger and more athletic as you spend time learning the skills.” (Here! For! It!)
For a killer total-body workout, keep scrolling for Kanski’s picks for kettlebell core exercises.
10 Best Kettlebell Core Exercises
Instructions: Pick one lower-body move, one upper-body move and either a windmill or Turkish get-up. Do 3 sets of 10 reps for each of the upper and lower body exercises and 2 sets of 3 reps for the windmill or Turkish get-up.
Focus on your breath. “Inhale as you move the load toward the floor or brace to lift and exhale as you move the load away from the floor,” Kanski says. “It applies to all main lifts, swings, cleans and snatches because breathing controls the core engagement.”
1. Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Why it rocks: Get ready for a total-body torcher because this move works your upper body, lower body and abs, says Kanski. Your core also works extra hard to stabilize your trunk as you squat up and down.
- Start standing with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell at chest height with both hands, elbows bent and pointing toward the floor.
- Inhale as you sit hips back and bend knees to lower body until thighs are parallel to the floor, elbows brushing the inside of knees.
- Pause, then exhale as you explosively press through heels and scoop hips forward to return to standing. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps.
2. Kettlebell Renegade Row
Why it rocks: This an awesome full-body exercise with an upper-body focus, says Kanski. You’ll also work your anti-rotational core which is key for stabilizing your lower back and preventing your hips from rocking side to side, she adds.
- Start in a high plank position with kettlebells in each hand, hands directly under shoulders, feet behind you about hip-distance apart (or wider for more stability). Your body should form a straight line from head to toe.
- Inhale and engage core as you slowly draw kettlebell in right hand up to right hip as if you were putting in pocket. Keep elbow close to body and pointing upward.
- Exhale, keep core engaged and body still, as you continue to push through left hand and slowly return weight to the starting position.
- Repeat with the left side. That’s 1 rep. Continue alternating for 10 reps.
3. Kettlebell Deadlift
Why it rocks: Not only is this an awesome move for better balance, but you’ll feel it in your hamstrings and glutes, says Kanski. It’s also a functional movement for walking and running gait strength, she adds.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of you, near thighs.
- Engage core, keep back and legs straight, hinge at hips and send butt back as you inhale and lower kettlebell toward the ground. Keep weight in heels.
- Maintain position and lower as far as your flexibility allows, ideally the kettlebell level with the middle of your shins.
- Squeeze glutes, contract hips, engage core and exhale as you drive back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps.
4. Kettlebell Seated Overhead Press
Why it rocks: This move takes your legs out of the equation and forces you to work your hips, core and upper body, says Kanski. You’ll also notice your triceps engage as you extend the kettlebell overhead, she adds.
- Start seated with legs extended, butt on ground, back straight, with a kettlebell in each hand, arms bent, elbows narrow, palms facing inward and weights resting against upper arms.
- Inhale and in one motion, rotate palms away from body and press the kettlebells overhead until arms are straight and biceps are by ears. Squeeze kettlebells tightly so there is no bend in the wrists.
- Exhale as you reverse motion to return to start. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps.
5. Kettlebell Lateral Lunge
Why it rocks: This move works your frontal plane, which is key for injury prevention, says Kanski. It also targets your inner thighs which are necessary for stabilizing your core.
- Start standing with feet under hips holding a kettlebell at chest.
- Inhale and engage core as you take a large step out with the right leg and sit hips back, bending right knee until right thigh is parallel to floor while left leg remains straight, toes of both feet facing forward. Stay tall in the chest and keep kettlebell close to body.
- Exhale and push through the right heel to return to start. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
6. Kettlebell Windmill
Why it rocks: This is a hip-dominant movement that works your rotational core, says Kanski. You’ll also engage your obliques as you rotate and stabilize the kettlebell overhead.
- Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing toward left at a 45-degree angle, with a kettlebell in right hand, right arm extended straight overhead and left arm by side. Keep eyes on the kettlebell.
- Inhale as you rotate chest to the right, look up at the kettlebell and slowly hinge at waist to lower torso toward floor and touch left foot with left fingers, pushing hips back to the right corner of the room. You can bend left knee as much as needed to rotate but keep standing leg straight.
- Pause, then exhale as you reverse motion to return to start. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 slow reps, then switch sides and repeat.
7. Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
Why it rocks: This advanced move packs a punch and works your rotational core, hip strength, grip strength and upper and lower body, says Kanski. It’s also great for promoting overhead mobility and stability, she adds.
- Start lying faceup with right leg straight on mat, left leg bent, foot flat on floor, right arm out at the side on floor at 45-degree angle and left arm holding kettlebell above shoulder, triceps on floor and elbow at 45-degree angle from body.
- Raise the weight up above the chest, keeping your gaze on it, until arm is straight but not locked at the elbow.
- Push into the right forearm to sit up.
- Rise onto the right palm, lift hips off floor and slide right leg behind body until kneeling on right knee with shin parallel to top of mat.
- Sweep right foot back behind body to come into kneeling lunge with both legs bent at 90 degrees. Push through feet to stand bringing feet together under hips.
- Reverse entire movement step-by-step to return to start. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
8. Kettlebell Squat To Overhead Press
Why it rocks: Not only will you feel a burn in your upper and lower body, but this is an “elite” core move since it works your anti-rotational core and builds power in your legs, says Kanski. It’s a win-win.
- Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart holding a kettlebell in each hand, arms bent, elbows narrow, palms facing inward and weights resting against upper arms.
- Inhale and lower body down into a squat.
- Engage core and in one motion, exhale as you push through heels to stand, rotate palms to face away from body and explosively press the kettlebell overhead until arms are straight.
- Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps.
9. Kettlebell Halo
Why it rocks: This move is key for stabilizing your abs and promoting 360-degree core strength, as well as improving the range of motion in your shoulder joints, says Kanski. Hello, shoulder mobility!
- Start standing with feet hip-width apart holding the handle of a kettlebell with both hands in front of face, elbows bent and wide at sides. Engage core with belly button pulled in toward tailbone.
- Keeping both elbows bent and the rest of the body still, slowly circle the kettlebell around head once, keeping the weight at eye level. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps in each direction.
10. Kettlebell Farmer’s Carry
Why it rocks: It might look simple, but this move is a full-body exercise that hits the upper and lower body, in addition to your core, says Kanski. It’ll also target the smaller stabilizing muscles as you stay tall and fight the urge to rotate toward the side holding the kettlebell, she adds.
- Start standing with feet together, a kettlebell in left hand, arm by side and right hand on hip.
- Engage abs and take a small step forward. Continue stepping one foot in front of the other for a total of 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.
Benefits Of Kettlebell Exercises For Core And More
1. Build muscle
If you’re looking to build major muscle, Kanski says kettlebells are your go-to. Because most kettlebell exercises recruit your *entire* body (hello, Turkish get-ups and squat to overhead press), you get more bang for your buck in less time, she adds. You’ll also notice a lot of kettlebell moves promote time under tension which is extremely effective for muscle hypertrophy (AKA an increase in muscle size).
2. Produce power
When training with kettlebells, you’re using compensatory acceleration (for example, swinging the bells as quickly as possible) which torches calories and generates extremely high neuromuscular engagement, says Kanski. “The unique shape and offset load also act as an extended lever, which allows you to produce more torque and power,” she explains. As a result, you build explosive power which is key for overall sports performance and muscular endurance.
3. Train grip strength
Kettlebells are phenomenal for grip strength and wrist flexion, in turn, supporting shoulder and elbow health and longevity, says Kanski. After all, you have to use your wrists, elbows and shoulders to control the bell while moving through various planes of motion.
4. Experiment with training variety
Based on the 10 moves above, it’s clear there’s a wide variety of exercises you can train with a kettlebell, says Kanski. Whether you’re training lower body, upper body, or core, you’ll see major gains with only one kettlebell. They’re also portable and take little space in your home or gym.
5. Boost cardiovascular activity
Not only are kettlebells killer for strength gains, but research shows they also increase aerobic capacity. In fact, one study found that kettlebell exercises could significantly improve aerobic capacity to boost cardiovascular fitness.
This article by Andi Breitowich was first published on Women’s Health US.