A 20-Minute Kettlebell Circuit That Strengthens Your Entire Body

This killer kettlebell workout is designed to torch calories and build strength. It's not easy, but damn is it effective.

by Matt Schneiderman
Originally Published: 

The kettlebell is the king of workout equipment for the time-crunched. It’s versatile. It’s fun to fling around. And, best of all, you can do a lot with a pair in just 20 minutes. As the handled weight is designed for explosive, eccentric movements — the type of movement that not only leads to big muscle gains but also creates a huge energy demand and high calorie-burning rate (The kettlebell swing, for instance, targets more than 600 muscles). Used correctly, the metal bell builds functional strength and flexibility without that much of a time commitment.

This 20-minute workout comes from Steve Csolak, a Personal Training Manager at Equinox in New York City. It’s a high-intensity circuit meant to keep you moving, sweating, and burning fat. It can be tweaked to optimize strength-endurance-, or muscle-building. Whatever your goal, you’ll feel the results in your arms, your legs, your core, your lungs. And because it ups your heart rate, the routine should make your body continue to incinerate calories for a few hours after it’s over. Not bad for a workout that can be completed in less time than it takes to watch a typical sitcom.

Before You Begin

Selecting the proper weight is an important decision for any workout. Csolak says to consider how hard you’re working — known as perceived exertion — to determine what type of kettlebell is best. “On a scale of 1-to-10 with 10 being ‘I can only move the weight 1 rep’ to 1 being ‘I can do this all day, no problem,’ you should aim for a 7.5-8.5 based on your goals and number of reps,” he says. Another way to figure it out? “Find a weight heavy enough so the bottom of the kettlebell doesn’t tip up at the end of a kettlebell swing when your arms are horizontal.”

The Workout

This circuit is designed to cram a lot of exercise into a short amount of time. As such, it demands little rest between exercises. You should take a one or two-minute breather after each round but transition from one move to the other without much standing around. Perform 3-5 rounds of 4-6 repetitions to build strength; three rounds of 8-12 repetitions to build muscle; or three rounds of 15+ repetitions to build endurance.

1. Swings

Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip, arms hanging down, shoulders back, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with toes pointed out. Sit back to lower the kettlebell between and behind your legs, keeping your back flat, chin up, and shins vertical. Squeeze your glutes to extend your hips and swing the weight up until your arms are straight. Let the weight swing back between your legs as you bend at the hips, knees slightly bent. Extend your hips to swing the weight back up. Repeat. On your last swing, decelerate the kettlebell’s momentum as it swings between your legs and let it come to a stop in front of you, keeping your back flat. Sit back to lower the kettlebell straight down to the floor.

Swing Tip: “Many people swing with their shoulders to generate the force, but the power should come from your hips driving forward, using your core and upper body to make the weight move. You can address this by wrapping a towel around the handle and holding the ends of the towel. Do a few swings to get the understanding of the inertia involved. If the kettlebell’s bottom isn’t pointing away from your arms (and down at the floor instead), your swing is incorrect.”

2. Close Grip Bent Over Rows

Standing with the kettlebell in front of you with feet shoulder-width apart, bend knees slightly and bend over with back straight. Grasp kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip. Pull kettlebell between your legs up to your waist. Lower and repeat.

OR Single-Arm Rows

Stand with one foot in front and one behind you, kettlebell positioned alongside the front foot. Bend at the waist and lift the weight with the arm on the side of the back foot, bracing yourself with your other arm on your front thigh. Grab the kettlebell and pull it to your stomach, lifting your elbow straight up, keeping your back straight. Lower and repeat.

OR Renegade Rows

Drop into a plank position holding on to the handles of two kettlebells on the floor. With one arm, pull a kettlebell up, keeping your forearm close to your body and your core stabilized. Return the kettlebell to the floor. Switch sides with each repetition or do all your reps for one side and then switch.

3. Goblet Squats

Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold the kettlebell with both hands by the “horns” close to your chest. Squat until your thighs are below parallel with the floor, keeping your chest up and your back straight. Keep your chest and head up and your back straight. Push your knees out with your elbows. Return to stand. Repeat.

4. Shoulder Presses

Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, pick up the kettlebell and pull it towards your shoulder. Rotate your wrist so your palm faces in, resting the kettlebell on the top of your forearm. Press the kettlebell up above your head until your arm locks. Lower the kettlebell slowly to your shoulder. Repeat.

5. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, kettlebell placed approximately two feet in front of you. Raise one foot off the floor. Bend at your hips and lower your torso to parallel with the floor, extending your raised leg directly behind you. Grab the kettlebell with the hand opposite of your standing leg and raise your torso back to the starting position. Repeat, then switch sides and repeat.

6. Pull-Ups

To balance out the joint actions (Need a refresher? here’s how to perform a proper pull-up)

7. Side-Carry Reverse Lunges

Stand with your feet slightly closer than shoulder-width apart, holding kettlebells in each hand at your sides. Take a step back, landing on the ball of your foot. Descend on your back leg until your knee nearly touches the floor, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Return to stand by pushing into the heel of your front foot. Repeat, either alternating sides or completing all reps on one side and then switching.

Perform the exercises in order and focus on form. And while 20 minutes may seem like a long time when you’re in the heat of things, but it’ll be over soon. So go hard.

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