Got 20 minutes and a couple of kettlebells? That’s all you need to build muscle and obliterate calories. That’s because kettlebells are designed perfectly for explosive, eccentric movements. Used correctly — as in this kettlebell circuit workout — they offer big muscle gains and help you continue to torch calories long after a routine is over.
“With the majority of the weight outside of the handles, they have an offset center of mass which produces effects you can’t get with dumbbells or barbell,” says Bruce Kelly, owner and personal trainer at Fitness Together. Plus, they’re great for carries. “If you’ve tried doing heavy loaded carries with dumbbells, then you’ve learned to appreciate kettlebells.”
For this routine Kelly says you need access to several kettlebells of various weights — but you could do the workout with a single pair. Start with a 35 to 45 pounder and work up from there. You want to perform these exercises in a circuit, segueing from one exercise to the next as quickly as possible, and resting just 1 to 2 minutes before rounds. Aim for 3 rounds. “Only do four rounds if you are really fit,” Kelly says. “For most guys, two to three will do it.”
“It will take you less than 20 minutes to do 3 circuits,” Kelly says. “It won’t be easy, but you’ll get your work done.”
Why: This is a shoulder mobility exercise. “You’re externally rotating on one side, internally rotating on the other side, and doing it in both directions,” Kelly says. “It’s a gauge of how well your shoulders are functioning. If you have problem shoulders, this is a drill that may cause issues. If it hurts don’t do it.”
How to Do It: Holding the kettlebell with both hands and lift it to your chest. Raise it up over the left side of your head. Move the kettlebell so it is behind your head, then move the kettlebell so it is over your right ear. Return the kettlebell to your chest, then reverse the movement, raising it up over the right side of your head.
Perform 5 reps.
Why: This is helpful in learning the squat pattern as well as drilling mobility. “You can really work your bottom range of motion by holding the squat and using your elbows to pry out your knees,” Kelly says. “Sit there a little bit, and work on your hips and groin mobility.”
How to Do It: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold the kettlebell with both hands 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.
Perform 12 reps.
How to Do It: Get into a plank position (top of pushup) 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.
Perform 6 on each side.
One-Legged Romanian Deadlift
Why: This trains hip extension, your glutes, and hamstrings. “This is not a squat,” Kelly says. “It’s a hip hinge with the pelvis moving horizontally. The 10-15-degree bend in your knee shouldn’t change throughout the movement.”
How to Do It: 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.
Perform 6 on each side.
Double Kettlebell Press
Why: This works your shoulders and core muscles. “Racking the kettlebells — getting them to your shoulders — and then pressing them simultaneously requires a lot of core stability,” Kelly says. “Any time you put a weight over your head, your shoulders should remain level. The tendency is to lean back or away. You should not be feeling this in your low back. And if you have shoulder issues, it’s not an exercise for you.”
How to Do It: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, pick up two kettlebells and pull them towards your shoulders. Rotate your wrists so your palms face in, resting the kettlebells on the top of your forearms. Press the kettlebells up above your head until your arms lock. Lower the kettlebells slowly to your shoulders. Repeat.
Perform 8 reps.
Why: This is an exercise for overall strength and mobility training. “These are a great assessment of how well you’re moving,” Kelly says. “Each rep should take 30-60 seconds.”
How to Do It: Lie on your back with your legs out straight and a kettlebell next to your right shoulder. Roll onto your right side and grip the kettlebell’s handle with your right hand. Roll back onto your back and press the kettlebell straight up, away from your chest. Bend your right leg to place your foot flat on the floor. Straighten your left arm to your side, then roll up onto your left forearm. Press your right foot into the floor, then press onto your left hand by straightening your left arm. Lift your hips as high as you can, pressing down through your left hand, left heel, and right foot.
Slide your left leg back and under you, coming into a kneeling position with your left hand on the floor. Lift your left hand off the floor. Step with your right foot to stand, bringing your left foot even with your right. Reverse to return to the starting position by stepping your left foot back, then placing your left hand on the floor, bridging up, swinging your left leg through to straight in front of you, sitting with support from your left hand, relaxing onto your forearm, and finally rolling onto your back and lowering the kettlebell down.
Perform 3 reps on each side.
Why: This builds explosive power. “This is like a jump, only with a weight attached to your arms,” Kelly says. “Your arms should not get tired. It’s your hips that are driving the weight.”
How to Do It: 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. Then 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.
Perform 12 swings.
KB Farmer’s Carry
Why: This improves grip strength and muscle endurance. “Everything that applies to walking — good rhythm, level shoulders, good posture — applies to this exercise,” Kelly says. “Don’t slump or lean to one side or another.”
If possible, select heavy kettlebells that each weigh 30% to 40% of your bodyweight. Hold one in each hand and walk, keeping your back straight and core tight. Set the weights down slowly and with control. If the weights are too light, adjust accordingly, working up to half your body weight in each hand.
Walk continuously for 60 seconds.
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