Unless you have been living under a rock, you certainly know a little something about kettlebells. At the time I leaped into the world of fitness, however, kettlebells were among the little known training tools. In fact, not many instructors were offering training for kettlebells.
I’m a curious person and I love trying out new things, but back then I was so much into the traditional strength and conditioning workouts. When I first had my hands on a kettlebell, I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I tried using it for swings, pressing, and squatting with the help of the few online guides I came across.
Eventually, I noticed some real results and this greatly motivated me to better my skill in kettlebell. I have worked with a couple of kettlebell masters, attended several seminars, read books, and watched DVD guides. And through training, I’ve found this tool quite fundamental to achieving total-body strength and conditioning. Every athlete needs this, right?
However, the key to maximizing the benefits is to learn how to properly use the kettlebells and implement them into your training program. But before you even start training with a kettlebell, it is important to take time to master the basic movements, such as the squat, hip hinge, and get-up patterns.
In this post, I will take you through the 6 best kettlebell exercises for athletes. They are better known as the “Sacred 6”. There’s no downside to adding these critical movements into your arsenal, as long as you know how to perform them.
The 6 Best Kettlebell Exercises For Athletes
Perfect these 6 movements and you will see a definite increase in your explosiveness, power and strength.
1. The Swing
The increased popularity of kettlebell is hugely attributed to the kettlebell swing. It is by far the most powerful kettlebell technique when executed properly with a decent form. The swing technique involves the entire body and forms a base for other dynamic kettlebell movements.
If you have not incorporated this exercise into your training, then now is the time to make the move. Whether the objective is to improve yourself or gain a competitive edge, the kettlebell swing movements will improve your power and explosiveness for peak performance.
You can try out both the overhead swing (American swing) and the Russian-style swing, and see what works great for you. But as for me, I prefer the Russian-style kettlebell swing, which is centered on projecting the weight to shoulder height only. Trust me this movement is insanely effective.
When you want to lose body fat, the kettlebell swing should be on top of your list. It overloads hundreds of muscles and brings about extreme fat loss by creating a huge demand for energy consumption.
Performing and absorbing the energy from every movement requires huge amounts of oxygen. Within a few minutes, you’ll notice that your lungs and heart are working so hard. It’s a great exercise for high-level conditioning.
Athleticism is all about strength, fitness, and agility. The swing movement plays an essential role not only in overloading muscles eccentrically for big strength gains, but also developing plenty of explosive power through the hips and legs.
Spoiler: The kettlebell swing is a lot more challenging than it simply looks. It is a dynamic movement, which demands a significant amount of time and practice to master. You also need to be cautious when choosing the right weight.
As mentioned, the swing forms a base for other dynamic kettlebell movements so this exercise should be performed right. Otherwise, it’s very likely not to benefit much from it and the further progressions based on it. Besides, if done incorrectly, you can easily get hurt.
Here’s what to remember: The swing takes the center stage of kettlebell training. Perfecting in it is a worthwhile investment. You’ll be rewarded with immense results.
2. The Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is one of the most popular and, of course, fundamental movements that athletes should take advantage of to improve their performance. The beauty of this squat pattern variation is that it’s very easy to perform and master. This is good news, especially for beginners.
Seasoned athletes as well can benefit from performing the goblet squat. Contrary to popular belief, this exercise is not meant to just work your legs. The glutes and quads are the prime movers. However, there are other muscles involved in the movements.
Like most squat movements, the goblet squat mainly targets the lower body muscles, back, and the core.
Through this squat pattern, you can first work on your body control and establish a better balance if you’re new to squatting. Simply put, it teaches you the proper squat form. Having a decent form is a prerequisite for weight lifts.
With improved positional awareness and basic squat strength, you can start incorporating heavier loads to challenge yourself. This will improve your ability to move easily and develop full lower-body strength. The goblet squat also includes practicing with lower weights to improve conditioning.
I prefer the barbell squat over the kettlebell squat when it comes to building mass and strength. While the barbell squat is king, even professional instructors will tell you exactly this, you lose nothing making the kettlebell goblet squat part of your program. It’s certainly a great addition. It can be used to enhance the efficiency of the other kettlebells progressions you might want to try out.
What makes the goblet squat with a kettlebell your ideal exercise is, without a doubt, the fact that it is easy on your back. The load is typically shifted to the front of the core, allowing for an upright position. Exercising with your torso in a more upright position supports a healthy spine.
3. The Turkish Get-up
The Turkish get-up has received a great amount of attention over recent years, as it delivers a ton of results like the kettlebell swing. The main difference I noticed with this exercise is that it focuses on the small stabilizing muscles through a series of slow, deliberate and solid movements. It’s not your typical exercise where you will progress too quickly to build muscles and strength. You should be prepared to stop in your tracks.
The get-up technique involves a sequence of movements ranging from lying down to standing up with external weight. It can be a kettlebell or dumbbell. For this exercise to be considered effective, though, you must always maintain form and keep the bell from falling.
By its nature, the get-up exercise requires attention to detail when it comes to mobility, strength, and skilled movement. At the end of your training, you’d have learned how to move fluidity like a real athlete. That’s why this whole thing is often referred to as Kalos Sthenos, a Greek phrase that means “beautiful strength”.
This exercise offers a whole range of benefits, which make it worth adding to your program. It develops a functional core, improving your rotational strength. Also, it helps keep your shoulder stable and mobile by improving the often ignored small stabilizing muscles, thus providing a solid base for the deltoids. Deltoids are the larger prime mover muscles.
In a nutshell, the kettlebell get-up is such a great exercise for improving posture, mobility, hip stability, and trunk strength. You should practice until it feels effortless and you’ll surely reap big.
4. The Strict Press
If you have mastered the first three exercises we’ve discussed above, then you’re considered ready to learn the next kettlebell technique. The strict press is another exceptional movement that should be a fundamental part of your training program.
However, it is generally recommended to ensure you have healthy shoulder mobility and proper stability before you take the leap. Otherwise, you’ll be susceptible to some injuries.
Don’t confuse this exercise with the overhead press, as many people do. While they might look similar, there’s something that sets the two apart. The kettlebell strict press is much more than the shoulder press simply because it involves the whole body, which allows you to produce maximal power and strength.
Why bother using a kettlebell when a dumbbell can do the job? Well, the answer is simple — I find pressing with kettlebells more comfortable. You get to enjoy pressing in the natural plane of motion that’s relative to the joint of your shoulder, and this is thanks to the kettlebell’s unique shape and offset handle. This way, you’ll be able to produce more power to press efficiently so that your entire body is fully engaged.
When performing the strict press, you should avoid gripping towards the thumb side of the kettlebell handle. Instead, make sure your hand is centered on the handle. This is essential for a strong press. Also, you’ll need to keep a strong wrist angle with the bottom knuckles pointing up.
5. The Clean
The elements of the Swing technique are basically the driving force behind a good Clean. When performing the kettlebell clean, you simply take the weight from the floor and swing it to the racked position on the chest, and not the height of the chest. You should keep the bell close to your body — just like when clenching something large under your armpits and then you try zipping up your jacket.
It’s a great full-body exercise for athletes, as it activates most body muscles and develops the ability to transmit power from hips to the rest of the body. Just like all the other deadlift movements, the kettlebell clean originates from the important hip hinge.
If repeated correctly, this explosive strength-building exercise can also help with cardio conditioning.
There are different kettlebell clean variations you should learn. While the variations will take time to master, they will surely help you to get the most of high-powered complexes.
There’s the Dead Clean, Swing Clean, Clean and Press, Bottoms Up Clean, Single-Leg Clean, Side Lunge and Clean, Clean, Squat and Press, and more. My favorite exercises for complexes are Clean and Press as well as the Clean and Squat movements. This is a very effective combination, at least based on my experience.
I find the kettlebell clean quite a beneficial exercise that you can use even on its own. But, always start with the basic dead before you progress on to more complex movements.
6. The Snatch
We wind up our list of the best kettlebells exercise with a highly technical but very rewarding lift — the snatch. However, I must admit learning the kettlebell snatch won’t be a struggle once you have mastered the swing and hip hinge, and Turkish get-up techniques.
This explosive exercise typically involves driving and absorbing a weight from the ground or hip to overhead in one fluid motion, allowing you to build up your full-body power and strength. By its comprehensive nature, the snatch awesomely engages the core and posterior chain. The magnificent movements from this exercise are great for developing cardio fitness.
Overall, the snatch technique will improve your ability to generate power and quickness needed for peak performance in virtually all sports. It will also work your shoulder girdle, thus strengthening the shoulders.
If you’re having shoulder issues that you can’t do the overhead press, then the snatch can be a great alternative. It creates more thoracic mobility, taking the pressure off your shoulder joints.
The kettlebell snatches can beat up your hands, especially when you perform many of them regularly. Therefore, it is important to take care of your grip.
How to get started
Reading the online guide materials and watching DVDs is a great place to start. However, these kettlebells movements can prove to be very challenging and, if not done right, they can lead to some injuries that can compromise your athleticism.
Owing to this fact, it is always best to take time and find a certified instructor in your area. A reputable and experienced strength and conditioning instructor will guide you in every step of the way and surely help you learn how to use the kettlebell properly. They will correct your mistakes and make needed adjustments to your training, ensuring you get optimal results.
Before you even start the lesson, a qualified instructor will first assess your skills as well as unique physical abilities. That way, he or she will be able to recommend movements that allow you to progress effectively and more safely. Getting it right with the basic movements will surely spice up your motivation to accomplish the challenging and demanding movements.
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.