Kettlebell (and Other) Exercises You Need to Know

As strength enthusiasts, weíre always looking for new exercises and ideas to add to our repertoire. Although this isnít as exciting as Tateís Toolbox (funny how Tate and Toolbox are used in the same sentence), here are some exercises that I have used, learned, and love. Some of them require kettlebells, but hopefully you can learn something even if you donít have access to them.

Kettlebell bench with mini bands

If you donít have kettlebells, I suggest getting a small pair. If you do, then hereís another exercise to throw in the mix. This exercise was first introduced to me by Louie as a rehab exercise, but we have gone heavier with it and found great results. Your shoulder stabilizers are working incredibly hard to stabilize the movement of the bands and the kettlebells. The concentric portion of the lift may not seem very difficult, but the stabilizing part makes it hard. If you shake like Zippy on a heavy squat day, youíre doing great!

Description: To do this exercise, double up a mini band and loop it through the kettlebell handle. Start light (4 or 8 kg). This is a slow, controlled movement so donít try to rep it out like you do with dumbbells. Have someone hand the band and weight to you otherwise itís tricky to get set up. Slowly lower the weight and slowly press the weight back up. If you try to press too quickly, you will lose control. It is important to keep the lats tight and work on stabilizing the weight. (We had several guys at our gym start with 4 kg in order to rehab a bad shoulder. They gradually worked up to 24 kg, and both now have little to no shoulder pain.) This exercise can be done on a flat or incline bench.

This could be an accessory exercise or, if youíre like my injured friends, your main exercise. As an accessory lift, start with three sets of 8Ė10 reps. As a main lift, start light and work up to heavy doing 3Ė4 sets of 6Ė8 reps. If youíre using it for rehab purposes, go really light and start with 3Ė4 sets of 20. (Remember, if itís for rehab purposes, moving blood into the joint is your goal.)

Baseball curls

Curls? What? Powerlifters donít do curls. Yeah, whatever. These are great for grip work. You canít go as heavy as you can with normal curls, but you totally feel the isolation in your biceps (if youíre into that whole isolation thing, right Dave?). And a little bicep work never hurt anyone.

Description: You need a pair of hex dumbbells. Grip the end like a baseball with your fingers around the hex as much as possible. From there, you can do regular supinated curls or reverse curls. Either way, donít use momentum and keep your wrists locked. If your wrists arenít locked, then youíre missing the grip part of the exercise. These are also great for any athletes that you strength coaches have that need grip work (wrestlers, baseball players, football guys, etc.). They get the grip work in AND they get to do curls.

Kettlebell side deadlifts

Yes, I knowóanother kettlebell exercise. However, this one can be done with dumbbells as well. This is great for oblique/rotational work and hamstring work.

Description: Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. With a kettlebell (or dumbbell) in each hand, rotate to your right and then bend at the hips. Go as far as you can go (depends on your flexibility). It is important to bend at the hips and not the waist. Think of the positioning as if you were going to do an RDL. (It is important to turn the hips and trunk. Too much rotation of just the lumbar spine can be dangerous.) Return to the top and repeat on the other side by rotating to the left. This is an accessory exercise so start with 2Ė3 sets of 8Ė12 reps.

Kettlebell rows

Yes, you can use dumbbells, but I like the way the kettlebells swing with this exercise. Itís a great exercise for your lats and back. I like to think of it as more like a pullover or a straight arm pull-down.

Description: Start in an RDL position with your back flat. Swing the bells out in front to get them moving. Youíll feel a great stretch in your lats as the bells swing forward. Then pull back hard, keeping the elbows slightly bent. You can bend your elbows to make it more like a row, but I like doing the straighter arm version. This is an accessory exercise so 3Ė4 sets of 8Ė10 reps is good.

JM press on board

I like this exercise for several reasons. First of all, JMs are a great triceps builder. But if youíve done them enough, youíll know that they can also put a lot of stress on the elbow. Doing them with boards is a great way to load the triceps without stressing the elbow joint. It also allows you to load some more weight on the bar. I like using a 3-board, but others that I train with use a 4-board as well. It all depends on the length of your arms. (I donít get as much range of motion with the 4-board, so I use the 3).

Description: You need a board, a bench, and a bar. Use a grip that is closer than your normal competition grip (about a thumbs distance from the smooth). Lower the bar like a normal JM press. (A JM press is simply dropping the hands toward your chin and pressing it back in the same motion on the way up. Check out the Exercise Index if youíve never done it before.) As soon as the bar hits the board, rock your hands back toward your chin a little more and then press it up. Keep your elbows high. Itís not a regular board press so donít let your elbows drop. On the other hand, it isnít a skull crusher either. Itís difficult to see from the picture, but youíll notice that my hands are behind my elbows, and my elbows donít drop below my side. As you rock the bar toward your chin, the boards will rock slightly as well. Make sure that your designated board holder holds on tight or youíll be eating it.

Fat bar triceps extension with kettlebells

Everyone knows how to do extensions so not much explanation is needed here. I like these because the way that the kettlebells sit on the bar provides a much different load. And I like the fat bar because of the forearm work as well. (Check out the El Gordo Fat Bar.)

Description: You can perform these like a JM press or like a traditional extension. Either way, itís incredible tricep work. Have someone hand you the bar and perform an extension like you normally would. The kettlebell offers a very different feel as they tend to move around quite a bit. Make sure that you are very stable and tight when doing this.

I know many of these exercises involve kettlebells, and most donít have access to them. But let me say this (and itís not a sales pitch), youíd be doing yourself a disservice if you never got your hands on any kettlebells. There are so many exercises you can do with them. Most people initially think of swings, cleans, snatches, etc. But there are tons of shoulder, lat, hamstring, abdominal, squat, and bench movements that you can do