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Basic Kettlebell Exercises

This is an excerpt from Kettlebell Training by Steve Cotter.

Basic Kettlebell Exercises

Now the basic kettlebell exercises will be introduced, one by one. These exercises are the key skills and techniques that you will build your programs around, as you will see later in the book.

Follow a progression of light to heavy when learning the kettlebell lifts and during workouts. Remember, proper technique always surpasses load in terms of importance, safety, and results. Thus, avoid the common mistake of going too heavy, too soon. Also, you should follow a progression from neurologically simple to neurologically complex. Thus, for a beginner, start with the exercises in the Introductory Kettlebell Movessection. From there, move into the classical lifts and then the more advanced variations. Failure to follow this logical progression can result in improper learning and injury.

In addition, although maximal tension is applicable to lifting very heavy kettlebells and certainly barbells, it's not applicable to developing work capacity and endurance (the primary goal of kettlebell training). Thus, it's important to focus your alignment, posture, and mentality toward achieving maximal relaxation in all the exercises. This will keep your heart rate down and a steady flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. This type of relaxed, rhythmic, submaximal resistance training enables a higher volume of training and thus leads to increased fitness. Be mindful to smooth out every rep of every exercise such that it would appear effortless to someone watching (even though it certainly is not!).

Introductory Kettlebell Moves

Before swinging, cleaning, or pressing your kettlebell, you'll want to get comfortable handling it and moving it from one hand to another in order to develop confidence and control. The following movements are a safe and simple introduction to the tool as well as a helpful, low-intensity warm-up before the more vigorous kettlebell exercises. The idea is to get comfortable handling your kettlebell, including picking it up, placing it down, and moving it around the body and from hand to hand, all skills you will use in the exercises to follow.

Around-the-Body Pass

The around-the-body pass serves as an excellent warm-up, especially for the arms, core, and grip. To perform this exercise, maintain good posture and alignment as you pass the kettlebell around the body while your hips remain facing forward throughout (see figure 6.5). Breathe normally throughout the exercise. Vary the tempo of the movement and reverse directions several times.

Key Principles

  • Keep your eyes forward to maintain good posture and develop kinesthetic awareness.
  • Ensure the kettlebell is close to the body but not so close as to create collision and injury.


The halo is a phenomenal exercise for shoulder and cervical mobility. Many people love the way it makes the shoulders feel and incorporate it in their warm-up and for rehabilitation and prerehabilitation purposes. To perform this exercise, hold a light kettlebell by the horns, or sides of the handle, in front of your face using both hands (see figure 6.6a). Circle over and across the top of the head and continue the circle all the way around (see figure 6.6, b and c). The kettlebell drops lower as it comes behind you and rises again as it moves back up in front. Breathe normally throughout the exercise. Work in both directions.

Key Principles

  • As the name suggests, keep the path of the kettlebell comparable to a halo around the top of your forehead.
  • Relax the elbows and allow them to articulate freely.
  • Ensure the kettlebell is close to the head, but use caution to avoid accidental contact with the upper extremities.

Figure-Eight Between-the-Legs Pass

This is a gentle warm-up and a surprisingly good conditioning movement for the legs and core. It involves elements of coordination and body awareness, which makes it challenging and engaging. To perform this exercise, pick up the kettlebell and hold it in front of you with either hand with feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in the knees (see figure 6.7a). Pass the kettlebell from the left hand to the right through your legs from front to back (see figure 6.7b). Continue the momentum to circle back in front of the body and pass to the other hand (see figure 6.7c). Exhale as you switch hands. This will automatically create an inhalation at the other movement points. Continue this continuous figure-eight pattern. Change direction and pass from back to front.

Key Principles

  • As you pass the kettlebell between the legs, maintain a neutral spine position and crease in the hips.
  • Keep the kettlebell close to the body, being careful not to hit yourself with it.

Learn more about Kettlebell Training.

More Excerpts From Kettlebell Training