If you’ve noticed, most of my articles involve kettlebell training and I’ve even tried to write a decent guide that promotes my favorite way to build strength and burn body fat. I’ve been training with kettlebells for more than four years and I’ve got nothing bad to say about them. I mean, I sometimes injure myself but I don’t blame the tools. I sometimes find myself neglecting the proper form to get the quantity and time I set myself to go for and in retrospect, it wasn’t worth it. Getting 200 swings in less than 15 minutes sounds impressive specially if done with a 32 kg kettlebell and swinging only with one arm but it’s not worth achieving if you lost form halfway.
But I digress. Past is past and I want to tell you guys the 5 best kettlebell exercises if you want to get strong. It is to be noted that I’m only basing this on experience and a few credible authors and coaches. Also, my criteria for this would be simplicity and efficiency. So don’t expect sotts presses, lunge presses, or walking swings in this list.
The Kettlebell Goblet Squat
When some of my friends ask me which exercise they should learn first when training with kettlebells, I always insist on the goblet squat first. Now you must be wondering why I’m not pushing for the swing. The answer to that is this: The kettlebell goblet squat does not have a steep learning curve.
The kettlebell swing requires a bit of time to get right with some people requiring actual coaching to perfect. In the case of goblet squats, you only need to have them grab the kettlebell by the horns without really swinging it. A good jerk upwards should do the trick and they would only require the basic deadlift form and hinge to prop it to chest level. And unlike the kettlebell racked or double front squat, you don’t need to learn the clean first before you do this exercise.
This is also one of the common favorites to pair with the swing since you can easily transition from two-hand swing to goblet squat in one go. It’s also quite the grinding exercise as opposed to the swing which is heavily ballistic in nature. If you’re looking for one of the best complementary exercises for the swing, this is it.
The Kettlebell Clean
I rank this as one of the most important exercises to learn specially if you wish to go “beyond the swing”. This is also one of the most technical exercises in this list as many would definitely struggle to master it specially if done with two kettlebells.
The main reason why this is such a good exercise is due to the way it lets you control or tame the arc (of the swing). This exercise acts like a bridge to more kettlebell exercises and the famous kettlebell complexes you must’ve read or heard about.
The clean can take time to learn, but once you have it down it’s an essential movement to use for high-powered kettlebell complexes.
One good advantage as to why this is a great exercise is how it trains the arm muscles. I mean, have you tried doing a kettlebell clean marathon/challenge before? This would definitely burn your arms if you do it repeatedly, nonstop, for more than 10 minutes.
The kettlebell clean improves your arm muscles and also lets you learn how to be more reflexive specially when it comes to “catching” the bell upon impact. It teaches your arm muscles to act quick and maybe even teach you how to block a punch or a kick as the kettlebell clean’s end point is the rack position which also happens to be the stance standard to blocking.
Coincidentally, the trick here is to move the hand under the bell or “punch” under it before impact.
The Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
This is one of the primary exercises that you must definitely have in your kettlebell training arsenal.
The Turkish Get-Up is one of the most loved exercises and with good reason. Many have attested to the benefits of this workout specially on how it translates to other forms of training. It gives you a plethora of benefits that rival conventional exercises that utilize the same, if not more, weight.
One obvious reason why this exercise is so good at building strength is due to the way it enhances muscle focus and stability as your muscles concentrate on raising a kettlebell overhead while making sure balance is optimized. I wrote about how the secret of kettlebell training lies on the imbalance training it gives us. What better exercise to do it if not the TGU? The kettlebell pistol-squat is a good contender but it has a steep learning curve unlike the TGU which is considered both basic and advanced in nature.
I personally love it as a good warm-up and cool down exercise specially if done with the lightest kettlebell. Just 5 minutes of this should be more than enough to get your muscles activated and your body ready for the workout you want to do.
The Kettlebell Snatch (“The Tsar”)
This is considered as probably the last exercise you’ll learn when training for the basic movements. It rivals the kettlebell clean in difficulty but it’s not so complicated that it will require a ton of work before you perfect it.
The hardest thing about this exercise is controlling the end point or avoiding too much impact on the wrist or forearm. This is known as taming the arc, the same way you do it with the clean only the end point is overhead. As the clean requires control on the rack position, so does the snatch at the top. The key here is the “punch” or the sudden flex of your hand to go under the kettlebell right before it lands. As with the clean, bruising will be quite all too common for beginners and even for some veterans.
The kettlebell snatch’s main highlight is the transfer of energy. Many consider it as the swing directed up as opposed to the clean which energy is directed towards you. Many kettlebell clubs have workouts and challenges that revolve around the snatch and it’s no surprise why. It’s one of the most efficient strengthening exercises but it’s not as good as number one.
The Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is simply the most efficient of all kettlebell exercises out there. How is it that the Tsar of kettlebell exercises is second only to the most basic of all, you ask? The answer to that is simple: It’s just much more efficient.
To quote an old Dragon Door article:
The problem, I think, stems from the fact that the snatch is technically more difficult to learn initially which makes people think of it as an “advanced” swing — and everyone is advanced right!?? It’s not.”
No doubt you can dish out much more swings than you would snatches with the same weight. It’s also to be noted how both exercises literally relies on the hinge to power itself from start to finish and because you hinge more with the swing, you’re actually training much more in the same amount of time compared to snatching.
Why you should choose the swing over the snatch in your training:
- You can do more swings at a faster cadence–this means more work for your legs
- You can use a heavier weight.
- Less variables. This is key because it lets you focus on the hip extension (which is the main goal as well as part of a good snatch anyway).
I’m not pulling the snatch down but if you’re going to gun for a quick workout and you want that to make you stronger, you’ll definitely get more out of the kettlebell swing than you would the kettlebell snatch for reasons of volume alone. They mostly utilize the same muscles but you definitely use them more when swinging.
It’s also important to note how the kettlebell swing can train your body to be generally stronger with each repeated use. The main highlight of the swing, specially the one-arm swing, is how your body struggles from being pulled by the kettlebell’s momentum. Maintaining the straight form is the challenge of each swing and as the body recognizes effort more than load, you’ll definitely get stronger every time you include kettlebell swings in your workout routine.
They even say if you’re going to do one exercise it better be the swing. And that will be all you’ll ever need.
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