Written by Will Slatter
You don’t need 20 different machines to work your abs, just grab a kettlebell and get to work. The kettlebell is one of the most versatile bits of equipment you’ll find in the gym, with endless exercises that can integrate this simple bit of kit. In Russia, girevoy sport is a competitive, strength-based sport that revolves entirely around kettlebells. The kettlebell is made up of the body (the bulbous ball containing much of the weight), the horns (the vertical parts of the grip) and a handle (the horizontal grip that joins the two horns on top).
The History Of The Kettlebell
Farmers in Russia originally developed Kettlebells in the 1700’s as counterweights, helping to weigh crops and other dry goods, but farmers also enjoyed using kettlebells to show off their strength. Lifting kettlebells became a form of entertainment at markets and festivals, with contests held to discover the strongest and fittest competitors. Over time they have been integrated into strength and conditioning programmes in Russia and around the world. More recently, the rise in functional fitness, and use of kettlebells in Crossfit has reinvigorated the associated benefits, and you’ll find them in gyms all around the country.
Turkish Get Up
The Turkish Get Up involves a series of movements that get you from lying on your side, to eventually stood up with the kettlebell overhead. Before we start, never take your eyes off the kettlebell! Begin by lying on your side, with your knees and hips at 90 degrees, holding the kettlebell handle with the bottom hand, and the top hand clasped over the top. Roll onto your back, move the kettlebell onto your stomach, and from here use both arms to move the kettlebell directly over your shoulder, so you can hold it with one straight arm…
Bend the knee on the same side of the kettlebell so you can plant your foot, and move the opposite, outstretched leg to about 45 degrees away from your body. Roll your upper body up onto the elbow of your empty arm, and then up onto your hand. Lift your hips up, so the only points of contact with the ground are one hand and two feet, with the other hand still holding the kettlebell directly above your shoulder. Sweep your straight leg underneath your bent leg, and place the knee and foot on the floor. Take your supporting hand off the floor, and you should be in a lunge position, with one arm still above your head with the kettlebell. Drive forward to stand upright, and bring your feet together – the movement is now complete!
Lie with your back against the floor, and bend your knees so you can plant your feet flat on the floor. Crunch your abdominals to lift your shoulder blades off the floor, and grab a kettlebell by the horns with both hands. While keeping your hips and legs as still as possible, rotate your body and the kettlebell from side to side, using a full range of movement, but keep the kettlebell up off the floor. To make the exercise easier, bring your upper body closer to your knees so you are more upright. To make it more difficult, pick your legs up off the floor so your backside is the only point of contact with the ground, and try to keep your legs still as you rotate from side to side.
Lie flat on the floor, with your arms outstretched above your head, holding a kettlebell. Crunch your abs and simultaneously raise your legs up and lift your arms and upper body up off the floor, so you fold at your hips. Slowly lower your arms and legs back down to the start position. To make the exercise easier, bend your legs as you raise them, so you’re bringing your knees up towards you rather than your outstretched legs. To make it more difficult, simply slow down the movement.
Standing Oblique Crunch
Stand up with arms by your side, holding a kettlebell in one of your hands. Allow the side with the kettlebell to slowly lean to the side, keeping your hand close to your body, while trying to keep your hips and lower body completely still. When the hand holding the kettlebell reaches your knee, slowly begin to move back upright, and continue past upright until your empty hand reaches your knee on the other side. While doing this you should crunch your abs on the side opposite to the kettlebell. Complete all of your reps on one side, before swapping hands and completing the reps on the other side.
Other Kettlebell Exercises to Work Your Core
The following exercises use multiple, large muscle groups, but are also great inclusions to work on your core. One of the keys to training with kettlebells is timing and momentum, so start with a light weight, and build up as you feel comfortable.
Grab a kettlebell by the handle in both hands, and stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Drop into a shallow squat and quickly stand back upright, ‘popping’ your hips forward as you stand up. As you pop your hips, your arms should use the momentum to swing the kettlebell upwards, keeping your arms straight at all times. As the kettlebell begins to fall back down, you should sink back into a squat, in time to use the natural kettlebell swing to help stand back up, ‘pop’ your hips and swing the kettlebell again. Aim to get the kettlebell to about shoulder-height each rep, and keep your back flat at all times. To make the movement more difficult, switch to using one hand to hold the kettlebell.
This can be attempted either with a kettlebell in each hand, which is a great cardiovascular exercise, or alternatively with a single kettlebell in one hand, which will require great core strength to maintain balance throughout the movement. Hold the kettlebell in a rack position. While maintaining this position, sink into a squat, keeping your body upright, and then explode quickly up from the squat. Use the momentum from standing up to help press the kettlebell up above your head, and then lower the kettlebell back into the rack position. Complete all your reps on one side, before swapping hands and completing reps on the opposite side.
Clean And Press
The clean is the lower part of the movement, where the aim is to get the kettlebell into the rack position. You can either complete reps with the kettlebell starting on the floor each time, or alternatively, you can keep momentum, and swing the kettlebell at the bottom part of each rep like a kettlebell swing. To start from the floor, squat down and hold onto the kettlebell handle with one hand. Push up with your legs and use the upright momentum to land the kettlebell in the rack position. From this rack position, press the kettlebell above your head, before returning to the rack position. Particularly if only using one kettlebell, core strength will play a massive part in keeping your body balanced.
Kettlebells have multiple uses and are somewhat only limited by your imagination. Using heavier kettlebells is one way of making exercises more difficult, but alternatively, you could try completing the exercises with one kettlebell on one side of your body, so you test your core strength and balance. To start with, use light kettlebells until you’re used to the movement and timing of these movements, and build up when you feel comfortable.