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A one-pood (16 kg or 35 lb) kettlebell

The kettlebell or girya (Russian: ги́ря) is a cast-iron or cast steel weight (resembling a cannonball with a handle) used to perform ballistic exercises that combine cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training.[1] They are also the primary equipment used in the weight lifting sport of girevoy sport. Russian kettlebells are traditionally measured in weight by pood, which (rounded to metric units) is defined as 16 kilograms (35 lb).[2][3]


Kettlebells, as known in modern times, were developed in Russia in the 1700s, primarily for weighing crops. It is said that these farmers[who?] became stronger and found them useful for showing off their strength during festivals. The Soviet army used them as part of their physical training and conditioning programs in the 20th century. They had been used for competition and sports throughout Russia and Europe since the 1940s.

The kettlebell was used not only to develop strength and ability. Circus strongmen appeared in the circus companies. They lifted enormous weights, juggled skillfully.[4]

It is worth knowing that similar strength tools resembling kettlebells were used long before the 18th century. For instance, invented in 5th century B.C. Greece, one weighted implement called the haltere was similar to the modern kettlebell in terms of movements. Furthermore, similar variations had been developed by many societies, including Shaolin monks in China, with names such as "stone padlock".[5]


12 kg, 16 kg, and 24 kg kettlebells

Unlike traditional dumbbells, the kettlebell's center of mass is extended beyond the hand, similar to Indian clubs or ishi sashi. This facilitates ballistic and swinging movements.[6] Variants of the kettlebell include bags filled with sand, water, or steel shot.[7] The kettlebell allows for swing movements and release moves with added safety and added grip, wrist, arm and core strengthening. The unique shape of the kettlebell provides the "unstable force" for handling - key for the effectiveness of the kettlebell exercises.[8]


By their nature, typical kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength.[1][3][6] The basic movements, such as the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk, engage the entire body at once,[3] and in a way that mimics real world activities such as shoveling or farm work.[1][2][6]

Unlike the exercises with dumbbells or barbells, kettlebell exercises often involve large numbers of repetitions. Kettlebell exercises are in their nature holistic; therefore they work several muscles simultaneously and may be repeated continuously for several minutes or with short breaks. This combination makes the exercise partially aerobic and more similar to high-intensity interval training rather than to traditional weight lifting. In one study, kettlebell enthusiasts performing a 20-minute snatch workout were measured to burn, on average, 13.6 calories/minute aerobically and 6.6 calories/minute anaerobically during the entire workout - "equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace".[9] Because of their high repetitions, kettlebell progression should start out slowly to build muscle endurance, support the joints and prevent injury.

The movements used in kettlebell exercise can be dangerous to those who have back or shoulder problems, or a weak core.[10] However, if done properly they can also be very beneficial to health. They offer improved mobility, range of motion and increased strength. [11]


This is a list of common kettlebell movements, most of which are uniquely suited to the kettlebell for some reason, rather than just acting as a weight that could be replaced with any other kind of weight.[12]

The following movements can be done with one or two kettlebells:

  • Swing: The kettlebell swing (sometimes called the Russian swing to distinguish it from the American swing) is a basic ballistic exercise used to train the posterior chain in a manner similar to broad jumping. The kettlebell is swung from just below the groin to somewhere between the upper abdomen and shoulders, with arms nearly straight.[13] The key to a good kettlebell swing is effectively thrusting the hips, not bending too much at the knees and sending the weight forwards, as opposed to squatting the weight up, or lifting up with the arms. This requires an intense contraction of the gluteal, abdominal and latissimus muscles. The swing can also be performed with a release and catch of the kettlebell, which helps train the proper swing pattern where the arms aren't pulling up at the top. This can be done with two hands switching to a supinated catch. The one-arm swing presents a significant anti-twisting challenge, and can be used with an alternating catch switching between arms. Further variations include the walking swing taking a step forward at the apex of each swing, the outside swing where the kettlebell swings outside the leg, and the kneeling swing, swinging between the legs in a one-leg half-kneeling position.
  • American swing: Also called the overhead swing, this swing variation ends with the kettlebell directly overhead instead of at chest level.[13]
  • High pull: A swing variation where the kettlebell is thrusted a little higher than the Russian swing, and at the apex the bell is pulled in towards the shoulder, and then pushed out again and back down into the swing. Sometimes the "high pull" instead refers to a deadlift that continues into a pull straight up to shoulder level.
  • Clean: The kettlebell is held in the rack position (resting on the forearm in the crook of the elbow, with the elbow against the chest), lowered to below the groin, and then thrust back up to the rack. The clean is often combined with a press or jerk to make a clean and press or a clean & jerk (also called a long jerk). The dead clean is a clean starting with the kettlebell on the floor.
  • Snatch: The kettlebell is held in one hand, lowered to below the groin, swung to an overhead position and held stable, before repeating the movement. The dead snatch or true snatch begins with the bell on the ground. The lunge snatch lowers into a lunge while the bell goes to the overhead position.
  • Strict press: Also called the military press or standing press, the kettlebell is held in the rack position and pushed overhead with one arm, keeping the body rigid. The tree press, a press standing on one leg, performs a similar function. Other variations include the walking press, taking a step forward with each press, perhaps alternating hands, and the seated press, where the trainee sits on the ground with straight legs while pressing overhead.
  • Floor press: A press performed lying on the ground. A variation is the bridge press, a press in the wrestler's bridge position.
  • Push press: As a strict press, but with a single dip of the hips to provide assistance.
  • Jerk: As a push press, but with two dips, for more leg assistance (as in the barbell clean and jerk)
  • Thruster: A rack squat with a press at the top using momentum from the squat.
  • Squat: The basic squat is performed holding one or more kettlebells in the rack position, or a single a bell in the goblet position, which can help develop hip mobility by using the elbows to push the knees out at the bottom of the squat.
  • Overhead squat: A squat with the kettlebell held overhead, requiring good hip and shoulder mobility.
  • Sots press: Named after world record olympic weightlifter Viktor Sots, also called the squat press, this exercise is a rack squat with a press at the bottom of the squat.
  • Lunge press: Sometimes called the tactical lunge, this is a press from a lunging position.
  • Pistol squat: A single-leg squat with one leg held straight in front parallel to the ground, holding the bell in the goblet or rack position. An easier variant for those with less hip mobility is to perform the squat parallel to a step or ledge, so that the foot of the free leg can dip beneath the pushing leg at the bottom.
  • Deadlift: Usually performed sumo-style with one or more bells between the legs, it can also be performed with the feet between the bells. Deadlifts can also be performed with one-arm, one-leg, or both.
  • Carry: Walking with the kettlebell held in various positions, such as suitcase, rack, goblet, or overhead.
  • Row: While bent over anywhere from 45 degrees to parallel with the ground, the kettlebell is held hanging from a straight arm, pulled up to the chest, and lowered again.
  • Renegade row: Also called a plank row, the trainee starts in the plank position holding the handles of two grounded kettlebells. One bell is rowed to the chest while maintaining the plank position, then returned to the ground and repeated with the other arm. Alternatively performed with a single kettlebell, one arm at a time.
  • Lunge: A lunge performed with the kettlebell held in either in the racked or overhead position.
  • Lateral lunge: A lateral lunge with the bell in either the racked or overhead positions. The deepest form of this is called the cossack squat.
  • Lateral lunge clean: A clean performed along with a lateral lunge.
  • Squat Get-up: A variation of the Turkish get-up allowing both arms to be used.
  • Windmill: Standing with a bell is held overhead, the hips are pushed to the side of the bell. Keeping the bell arm vertical, the upper body is bent to one side and rotated until the other hand is touching the floor. This improves mobility and stability through the hips and shoulder. Alternatively the bell may be held in the other hand, or with one in each hand. An easier version is the bent-leg windmill where the off-side leg is bent, or the supported windmill where the free hand rests against the off leg.
  • Farmer's Walk: Walking holding kettlebells at your sides. The single kettlebell version is called the suitcase walk. These build grip strength while challenging your core, hips, back and traps.

The following movements can be done with a single kettlebell:

  • Turkish get-up: A kettlebell exercise that combines the lunge, bridge and side plank to build strength, the get-up is a slow and controlled movement, unlike the other exercises that have a power or ballistic element. Keeping the arm holding the bell extended vertical, the athlete transitions from lying supine on the floor to standing, and back again. Get-ups are sometimes combined to make get-up presses, with a press at each position of the get-up: floor press, leaning seated press, high bridge press, single-leg kneeling press, standing press.[14]
  • Halo: The kettlebell is held by the horns in front of the shoulders, usually upside-down, and moved in a circle around the head while keeping the head straight in place. This movement is done to improve mobility of the shoulders and triceps.
  • Arm bar: Along with the other slow exercises, the windmill, get-up, and halo, this drill also improves shoulder mobility and stabilization. It starts lying on the ground with the kettlebell over the shoulder in a straight arm position, as in the top of a floor press, but with the other arm along the floor straight overhead. The trainee then gradually turns their body away from the kettlebell until they are lying partially on their front.
  • Slingshot: The kettlebell is held hanging in one arm and moved around smoothly the body, switching hands in front and behind. In the slingshot figure-8, the trainee moves the bell in a figure-8 through the legs while in a partial squat, and a wider variation of this is the cossack slingshot.
  • Slingshot lunge: Also called a front leg pass, this is a backward lunge, circling the bell around the front leg, returning to the standing position, and repeating.
  • Circular swing: Like the slingshot, but the bell is swung all the way to arms parallel at the front.
  • Figure-8 swing: Like a 1-arm swing, but the bell goes down on one side of the body, switching hands and up through the legs, and then down the other side.
  • Circular clean: Starting with the bell in the rack, the bell is pushed away to the side slightly, the swung down to the other side in front of the body, and reversed back up into the rack.
  • Deck squat: The kettlebell is held in two hands by the ball instead of the handle. The trainee squats down deeply, then rocks back on their back and lowers the bell overhead so that the handle touches the ground, before reverse the movement and standing back up.
  • Helping hand press: A variation of the press where the other arm assists by pushing open palm against the ball.
  • Bent press: A press utilizing a bent-leg windmill position to lift heavier weight than is otherwise possible.
  • Arm bar floor press: A floor press in the arm bar or partial arm bar position.
  • Russian twist: While seated the trainee leans back to around 45 degrees and balances with the knees held at 90 degrees from the torso. The bell is held by the horns and moved from side to side of the torso.

The following movements can be done with two kettlebells:

  • Alternating clean: A clean is performed with one arm while the other kettlebell is kept in the rack position, then repeated with the other arm.
  • Pushup: Starting in the plank position holding the handles of two grounded kettlebells, the trainee performs a pushup. This requires more control than an ordinary pushup and results in a greater range of motion. This is often combined with the renegade row. Feet may be elevated to increase the difficulty, until the trainee is performing a handstand push-up on the kettlebells.
  • Carry: Walking with two kettlebells held in various positions, such as waiter (one arm overhead, one arm rack, either hand or both with waiter hold) or cross (one arm overhead, one arm suitcase).

For some exercises, multiple kettlebells can be held in the same hand, for trainees lacking sufficiently heavy kettlebells. In any movement involving the rack or overhead position, the kettlebell can be held with the ball in an open palm (sometimes called the waiter hold) for a greater stabilisation challenge, or for even more precise control and added grip challenge, the bottom-up hold, squeezing the kettlebell by the handle upside-down. This is especially useful for training to stay tight while pressing. Holding a single kettlebell in the rack position bottom-up with two hands ("by the horns") makes for goblet exercise variants.

Lifting styles[edit]

Competitive lifter (girevik) performing jerk with 32 kg kettlebells (rack position).

Contemporary kettlebell training is represented basically by four styles.

Hardstyle has its roots in powerlifting and Gōjū-ryū karate training, particularly hojo undō concepts. With emphasis on the "hard" component and borrowing the concept of kime, the Hardstyle focuses on strength and power and duality of relaxation and tension.[15][16]

Girevoy, sometimes referred to as the fluid style in comparison to the Hardstyle, represents the training regimen for the competitive sport of kettlebell lifting, focusing on strength endurance.[15]

Crossfit kettlebell refers to implementation of kettlebell training as in CrossFit curricula, often with significant modifications to preceding styles (e.g. American Swing vs. conventional swing, placing the kettlebell down between snatches).[17]

Juggling is a training style where the practitioner releases and catches the kettlebell with all manner of spins and flips around the body.[15][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Reed, Bill (2009-09-05). "Saved by the kettlebell". Winnipeg Free Press. 
  2. ^ a b Jonsson, Patrik (2004-05-02). "The strongman 'kettlebell' makes a comeback at the gym". The Christian Science Monitor. 
  3. ^ a b c Ivill, Laura (2008-11-22). "The kettlebell workout Can the kettlebell give you a Hollywood body?". The Times. [needs update]
  4. ^ "KETTLEBELL HISTORY". Father and Son workout. Retrieved 2016-04-07. [dead link]
  5. ^ English, Nick (22 November 2016). "Kettlebell History Goes Back Much Further Than Russia - BarBend". BarBend. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c Rathbun, Andy (2009-01-04). "The kettlebell way: Focused workouts mimic the movements of everyday activities". HeraldNet. 
  7. ^ Wallack, Roy (2010-04-26). "A Vat of Kettlebells". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ Liebenson, Craig "Functional Training with the Kettlebell." Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 15 (2011): 542-544
  9. ^ "Exclusive ACE research examines the fitness benefits of kettlebells" (PDF). 
  10. ^ Geatz, Sarah (2014-04-14). "The benefits of Kettlebells for Women". 
  11. ^ "The Iron Truth about Kettlebell Training". SparkPeople. 
  12. ^ Greg Brookes (29 January 2015). "33 Kettlebell Exercises from Beginner to Advanced". Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  13. ^ a b "The Great Kettlebell Swing Debate". Crossfit Invictus. 14 August 2012. 
  14. ^ Liebenson, Craig and Shaughness, Gabrielle "The Turkish Get-up." Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 15 (2011): 125-127
  15. ^ a b c Kettlebell Styles[dead link]
  16. ^ The Origins and Explanation of "Hardstyle" Kettlebell Training
  17. ^ Hardstyle, Girevoy, or CrossFit? How to Decide Which Kettlebell Style Is Best
  18. ^ How to Get Started with Kettlebell Juggling