Get ready to redefine your limits with top-tier kettlebell exercises. These are the backbone of building unmatched endurance and strength. The go-to choice for fitness enthusiasts and mountain athletes alike, kettlebells hit every muscle, forging a body built for the toughest terrains.
The first stop before building a kettlebell workout plan is understanding their effectiveness. It's the reason they're a must-have training element for any serious athlete - in the backcountry or otherwise.
Are Kettlebell Workouts Effective?
Kettlebell workouts are effective for building strength and endurance, targeting multiple muscle groups, and building strong cardiovascular fitness. Exercises like swings are full-body, boosting muscle tone, balance, and endurance. Highly efficient, they’re ideal for those short on time to exercise.
Kettlebell workouts are your tactical advantage in fitness. They're designed to complement heavy lifting, prepare you for intense strength trials, and hit every muscle effectively - all while moving fast enough to get the sweat going - this gives your body a unique way to reset from intense strength training without losing your place in overall progress.
Just by combining kettlebell exercises with existing bodyweight movements currently in your training regimen can further enhance your workout.
Kettlebell cardio goes beyond just raising your heart rate; it builds a robust cardiovascular base while sparing your joints from the strain of regular cardio. For instance, exercises like single-arm kettlebell swings attack multiple muscle groups, boosting both muscle and cardiovascular health.
The truth is, kettlebell workouts are more than effective, they're fundamental to consistent and constant progress toward achieving your fitness goals.
Unlocking the Potential of Kettlebell Training with MTNTOUGH
Our approach at MTNTOUGH combines kettlebell training with a focus on functional movements that build brute strength, explosive power, and dynamic mobility. Beyond your typical exercise expectation, our kettlebell training turns each exercise into a tool that sharpens movement patterns and balances muscular strength. This is a must for any serious backcountry or tactical athlete.
This is the functional fitness component you'll find in our kettlebell program - KB20.
The KB20 Philosophy
The KB20 program is a no-nonsense, 4-week plan you can execute anywhere with just a kettlebell. It's engineered for developing leg strength, boosting endurance, and cultivating mental grit.
Built in the MTNTOUGH lab, tested by thousands of elite athletes in the field, MTNTOUGH's KB20 will push your functional fitness and mental resilience to new heights. See for yourself with a no obligation, 14-day free trial to MTNTOUGH+.
So far, we've spoken about kettlebell training in broad generalities. But not all kettlebell movements are created equally when trying to achieve specific goals. To show you how, why, and where some are more effective than others, we've taken 10 kettlebell exercises and mapped them against 5 common fitness goals.
You could certainly argue that multiple exercises could fit in some or even every goal listed below, so we made the call to limit each exercise to its 'best-fitting' goal. Like any MTNTOUGH training program, there's a high value placed on building targeted, effective training.
10 Essential Kettlebell Movements for 5 Common Fitness Goals
To get the most out of your kettlebell workouts, it's crucial to pinpoint your specific needs and choose exercises that directly support your objectives. We’ve zeroed in on 10 critical kettlebell movements tailored for 5 key fitness goals:
- Kettlebell Swing
- Double Kettlebell Push Press
- Double Kettlebell Swing
- High Pull to Goblet Squat
- Goblet Squat
- Asymmetrical Bent Over Row
- Kettlebell Deadlift
- BOSU Ball Single Leg RDL
- Double Kettlebell Front Squats
- Single Leg RDL
These are the ones you can’t afford to skip in your workout, and they’ll help you achieve your fitness goals with confidence.
Goal 1: Strength and Cardiovascular Fitness
Kettlebell training is a game-changer for boosting strength and cardio - it delivers a full-body workout efficiently, cutting down on time but not on results. The kettlebell swing and double kettlebell push press are solid ways to bring this to life.
1. Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is a dynamic full-body exercise, hammering your legs, glutes, back, and shoulders. It's a powerhouse for conditioning, engaging multiple muscle groups and spiking your heart rate. This is the result of combining power and speed in the motion of each swing.
Be sure to keep your swings at shoulder height rather than above your head - this will optimize strength, endurance, and mobility, crucial factors for backcountry and tactical success.
2. Double Kettlebell Push Press
The double kettlebell push press carves upper body strength and power with a standard motion of pressing two kettlebells overhead.
This exercise is a cornerstone for building upper body might, but also shoulder stability and core fortitude; essential for mountain athletes and hunters. For maximum output, a tight core and straight back are key to unlocking strength and cardio in the double kettlebell push press.
Goal 2: Full-Body Workout in Short Time
For those with packed schedules, which is everyone, or those looking for a quick, impactful routine, efficient kettlebell exercises are key.
Is 20 Minutes Of Kettlebells Enough?
Twenty minutes of kettlebells can be enough time for an effective workout. This duration suits high-intensity kettlebell routines, which maximize calorie burn and muscle engagement. Short, intense sessions are known to improve cardiovascular health and muscular strength, offering a balanced workout in a limited time frame.
Applying HIIT principles to nearly any kettlebell exercise will give you a solid output in the least amount of time. But for this shortlist, the double kettlebell swing and high pull goblet squat are great examples that maximize your return on time for a full-body workout. These exercises allow you to handle heavier weights and engage more muscle groups, combining strength training with high-intensity cardio for an intense challenge across your entire body.
3. Double Kettlebell Swing
For starters, the obvious difference between a kettlebell swing and a double kettlebell swing is the number of kettlebells used. This is also what makes it more efficient for any time-challenged individual. Adding another kettlebell to the movement amplifies your reward per rep by engaging more upper body muscles compared to a single kettlebell swing.
Like many on the list, this exercise builds strength and power while improving cardiovascular fitness and core stability, perfect for any tough terrain you'll face in your field.
4. High Pull to Goblet Squat
The high pull to goblet squat is a dynamic exercise, blending a high pull with a goblet squat. This combination targets the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves with every motion.
For the most efficient path to your time-crunched fitness goal:
- ON THE PULL: Keep your elbows tight to your body on the way up to your chin.
- ON THE SQUAT: Put your weight in your heels and point your chest up as you lower your body.
- ENTIRE MOVEMENT: Keep your core engaged and your back straight throughout the exercise for maximum results.
Done the right way, the high pull to goblet squat will stress multiple muscle groups and work magic on your balance and coordination.
Goal 3: Body Recomposition and Functional Fitness
Kettlebell exercises like the goblet squat and asymmetrical bent over row are prime for body recomposition and functional fitness. Don't confuse recomposition for building glamor muscles; recomposition here is redesigning the body to be best-suited to achieve a specific functional task.
This is the main premise behind MTNTOUGH's Backcountry Hunter series, which assigns specific goals for different sections of the year, all aligned to reaching the ultimate objective of being the most badass version of yourself for hunting season.
A goal of modifying your body for functional fitness might include movements that promote:
- Muscle gain
- Fat loss
- Targeting multiple muscle groups
- Improving balance, coordination, and overall fitness
Kettlebell exercises, like the goblet squat and asymmetrical bent over row, are great for achieving the results above. They encourage muscle gain, fat loss, and improve balance, coordination, and overall fitness.
5. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat isn’t just a leg workout; it’s a full-body assault. It hammers your quads, calves, glutes, core, arms, and grip strength. Every rep is a battle won against weakness.
With correct form, the kettlebell is held at chest height. This engages your core the entire time, which is an area far greater and more important than 6-pack abs. It consists of multiple muscle groups forming your trunk. This stabilizes your entire body while you're moving through deadfall, ascending steep inclines, or any other uniquely backcountry physical test. Keeping the bell at your chest also requires your lats and upper back muscles to maintain its position.
The most functional ingredient of this movement, at least for mountain athletes, military personnel, and first responders, is how the movement pattern of the goblet squat is nearly identical to the experience of standing while carrying your ruck or gear in front of your body.
They're extremely accessible for any fitness level to build muscle and shed fat, allowing just about anyone to benefit. To modify it for beginners, practice the form with a lighter weight or just bodyweight.
6. Asymmetrical Bent Over Row
The asymmetrical bent over row is a great exercise for targeting the back and core muscles, essential for functional fitness and body recomposition.
Focused on your posterior chain, asymmetrical bent over rows are a full assault on your glutes, hamstrings, and upper back. Developing the muscle in your mid-back, lats, and rear delts is as functional as it gets since nearly all everyday tasks require this type of functional strength.
And of course, it ropes in your core for a balanced, full-body challenge. And this is key to performing this movement the right way. You need balance and control to maintain proper form. By tackling side-to-side imbalances, asymmetrical bent over rows boost your muscle function in a way that translates to practical movement; it sharpens your stability, mobility, and symmetry outside of the gym.
Goal 4: Backcountry Hunting Pre-Season Preparation
In backcountry hunting, you're only as good as your physical readiness. Your gear, your trophy – they're all adding weight on your back. The terrain is tough, the elevations high, and the hunts long. It demands not just fitness, but grit.
Without a solid training program, you're at a disadvantage. This is where kettlebells come in, ramping up your readiness with certain muscle groups and movements you'll mimic countless times in the wild.
There's a case to be made for just about any kettlebell exercise (especially those that made this list) adding value to your backcountry prep. But let's focus on two key exercises: the kettlebell deadlift and the BOSU ball single leg RDL.
Starting well before hunting season, adding kettlebell deadlift and the BOSU ball single leg RDL into your training will give you the tools to build functional muscle, shed fat, boost stamina and endurance, and toughen your mind.
On the hunt, this translates into moving more efficiently and staying more focused - a domino effect for a higher success rate.
7. Kettlebell Deadlift
The kettlebell deadlift is fundamental for conquering tough terrains. It hits multiple muscles at once and allows heavier loads than other lifts. It works your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, obliques, core, lats, mid-back, and grip. It's comprehensive.
With the right consistency and perfect deadlift form, you'll gain the strength, power, and agility (the boost to balance and coordination are just as important as strength in this context) to handle the unpredictable demands of hunting.
The deadlift motion mirrors real-life actions more than your typical exercise. The kettlebell's shape and weight distribution are like everyday items you might lift. This means doing kettlebell deadlifts can lower your risk of back injuries and increase your overall movement, which is a much needed skill when hunting.
8. BOSU Ball Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
While it's the most difficult name to remember on this list, it's the one you should memorize the most. It's designed to improve your balance, stability, and strength – the trifecta for mountain readiness.
There's a lot going on with this one, but here are the key reasons you need to add it to hunting fitness pre-season training program:
- Correcting Imbalances: This exercise, especially on a BOSU ball, pinpoints and fixes uneven strength between body sides. Balanced strength and coordination are critical in unpredictable outdoor settings.
- Muscle Strength and Endurance: It targets your hamstrings, glutes, calves, ankle stabilizers, and obliques. These muscles are linked to sustained, dynamic activities like navigating the backcountry while hunting.
- Balance and Stability: Doing the RDL on a BOSU ball adds complexity and boosts balance, stability, and coordination. The end result is greater control with every inch.
- Mental and Physical Fitness: The BOSU ball element also works muscles and ligaments differently than your standard RDL. This isn’t just good for physical strength but also for cognitive skills like alertness and adaptability.
While balance training is best suited for ankle injury rehab, and limitations exist on how much you can improve your balance, there's an extreme amount of value building it into a more comprehensive training program.
Goal 5: Overall Conditioning and Core Stability
To dominate in the wild, you need more than just strength – you need rock-solid conditioning and an unbreakable core. That's where kettlebell workouts like double kettlebell front squats and single leg RDLs come into play.
They're your tools for building a body that can withstand the toughest challenges. They hit multiple muscle groups hard, ramping up your strength, endurance, balance, and coordination.
9. Double Kettlebell Front Squat
The double kettlebell front squat is famous for strengthening your lower body and core. This exercise doesn't discriminate. Beginner or seasoned lifter, everyone gets a taste of the challenge. But it's not just about lifting heavy; it's about mastering the move with, about building a foundation that's rock-solid.
- Lower Body Strength: This isn't about light workouts. The double kettlebell front squat packs a punch for your legs. Forget the barbell for a moment. The kettlebells' instability means your muscles work harder, not just lifting but also balancing. That's real power training.
- Core Stability: With the kettlebells up front, your core muscles have to work overtime. You'll feel this one. And while you might hate it at the moment, your stronger core will thank you in the long run.
- Pattern and Repetition: If squat form is an up and down motion to you, you're doing them wrong. A double kettlebell front squat is about precision, about nailing the perfect motion every single time. With kettlebells in play, your body learns the right way to move. This discipline trains your body to respond with accuracy.
- Breathing Into Your Back: The unsung hero of benefits, breathing is where the subtlety comes in. Whether you're loading a heavy pack or moving boxes from the basement, you can learn to use your lungs to drive greater oxygen into your muscles when they need it most.
10. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
It's a bit counter-intuitive, but asymmetry is clutch for removing imbalances. The Single Leg RDL is about evening the odds, making sure both sides of your body are equally strong, equally capable.
Along with deficit reverse lunges, this exercise is famous for building lower body strength. It all comes back to asymmetry which helps identify weaknesses and turns them into strengths. Here's where you stand to benefit the most:
- Muscular Strength and Endurance: Combined, your hamstrings and glutes are the engine of your body. This exercise pushes them to their limits, building power and endurance that lasts.
- Balance and Stability: Balance is for everyone who wants to move with confidence and strength. The Single Leg RDL challenges your whole lower body, demanding coordination and control.
This exercise helps build a body that's ready for anything – sports, daily chores, you name it.
Adapting Kettlebell Workouts for Beginners
You're well-aware that kettlebell workouts are some of your best options for functional fitness. Beyond the full body engagement and functional movement patterns, kettlebell exercises also lend themselves to individuals that are inexperienced with lifting.
Kettlebells are extremely accessible, making them a convenient option for beginners who may not have access to a gym or extensive equipment. The ability to train whenever you want and from nearly anywhere, without needing to build a full-gym, lowers the fitness barrier to entry at the onset. But the most compelling reason kettlebells offer such a smooth on-ramp for beginners is thanks to the versatility and progression they provide.
Kettlebell workouts offer a wide range of exercises that can be tailored to different fitness levels, allowing beginners to start with basic movements and gradually progress to more complex exercises as they gain strength and proficiency. Stripped down, a beginner can simply perform them as bodyweight exercises or even modified bodyweight exercises.
As they build strength and endurance without compromising form, kettlebells can be added to the equation. To layer it even further, they can start with lighter weights and get heavier weights over time.
Can You Build Muscle With Just Kettlebells?
Yes, you can build muscle with just kettlebells. Kettlebell exercises like swings, snatches, and goblet squats activate various muscle groups, promoting hypertrophy. Their unique design allows for progressive overload, a key factor in muscle growth, by increasing weight or intensity over time.
Kettlebell training is perfect for strength training, anaerobic conditioning, functional movement, and injury resilience. With compound movements that challenge your muscles differently than traditional lifting, kettlebells can target various muscle groups, such as the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and the entire posterior chain with different outcomes.
At-Home Kettlebell Mastery with KB20
The MTNTOUGH KB20 kettlebell workout program is your no-nonsense solution for building mountain-ready fitness at home. In just 4 weeks with 20 targeted workouts, this program gears you up for the rugged outdoors. It's built for any fitness level, focusing on core mountain athlete skills: strength, balance, and agility.
The program, led by seasoned trainers, offers coaching and flexible exercises to fit your pace and get you backcountry ready. Here's what you can look forward to:
- Minimal Gear: KB20's setup is simple - a kettlebell and a pull-up bar. It fits into your lifestyle, whether you're in a tight space or on the road, making sure you never miss a workout.
- Respect Your Time: With KB20, efficiency is key. Workouts are short, between 20-50 minutes, but they pack a punch.
- Highly Functional: A few dedicated sessions a week will sharpen your skills for the hills. This is streamlined training for those who need to make every minute count.
Kettlebells are a fundamental part of full-body fitness. No matter your fitness goals or experience level, start with KB20, follow our guidance in the program on how to modify it to your needs, and you'll see gains in muscle and stamina. Test it out with a 14-day free trial and see how it can revolutionize your fitness routine, no matter your experience level.