How To Do a Full-Body Workout Using Just One (Awesomely Versatile) Piece of Equipment
I can deadlift 120 pounds, but I can really only do sets of bicep curls with eight-pound weights. In other words, the tools I need to challenge my muscles vary wildly from body part to body part. So how is it possible that I could get a full-body workout using just one piece of equipment? The answer comes thanks to the versatile weight that is the kettlebell. Yes, a full-body kettlebell workout uses just one tool to strengthen you from head to toes.
“Kettlebells are great for total body conditioning, meaning that so many kettlebell exercises use your entire body,” Alexandra Sweeney, a trainer with JAXJOX, previously told Well+Good about kettlebell workouts.
While you can use any sort of weight in a full-body workout that engages your upper body, lower body, and core, the kettlebell does the job particularly well. The fact that it’s meant to shift position in your hand, rather than remain static like a dumbbell, requires your muscles to adapt (and grow). Kettlebell moves are also often multi-dimensional in the way they challenge your body.
“Kettlebell workouts also do a fabulous job of combining strength and cardio,” Sweeney says. “The ability to swing and incorporate other explosive, powerful movements—such as cleans and snatches—makes the kettlebell stand out from dumbbells and barbells.”
How to put together a full-body kettlebell workout
Just grabbing a kettlebell and doing some swings isn’t going to do the trick here. You need to know how to optimize a kettlebell workout so that you hit every major muscle group and work up a sweat. Luckily, Fhitting Room trainer Ben Lauder-Dykes, who’s leading Well+Good’s Trainer of the Month Club this November, has you covered. He lays it all out in a new 30-minute full-body kettlebell workout, and has some tips you can take to your own gym floor, too.
“I’m going to progress from start to finish throughout the workout showing you lots of different variations of kettlebell skills so you can see how many options you have,” Lauder-Dykes says. “You just need one piece of equipment and you can challenge lots of different parts of your body in a short amount of time.”
1. Opt for compound movements
Compound movements are those that use multiple muscle groups. Kettlebell exercises that involve snatching or swinging are often compound movements by nature. For example, the kettlebell clean involves hoisting up a kettlebell from the floor to your chest with your hands, but your legs and core are actually doing most of the work.
“The kettlebell clean primarily targets the legs and core, while also involving the arm and back muscles. It’s a complex full-body movement with the emphasis on the legs,” Samantha Jade, creator of BODY by SJ at Project by Equinox and senior instructor at SoulCycle, previously told Well+Good about kettlebell cleans. “The movement is generated from the hips and the main power comes from the quads and the hamstrings, with many other muscles assisting.”
2. Work both bilaterally and unilaterally
That’s a fancy way of saying do exercises that use both limbs at the same time, as well as those that work just one side of your body, then the other. A single-sided exercise will challenge one set of your muscles at a time, so it helps ensure your stronger side doesn’t take over to get the movement done.
3. Switch up the number of reps
When you’re working a larger muscle group versus a smaller one, you might need to do more or fewer reps to deliver a balanced challenge.
“This is how we can use one kettlebell to challenge different parts of our bodies, even though they might require different loads for specific exercises,” Lauder-Dykes explains. “We can just change the number of repetitions we do to make it specifically challenging for that one muscle group.”
4. Practice different movement patterns
Pushing versus pulling, lifting versus throwing, or stepping up versus stepping down, are all ways to engage different muscle groups. Opt to pair a movement with its equal and opposite when doing a kettlebell workout. For example, in Lauder-Dykes’ workout, he explains, “we’re training lots of different motions. We’re going up and back with the row. We’re going up the front with the clean. We’re going down and back with the lunge. We’re going all the way up like Fat Joe on the push press.”
5. Combine control with power and speed
Once you’ve mastered the mechanics of a movement, don’t be afraid to add some explosive power and speed to a kettlebell move. This will help work different muscle fibers, and give you a cardiovascular workout, too.
“We’re getting a little bit more of an extra challenge for our whole system,” Lauder-Dykes says.
A 30-minute full-body kettlebell workout
Lauder-Dykes uses multiple different HIIT formats to get you comfortable with these kettlebell moves and eventually allow you to pick up the pace. Here are the moves you’ll be tackling in no time.
Deadlifts with goblet cleans
Hold your kettlebell in front of you while standing upright. Push your butt back as you bring your torso forward, letting your arms and the kettlebell move toward the floor. Engage your hamstrings and core as you return to standing, but rather than coming back to the neutral starting position, continue lifting the kettlebell up to your chest with your elbows out to the side.
Plank pull throughs
Begin in a plank with the kettlebell placed under your chest. Shifting the weight into your left arm, grab the kettlebell with your right hand and pull it over toward your right side. Place your right arm down, then reach under your chest with your left hand, grab the kettlebell, and pull it over to your left side. Repeat.
Sit-up to press
Lay on your back with your knees bent and the kettlebell held at your chest. Engage your abs to lift your torso up off the ground into a sit-up. At the top of this position (with your chest and quads making a V), press the kettlebell over your head. Bring it back down to your chest and lay your torso back down.
Work one side at a time all the way through these exercises, then repeat on the other side all the way through.
With your knees bent slightly and your torso leaning forward, let the kettlebell hang straight in front of you. Engaging your back muscles and keeping your elbow tucked in at your side, bend your elbow to bring the kettlebell up. Lower back down.
Hold the kettlebell with one arm by your side while standing upright. On the same side, step backward with your foot, and lower your knee to the floor. Return to standing.
Hold the kettlebell with one arm by your side. Hoist the kettlebell up to your shoulder, which will cause it to flip from the inside of your wrist to the outside. Return to the start.
Hold the kettlebell up at your shoulder with your elbow bent in at your side. As you rotate your wrist so it faces front, straighten your arm up toward the sky. Return to the start.
This movement is actually a combination of three exercises. Clean the kettlebell up to your chest with both hands. Holding the kettlebell at your chest, bend your knees and lower down into a squat. As you push back up into standing, press the kettlebell up over your head.
A kettlebell swing is like a dead lift with momentum. Holding the kettlebell in front of you, hinge back with your hips. Rather than just returning to standing, thrust forward with your hips and allow the power in your lower body to move the kettlebell up out in front of you.
Sit with your sitz bones on the floor, your knees bent, and your torso in a 45-degree angle. Remove your toes from the floor so just your heels are touching the ground, so that you are mostly supporting your weight with your torso, not your legs. Hold the kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest. Twist your torso and the kettlebell to one side, return to center, and repeat on the other side.