Kettlebells, Anyone? 3 Moves That Sculpt and Are (We Swear!) Actually Fun

illustration by: jade purple brown

Okay, I’ll own it: I was pretty unnerved the first time I looked (sideways, with serious shade) at a kettlebell.

It was about three months after I’d given birth to my son. I was frankly annoyed at the idea of having to get back into shape at all. My little bundle of joy had been born at ten pounds (yep, seriously), and so I was really still just trying to walk like a regular person, let alone dance around a gym swinging a weight with a weird little handle on it as if it were a mini Prada bag.

But what can I say; I had a great trainer. She eased me in, slowly working in the ‘bell’ as she called it. Between inclined sit-ups and lower back raises, she’d just casually say, “Here, hold this.” Okay, sure. “Now put it down.” Okay. “Oh, and pick it up, will you? And keep your back straight.” It took about there seconds to see what she was up to, but then she started doing it often enough that… it started working.

I could feel my hamstrings getting bolder and tighter, giving me an extra spring in my step. Two days after we did swings (which really are pretty undeniably fun), my entire core and arms would be sore. And then by day three? I felt like I was on my way to new abs and biceps. And the thing is, I was. By the next week I felt noticeably stronger, and yes, even moved a little more lightly.

From then on, and without sarcasm, I said to my trainer: Bring on the bell. Especially when it came to three of my favorite moves that had an incredible impact on many areas of my body—and while challenging, were fun enough that they made me keep wanting to go back to them again and again.

I’m about to tell you all about those three moves, but first, a little kettlebell background: In case you haven’t already gotten acquainted, it’s that small weight that comes in multiple weight levels, and has a handle on it.

The handle on a kettlebell basically means that you can use in about a million different ways, unlike a traditional barbell or dumbbell. You no longer have to balance it the same way, in its middle—instead, you can grab it at an angle, from above, or use it to move it across your body easily. That both gives you more versatility in your workout and challenges more muscles than a normal barbell so you can use it to work all different parts of your body.

In fact, using different parts of the body is the single biggest bonus of a kettlebell workout. You really just need one—and not much else—for an all-body workout that challenges every muscle group. But I love using it for specific areas that need more work, and from (again) different angles. Here they are:

1. The move: The Around The World

What it does:

Works shoulder muscles, upper back muscles, and specifically targets triceps and biceps.

Getting it done:

While in a standing position with feet planted firmly on the ground and about hip-width apart, raise the kettlebell with both hands, with arms extended out in front of your chest. Elbows should be slightly bent. With both hands, press the bell above your head and then carefully circle the bell around your head using just one arm and hand, and then once it reaches the back, passing it to the other hand and bringing it back in front. Bring it back to your chest level again, and that is one rep. Here is a quick video demonstration.

How many:

Start with three sets of eight reps, and move that number up from there, depending on your fitness level.

2. The move: The Deadlift

What it does:

Are you angling to up the ante on your core, back, and butt? If so, this move is your BFF. Your adductors will be the focus since you need to squeeze your legs together. But at the same time, your core and back are working hard together to keep the bell up and down as you also keep your balance.

Getting it done:

With your feet about a foot apart, do a squat down (try and keep your butt parallel-even to the ground, and push through your heels into the floor to keep your balance) and grab the handle of the bell. Then stand up, keeping your arms extended. Here is a quick video demonstration.

How many:

Do three sets of eight reps, and go up to 12 reps as your strength increases.

3. The move: The Swing

What it does:

What doesn’t it do? Though it targets your glutes, lower back, and hamstrings, you can count on this one working almost your whole body. You’ll feel it in your shoulders and triceps within the next few days of the workout, but the real effect will be seen in your lower body—particularly legs and booty area.

Getting it done:

Standing with your feet just a few inches wider than your hip-width, push your hips back and bend your knees. With both hands, carefully pick up the kettlebell and raise your arms up, so they’re straight in front of you at chest-length. Engage your glutes and keep your arms straight, then swing the bell downward, between your legs. As the momentum changes and moves in the opposite direction, bring the bell up between your legs and straighten your legs as it comes up, so you wind up in your original position. That’s one rep. Here is a quick video demonstration.

How many:

Do eight reps to start for three sets, and see how that feels. If you’re not fatigued, do one to two more sets. Try and eventually build up to six or seven sets.

About the Authorscreen-shot-2017-08-03-at-3-49-53-am

Alexandra Hall is a lifestyle journalist covering food, fitness, beauty, and parenting. A Boston native and alum of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she now lives in Portland, Maine with her blended family of six--all of whom like to eat different things for dinner.