There are so many ways to create progression in our workouts that aren’t just about increasing loads.
One simple way to create a new challenge may be by mixing up the tools you use for the same basic moves.
Another could be by making slight changes to the postures and loading placements during those basic movements like rows or squats or presses.
So if you’ve been looking to vary those basics exercises to keep challenging yourself, try using kettlebells with these amazing moves!
Exercise #1: Push Up To Dip
This is a super challenging push up variation that really targets those triceps as well as your abs.
And if you do struggle with wrist pain during push ups, you may find the neutral wrist positioning of these push ups off the kettlebells helpful.
Just be conscious of the dip if you do have previous shoulder injuries and make sure you can truly control the range of motion before progressing.
To do this move, you’ll perform two push ups off the kettlebells, dropping your chest to the handles. Focus on driving back through your heels while making sure your hands are just outside your chest.
After two push ups, push up to the top and press down into the kettlebells to lift your legs and swing them through and forward.
With your legs straight in front of you and your butt back right in front or between the kettlebells, perform two full dips. Drop your butt straight down toward the ground. Just make sure you don’t swing too far forward or you’ll put more strain on your shoulder.
Do two dips then swing back through and repeat.
To modify, you can go down to your knees for the push ups and bend your knees on the dips. You still want that full range of motion though on the push up, dropping your chest to the kettlebells and bending your elbows to 90 degrees on the dips.
You can also modify by walking through and starting with even 1 of each over two of both.
Exercise #2: Figure 8s
This rotational move is a great way to challenge your core and strengthen those glutes while getting your blood pumping.
It can be great to include in more of a metabolic conditioning workout and used during interval circuits.
It is also a variation on that basic kettlebell swing.
To do this move, you will hold a kettlebell handle in one hand and swing the kb across your chest so that the bottom of the kb is resting on your other hand up at your opposite shoulder.
The weight should be right in against your body.
You will then hinge over, slightly squatting as you do, to be able to swing the weight down in front and under your thigh to grab it with your other hand behind your leg.
You will rotate your torso as you do. You’ll switch hands, grabbing the kettlebell with the other hand behind your leg to then bring it up and around and across your body toward your other shoulder.
Make sure to squeeze your glutes at the top.
You will feel even your biceps working as you perform that curl across your chest, but you don’t want it to just be an arm move. Focus on those glutes propelling the weight weight up and across.
Start light and make sure you are truly controlling the rotation of your torso to reach under your leg so you don’t overload your lower back or start to round.
Exercise #3: Bottoms Up Carry
Carries are a great way to build functional full body strength whether you do farmers carries, racked carries or overhead carries.
You can do them as bilateral movements, carrying a weight on both sides, or as unilateral carries to work each side independently and even strengthen your core to fight rotation.
And a great way to vary your carries and improve your grip strength and shoulder stability, using the slightly awkward weight of the kettlebell, is by including a bottoms up variation.
You can perform the bottoms up carry as a unilateral or bilateral movement.
And you can start with the carry at your shoulder or even progress overhead as you feel ready and want to increase the instability.
This move though is deceptively hard.
Make sure you start light and really focus on all of your fingers gripping the kettlebell handle hard!
If you haven’t done a bottoms up carry before, definitely start with the weight at your shoulder and really engage your upper back, unshrugging that shoulder so it feels locked into place and stabilized.
If you move to the overhead variation, walk slowly to start and make sure to brace your abs!
Exercise #4: Lunge with Pass Under
While adding loads to lunges can for sure progress the movement, also having to hold and stabilize as you change your loading placement can provide a new stability challenge and force you to spend more time under tension. And that’s why the Lunge with Pass Under can be a great option. Not only does this move challenge your legs, but it also is a great way to improve that core stability.
To do this move you will start by holding a kettlebell in one hand. I usually like to start with it on the side I plan to lunge forward on.
Sink into that front lunge and holding with your knee hovering about an inch off the ground, pass the kettlebell under that front leg into your other hand.
Then drive back up to standing in one solid push back.
Lunge forward on the other side to then pass the kettlebell back under.
This move is a great way to really help you focus on keeping your weight centered even as you lunge forward.
Too often all of our weight ends up going forward in front lunges which prevents us from using that front glute as efficiently as possible and can also be why we end up with knee aches and pains.
To vary this move, you can also perform reverse lunges instead of front lunges.
And to modify, you can always perform a split squat with pass under or even start by not sinking as low in the lunge.
Exercise #5: Renegade Rows
If you’re looking to work your entire core and your back and really build your anti-rotational core strength and shoulder stability, Renegade Rows are a must-do move.
By staying focused on preventing rotation, you’ll even really feel your glutes working which will only also improve your hip stability.
With the Renegade Rows, just note the kettlebells do create a bit more instability than dumbbells so make sure to move slowly as you perform this exercise.
You don’t want to rush if you feel yourself losing balance. And you want to make sure you aren’t rushing and rotating.
Really fight to keep everything square to the ground as you alternate rows from that plank position.
Think about engaging your upper back to unshrug your shoulders and press hard down into the kettlebell to stabilize as you row the weight up.
Focus on your back powering that row.
And don’t forget to drive back through your heels so your weight isn’t all shifted forward as you squeeze your glutes.
Spreading your feet wider apart will help you stabilize to fight that rotation.
To modify, you can even perform an incline variation, rowing just on one side so you don’t have the added challenge as you stabilize while alternating rows.
Exercise #6: KB Swings
I honestly feel no kettlebell exercise list is complete without the swing as it is such a staple movement.
I think this explosive hip hinge movement is so key I even push clients who don’t have kettlebells to do it with a dumbbell or pair of dumbbells as the skier swing.
When I use the swing with clients the focus is on the hinge hinge and not performing an overhead swing as I want to train that quick hip hinge movement pattern and proper loading.
Being able to hip hinge correctly is key to help us avoid lower back injuries especially.
When you do the kettlebell swing, focus on pushing your butt back as if trying to touch a wall behind you. You aren’t squatting with this movement although your knees will soften so you can hinge correctly.
And then really push the ground away as you use those glutes to propel the kettlebell up to come up to standing.
Squeeze your glutes hard as you stand tall and don’t lean back, arching your lower back.
Do not worry or focus on how high the kettlebell goes. Too often this focus on the height of the swing leads to us pulling with our arms.
And then do not hinge back over until the kettlebell descends and your forearms connect with your hips. You don’t want to hinge before “catching” the weight to push your hips back. Hinging over while the weight is still far away from you can cause your weight to shift forward and lead to you overloading your lower back.
Almost think of it as you waiting for the kettlebell to open the “door” and your hinge as the door opening.
To vary this move, you may perform a single arm swing or even skier swing with the weights outside.
If you’re struggling with the hip hinge movement, consider a band hinge to help you learn to properly load those glutes and not just lean or round forward.
Exercise #7: Unilateral Chest Press
When we think about the bench press, we think most often about using dumbbells and barbells.
But the kettlebell can actually be a great way to work our chest, shoulders and triceps while adding a level of instability.
And I love even using the kettlebell during a unilateral chest press to even challenge your core more.
To do this move, you’ll have the kettlebell resting on your forearm and hand at your chest. Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground and you’re bracing your abs to fight the rotation.
Press the kettlebell up and toward the ceiling even coming slightly toward the center of your chest as you press to get a little extra pec focused work.
The lower back down. Move slowly because the kettlebell adds more instability than you realize.
And if you don’t have a bench, you can always do this move as a floor press. You’ll be surprised by how unstable just using the kettlebell can make you feel with such a traditional movement.
Exercise #8: Squat, Catch And Press
If you’re looking for a great variation of the squat to press, try the Squat, Catch and Press.
This is a great full-body exercise to include even during your conditioning work as it will really get your blood pumping.
You may even see different versions of this movement done based on whether you want it to be a bit more leg intensive or cardio.
Start with the weight held in both hands hanging toward the ground.
Squat down sinking the weight to touch the ground. Then quickly drive up to standing and, as you do, pull the weight up toward your chest, allowing your hands to slide down the horns of the kettlebell toward where the handle connects to the base.
From here press the weight overhead.
Do this all quickly without really pausing in any position.
Then lower the weight to your chest before allowing your hands to slide to the top of the handle as you sink back into that squat.
You may also find you like to perform this move with more a squat or leg emphasis, sinking into a deeper squat while holding the kettlebell in that goblet position at your chest before coming out of that deeper squat to press overhead.
Exercise #9: Rotational Row
You really can work your entire body using kettlebells. And if you want to vary up your back rows, you can always include a rotational kettlebell row.
This is not only a great unilateral back exercise to work each side independently but also a great core move, working those obliques as well.
This rotational row works your back through protraction to full retraction. Just make sure you can actually control the row with your back and don’t end up shrugging as you go from the shoulder blade being pulled forward to pulled toward your spine.
Start in a staggered stance with the weight in the opposite hand from the foot that is forward. Hold the weight in that opposite hand hanging down toward your heel of your front foot.
While you want to allow your shoulder blade to protract or come forward around your ribs as you allow the weight to hang, almost as if you are slightly reaching for the ground, you don’t want to lose tension on your core or round over.
Then drive the elbow back toward the ceiling as you slightly rotate open, pulling the handle up toward your chest.
Do not shrug your shoulder or let your shoulder round forward to make the movement bigger. Focus on a slight rotation through your torso as you pull your shoulder blade toward your spine.
If you struggle with bracing your core as you focus on the row, consider trying a variation off a bench so your hand and knee are on the bench to help you stabilize and brace.
Exercise #10: Halos
Halos are another must do move to improve your shoulder mobility and stability.
And while they can be done with a plate weight or dumbbell, the instability of the kettlebell is a great way to really progress this exercise, especially when the focus is on improve your stability and range of motion.
You can do this movement from a variety of postures as well.
I love the kneeling or even seated variation of this exercise to not only really focus on that shoulder mobility but take out the capacity to really cheat and seek out mobility from other areas. These variations are also more core intensive which can help prevent you from getting ego in adding weight.
It is key with halos, no matter which posture you select, that you focus on not moving your head but instead circling the weight around your head through the fullest range of motion you can. You want to keep the weight in tight though and not just make a circle over your head.
As you pull the weight around each time and back forward, focus on even feeling the side of your back powering that pull forward.
If you do this move kneeling, focus on really squeezing your glutes. You can also vary your stance with, bringing your knees together to make it harder to stabilize.
You can combine these moves to match your needs and goals, whether you want an upper body, lower body or full body routine. You may find you use multiple in the same workout or just even use one, swapping it in for a current move in your routine.
Just remember to pick moves based on your needs and goals! We want to include exercises with a purpose!
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