Full Body Beginner Kettlebell Workout Explained by a Physical Therapist
If you are looking for a kettlebell beginner workout that will get your heart racing while building both upper body and lower body strength- this is the workout for you.
Using a kettlebell can be an awesome way to get a good workout in, especially if you are limited in space, equipment, and/or time. This workout contains 3 simple movements but they really start to add up once you get going!
In this article you will not only learn the movements but you will also learn the best modifications you can make as well as specific form tips to make sure you aren’t putting yourself at a risk for injury.
As a physical therapist, form continues to hold the utmost importance when exercising which is why I particularly loveAMRAP style workouts. AMRAP stands for “As Many Reps As Possible”. These can be great as a beginner because you don’t have to feel rushed through these movements. They can even work if you have experience with kettlebell training because you can work to achieve more reps.
The goal for this particular workout is not to complete them as fast as possible because let me tell you, 30 minutes is a long time! Moving slow and steady with this kettlebell beginner workout is key.
How to Get Started with this Beginner Kettlebell Workout:
This workout includes 3 movements. You will set a timer for 30 minutes and complete as many rounds as possible, focusing on quality over quantity especially if you are just starting out. If you are more advanced, the goal should still be quality but you should be able to move more efficiently and complete more reps.
I will talk about how to choose the best weight towards the end of the article.
Here is a breakdown of the three movements:
1. Kettlebell high pull to squat:
This first movement is a combination of 2 separate movements so you are going to be working many different muscles at once. You will start with the kettlebell on the ground. You will bend at the hips with knees slightly bent and pick up the kettlebell with two hands.
Next, you’ll use explosive power from your hips to pull the kettlebell up to your chest, keeping your elbows higher than the kettlebell.
Then, you will switch to a grip that is lower on the handle, more towards the bell and complete a squat, also called a kettlebell goblet squat.
One common mistake I typically see here is many people tend to let the kettlebell get too far away from the body. This can put more tension on the lower back. Keep the kettlebell close to your chest as you squat down.
The kettlebell high pull + the squat counts as one repetition. You will do 10 of these before moving on to the next movement.
If you have difficulty squatting whether it’sknee, hip, or back pain or residual effects from a previous injury- you can modify the squat by sitting on a chair or a box. This can make a world of difference to your confidence with squatting to help you get more out of this workout.
When you are completing the kettlebell high pull, think about initiating the movement with your hips instead of solely relying on your arms. As you pull the weight up, try to avoid overextending (I.e leaning too far back) when you stand up. This is a common compensation I see during this high pull that can add extra strain to your lower back when repeated.
2. Kettlebell Staggered Single Arm Row
As as physical therapist, this is one of my favorite movements that I believe should be a staple in all full body workout routines, especially in a kettlebell beginner workout. If you have a history of shoulder, neck, or upper back pain- this one is crucial to build the muscle support you need. If you don’t have a history of injury but want to keep your shoulder healthy so you can continue working out, competing, etc this exercise is extremely important.
For this one you will get into a staggered stance, meaning one foot is in front of the other. Let’s say you start with your right leg in front. In the contralateral arm, in this case the left arm, you will hold the kettlebell. You will bend at the hips so you chest is angled towards the ground and then you will pull the kettlebell back to your hip as your elbow goes back.
You will complete 10 repetitions on one side, then switch to the other side.
If it is hard for you to keep a good posture as you are bent over at the hips, meaning your back is significantly rounded or if you have a history of back pain- you can use a stable object that is about hip height to support the hand that doesn’t have the weight. I often like to use a bench, a wall, or a bed/couch for support for my clients.
As you’re pulling the weight back to your hip, try to keep your shoulders square to the ground and your torso steady. A lot of times I see people trying to yank the weight up, opening up their shoulders and using their back to try to pull it up, especially as the weight gets heavier. This can allow for poor form, overuse of certain muscles, and can actually lead to developing shoulder or back pain.
3. Kettlebell Overhead Press
A kettlebell overhead press does require at least adequate shoulder mobility. You will hold the kettlebell with two hands in front of your chest then raise it straight over your head. This may sound simple and easy, but when holding onto your weight, you may think differently.
It is important to make sure you can reach over your head with your arms straight without any weight first before attempting this movement. If you can’t, I’ll explain the modification in the next section. If you can, then you should be able to complete this exercise.
This exercise doesn’t take much weight to be able to feel fatigue in your arms which is why the reps are kept low at 5 repetitions per round.
If you have had a history ofshoulder impingement (a pinching sensation in the front of your shoulder) or any rotator cuff injuries this exercise may not feel the best. If it doesn’t, you can grab a lighter kettlebell (if needed) and try a single arm press overhead, completing 3 each side.
Single arm exercises allow you to focus on one arm at a time, which is important if one arm is weaker than the other one. These asymmetries can eventually lead to pain and/or injury.
If you have a hard time getting your arms straight over your head, you can press the weight out at about a 45 degree diagonal. Most of the time, this can feel better on your shoulders while still challenging the muscles.
One of the biggest mistakes I typically see with this exercise includes arching your back excessively as you try to raise the weight overhead. This typically happens if you don’t have full mobility in your shoulders to raise overhead or if you have a deficit in core stability, meaning your rib cage moves forward as you try to press weight overhead.
I love having clients do this exercise standing either in front of a mirror or even better, against a wall. As you stand against a wall, move your feet slightly in front of you and focus on keeping most of your spine in contact with the wall as you press overhead. If you need to start lighter on this one to get some practice reps in, it’s highly recommended.
Choosing the best kettlebell weight
I know you’re probably thinking… “How do I know which kettlebell weight to start out with?” It can be tricky with a longer workout like this because you will likely be doing quite a few reps of each movement.
Choosing a lighter weight to start out is always better, especially during a kettlebell beginner workout. I usually recommend if you are newer to strength training to start out with a 5-10lb kettlebell. If you have a couple of different weighted kettlebells, that’s even better!
For some movements you may be able to use a heavier bell (with the kettlebell high pull + squat for example) and others (like the overhead press) where you may need to go a little lighter in weight.
Even if the weight feels easy in the beginning, give it at least 2-3 rounds before rushing to grab the heavier bell. The idea with this long, slow burn is fatigue. Asking your muscles to work for 30 minutes straight can be a lot at first, and your muscles may fatigue more quickly than you think.
If you start out too heavy, you may need to drop down in weight halfway through the workout or you may feel like you are not able to finish due to fatigue.
Airing on the lighter side to start can help set you up for success in the long run because you definitely don’t want to overload your joints or compromise form.
If you are more experienced with strength training, the overhead press will likely be the limiting factor in this workout so choose the weight accordingly.
Let’s get to work
Now that you have the knowledge, it’s time to go get stronger!
This full body workout can give you a great burn in just 30 minutes. Again, slow and steady is the idea as you want to try to keep moving as long as possible. You can take breaks as needed.
Here is a recap of the workout:
1. 10 reps of kettlebell high pull + squat
2. 10 reps each side of kettlebell single arm row
3. 5 reps of kettlebell overhead press
After completing exercise 1, 2, then 3, you will repeat the same sequence for as many rounds and reps as possible.
If you are dealing with pain and/or you would like to make sure your form is correct when going through these exercises, make sure you refer back to the modifications and the form tips as needed.
Here’s to a lifetime of strength and health with a kettlebell! If you liked this workout, share it with a friend who can join you in this next time.
Bio: Dr. Alyssa Kuhn is a physical therapist and an osteoarthritis specialist. She founded Keep the Adventure Alive, which is based in Sandy, UT, to break through the doom and gloom of osteoarthritis and bring a motivating perspective with the possibility of adventure. She helps people all across the world find pain relief, regain confidence and lead very active lives through in person and virtual treatments. She has helped hundreds of people find their own arthritis adventures and now, it's your turn! Learn more about Keep the Adventure Alive here. Follow her on Youtube here.