Kettlebells are a single piece of equipment that can provide a leg workout in a small package and a small space. But what exercises can you do to tone and strengthen your legs? Here’s what you need to know.
Here are the six best kettlebell exercises to train your legs. Most of the exercises are almost full body exercises that involve the lower body, back, core and some of the arms as well. This is what kettlebells are great for and means that your workouts can be very efficient.
1. Kettlebell Swing
The undisputed best kettlebell exercise for a full body workout is the kettlebell swing. It is a great combination of a lower body and back exercise. Because so many different bigger and smaller muscles are used for the movement, it’s also a great cardiovascular movement since using so many muscles will get the heart pumping for sure.
It’s called the swing because you basically swing the kettlebell from under you body between your legs to about shoulder height.
It’s a pretty easy movement but you do have to know how to hip hinge properly. This is a movement you should learn anyways because it’s very important to many other movements and lifting things safely in daily life. Once you know how to do it (if you can squat or deadlift properly, you know how to do it), you won’t forget anytime soon. If you don’t know how to do the hip hinge, starting with the squat or deadlift will be a bit easier.
- Place a kettlebell of appropriate weight (should be quite heavy for you)
- Stand up straight with feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart.
- Brace your core and pull your shoulders back.
- Bend at the knees and hips until you can grab the top of the kettlebell handle with both hands, palms facing towards you.
- Stand up straight by pushing your heels into the floor. (You can move straight into the upswing from here or pause if you feel the need to)
- Make sure to not round your back while lifting. Keep your core and shoulders tight now but also throughout the swing.
- Keep your arms straight through the movement.
- While standing up, use the upward momentum to swing the kettlebell up. The goal is to have the kettlebell at shoulder height with straight arms at the same time the knees and hips are extended
- The kettlebell will be coming back down pretty quickly. Just let it come down but try to control it.
- While the bell is swinging down, start hinging at the hip (point your butt back) and slightly bend the knees.
- Let the kettle swing between your legs. Don’t let the kettlebell hit the floor. Slightly pull it up and back.
- In the lowest position your back should almost be parallel to the floor and the weighted end of kettlebell is slightly behind your butt.
- Now explode up by driving your feet into the floor and driving through your hips. Drive through your hips by tightening the core and squeezing your glutes hard.
The vast majority of the power for the swing comes from your hips. The arms stay straight throughout the movement. The shoulders will do a little bit but it’s not an arm exercise.
2. Kettlebell Deadlift
One of the most famous exercises is the deadlift. It’s relatively simple although it can be a bit difficult to get the technique exactly right. The deadlift is a great exercise for the lower body, especially the glutes and hamstrings but also the whole back (lower and upper).
- Put a relatively heavy kettlebell on the floor between your feet. The handle of the kettlebell should be between the middle part of your feet.
- Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart.
- Brace your core and keep your shoulders back.
- Hinge at the hip and bring your hands (perpendicular to the floor), towards the handle.
- Bend at the knees a little but as little as possible.
- Grab the kettlebell with both hands.
- Tighten all your muscles against the kettlebell without lifting it. That means bracing the core and back, keeping the neck in a neutral position. Also slightly contract your glutes and hamstrings.
- Now explode up by pushing your heels into the floor, and driving the hips forward.
- Make sure not to swing the kettlebell, keep it close to your body. You might have to have to pull your arms towards your body a little, especially on heavy weights.
- At the top, drive through the hips by squeezing the glutes and core hard.
- Slowly return to the starting position. Just bend at the hips until your hands are just below the knees and then bend the knees.
Good form is especially important on the deadlift. Getting the hip hinge right while keeping the back and neck in a neutral position is a must. Don’t worry about starting with a lighter weight first until you feel comfortable. The deadlift is on the the exercises that people are able to lift the heaviest weights, kettlebells or not so once you get it right, it’s a great strength builder.
3. Kettlebell Squat
The classic leg exercise is the squat. And for good reason, it’s just an amazing exercise for the whole lower body. The hamstrings, quads and glutes all get a really hard workout. At the same time the core, and back is also hit pretty hard.
The squat can be done a few different ways. With one or two kettlebell, one or two hands and the kettlebell(s) in different positions.
- Grab one or two kettlebell. If using one kettlebell, hold it close to your chest with both hands. If using two, hold them on the outside of the wrists close to your shoulders.
- Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart.
- Brace your core and keep the shoulders back.
- Start the squat by pushing your butt back like you’re going to sit down on a stool.
- After bending the hips, start bending the knees.
- Keep going down until the hips are slightly below the knees.
- Push back up by pushing your heels into the floor and driving the hips forward.
4. Kettlebell Lunges
After squats, lunges are a great exercise. The biggest difference with the squat is that you use one leg at a time for the force production. This means you use different muscles for balancing and can prevent large muscle imbalances.
Lunges can also be done in different ways to target different muscles slightly differently. The standard lunge is a good place to start but after a while you can switch it up and do reverse or side lunges.
Lunges usually put a larger focus on the quadriceps but the glutes and hamstrings are also used.
- If you have a single kettlebell, hold it close to the chest with both hands.
- If you have two of the same kettlebells, grab both and let them hang down.
- Stand up straight.
- Brace your core and back.
- Take one step forward.
- Bend the forward leg until the knee is at a 90 degree angle.
- The back knee should just stay off the floor but almost touch at the lowest point.
- Push back up by pushing the heel of the front foot into the floor.
- When the leg is straight again, step back to the starting position.
- Switch legs
5. Kettlebell Good Morning
After some full body and general exercises for the legs, here is one that really focusses on the hamstrings and glutes. The good morning is an exercise that is often forgotten but it’s actually a great exercise if done right. It also hits the lower back quite hard so keep that in mind.
- Grab a kettlebell with both hands, palms facing each other.
- Stand up straight while holding the kettlebell close to your chest.
- Brace your core and keep the shoulders back
- Bend at the hips while keeping the knees and back straight. Just bend the hips.
- Bend over until your back is parallel to the floor. Many people won’t be flexible enough to get that far down. In that case, bend as far as you can.
- Squeeze the hamstrings, glutes and lower back to stand up straight again.
- Drive through the hips at the top, squeeze the glutes and hamstrings hard while also bracing the core.
6. Kettlebell Leg Extensions
Leg extensions are a great way to isolate the quadriceps. Yes, they are uncomfortable and painful but also a great mass and strength builder for the quadriceps. They’re pretty easy to do with a kettlebell as long as you’ve got a chair.
- Get a chair that’s reasonably high. Ideally your feet barely touch the floor when sitting down.
- Sit down on the chair.
- If you have anything tubular, about the diameter of your fist, you can use this to put under the knees and raise the knees so you have more clearance.
- Put your foot through the handle of the kettlebell. Make sure your feet is quite far in the handle.
- Lean back a little so it’s easier to extend the leg.
- Grab the seat of the chair/bench to stabilize yourself
- Extend the leg until the knee is fully extended.
- Squeeze the quad at the top and try to hold your leg extended for 1/2 seconds.
- Slowly bend the knee until you’re back int the starting position.
It’s a good idea to put an exercise mat or something else under the spot where the kettlebell hits the floor in case you can’t control the weight properly on the way down.
Is a Kettlebell Enough For Bigger/Stronger Legs?
A kettlebell can be plenty to grow bigger, stronger legs. To get muscles to grow, you need to provide enough training volume at a proper resistance level. The training volume is quite easy to do with kettlebells. They are small so you can have one at home and quickly bang out a 15 minute leg workout that will produce quite a burn.
The resistance level depends on the weight of the kettlebell. It’s a good idea to have a few different weights of kettlebells available. How heavy exactly obviously depends on you. For some movements like squats, swings and deadlifts, a heavy kettlebell is more appropriate. For things like lunges and lateral raises, lighter weights are better. Or another way to look at it; for exercises with two hands; use a heavy kettlebell, for exercises with one hand, use a lighter one.
What heavy and light means really depends on the person. For women 6-8 kg is a good starting point for two handed exercises. For men a starting point of 12-14 kg is good. The lighter kettlebell should be about 60% of the heavier weight. Of course when training, you will get stronger after a while. Be prepared to upgrade to a heavier weight kettlebell after a while.
How To Optimize Your Kettlebell Workouts
Everyone has different reasons to work out. Some people want to look better, others want to become stronger to become better at a certain sport or just for everyday activities. Kettlebells are great tool to reach those different goals with a single piece of equipment. We all like to use our time as efficiently as possible though. So how can you get the most out of a kettlebell workout?
There are a few things you can do to make your kettlebell workouts more efficient;
- Rest periods
- Full body
1. Rest periods
Do you sit around for long periods of time between sets and exercises? Keeping your rest periods short is one of the best things you can do to make your kettlebell workouts more efficient. Short rest periods do a few things;
- Make your workouts shorter: This is a pretty obvious benefit. By cutting the time between sets short your whole workout will take less time.
- Better conditioning and burn more fat: Shorter rest periods means your heart rate will recover less between sets. A higher heart rate generally means your conditioning will improve and it also burns more calories. Since kettlebell workout are usually already quite heavy on the cardiovascular system, this is a nice way to boost those benefits even further.
- Increases muscle growth and endurance: Shorter rest periods can improve the muscle growth (30-90 seconds rest) and endurance (30 seconds rest) benefits of your workout even if you don’t change anything else.
If you want to train purely for strength, longer rest periods are better. That’s only if the weights are so heavy you can’t otherwise lift them though.
Another way to optimize your kettlebell workout is with supersets. As said before, kettlebell workouts are great because they target many muscles at the same time while also being great cardiovascular exercise.
Keeping your rest periods short is one way to make the workout more efficient but supersets are another similar way to do this.
A superset means you do two exercises immediately after each other without rest in between and rest after you finished both the sets. Then repeat the superset after resting. For example;
1 set KB swings ->No rest ->1 set high pulls ->Rest ->Repeat
If you want to focus more on muscle growth, picking two exercises that use the same muscle group is a good way. If you want to focus more on fat burning, pick two exercises that use different muscle groups.
3. Full body
With kettlebells, one of the big benefits is that you can do a full body workout quite easily with a limited amount of exercises and just one piece of equipment. Doing a full body kettlebell workout 5 times a week is going to be more conducive to most peoples goals than training arms one day, legs the next day and so forth.
Splitting up your workouts in body parts makes sense if you’re bodybuilding or are building strength specifically in certain body parts or for specific movements. However, for general fitness, daily strength and conditioning, full body workouts are the way to go in my opinion. By training your whole body many times a week, you stimulate the muscles multiple times a week while by doing a split, you might only target them once a week.
And while you might not be able to target all your muscles as hard with a full body workout as with a split, the increased frequency more than makes up for it. For people that don’t live in the gym and don’t want to keep track of a very complicated workout routine with a different workout every day, full body is the way to go.
Also, full body workouts are tougher on the cardiovascular system and burn more calories which plays into the strengths of kettlebell workouts and the fitness goals most people have.
The most important for anything fitness related is consistency. In the grand scheme of things, one good or bad workout doesn’t move the needle towards your goals a whole lot. Doing the right thing (working out) consistently x amount of times a week is what will get you there. Improving fitness, body composition and growing muscle is a slow process.
Doing a single super good workout is great and makes you feel good but working out consistently is more important in the long run. That also means you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much if you have a bad day. It happens to everyone and there isn’t much you can do about it. Just feel good about the fact that you still did your workout even though you didn’t feel like it because that is the mindset you need to reach your fitness goals.
Set a challenging but realistic workout schedule and stick to it. It should be challenging (for you) because that’s what will push your body to improve. However, it should at the same time be realistic to actually stick to it to the end. If you set unrealistic goals you are more likely to get demotivated when you notice you can’t reach them or keep up with the workout schedule.
Training is just one part of improving yourself. However, recovery is a very important part of the puzzle as well. Training breaks down your muscles and puts wear on your tendons. There is nothing wrong with that since your body fixes that damage quickly and repairs it in a way that is stronger. This is what creates bigger, stronger muscles.
However, it’s necessary to give your body the time and recourses to recover properly. That means getting enough sleep and eating well (the right amount of calories with a lot of nutrients) but also things like massages, foam rolling, sauna. Sleeping and eating right is by far the most important but the latter things can give you a little boost if necessary.
Of course the harder you train, the longer it takes to recover. If you’ve ever been sore for many days after intense exercise, that means your body isn’t fully recovered yet. Improving recovery plays a big role in this but also creating a proper workout schedule that doesn’t push you too far too often. Getting the balance right between training and recovery is what allows you to work out consistently for a long time.
It’s already mentioned above but diet is very important. It’s important both for short term recovery and to reach your long term goals.
The right amount of calories is the most important basic thing to get right. Calculate how many calories you roughly need in a day. Next, get a myfitnesspal account and put in what you eat. If you want to gain weight, eat up to 500 calories more than you need, and if you want to lose weight, eat up to 500 calories less than you need.
Try to get enough protein while working out since proteins are the building blocks of muscle. You need protein not only to grow muscle but also to maintain it while working out. About 0.6-0.8 gram per pound of body weight is a good target.
Other than that, make sure to get mostly healthy food with enough micronutrients. Heavily processed foods are generally better to avoid.