The kettlebell is one of the world’s oldest and most effective instruments for developing fitness.
No, seriously. It was popularized in Russia in the 1800s, but some evidence suggests that the kettlebell was even used in ancient Greece for their Olympics.
Nowadays, kettlebells are one of the darlings of CrossFit training.
Perhaps for the same reasons as the Russians and ancient Greeks, CrossFit loves the kettlebell for its versatility and ability to build strength, muscle, increase cardio, and develop power in athletes.
We’re about to dive into the ultimate guide for kettlebells.
Here’s everything you need to know about them for your training, as well as 5 killer kettlebell WODs to get you started.
What Is A CrossFit Kettlebell Workout?
Kettlebells are used in many different ways in CrossFit. Some of the most popular exercises include the kettlebell swing, kettlebell snatch, kettlebell deadlift and turkish get-up.
You will find kettlebells in every type of CrossFit workout.
CrossFit Kettlebell Weights
If you’re new to CrossFit or kettlebells, their weight may be confusing to you. Sometimes you’ll find kettlebells listed in standard pounds or kilos, but often their weight is listed in “poods”.
You may have thought to yourself, “What the heck is a pood?”
Further, most CrossFit WODs list the RX weight in poods first. They’ll usually also list the conversion weight in pounds or kilos.
All you need to know is that a pood is a Russian term, which makes sense given the equipment’s origin.1 pood is equal to roughly 36 lbs.
CrossFit Kettlebell Technique
A lot of kettlebell training is explosive in nature, whether it be the hip thrust of a kettlebell swing or the catch phase of a kettlebell snatch.
As such, it’s important that you use good technique. Explosive exercises done with bad form usually result in injury.
Kettlebells can feel awkward when you pick them up, especially if it’s in front of you and being picked up with two hands.
Just like with a deadlift, set your back and drive through your heels, maintaining a straight back and “proud” chest as you stand with the bell. Picking the bell up correctly is always step one.
When performing a kettlebell swing, snatch, or get-up, maintain this straight back position, allowing your knees to bend and glutes to help absorb the force as the weight comes back down.
Don’t break at the waist and put unnecessary stress on your back.
Good foot positioning (wide stance, weight in heels) will keep you from getting dragged forward by the bell.
Kettlebell Training Benefits
The benefits of kettlebell training are vast due to array of exercises you can do and modalities you can train with it. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Increased strength and size- Kettlebells can replace dumbbells for nearly any exercise. Standard sets of 3×5 for strength training or higher reps for accessory work can help grow muscle over time.
- Increased cardiovascular fitness– High rep kettlebell snatches and swings are perfect exercises to get you breathing heavily. They pair well with fitness stapes like running, rowing and biking.
- Explosiveness- Focus on the hip drive and activation with explosive kettlebell swings (Russian or American variation) and you may notice more power in your snatch and clean.
- Great for warm-ups– Perform goblet squats, hip bridges, or other light kettlebell exercises to prepare your body for a tough WOD.
What Muscles Are Worked Doing CrossFit Kettlebell Workouts?
Chances are high that you are training several muscle groups when you use kettlebells. If many cases, you are using your full body.
Exercises like the snatch, clean and press, or swing are all good examples of full body, compound exercises done with kettlebells.
Depending on your goals, you can tailor your kettlebell workouts to train muscles you want to get stronger or bigger.
If your goal is to increase cardiovascular fitness, simply pick 1-2 kettlebell exercises from below and pair them with another breathing exercise like running or rowing.
CrossFit Kettlebell Exercises
Here are 4 compound exercises using kettlebells that you’ll find in CrossFit.
A kettlebell swing starts with the knees bent, a tight back, and the bell hanging off the ground.
Using power from your glutes and hips, you thrust the bell to above eye level or higher.
In CrossFit, you’ll see both American and Russian kettlebell swings.
The difference is mainly in height (Russian to eye level, American goes fully overhead) explained in this video.
Generally speaking, unless the WOD specifically writes “Russian Swings”, assume that you should lock the bell out overhead.
Depending on the athlete, you’ll sometimes see a different return phase of the bell. One is more efficient than the other.
The kettlebell snatch sets up very similarly to the swing, with the obvious different that it is a 1-handed exercise. The key is to turn the bell over in your hands explosively. If you don’t, it will swing forward and come back down before you can lock it out overhead. Good grips can help with this.
This video shows the dumbbell, but a kettlebell can easily be substituted. TGUs are great for stability, balance, and core training.
Kettlebell Clean & Press
Matt Chan, former CrossFit Games athlete breaks down the 1-arm kettlebell clean and press here. You can add a second kettlebell for even more of a challenge in terms of stability and coordination.
CrossFit Kettlebell WOD List
Here are five CrossFit workouts that can test your fitness, build strength, and increase muscle using kettlebells:
1. Hotel Room Kettlebell Workout
5 Rounds For Time:
- 21 Kettlebell Swings, 1.5 pood (54 lbs)
- Run/Row 400m (use treadmill if necessary)
- 15 Kettlebell Snatches (alternating) 1.5 pood (54 lbs)
2. Kettlebell Kalsu
- 100 2-Arm Kettlebell Thrusters, 1 pood
- Every minute on the minute, perform 5 burpees. Go until 100 total reps are completed.
3. Sounds Easy, But…
- Kettlebell Swings, 2 pood (70 lbs)
4. “Tail Pipe” Partner WOD
3 Rounds (each)
- 250m Row
- While partner A rows, partner B holds 2 2-pood kettlebells in the front rack position. Switch every 250m.
5. Kettlebell Cindy Challenge
- 5 Weighted Pull-ups, 1 pood (36 lbs)
- 10 Kettlebell Push Presses, 1 pood ( in each arm)
- 15 Kettlebell Goblet Squats, 1 pood
In terms of functionality, versatility, and benefits, the kettlebell is easily one of the most effective pieces of gym equipment ever created.
From the Russians to modern day CrossFit, it’s no wonder that it continues to develop fitness all over the world.
Use this guide to get started with adding kettlebells to your CrossFit workouts and see for yourself!