Perfect the key kettlebell exercises using our expert advice, then put them together for a fat-burning blast.

The king of swing

Kettlebells are an amazing muscle-building and fat-loss weapon – as long as you use them correctly. Get the technique wrong, however, and the most likely outcome is lower-back pain.

To make sure you use them effectively, we’ve enlisted kettlebell king Mike Mahler to provide an in-depth guide to executing the key kettlebell lifts with perfect form so you can add them to your training arsenal.

Swing

The two-arm swing is the first kettlebell move you should master. It will get you used to moving the bell and develop hip power.

Targets Hamstring, glutes.

Essential form

Start with the kettlebell on the floor, slightly in front of you and between your feet, which should be shoulder-width apart.

Bending slightly at the knees but hingeing mainly at the hips, grasp the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs to create momentum.

Drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to send the kettlebell up to shoulder height.

Let the bell swing back between your legs and repeat the move.

Expert tip 

“Don’t make the common mistake of using the upper body too much to get the weight moving,” says Mahler. “This limits what you can lift and how many reps you can do and makes you far more likely to develop back issues. Instead, you want all the power to come from the posterior chain and, in particular, the hamstrings and glutes. Put your entire body into each rep and keep the bell close to your body until the hip drive begins, and then use the hip power to swing the bell to shoulder level.”

Bottoms Up

If you want to test your wrist and grip strength, and make sure your bell path is straight, hold the kettlebell by the handle with the bell above your fist. The increased difficulty encourages you to press the weight up using an efficient movement.

Clean

This technical lift builds on your swing skills and adds an arm movement that tests your ability to be in full control of the bell.

Targets Hamstring, glutes, back.

Essential form

Start with the kettlebell on the floor, slightly in front of you and between your feet, which should be shoulder-width apart.

Bending slightly at the knees but hingeing mainly at the hips, grasp the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs with one hand  (with your thumb pointing backwards) to create momentum.

Drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to initiate the upwards movement of the kettlebell.

Once the kettlebell passes bellybutton height, gently pull it back and slide your fist around and under the bell so it nestles softly against the back of your wrist. This is known as the rack position.

Push the kettlebell out to let it swing down between your legs and repeat.

Expert Tip

“People new to this tend to overpower the clean, which causes the bell to flip over and bang up the wrist,” says Mahler. “Focus instead on opening your hand and getting it around the bell to avoid the flip and get the weight to the rack position efficiently and pain-free. The trajectory should be in a straight line, so don’t swing out to the left or right or project in front like the one-arm swing. Instead, swing the bell upwards and then pull the bell up and back towards you. Let the lower body do most of the work to get the bell in place.”

Even-handed

For unilateral (one-sided) exercises like the clean, it’s important to do a roughly equal number of reps on each side to avoid developing imbalances and injuries.

Soft landing

You should punch the bell up at the end of the move just as it nestles onto the back of your wrist. If it’s slapping the back of your wrist with a thud, it’s a sign that you need to work on your timing.

Snatch

The king of the kettlebell moves requires strong hip drive and complete control of the weight.

Targets whole body.

Essential form  

Start with the kettlebell on the floor, slightly in front of you and between your feet, which should be shoulder-width apart. Bending slightly at the knees but hingeing mainly at the hips, grasp the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs with one hand (with your thumb pointing backwards) to create momentum.

Drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to initiate the upward movement of the kettlebell.

Once the bell passes chest height, gently pull it back and slide your fist around and under the bell, then punch it upwards so it nestles softly against the back of your wrist with your arm straight above your head.

Expert tip  

“With poor technique, the snatch often looks like a clean to head level and then a press-out,” says Mahler. “It should be an uninterrupted motion from the floor to overhead. As with the clean, you want to focus on getting your hand around the bell rather than letting it violently flip over and bang up your wrist. Swing the bell out and then imagine you’re trying to throw it behind you. This will change the trajectory and get it to the lockout position more eamlessly. At the top, rotate your wrist so your thumb is pointing back and lower down towards the body to avoid straining the lower back.”

Kettlebell workouts

Quickfire circuit

Aim Burn fat  

Time 12 min

l Do five reps (five each side 

for one-arm moves) of the following exercises without resting to complete one circuit. Rest for one minute before completing another circuit. 

Do five circuits in total. 

1 Two-arm swing 

2 Clean

3 Overhead press

4 Snatch

Progression

You can progress by either reducing the rest time between circuits by 10 seconds or adding an extra rep to each exercise.

Rep ladder

Aim Strength endurance

Time Varies

l Pick an exercise and start by doing two reps. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat, adding another two reps. Repeat the process until you fail to beat your previous rep count. Simple, effective, brutal. 

Here’s an (admittedly pretty obvious) example:

1 Swing

Progression 

Record how many reps you do and try to beat your previous score.

Snatch challenge

Aim Increased efficiency

Time 10 min

l Do as many snatches as you can in 10 minutes. Yup, that’s it. This is a challenge performed in kettlebell sport contests. They sometimes restrict the number of times you can swap hands. In this instance, do it as often as you like. 

1 Snatch 

Progression 

Aim to beat the number of reps you did last time, or try to change hands less frequently.

GVT muscle 

Aim Build muscle

Time 30 min

l This workout uses the German Volume Training (GVT) protocol invented by strength coach Charles Poliquin. Pick two exercises and do 10 sets of 10 reps each as a superset (do one 

set of each back-to-back without resting). Rest for 60-90 seconds between supersets. You should find you fail to complete the sets by the eighth or ninth round. 

Here’s an example:

1A Swing

1B Overhead press

Progression 

Once you’re able to complete all 

10 sets without failing, use a slightly heavier bell. 

Weight Matters 

If you have a bit of training experience, you should start out using a 16kg kettlebell. That can feel heavy but most kettlebell moves involve recruiting big muscle groups, so that load shouldn’t feel excessive if you perform the move with perfect form. As you progress, you can start to use a 20kg or even a 24kg bell, but only if your technique doesn’t suffer.  Kettlebell moves should always be performed with a fluid action.