Many people grab their first kettlebell because it simply looks cool with its “cannonball and iron handle old-school appeal”. But, they soon fall in love for many other reasons, including their utility With the popularity of swings, cleans, snatches, lunges, and deadlifts, kettlebells are easily recognized as one of the best tools for lower body strength and power.
If you’re planning on using kettlebells to work your core, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we’re going to look at some of the best kettlebell exercises for your abs and then we’ll leave you with two kettlebell ab workouts to try for yourself. Let’s get started!
Are Kettlebells Good for Abs?
Yes, kettlebells are very effective for building your abs. When a kettlebell is moved around the body, it tends to be outside one’s center of gravity. As a result, your abs must be engaged to maintain proper posture and control of the bell. Also, a kettlebell’s center of gravity sits about 6 to 8 inches below its handle. This creates an even bigger core challenge because you must stabilize the kettlebell.
8 Kettlebell Exercises for Abs
These kettlebell exercises are a combination of ab-focused and full-body movements. More importantly, each exercise uses the core as its foundation for stability and movement.
Here's the gear you'll need:
8. Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell swings are a staple weighted ab exercise. The movement requires you to be able to stop the momentum of the kettlebell. In turn, it also will work your shoulders and stabilize your spine. Here's how to do a kettlebell swing:
With the kettlebell a few feet in front of you, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Hinge forward with a neutral spine, grab onto the kettlebell's handle, and hike it between your legs like a center does when hiking a football to the quarterback.
Rapidly extend at the hips and let the kettlebell float in front of your shoulders.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions or times.
7. Turkish Get Ups
The Turkish Get Up is designed to not only build joint strength but also mobility in your shoulders and hips. As you progress through the different stages of the Turkish Get Up, your abs will be targeted, especially during the initial phases when you sit up from a lying position. Here’s how you do a Turkish Get Up:
Begin lying on your back, with a light to medium kettlebell in your right hand held directly above your shoulder.
With the right foot firmly planted flat on the floor and left arm out to your side, press the bell up toward the ceiling while rolling to your left shoulder, then elbow, then hand.
Press the right foot firmly into the floor and drive your hips up into a hip press.
With the hips elevated, tuck the left leg through, ending in a half-kneeling position and keeping your eyes on the kettlebell press to a stand.
Repeat in reverse to the starting position.
6. Reverse Lunge with Kettlebell Pass
- Begin in a tall standing position with a kettlebell in your right hand.
- Step the left leg back, and lower both knees to a 90-degree angle, keeping your chest and torso upright.
- As you reach the bottom of the lunge, pass the kettlebell from the outside of your right leg to the inside, switching grip to the left hand.
- Press into the ground and come to an upright stand.
5. Kettlebell Windmill
Kettlebell Windmills, similar to the Turkish Get Up, focus on enhancing shoulder and hip mobility while improving stability. Practicing the Windmill regularly loosens tight hamstrings and builds your shoulders, increasing overall hip flexibility. To do the exercise, follow these steps:
Take a wide stance and point both toes 45 degrees to the left.
Place a kettlebell in your right hand and extend that arm overhead.
While keeping your eyes on the bell, pop the right hip out and hinge sideways, still maintaining a neutral spine.
Go as low as you can pain-free and with a flat back, then press the bell back up to the ceiling.
This movement should be slow and controlled, with only a slight knee bend.
4. Kettlebell Sit and Press
We often integrate beginner kettlebell exercises into our workouts, and the Kettlebell Sit and Press is one of the best options. This exercise provides a unique challenge because it has the same movement as a traditional sit-up but packs a much bigger punch. Here’s how to do a Kettlebell Sit and Press:
In a laying position on the ground, begin holding the bell of the kettlebell centered over your chest.
Keeping the legs straight and heels firmly pressed into the ground, simultaneously come to a seated position while pressing the kettlebell overhead.
Slowly lower back to the ground with a 5-7 second descent.
3. Kettlebell Plank Row
Most kettlebell exercises involve a similar type of swing or starting position (you sitting on the ground). To add some variety to your kettlebell ab workout routine, try doing a kettlebell plank row. This exercise targets abs, hips, and shoulders, but you'll also be able to perform a horizontal row and target your back muscles, specifically the rhomboids.
It's crucial to work the back muscles, especially in today's world where we spend a lot of time sitting. On top of that, the horizontal row is often neglected in kettlebell training. Still, with the Kettlebell Sit and Press, you'll be able to incorporate this important movement into your workout routine. Give this kettlebell exercise a try and see the difference it makes in your overall fitness.
Begin in a straight, tight plank position with feet wide for support and grasping the kettlebell handle with your right hand. The left hand remains planted on the floor.
Row the kettlebell up, set it down, slide it over with the opposite hand, and row on the other side.
Avoid letting the hips sag (especially during the row) to prevent low-back pain and potential injury.
Maintaining control of your hips is crucial for doing this exercise properly. If your hips drop too far toward the floor, the strain will be shifted onto your back muscles. Keep your core engaged and your hips elevated. This will help you get the most out of each rep while keeping your form in check.
2. Kettlebell Lateral Swings
Kettlebell lateral swings are a step up from the traditional kettlebell swing because it requires you to swing the kettlebell sideways instead of forwards and backward. Before attempting this move, you NEED to master the basic swing with proper form and technique. If not, improper execution could result in the kettlebell hitting your knee and causing a bruise or even worse, a broken bone. Level up your kettlebell workout with this advanced move!
- Begin with the kettlebell in front of the left leg.
- With a nice hip hinge, reach across the body with the right hand, grasp the handle of the bell, and pull it into a lateral swing.
- Once the bell hits the apex of the swing (arms parallel to the ground) the left hip should be pivoted in the direction of the kettlebell.
- Pull the bell back toward the floor and swing in the opposite direction, driving through the hips and pivoting toward the bell.
- Be careful to avoid the front knee as the kettlebell swings through. Repeat on the other side.
1. Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Chop
Balancing in a half-kneeling position is already a challenging task. Adding a weighted "chop" movement to the mix can increase the intensity even more so. This exercise is great for burning ab fat and also building balance between your left and right side.
- Begin in a half kneeling position, with the right leg in front and the left toes curled under for support.
- Grasp a kettlebell by the horns and start with it slightly in front of your left thigh.
- Elevate the kettlebell diagonally in front of your body with a slight bend in the elbows and end about 45 degrees above your right shoulder.
- This should be done with minimal movement or rotation at the hips. Return with control and repeat.
To perform this kettlebell abs workout effectively, make sure to keep your hips and lower back stable. This is where your core works to maintain balance. As you move your arms through the chop motion, be mindful to keep your hips as stable and squared as possible. This ensures proper form.
Benefits of Kettlebell Exercises
We’ve already listed a lot of the benefits each individual kettlebell exercise does, but there are benefits that kettlebells as a whole provide when working out. Here are some of the best ones:
Full-body workout: Kettlebell exercises engage multiple muscle groups at once, providing a full-body workout and a significant calorie burn in a relatively short time.
Improved functional strength: Kettlebell exercises are designed to mimic everyday movements, such as squatting, hinging, pulling, pushing, lifting, twisting, and bending. This helps improve functional strength and overall physical ability.
Improved power and explosive strength: Many kettlebell exercises involve swinging with speed. As the load is increased, so is the power that is created and developed. Exercises such as the kettlebell swing have been shown in studies to improve explosive strength in power-focused athletes. (1)
Increased flexibility and range of motion: The dynamic nature of kettlebell exercises, such as swings and Turkish get-ups, can help to improve flexibility, mobility, and range of motion to help you move better in sports and life.
Versatility: Kettlebells are small and portable, making them easy to use at home or in a gym, and they can be used for a variety of exercises to target different muscle groups, including the core! The countless number of exercises for this single tool is accessible to all levels of fitness, from the beginning user to an advanced athlete.
Back Health: Research indicates that standard kettlebell exercises (if done properly) can restore health and function with minimal irritation to tissues for many individuals. (2)
What Size Kettlebell Should You Use?
Begin with a kettlebell you can comfortably lift and practice a few reps of each exercise to ensure you can complete the entire movement with proper form. Some power exercises, such as your Kettlebell Swings, will require heavier bells, while movements such as the Turkish Get Up which require control, coordination, and stability will use a smaller bell.
For beginners, start out with a TRX® Gravity Cast Kettlebell to get a feel for the motion of the workout. You can start with a lighter kettlebell (anywhere between 8.8 lbs to 17.6 lbs) and, as you master the movement, you can increase your weight until you feel a significant burn. This can be done with a TRX Rubber Coated Kettlebell, as well.
Sample Kettlebell Ab Workouts
Now that we’ve looked at eight of the best kettlebell ab exercises you can do, let’s incorporate them into a full workout. We’ll look at two ab workouts: one based on time and one based on strength.
For the time-based workout, complete 45 seconds of each exercise (per side if applicable) with minimal rest between sets (aim for 30-45 seconds if you want max intensity). Rest for 1 minute and repeat for a second round. Do this for 2-4 sets.
If you want to build core strength, you’ll want to do this kettlebell ab workout. Complete 5 strong reps for all the below exercises on each side. Rest for 1 minute and complete a second round. Repeat for 2-4 sets.
Be mindful to do these kettlebell workouts after your main workout routine. Exercising abs before can fatigue your core and can cause issues with stabilizing your spine.
If you're only using a kettlebell for your workout, considering targeting other muscle groups for a full-body experience. There are plenty of kettlebell exercises that target triceps, biceps, lats, and more!
Kettlebells are one of the best tools for full-body workouts. The movements you do can target multiple muscle groups at a time. With these exercises, not only will you build a strong core, but you’ll also strengthen the muscles around it as well.
Lake, Jason P, and Mike A Lauder. “Kettlebell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 26,8 (2012): 2228-33. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2c9bMcGill, Stuart M, and Leigh W Marshall. “Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 26,1 (2012): 16-27. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823a4063