The core is an often overlooked part of the body. However, the core is very important for general strength, athletic performance and looks. And a kettlebell is a very simple and small tool you can use for a few great core exercises.
Here are the six best kettlebell exercises to train your core and abs. Some of these are full body exercises that are great for almost every muscle in your body. These full body exercises target the core as well of the rest of the body. These help you integrate your core strength into whole movements which is the goal for many people anyways. The other exercises are more conventional ab exercises, just modified to be done with a kettlebell.
- 1 1. Kettlebell Sit-up
- 2 2. Kettlebell Russian Twist
- 3 3. Kettlebell Plank Pull Through
- 4 4. Kettlebell Swing
- 5 5. Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
- 6 Is a Kettlebell Enough To Get a Strong Core Or 6-Pack?
- 7 How To Optimize Your Kettlebell Workouts
1. Kettlebell Sit-up
It’s the basic ab exercise but still a good option since it does target the 6-pack muscles. Even if you don’t necessarily want visible abs, they make up a large part of the core muscles so training them has a big impact.
The kettlebell ads resistance to the sit-up. That means if you can’t easily do sit-ups without resistance, you should train that first. Try to get 20-25 sit-ups without resistance first before adding a kettlebell.
- Lay down flat on the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Grab one kettlebell with two hands, palms facing each other.
- Either hold the kettlebell close to the chest for simple extra resistance or, hold it up, keeping your arms extended perpendicular to the floor. This will give your shoulders a workout at the same time.
- Lift up the torso by pulling the chest towards the knees. You don’t have to go all the way vertical with the torso. Just lifting the upper back off the floor will get you the majority of the benefits while limiting lower back compression.
- Slowly lower your upper body back down.
2. Kettlebell Russian Twist
The six pack muscles aren’t the only muscles in the core. The obliques are also a quite important muscle. They do a lot of the twisting of the upper body. Having stronger obliques means better stability on daily movements where you twist the upper body compared to the lower body. It also means the core looks fuller and it helps you get that adonis belt if the body fat is low enough. The obliques are very important for almost all athletic endeavors.
The Russian twist is one of the best kettlebell exercises you can do for the obliques. It’s a pretty easy exercise that should be part of many ab routines. Here’s how you do it.
- Sit down on the floor while having a slight bend in the knees (less than 90 degrees) and feet flat on the floor.
- Grab one kettlebell with both hands, palms facing each other.
- Hold the kettlebell on the floor on one side of the body
- Lean back the upper body slightly.
- Brace the core and lift up the kettlebell
- Twist the upper body while keeping the back straight. Bring the kettlebell to the other side of the body.
- Make sure to lift the kettlebell up a little bit in the middle to go over the body and knees.
- Lower the kettlebell almost to the floor on the other side of the body.
Want to make it more difficult? Keep your feet off the floor for the duration of the set.
3. Kettlebell Plank Pull Through
Yes, the plank is a boring exercise but it’s actually a good exercise. The core doesn’t only need strength, it also needs endurance. The plank is a great way to build core endurance. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better, more intense and less boring. The plank pull through is a great way to do this.
The plank in general also targets the transverses abdominus, which is a muscle that lays under the core. It’s the muscle that’s often forgotten but is very important for spine stability. If you have lower back pain, strengthening this muscle could help. (Getting a stronger core dramatically reduced my back pain)
The pull through means you have a kettlebell you drag from one side to the other with alternating arms while staying in the plank position. This added motion puts extra tension on the transverses abdominus but also the obliques.
- Place a kettlebell on the floor next to the location you’re going to do the plank. The kettlebell should be a little below the shoulder.
- Get into a plank position on the toes and palms of your hands. For stability, keep your feet about shoulder width apart.
- Make sure to tighten your core, (pull your belly button towards the spine), squeeze the glutes and legs to stabilize the body.
- Notice which side of the body the kettlebell is on. Lift the hand on the opposite side.
- Move the lifted hand under the body and grab the handle of the kettlebell.
- Drag the kettlebell across to the other side of the body and leave it there.
- Put your hand back on the floor.
- Repeat with the other hand.
If you need an easier variation of this exercise, just do the same movement you would as for pulling the kettlebell across but without kettlebell. This is also a good idea to do if this is the first time you do the exercise. This helps you figure out the balance and movement without the pressure of having to move the weight.
4. Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is one of those kettlebell exercises that comes back pretty much everywhere. It’s great for the lower body (especially the glutes and hamstrings), back but also the core. The core has to constantly stabilize the back to keep it straight.
While you probably won’t really notice the core getting a hard workout compared to the other muscles but it’s still a pretty good exercise. Because you train your body to keep the core braced throughout a dynamic movement for a longer period of time.
It’s a great warm up exercise before getting into the rest of your ab workout. You warm up your whole body which is always a good way to start. It’s also a very cardio intensive exercise which means it has a decent potential for fat burning. That helps uncover your 6-pack a little faster as well.
- 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.
5. Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
This is a great full body exercise that requires a relatively strong core to do right and it’s quite complicated. That’s why it’s not higher on the list. However, if you’re willing to learn how to do this exercise and have a little bit of core strength already, this is a great way to give the core but also the rest of the body a good exercise. Because there is so much going on, all the joints and spine have to be stabilized through a range of different angles.
It’s a bit different than most other exercises which makes it a good exercise to add to your routine since it will give you a different kind of workout. Challenging your body in different ways is always good so you get a well rounded physique that’s strong in many different ways.
Is a Kettlebell Enough To Get a Strong Core Or 6-Pack?
A kettlebell can be plenty to grow bigger, stronger core muscles. 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 arm workout that will produce quite a burn. For strength a little lower training volume and higher resistance is the way to go. In the beginning however, you’ll attain both goals no matter what you do, as long as it’s challenging.
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 curls 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.
A strong core doesn’t mean visible abs. Powerlifters for example, have very strong, big core muscles but they’re pretty much always covered in body fat. To get visible 6-pack abs, you need to have developed core muscles but also a low body fat percentage. That means, limiting calorie intake, and doing cardio intensive exercises like running, swimming or kettlebell swings.
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.