30-Day Kettlebell Challenge For The Absolute Beginner

This article was originally published on September 10, 2015.

The kettlebell looks something like a cross between your grandma’s purse and an old-fashioned teapot, but it's been getting a lot of attention at gyms these days — and not just for its often candy-colored paint job. “Using a kettlebell can be one of the most efficient ways to train,” says Lauren Brooks, a southern California-based certified kettlebell coach and owner of On the Edge Fitness. “It allows you to get very strong and conditioned, all within one workout.”

The secret is its unique displacement of weight, which is ideal for being swung dynamically, rather than pulled or pushed against gravity, like dumbbells. The result is a more metabolic (read: calorie-torching) workout, often in less time than a traditional weight-training session. “It also shapes the butt very nicely and helps keep the abs strong!” Brooks adds. “Who doesn’t want that?”

The aim of this monthlong challenge is to get you swinging a kettlebell both safely and effectively. The first lesson: It’s not about the arms. “You actually use the hips, glutes, and abs to power the movement,” says Brooks. “Once those posterior chain muscles are activated all at once, the arms simply help guide the movement.” To get you there, you must hinge and deadlift before you swing — all of which are explained in detail below.

You’ll need a kettlebell in the 15- to 20-pound (or 12- to 16-kilogram) range. You may find that you’ll want to increase the weight of your kettlebell as you get stronger, which Brooks encourages. However, don’t do it on a day when your reps are also increasing (for example, don’t do it on Day 18, wait for Day 19).

Even after the first few days when you’re learning, you’ll start every workout with a set of hip hinges to remind your body of the proper motion and to warm up. “I also like to add a 30-second plank to the warm-up, to ensure muscle activation throughout the abs, glutes, and quads,” Brooks says. “This really sets people up for success with the top of the kettlebell swing, because a plank is the top of a swing, just reoriented so you’re on your feet.”

On days when you’re doing more than one set (x2 or x3), take a 30- to 60-second rest between sets. The day after a Rest Day will be more intense than the previous workout, so definitely don’t skip those breaks — they’re essential to letting your muscles recover.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Hip Hinge
This exercise teaches your body to get the power for the swing from the glutes and hamstrings. Start with your feet grounded on the floor about hip-width apart. Place your fingertips on your hip bones. With your hands, push your hips toward the wall behind you, allowing your body to fold at the waist and the knees to bend slightly. Your butt should go straight back—not down, as it would in a squat. “Feel your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs) stretch out,” Brooks says. “To keep the chest from collapsing, train your gaze on a spot about 10 feet in front of you on the horizon.” Now, clench your glutes to push your hips back forward so you’re standing tall. If you’re having trouble getting the hips to go back smoothly, try this trick: Stand about 10 inches from a wall and actually bump it with your tush as you hinge (kinda like you’re knocking a door shut behind you).
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Kettlebell Deadlift
Once you’ve got the hip hinge down, it’s time to add some weight. Place your kettlebell on the ground between your feet. Hip hinge down, bending your knees just enough so you can grab the handle in both hands, arms long in front of you. Take care not to let your chest drop, despite the added weight — keep your eyes up on the horizon. Squeeze the butt muscles to come back to your standing position. Between reps, don’t bring the kettlebell all the way to the ground. You should feel more intensity in the booty thanks to the heft of the kettlebell. This is what they mean when they say to lift with your legs, not your back!

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Kettlebell Swing
OK, now it’s time to get flying. Place the kettlebell between your feet about six inches in front of your toes. Hip-hinge down to touch the handle with your fingers and grasp it as you lean the kettlebell in toward you, so it’s teetering on its back edge. With chest still proud, inhale and hike the kettlebell up between your legs (think “thumbs to bum”) then quickly reverse direction, exhaling and thrusting your hips forward so the kettlebell sails out in front of you. Your arms will be fully extended, with hands ending up somewhere between belly-button and chest height, and you should be standing tall at the top of the swing. Inhale as your arms come down and you do another hinge, exhale as you thrust forward to keep swinging. When it comes time to stop, do so carefully when the bell is at its lowest point by not hip-thrusting the bell forward, instead letting it float out and come to rest on the ground where it begin.
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