Kettlebells are used across most strength, power and functional fitness sports to increase mobility, address asymmetries, and offer athletes a way to develop a stronger core without sacrificing training time to core-specific movements. Because kettlebells are weirdly-shaped implements, they’ll provide your core with specific stabilization challenges — arguably even more effectively than dumbbell exercises.
If you’re looking to increase your core strength, you’ll want to integrate core-focused exercises into your accessory movements and strength training blocks. In this article, you’ll find 10 core strengthening exercises using kettlebells.
Best Kettlebell Core Exercises
- Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
- Double Kettlebell Squat
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Suitcase Carry
- Kettlebell Unilateral Overhead Press
- Kettlebell Windmill
- Kettlebell Unilateral Overhead Squat
- Double Kettlebell Front Rack Carry
- Unilateral Kettlebell Sit-Up
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
- Kettlebell Dead Bug Pullover
The kettlebell Turkish get up is an exercise used to increase core strength, movement, and enhance overall functioning of the hips, shoulder, and core while under load. This all-inclusive movement can be used in warm-ups, as strength sets, or on active recovery days to specifically address issues like hip immobility, shoulder instability, and core strength issues.
Benefits Of The Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
- Increase core strength while focusing on full-body coordination.
- Improve overhead stability.
- Train yourself to maintain core rigidity while moving your entire body.
How To Do The Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up
Lie on the ground with the weight in your left hand. Tuck the crease between your thumb and index finger into the curve of the handle so that when you press the weight up, it’ll rest gently on your forearm. Your right leg should be lying straight and slightly out at a 45 degree angle. Your left leg should be bent, with your foot planted on the ground.
Press the weight up and pack your shoulder. Push down into the floor with both legs (do your best to keep your right leg flat on the ground) and your right elbow. Keep eye contact with the bell and rise from your right elbow to your right hand. Raise your hips. Drag your right leg diagonally under your body and into a kneeling position.
Windmill your torso so you’re in a half-kneeling position. Rise out of your lunge into standing position. Reverse all the movements until you’re back on the ground in the original position.
Note: The Turkish get-up is extremely complicated to learn, so it is best that you watch a video guide to see the move performed in real time.
Most front-loaded movements will create havoc for the anterior muscles of the core, and the kettlebell squat is no different. With both kettlebells racked in the front of the body, you’re forced to work overtime to resist the sensation of being hunched over.
Benefits Of The Double Kettlebell Squat
- Improve core strength by maintaining an upright torso and resisting a forward pull during the squat.
- Practice the technique used in the front squat.
- Enhance shoulder and grip strength.
How To Do The Double Kettlebell Squat
Perform a double kettlebell clean and settle the bells into the front rack position. Take a deep breath and brace your core. Sink into a squat, making sure to keep your elbows clear of collision with your thighs or knees. Press through the floor to return to standing, and repeat.
This unilateral loaded carry is a great way to increase core strength and activate the obliques. If you perform compound lifts regularly, you can benefit from this exercise as it will teach you how to engage your obliques under dynamic movement.
Benefits Of The Single-Arm Kettlebell Suitcase Carry
- Target your obliques for strength and growth while combating asymmetries.
- Improve your grip strength unilaterally to fight imbalances.
- Increase overall core strength without allowing one side to compensate for any weaknesses in the other.
How To Do The Kettlebell Suitcase Carry
Hold a heavy kettlebell at your side. Try to keep your arm slightly pushed away from your body so that the weight isn’t resting against your leg. Maintain a rigid posture, keeping your shoulders even and squared. Walk for time or distance with controlled, measured steps. Avoid leaning to one side or the other. Switch sides and repeat.
Most overhead movements will be dependent on overhead mobility in the shoulders and an athlete’s ability to stabilize the core to avoid excessive lumbar extension while overhead. The kettlebell unilateral overhead press can address both of these issues simultaneously.
Benefits Of The Kettlebell Unilateral Overhead Press
- Reinforce proper core stabilization and resistance to lumbar extension while overhead pressing.
- Increases oblique engagement to resist pelvic and spinal rotation while pressing.
- Fights asymmetries and imbalances by developing your shoulder strength unilaterally.
How To Do The Kettlebell Unilateral Overhead Press
Perform a unilateral kettlebell clean and settle the bell into the front rack position. Keep your neck and spine neutral. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes and your quads to protect your low back. Press the kettlebell up and overhead to full extension. Lower with control and repeat.
The kettlebell windmill is a highly effective movement to increase core strength, hip movement proficiency, and shoulder stabilization. The unique motion reinforces proper hip flexion and extension while maintaining a rigid, stable core.
Benefits Of The Kettlebell Windmill
- Increase oblique strength while training your entire body to move through a complex range of motion.
- Reinforce proper hip flexion movement patterns.
- Improve shoulder stabilization through a broad range of motion.
How To Do The Kettlebell Windmill
With the kettlebell in your right hand, slightly angle your left foot out while your right foot stays under your right hip. Press the bell overhead and let it rest comfortably on your forearm. Maintain a straight wrist and eye contact with the bell.
Place your left hand on your left thigh, with your palm facing up. Then rotate your torso slightly toward the floor, tracing your left hand down the inside of your left leg as you do so. Load your right hip as you descend, keeping a soft bend in your left knee but a straight right leg.
Your fingers may or may not reach the ground. But you’ll know when you’ve reached your full range of motion when the load is completely in your right hip and you’re feeling a stretch in your right hip and leg. While maintaining eye contact with the weight, reverse the movement and press back up to standing.
Note: The windmill is extremely complicated to learn, so it is best that you watch a video guide to see the move performed in real time.
The overhead squat is a comprehensive, total-body challenge. Although familiar territory for Olympic lifters, if you’re a regular gymgoer you may be new to the movement. If so, all the better — you have lots to gain from incorporating a new, challenging exercise.
Benefits Of The Kettlebell Unilateral Overhead Squat
- Provide an added challenge to your balance under an overhead load, not only because it’s unilateral, but because kettlebells are already off-balance.
- Improve core strength and total body stability during overhead movements.
- Train your body to withstand unilateral overhead loads without bringing your spine out of alignment.
How To Do The Kettlebell Unilateral Overhead Squat
Adjust your feet to a slightly wider position than you would use for a normal squat. Press a kettlebell overhead using a light to moderate weight at first — you’ll want to get lots of practice in with an easy load. Keep your shoulder packed and down away from your ear as you squat down as low as possible. Pause briefly in the bottom before standing up.
The double kettlebell front rack carry is a double threat in terms of core strength because it allows a lifter to use very heavy loads without depending solely on leg strength. By performing such a movement, you’re forced to contract isometrically for extended periods of time.
Benefits Of The Double Kettlebell Front Rack Carry
- Overload your core without being limited by lower body strength.
- Practice standing tall under heavy loads, improving your isometric strength to carry over into your bigger lifts.
- Strengthen your scapular stabilizers and upper back while challenging your entire core.
How To Do The Double Kettlebell Front Rack Carry
Rack two kettlebells at chest height. Brace your core and make sure your shoulders are settled down away from your ears. Walk for distance or time in a straight line and avoid swaying of the torso.
While a sit up is inherently a core strengthening movement, the unilateral kettlebell sit up takes this movement to the next level. The added complexity of imbalanced load placement can further increase core strength and anti-rotational core stability.
Benefits Of The Unilateral Kettlebell Sit-Up
- Strengthen your core with an emphasis on dynamic anti-rotation.
- Improve total body coordination.
- Reduce strength asymmetries in your core.
How To Do The Unilateral Kettlebell Sit-Up
This movement can be done in two ways. In the first variation, lie on the ground with the kettlebell in the front racked position and perform a sit-up as usual. In the second variation, lie on your back and press the weight up like in a floor press. Drive your feet into the floor and sit upwards while simultaneously transiting the kettlebell into the overhead position.
The single-arm kettlebell swing is an essential staple in the toolbox of anyone who wants a strong core and a powerful lower body. Fundamentally a hip hinge, this move will enhance your core stability in the face of momentum-based dynamic movement.
Benefits Of The Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
- Develop lower body power and explosivity that can translate into your bigger lifts.
- Improve grip strength to reduce forearm and wrist strength asymmetries.
- Increase anti-rotational strength and stability in your obliques and overall core.
How To Do The Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
Set up with your feet about hip-distance and stand a foot or two behind the bell. Hinge at the hips and grasp the bell in the center of the handle with one hand. With a soft bend in your knees and elbows, drag the weight back behind you — avoid rounding your low back.
When the weight reaches behind you, snap your hips forward like you’re completing a deadlift. Keep your hips and shoulders square as the weight floats up to chest height. Use your lats to stabilize and let the weight fall naturally. Flow into the next rep smoothly.
Dead bugs alone are great for core development. They’ll challenge you to keep your low back in a safe position while challenging all sides of your core in turn. Add a kettlebell pullover to the mix, and you’re introducing an extra challenge to not only your core, but also to your back, chest, and shoulders.
Benefits of The Kettlebell Dead Bug Pullover
- Give your core a 360 degree challenge without loading your leg muscles.
- Increase the mechanical stress on your abdominal muscles by adding the pullover element during unilateral movement.
- Strengthen your upper back and chest while also developing a stronger core.
How To Do The Kettlebell Dead Bug Pullover
Lie on your back while holding a kettlebell by the handles above your chest. Press the bell up above you. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and raise your legs so that your knees are above your hips and your lower legs are parallel to the ground.
With slow control, straighten your left leg and extend it down toward the ground. Lower the bell to the ground above your head with a slight bend in your elbows. When the bell and your left heel both gently tap the ground, bring them both back to starting position. Repeat with your right leg.
Anatomy Of The Core
The core is comprised of various muscular compartments — understanding what they are and their unique functions is imperative if you want to actually grow and strengthen those tissues. Below is a breakdown of the anatomy of your major core muscles.
The rectus abdominis is a sheet of muscle that runs vertically up the torso. It is responsible for flexing the spine and resisting rotation or exntesion. Since the rectus abdominis primarily creates the coveted “six-pack” abs, most core movements are biased towards it.
The obliques are composed of external and internal tissues, though they mostly perform the same functions. The obliques can be found on the sides of the trunk and run from the hips up to the ribcage. When you perform any manner of twist, crunch, or lateral bend, you’re engaging your obliques.
The transverse abdominis runs deep in the torso underneath the rectus abdominis and provides stability and auxiliary support for the other core muscles under load. When developed properly, the transverse abdominis help create the “V” look in a shredded stomach.
Although it is hard to isolate effectively, most standard core movements will work the transverse abdominis to an adequate degree.
The hip flexors perform the action they’re named after — bending the hip. They’re what help you run fast, jump high, and squat deep. While the hip flexors can take over too much in some crunch movements, they’re an essential part of any balanced core workout.
Why Use A Kettlebell To Train Your Core?
The benefits of kettlebell core training extend far beyond strengthening your abs. The off-balance shape of the bell will recruit more of your stabilizers and require more discipline to manipulate the weight. Plus, using a kettlebell will encourage you to incorporate more dynamic, weighted lifts into your core routine.
Build A Stronger, More Stable Core
You don’t have to move maximum weight to achieve maximum gains. Training your core specifically will help make your core even more sturdy than squats and deadlifts alone. Working your core with kettlebells will make your exercises even more effective because of the off-balance nature of the weights. The bells will fire up your stabilizers and recruit maximum muscle to generate great boosts in strength.
Improve Your Form In Bigger Lifts
Getting practice at stabilizing your core against rotation will translate into more efficient lifts — think bigger deadlifts and squats. You’ll be training your core to go up against heavy, unbalanced unilateral loads and still maintain a rigid torso without eating too much into your recovery needs, since you’ll be working at submaximal loads.
Increase Core Muscle Growth
Bodyweight core movements are tremendously important for core strength and stability — but so are weighted core exercises. With heavy kettlebells, you’ll stimulate your core’s Type-II muscle fibers, which will encourage hypertrophy in your abs and overall core.
The more you incorporate progressive overload into your core training — instead of relying on the same exact plank routine for all of time — the more progress you’ll have in core muscle growth.
Sample Kettlebell Circuit for Core Strength
When you want to integrate kettlebell core work into your programming, circuit training is a very effective way to do it. Circuits will build your body’s endurance and — this can make a difference if getting visible abs is one of your goals — help stimulate changes in body composition.
Another advantage of circuit work is the ability to ensure balanced programming. You can make sure your circuit has unilateral moves that will work core holistically. To that end, most of the movements in this kettlebell core circuit are not exclusively targeting the core. Instead, they challenge the total body and core strength.
You’ll perform five circuits total, but you’ll only perform the last two exercises during the first three circuits. The fourth circuit will have you perform the first three exercises. The final circuit will be the shortest, containing only the Turkish get-up and the double kettlebell squat. Try to rest as little as possible between exercises.
- Kettlebell Turkish Get Up: 5 x 2 per side, building in weight
- Double Kettlebell Squat: 5 x 5 , using heavy loads in a controlled tempo
- Unilateral Kettlebell Overhead Press: 4 x 6 – 8, with moderate to heavy loads
- Double Kettlebell Front Rack Carry: 3 x 50 meters, as heavy as possible
- Unilateral Kettlebell Sit Up: 3 x 12 per arm
Rest for two to three minutes between circuits.
More On Kettlebell Training
Strengthening your core with kettlebells will help strengthen your entire body, too. If you’d like to take your kettlebell moves to the next level — focusing on both your core and on building total body strength — these kettlebell training articles can help.
- 3 Tips For Designing A Kettlebell Training Program
- The Definitive Guide To The Kettlebell Snatch
- The Complete Kettlebell Exercise Guide For Beginners
Featured Image: RomarioIen / Shutterstock
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