WHEN YOU GO to the gym to take on a workout, you might limit yourself to a very narrow set of tools to target your muscles and perform your go-to exercises the same way every time. You hit your biceps with dumbbell curls, your chest with the barbell bench press, and your back with cable machine rows. This approach might work for you—but your workout can be so much more if you’re willing to expand your horizons by picking up a kettlebell.
Yes, kettlebells may seem fearsome, but you can still use these super-versatile tools to train the same muscles as your dumbbells, barbells, and cable machines. Working with kettlebells will allow you to approach your workout differently, adding some much needed variety to your routines and even tweaking your favorite exercises to give your muscles a new type of stimulus. Test out these 10 moves, which replace classic gym mainstays, and you’ll begin to understand.
Once you give these exercises a try, you can also check out the new Men’s Health book, No Gym Required: Kettlebells, to blow beyond the basics and become a kettlebell master. Want a program to start? This 14-day kettlebell workout plan can get you going—only if you’re a Men’s Health MVP Premium member.
10 Exercises You Can Do With Kettlebells
Single-Arm Kettlebell Curl
- Swap: Dumbbell Biceps Curl
- Target Muscle: Biceps
Why You’ll Love It: Grasp the kettlebell in one hand, and perform a couple of curls: You’ll instantly notice that your hands, wrists, and elbows feel great. Much like a cambered EZ bar, which is typically comfortable for biceps curls, the horns of a kettlebell place your elbows and wrists at a friendly angle, allowing you to focus on each biceps contraction.
Kettlebell Overhead Triceps Extension
- Swap: Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
- Target Muscle: Triceps
Why You’ll Love It: Invert the bell and hold the horns with the thumb sides of your hands toward the bell, then lift it overhead. Much like the previous move, you’ll find the wrist angle feels much more comfortable than a barbell.
Kettlebell Split Squat
- Swap: Leg Extension
- Target Muscle: Quadriceps, Glutes
Why You’ll Love It: You can keep the tension on the muscles of your front-leg thigh, especially if you don’t come up all the way, while simultaneously creating a deep stretch in your back-leg thigh.
- Swap: Hyperextension
- Target Muscle: Glutes, Hamstrings
Why You’ll Love It: As with the hyperextension, swings force you to hyperextend your hips slightly, resulting in a fuller contraction of the glutes than you get with, say, deadlifts.
Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Press
- Swap: Overhead Barbell Press
- Target Muscle: Shoulders, Triceps
Why You’ll Love It: The half- kneeling position forces your shoulder and opposite hip to work together to stabilize your torso, just as they do when you walk, run, or sprint. And the shorter lever arm created by the bell allows most people to press more weight overhead, resulting in more muscle over time.
- Swap: Seated Cable Row
- Target Muscle: Lats, Lower Traps
Why You’ll Love It: Lawnmowers force you to pull the kettlebell from the floor and pull the weight across your body, putting the lats through a range of motion that rivals that of any gym machine.
Single-Arm Front Squat
- Swap: Leg Press
- Target Muscle: Quads, Glutes, Core
Why You’ll Love It: Most leg exercises load your body evenly; both your left and right sides must handle equal weight. That’s different with a single-kettlebell front squat, because you have a weight on just one side. This challenges your abs: Your torso will want to twist with each rep to handle the weight but your abs and glutes must resist that.
Dead-Stop Kettlebell Row
- Swap: Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Target Muscles: Lats, Lower Traps
Why You’ll Love It: This is a great move to pile up reps and train your midback. Because the kettlebell returns to the floor after each rep, your muscles get a brief rest between reps; this will allow you to pile up more reps in each set and push your back to the limit.
Single-Arm Kettlebell Floor Press
- Swap: Barbell/Dumbbell Bench Press
- Target Muscles: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Why You’ll Love It: Working the chest one side at a time forces your core to activate, rotate, and stabilize in a manner that closely resembles swinging a bat or throwing a punch. The floor saves your shoulders.
Chest-Supported Good Morning
- Swap: Leg Curl
- Target Muscles: Glutes, Hamstrings
Why You’ll Love It: Holding a kettlebell (keep it light) at your upper chest for this posterior- chain scorcher helps you open your chest and find optimal upper-body alignment, thus keeping your lower back safe.