Fitness

11 Kettlebell Core Exercises

The kettlebell is well known as a tool for building strength and power. You've probably used it to do exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and swings, with the goal of training your lower body, back, and shoulders. But something you may not consider is that a lot of kettlebell moves also make great core exercises.

Some kettlebell exercises may target the core specifically—you'll feel the muscles in your midsection working hard throughout—while others are sort of "sneaky" in that they are meant to target other muscles but simultaneously challenge the muscles in your midsection. You might not feel a burning sensation in your abs or feel like your core is getting as fatigued as the other muscles that are working, but trust, they're still putting in serious work.

"Many kettlebell skills are compound exercises, which require your whole body to accomplish them in the most effective and optimal way," says certified personal trainer Sarah Polacco, fitness director of Achieve Fitness in Boston and StrongFirst Team Leader. As a result, these moves call on your core to provide both stability and strength.

For example, take the kettlebell swing, one of the most widely known kettlebell exercises. The majority of the power and strength comes from your lower body (specifically, your hamstrings and glutes). But your core has to engage the entire time to keep your trunk stable and sturdy as you thrust your hips forward and stand upright. Same goes for other classic kettlebell moves like the clean, snatch, squat, and carry.

The kettlebell exercises below are great choices for building core strength and stability. "You should feel some solid engagement from your core during these movements," says Polacco. While core strength and stability is essential for nailing your workouts with proper form, it's also something we need to move through everyday life comfortably and confidently. "In life, your core, or your trunk, is designed to stabilize you while your limbs are moving," Polacco says, "so doing these kinds of kettlebell exercises will not only get you stronger overall, but they will also help with real-life functional strength."

Next time you are looking for a total-body challenge that will improve your core strength and stability (and work other muscle groups at the same time), try adding some of these kettlebell exercises to your workout. To create a full workout out of these moves, choose three or four that target a variety of muscle groups and do them as a circuit. A good place to start is with a medium-weight kettlebell, doing 3 sets of 8 reps of each exercise, and working your way up to more reps and a heavier kettlebell when the exercises start to feel too easy (like when you can do 20 reps and still keep going).

Some of the movements directly focus on core strength, while others target the core secondarily and play a large part in training stability. "You most likely won’t feel that burning feeling, but your core will be working to maintain alignment and position," says Polacco. Either way, your core, and entire body, will be better off.

Demoing the moves below is Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies.

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