American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

Kettlebells have been back in the fitness limelight for more than a decade and, because of their versatility, are now a common sight in many commercial gyms. You can build power, strength, balance, flexibility, endurance and a great physique, all with this simple tool. If you have been using only one kettlebell for your training, it’s time to double up.

Double kettlebell training can help clients break through strength plateaus as well as increase the caloric expenditure of a workout by increasing the total load on the body. The following double kettlebell exercises were designed for advanced kettlebell practitioners.

Double Kettlebell Swing

Whether you do it for fitness, for sport or simply for fun, the kettlebell swing is the apex of kettlebell training. All movements start with the swing, which is a hinge movement that has maximal hip flexion with minimal knee flexion. It activates the muscles of the posterior chain as well as the core.

How to perform: Begin with the kettlebells at arm’s length in front you, thumbs pointed back and feet wider than hip-width apart. Bow over to reach the kettlebells, pushing your hips back and with a slight bend in the knee. Maintain a neutral spine as you bring the kettlebells back between the legs.

Now that the hips are loaded, in one hip motion drive your hips forward explosively. Bring the kettlebells up to roughly chest height with the palms facing the ground. As you return for successive reps, make sure to slightly turn the hands, pointing the thumbs back as you pass the kettlebells through the legs.

Double Kettlebell Clean

The clean is the swing with a pull. It is a useful exercise for increasing core strength and is a standard method for developing the rack position, which enables you to perform several other exercises. This rack position is a prerequisite for more advanced kettlebell exercises such as the front squat and military press.

How to perform: Once you extend your hips during the UP portion of the swing (see above for swing), pull the kettlebell in at the hip and rotate it around your wrist. The kettlebell will finish in what is called the rack position, with the bell resting on your arm and chest while you maintain a tight and straight back.

Front Squat

The kettlebell front squat adds a whole new dimension to the standard squat. This variation requires tremendous core activation as well as upper-back strength.

How to perform: Position the kettlebells in the rack position (as seen in the clean) and stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Maintain a neutral spine as you pull yourself down so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. If you can maintain a neutral spine, try descending deeper into a full squat. Do not bounce around in the bottom of the squat. Instead, try to maintain abdominal tension and position. Once you achieve depth, drive through the floor to stand using your glutes, hamstrings and quads. Lock the hips out at the top.

Double Military Press

The press builds strength in the shoulders, upper back and arms, while requiring core strength and a strong leg base to produce the power to drive the weights overhead.

How to perform: With the kettlebells in the rack position, initiate the press from the latissimus dorsi while maintaining a tight core. Keep your elbows underneath the kettlebell while pressing the weight overhead with a slight turn out. Finish the press with your palms facing forward. To return to the rack position, pull the weight back down with control, as if you were performing a pull-up. This helps ensure a safe shoulder position.

Complexes: Putting it All Together

All of the exercises can be performed in the traditional manner of sets and reps. However, a more advanced and efficient way to get in a full workout is to use a complex, which involves performing multiple exercises in sequence. For example:

Swing + Clean + Squat + Press + Swing

In this complex, complete five repetitions of each exercise before moving onto the next one. For an additional challenge, don’t set the kettlebells down between exercises.

The complex is an effective way to increase the amount of work done in a short amount of time. Keep in mind that, when you stack the exercises, you don’t need to do as many reps—five of each exercise in a complex will likely be challenging enough. The last thing you want is to reach technical failure and have poor technique when performing these exercises.