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Kettlebells recruit stabilizer muscles in virtually every movement.
Kettlebells might seem archaic to the untrained eye, but the iron ball made famous by Russian strongmen in the 1700s is a powerful tool for functional strength development. Kettlebell exercises focus on multijoint, multiplanar movements and force you to control momentum, recruiting multiple muscle groups and small stabilizer muscles. The back and shoulders are common areas of injury during kettlebell exercise, so take care to observe proper form throughout each movement. You can do kettlebell exercises in sets of eight to 12 reps, or use timed sets instead.
You can perform kettlebell swings with either one or two arms. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasp the handle with an overhand grip and let it hang between your knees. Shift your hips forward and swing the kettlebell to chest level. At the top of your swing, stand straight, shoulders back with the kettlebell held straight out in front of you. At the bottom of your swing, the kettlebell should pass through your legs as you bend your knees slightly. To keep the momentum going, rock your hips forward to repeat the lift. (Ref. 1)
The around-the-body pass is great for building muscular endurance and recruiting stabilizer and core muscles. To perform the pass, stand up straight, knees bent slightly, holding the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip. Release the kettlebell with one hand, swinging it around behind your body at waist height with the other. Bring your empty hand back around your body to grasp the kettlebell and complete the rotation by switching hands. Switch directions midway through each set to even things up.
Front squats work your quads, glutes and calves like few other exercises. To perform a kettlebell front squat, hold two kettlebells at chest level with your hands in close to your shoulders, then squat down by flexing your knees and pushing your hips back as if you're sitting down in a chair. Return to the starting position once your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Pulling exercises work the muscles of your shoulders, back, arms and core, and the bent-over row is the go-to basic kettlebell pulling exercise. Standing with your feet hip-width apart and bending your knees slightly, stabilize yourself with your free hand by bracing it on a bench or another object at waist height. Holding the kettlebell in a neutral grip in your other hand, let your arm hang, then pull the kettlebell up and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the pull. A key to maintaining control in the bent-over row is to keep your elbow in tight to your body and your head and spine aligned.
Although it's a staple in kettlebell routines, the snatch is one of the more difficult basic maneuvers. Similar to a swing, you start holding the kettlebell in one or two hands between your legs. Squat slightly, then explode up in a jumping motion, extending your knees, ankles, and hips as you raise the kettlebell up. Instead of stopping the kettlebell at chest level, allow it to reach maximum height above your head, then lower it back down to hang between your knees.