Kettlebell training is one of the best forms of resistance training for improving your cardio.
Not only can you gain strength and muscular tone quickly using kettlebells but by using the correct exercises you can seriously improve your cardio too.
One of the greatest benefits of kettlebell training is the small amount of space that is needed for a complete full body workout.
In fact you can really challenge your cardio without even moving your feet so if high impact exercises are not for you then the following 7 exercises are a great solution:
1. Kettlebell Single Arm Deadlift
The kettlebell single arm deadlift is the best starting point for beginners.
Not only does this full body exercise encourage good hip hinge technique, which is vital for so many kettlebell exercises, but it also raises the heart rate quickly too.
The deadlift movement pattern is our strongest movement so don’t be surprised if you can lift some heavy kettlebells using this exercise.
In fact, once you have mastered the deadlift technique I recommend increasing the weight and working up to 15 reps on each side for a great cardio blast.
Variations: Add more intensity by holding one kettlebell in each hand for the two handed deadlift.
Related: 11 Kettlebell Deadlift Workouts
2. Kettlebell Swing
Following on from the kettlebell deadlift we have the kettlebell swing.
The kettlebell swing uses the same muscles as the deadlift except in a more dynamic way.
Due to the swinging motion of the kettlebell the hamstrings and back of the body has to work hard to decelerate the kettlebell at the bottom of the movement, whereas the abs have to work hard at the top of the swing.
All beginners should start with the two handed swing, followed by the one handed swing and finally the alternating swing.
For a really intense cardio workout try 10 swings followed by 10 seconds of rest and repeated 10 times. You can of course extend the rest period to make the workout easier.
Variations: The kettlebell swing can be performed with two hands, one hand, alternating hands or by swinging the kettlebell to the side for the lateral swing.
Related: Ultimate Guide to the Kettlebell Swing
3. Kettlebell Goblet Squat
To strengthen the legs and butt as well as ramping up your heart rate the goblet squat is an excellent choice.
No workout program should go without the squat movement because it improves an important movement pattern that we use in daily life. Sitting and then standing all relies on the squat technique.
Focus must be placed on the depth of the squat because unless you squat down so your thighs are parallel with the floor you do not engage you butt correctly.
The squat also creates a rehabilitating function, actively pumping nutrients into the joints of the hips, knees and lower back.
Variations: Instantly increase the cardio demands by adding an overhead press to the Squat movement. You can perform the kettlebell squat and press either with two hands, one hand or by holding one kettlebell in each hand.
Related: 7 Squats You Need to Know
4. Kettlebell Clean and Press
The kettlebell clean and press takes the deadlift movement pattern and adds in even more muscle activation.
The standard deadlift just takes the kettlebell to waist height whereas the clean and press takes it from the floor to the chest and then overhead.
The upshot of all this extra movement is that the clean and press is far more demanding on the muscular and cardiovascular system.
If you maintain a nice tempo during the clean and press exercise you can certainly improve your cardio rapidly.
Beginners should start by just practicing the kettlebell clean for 60 seconds on each side before progressing onto the overhead press.
Variations: The kettlebell clean and press is a big full body cardio movement but you can make it even more challenging by adding a squat into the movement (Clean, Squat and Press) or by using two kettlebells for the Clean and Press or Clean, Squat and Press.
Related: Stop Banging Your Wrists and Clean like a Pro
5. Kettlebell Static Lunge and Press
The static lunge or split squat challenges your balance, strength and cardio all in one movement.
Beginners should practice the static lunge holding one kettlebell with both hands at chest height and without performing the overhead press.
You will be surprised at just how much this kettlebell exercise takes out of you.
Try to fully lock out the front leg at the top of the movement in order to maximise muscle activation.
If you find your balance is all over the place then bring your focus down into your core muscles and brace a little to stabilise your hips.
Variations: The static lunge can be performed holding a kettlebell in either hand down by your sides, sometimes called a split squat. The simple addition of an extra kettlebell and using two challenging kettlebell weights can make this a very cardiovascular exercise indeed.
Related: 16 Kettlebell Lunge Variations from Beginner to Advanced
6. Kettlebell High Pulls
The kettlebell high pull exercise is a fast and dynamic movement that is very intense on your cardio.
You will need to have mastered the other kettlebell exercises listed above first before attempting this one.
The secret to the high pull exercise is a high elbow and straight wrist.
Even a workout of just 30 seconds on each side is very demanding so prepare yourself.
Variations: The kettlebell high pull exercise is such a dynamic and challenging exercise for the cardio that there is not much more you can add to intensify the exercise.
Related: How to Master the Kettlebell High Pull Exercise
7. Kettlebell Snatch
The ultimate full body conditioning exercise is the kettlebell snatch.
I’ve listed this exercise last because it is not easy and requires good strength, balance and timing.
However, once you can perform the kettlebell snatch well then you can challenge your cardio and strength quickly and efficiently whenever you choose.
The classic kettlebell snatch challenge involves 10 minutes of performing the snatch as many times as possible and changing hands whenever you choose. The kettlebell is not allowed to touch the floor during the full 10 minutes.
200 total snatches in 10 minutes is a good target.
Variations: The kettlebell snatch has a few variations on the way the kettlebell is brought back down from the top position but this doesn’t really alter the cardiovascular demands of the exercise. The best way to intensify the snatch is by increasing the load and limiting rest periods.
Related: Ultimate Guide to the Kettlebell Snatch
There is no need to move your feet if you want to challenge your cardio using Kettlebells, which is great if you have limited space or joint impact problems.
Above I’ve listed 7 types of kettlebell exercises that get progressively more challenging and technical for improving your cardio.
You can always increase the cardio demands of any kettlebell exercise by increasing the weight and/or reducing the amount of rest in between exercises.
If you ever thought that standard cardio like running was your only option for improving your cardio then you now have another option that doesn’t involve pounding the streets or high impact on your joints.
Now you can build strength and improve your cardio all in one go with kettlebell training.
Discover more about kettlebell cardio here
Do you use kettlebell training to improve your cardio? Which exercise is your favourite?
David Davies says
This is such a good site, with very good information.
Kettlebells used appropriately are amazing tools for exercising. I am approaching 63 years of age. I began using Bells about 5 years ago because of knee problems. I literally could not walk down a decline without crippling pain in my right knee. I sought medical intervention and went privately as I couldnt stand the pain or being unable to exercise efficiently. The orthopedic consultant I saw recommended squatting, using a full deep knees bend getting the bum to to floor. I had a history of resistance training so I had some cognition of what was needed. Some research led le to watch Pavel Tsatsouline in Enter The Kettlebell. I then took instruction from a qualified physiotherapist who utilises kettlebells.
I can honestly say that without any surgery my knees are better than ever probably in my entire life. Personally I make good use of full, deep squatting exercises, and pretty much stick with the basic five exercises we associate with kettlebells. I normally use HS but have taken tuition with Ste Gordon in Darlington in GS. I now often mix and match the two styles, but favour HS.
My wife who is 9 months my senior also now uses Kettlebells. Her main problem following a frozen shoulder which went on for well over 12 months, was being unable to straighten her arms overhead, or indeed lift one arm overhead in any way. Investment in a small 4kilo bell assisted her and now she can manage 8k bell overhead in a press. We now have HS Iron bells at home ranging from 4k up to a 40k bell.
I believe anyone with almost any condition can benefit from using kettlebells, the important bit as with anything in life is, take professional mentoring first, before muscle memory sets in and bad form has been learnt. We have a Strong First tutor who comes and checks what we are doing every 6 weeks [until lockdown affected things].
Thanks for a great site.