Forget kettlebell swings — it takes 3 moves and 20 minutes to sculpt muscles

Man with top off on a balcony outside performing a squat with a kettlebell in one hand
(Image credit: Shutterstock images/ MihailoI02)

Have you noticed how many kettlebell workouts include the kettlebell swing? Don’t get me wrong, the swing provides a blowout full-body workout, but if you just want a break from them, here’s a muscle-torching workout to try.

This three-move kettlebell workout sculpts muscles all over, including the same muscles targeted by the kettlebell swing — without it. Hit your shoulders, arms, back, glutes, hamstrings, core and hip flexor muscles hard using these kettlebell exercises suitable for beginners or advanced gym-goers. 

a photo of a woman with abs holding a kettlebell

(Image credit: Getty/PeopleImages)

Although the full-body exercises below suit all fitness abilities, if you’re currently suffering from an injury or returning to exercise post-pregnancy or illness, we recommend checking in with a qualified medical professional before trying them.

If you haven’t already got a kettlebell to hand and prefer home workouts, we’ve rounded up the best kettlebells for weightlifting to help you decide which brand is right for you. And you can swat up on how to hold a kettlebell properly (yep, there are different grips you need to know) to help you get started.  

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What is the 3-move kettlebell workout? 

Designed by the one and only Eric Leija, he says, “It’s all about the power moves, baby! Power moves are moves that I use because they really engage your body and build real-function strength.” Like with all functional training, these moves improve your range of motion and overall mobility, strengthen your bones, muscles and joints and help you move with better quality as you age.

Leija explains on his YouTube channel, “Here’s how I like to program a kettlebell flow like this into my workout! I’d typically go for a 30-45 minute run, row, ski, or shadow box, then hit this for 20-30 minutes to finish my workout.”

3-move 20-minute kettlebell workout

2 sets, rest 30 seconds

A1: Gorilla Row, alternating x 30 seconds

2 sets, rest 30 seconds

B1: Kettlebell clean, alternating x 30 seconds

2 sets, rest 30 seconds

C1: Kettlebell snatch, alternating x 30 seconds

Finish:

D1: Flow

3 to 5 sets, rest 30 seconds 

Alternating row (1 rep per side) to alternating clean (1 rep per side) to alternating snatch (1 rep per side) x 30 seconds

A complex or flow simply means combining the exercises to create a sequence without breaks. In this instance, perform one rep per side of each exercise, moving between the three exercises without rest. You can check out how Leija formats this workout using a kettlebell complex toward the end of the video. 

Verdict

I felt wiped out just looking at this workout format. Kettlebell gorilla rows, cleans and snatches are three of my favorite kettlebell exercises, and combining them into a complex as a finisher is a simple and intelligent way to ramp up cardio gains, build strength and endurance and burn calories. 

In the free weights vs gym machines debate, I always pick free weights. Kettlebells free up your range of motion and help you move naturally, engaging more muscle groups and strengthening your bones and joints — not just growing muscles. You’ll recruit stabilizer muscles like your deeper core muscles (examples include the internal obliques, erector spinae and transverse abdominis) and rotator cuffs (a collection of muscles that support your shoulders) and learn to build balance, coordination and stability. 

Using bells is an accessible way to get started when lifting weights, teaching how to build grip strength that can translate to barbell exercises like deadlifts or onto pull-up bars for advanced gymnastics like toes-to-bar and kipping exercises. 

Unsure how to get started? Well, I've been teaching weightlifting for years — here are 3 tips for growing muscle using dumbbells (or kettlebells) to provide some fundamentals before lifting weights.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.