Forget Russian twists — 5 standing ab exercises that sculpt your core muscles using one kettlebell

Woman in purple workout clothes holding a kettlebell in front of her with both hands against grey backdrop
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We don’t know about you, but hitting your core muscles hard using just five exercises and a kettlebell sounds pretty darn good to us. Here's how to do the five-move kettlebell workout to build a stronger core using one piece of gym equipment at a medium to heavy weight.

Anyone can do this workout, but if you’re a beginner, we recommend lifting a light kettlebell until you’ve got your technique locked down for each exercise. We’ve tested the best kettlebells for weightlifting if you need an upgrade for your existing bell, including the pros and cons of buying one.

The kettlebell core workout works in various planes of motion, meaning you’ll come across twisting movements that could aggravate a bad back. If you currently have an injury, seek a medical opinion first before picking up your kettlebell for this workout. Ready? Here it is. 

Forget Russian twists — what are the five best standing kettlebell core exercises?

These standing kettlebell core exercises hit the abs and oblique muscles hard and target the stabilizer muscles like the transverse abdominis, hip flexors and erector spinae muscles. Your shoulders, arms, back and legs facilitate many of the movements during this workout, so you’re really getting a full-body workout with just one kettlebell and five moves.

The video by Kettlebell Kings Austin shows how to do each kettlebell exercise properly. If you find it difficult to grip a kettlebell securely, we cover how to hold a kettlebell here, with some pointers on grip positions and why they matter. Working on your grip strength will help develop forearm muscle and help you lift heavier weights. Without a good grip, wave goodbye to a progressive deadlift one rep max, for example. So we think it's really worth investing in learning how to hold your weights properly.

What the video doesn’t include is a workout format, so we’ve taken the liberty of creating one below if you’re unsure how to add these five kettlebell standing ab exercises into your strength training programs. 

1. Standing kettlebell suitcase marches

Suitcase marches (also known as kettlebell hip marches), challenge your core, hips and legs. To do the move, hold a kettlebell by your side with one arm, engage your core and keep your spine long, then raise one knee to hip height. Place your leg down and repeat with the other leg. 

Our fitness writer did kettlebell hip marches every day for a week and described another technique — looping your foot through the window of the bell and lifting the kettlebell with your foot.  

2. Kettlebell halos

The halo helps develop shoulder mobility and targets all three shoulder heads, the upper back, arms and core muscles. To do the kettlebell halo, brace your core and keep your spine long while maintaining a soft knee bend. Hold the bell upside down by the horns and grip tight, then raise the weight overhead with elbows bent. From here, rotate the kettlebell in circles around your head, changing direction every time the kettlebell travels in front of you. Avoid arching your back — if this happens, drop down by a few kilos. 

Our fitness editor shares a different approach — the kettlebell Around the World — for those who can’t hold a weight overhead. 

3. Kettlebell windmills

Windmills require shoulder and core stability. The single-sided exercise encourages you to build strength on both sides of the body equally. We recommend opting for a light kettlebell that you can control using your weakest arm, then build gradually as you get stronger. 

There are several windmill variations out there. For example, one writer tried kettlebell windmills every day for a week using a wide leg position, but the one demonstrated in the video above can be done with feet hip-width apart. Start with the kettlebell punched overhead using your right arm and engage your core. Look up at the kettlebell, then softly bend the left knee and lift the heel as you lower toward your left knee and back up again. Remember to switch sides.  

4. Kettlebell hand-to-hand passes

You can afford to go heavier with this move — it reads a bit like a lateral kettlebell swing. Start with the bell in your left hand, then swing the weight over to your right, exchanging the weight to your right hand in front of your body. As you pass the bell from hand to hand, remember to draw the bell back slightly to engage your back muscles and increase your range of motion.

5. Kettlebell openers

Rack the bell to your left shoulder using an overhand grip and lift the elbow — this is your starting position. Actively engage your core muscles and shoulders, your spine neutral, and your feet hip-width apart. Slowly open your elbow to the side, allowing the bell to rest over your shoulder. Squeeze your shoulder blade and lats as you draw the elbow back, then return to the starting position. Remember to switch sides. Practice core stability and avoid arching your lower back or driving your hips forward. 

What we like about the 5 kettlebell core exercises 

There’s plenty to love about these kettlebell exercises. Each drives movement from core strength and stability while working other major muscle groups like your back, legs, chest and shoulders. To properly engage your obliques — the core muscles that run down the sides of your waist — exercises adopt rotation through the transverse plane, so ab moves like Russian twists or bicycle crunches are popular. 

But at Tom’s Guide, we like to think there’s more to life than reprising the same old exercises, so we’re happy to see the windmill, halo and hand-to-hand pass included here. These exercises generate activity from the obliques while engaging various stabilizer muscles responsible for keeping you safe, like the rotator cuffs during windmills — this group of muscles sit at the shoulder blades and support your shoulders — or the erector spinae muscles that hug the spine.

5-move standing kettlebell core workout to sculpt your obliques

EMOM 5 (every minute on the minute) x 3 rounds

Minute 1: 30 reps kettlebell marches

Minute 2: 10-12 kettlebell halos

Minute 3: 6-8 kettlebell windmills

Minute 4: 20 reps kettlebell hand-to-hand passes

Minute 5: 8-10 reps kettlebell openers

Complete 30 kettlebell marches, then rest for the remainder of the minute. When the next minute starts, complete 10-12 kettlebell halos and rest, and so on. One rep is one side of the body. Aim for 10-15 seconds of rest each time and increase or decrease reps as needed. If you finish way before 45-50 seconds, increase, and if you're struggling to get the reps done, decrease.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Fitness Writer and Trainer

Sam Hopes is a level 3 fitness trainer, level 2 reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Tom's Guide. She is also currently undertaking her Yoga For Athletes training course.