Forget deadlifts — 3 kettlebell exercises that build full-body muscle in just 15 minutes

Man lifting a heavy kettlebell using right arm in a half squat position during gym workout
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It’s time to grab one of the best kettlebells for weightlifting and put these three strength exercises in motion to help strengthen and sculpt muscles all over the body. 

Between them, the full-body exercises target your chest, arms, shoulders, back and legs and deliver a punishing three-move kettlebell workout in just 15 minutes. Perfect as a finisher or a standalone workout, the basic kettlebell routine suits beginners and those well-versed in kettlebell training. 

Here’s how to do the moves properly and the benefits of each exercise, plus a three-move, 15-minute workout to try for yourself. All you need is one or two medium to heavy kettlebells, an exercise mat and a gym motivation playlist for when the burn gets real and the sweat begins to pour. Here it is.

What are the 3 full-body kettlebell exercises?

Before you even think about picking up your kettlebell, we recommend learning how to hold a kettlebell properly to see which grips suit which exercises if you’re new to kettlebell training. Our videos below show you how to execute each move, and it’s worth running them over a few times to get a feel for how the exercises work before piecing them together. 

There are only three kettlebell exercises to learn, but you won’t be searching for more when you’re in the throws of this basic kettlebell routine. Don’t let the word ‘basic’ fool you, as sometimes it's the simplicity of workouts that blast muscles the hardest. 

1. Kettlebell thruster

Thrusters can be performed unilaterally, meaning with one weight or dual. Practice both and see which works best for you. Dual loading will double the weight you shift, but unilateral training improves coordination, balance and core stability by loading one side of the body at a time. Both have their benefits, but both are punishing. 

How:

  • Rack your kettlebells onto your shoulders using the kettlebell clean found in our kettlebell exercises for beginner’s guide
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and engage your stomach
  • Keep your chest proud and back flat as you lower into a squat
  • Pause, then drive through your feet to stand and press the kettlebells overhead, locking the elbows out at the top and keeping your biceps close to your ears
  • Rebend the elbows and rack to your shoulders as you lower for a second rep.

If you struggle to find depth in your squats, hip mobility exercises for hip flexor pain could help.

2. American kettlebell swing

The American kettlebell swing variation involves swinging the bell overhead rather than shoulder-height. The added swing time activates more of the shoulders, takes stability and balance and also increases the range of motion required by your arms and shoulders. 

How:

  • Stand with both feet shoulder-width apart and place the kettlebells between them
  • Softly bend your knees, lock them in place and brace your stomach
  • Hinge at the hips, gripping the weights in both hands with a flat back
  • Set your shoulders back and down and lift your chest, then swing the bells backward, sending your butt back
  • Drive the kettlebells upward and snap your hips forward
  • Send the weights overhead and pause at the top. Keep your back, arms, glutes and core muscles engaged
  • Control the descent between your legs.

Here’s how to do a Russian kettlebell swing if you’d prefer not to lift overhead, as well as a step-by-step guide on how to do American kettlebell swings. Put aside a kettlebell if you’d prefer to work with one.

3. Kettlebell deficit push-up

In the video above, we use bars to create the deficit, but for this variation, you could either turn both kettlebells on their sides and place your hands on the bells or keep both bells upright and grip the handles. You’ll need a good grip and robust forearms to keep your wrists straight and the bells balanced, so only opt for the latter variation if you feel confident. If you prefer, perform the push-ups from your knees. 

Either way, your chest has further to travel, working the pecs, anterior deltoids, core and triceps harder. I did 70 kettlebell push-ups a week, and here’s what happened

How:

  • Start in a push-up position with the kettlebells shoulder-width apart
  • Engage your glutes and core muscles and place both hands on the bells or grip the handles if you choose to keep the kettlebells upright
  • Squeeze your arms. Check your shoulders align with your wrists and hips align with your shoulders
  • Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor while keeping your neck neutral
  • Pause, then explosively push the ground away and extend both arms.

3-move kettlebell complex to try in just 15 minutes 

15 minutes is a short amount of time, so a kettlebell complex packs intensity and increases the time spent working with minimal rest for your muscles — the technique is best known as time under tension. It works like a giant set, moving from kettlebell exercise to exercise while creating a sequence. You can stick to a set number of reps or increase your reps each round — as written below — to help you find a good flow and add some challenges.

For time: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1

Kettlebell thruster

American kettlebell swing

Kettlebell push-ups

How:

Start with one thruster, then lower the kettlebells between your legs and begin the swing-back to initiate the American kettlebell swings. Perform one swing, then place both kettlebells on the floor in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Jump back into a push-up position and perform one push-up, then jump both feet forward just behind the bells with a flat back and lifted chest. Look ahead, engage your core and clean the bells to your shoulders to begin the second round. 

Follow the reps above so that on the second round, you complete two reps of each exercise, then three, and so on. Try to follow the pyramid the whole way through in 15 minutes. If at any point you prefer to drop down to one kettlebell, ensure you work both sides of your body and perform the same reps on both sides. 

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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.