Kettlebells for Cardio: An Effective Alternative?

Kettlebells for Cardio: An Effective Alternative?

Reading Time: 5 minutes 49 seconds


Date: 2020-03-18T00:00:00-04:00

Workout creativity keeps clients engaged with their program. A dull workout or one that a client doesn't enjoy quickly diminishes motivation and progress. And cardio often falls into that category of boring and disliked workouts. How fun can it be for a client to walk or run on a treadmill for 30 minutes straight?

As a personal trainer, getting creative in these situations can help client retention. There are many alternative ways to incorporate cardio into a program. Yes, without using a treadmill, bike, or elliptical.

Kettlebell workouts can even replace an extra cardio session at the end of a workout. They provide a way to incorporate strength training and cardio training into one. Let's learn how kettlebell workouts can be an effective way to help improve cardio.

Kettlebells: Strength or Cardio Workout?

There are many reasons kettlebells are an effective way to train. The one we will focus on in this article is the metabolic conditioning aspect. Kettlebell exercises can increase heart rate just as much as a typical cardio session.

On top of that, the load of the kettlebell adds to the exercise. Suddenly you have a cardio exercise that increases strength.

The kettlebell is like a dumbbell. It is a cast iron ball with a handle and is diverse. You can get creative with combinations of exercises for client workouts. You can use them in cardiovascular, strength, flexibility training, and more.

The benefits of kettlebell training are endless. Let's look at these benefits and how to use kettlebells for cardiovascular training.


Compare a barbell bench press to a kettlebell exercise. Most kettlebell exercises can and should be performed way longer. A kettlebell swing can be performed heavy and for more reps. The more reps you perform the more it becomes endurance type training.

When performing a set of bench presses, you can only do so many reps before hitting muscular fatigue. On a kettlebell swing, you can continue pushing out more reps. This taxes the cardiovascular system.

The metabolic conditioning aspect of the kettlebell cardio workout comes from those last few forced reps. Kettlebell swings incorporate many muscle groups. Whereas the bench press targets mainly just the chest.

With a full-body approach in performing kettlebell exercises, you can expect an increase in cardio. Your client will burn more calories and likely experience greater fat loss.


Now, let's look at how the kettlebell contributes to a high intensity training environment.

High intensity interval training can combine with resistance training and kettlebell training. For example, the kettlebell goblet squat can be performed fast and long. The positioning allows a client to keep good form while continuing to increase their heart rate.

Jump squats are another great way to increase cardiovascular intensity. With an increase in intensity, you can begin to perform intervals. This includes doing a set for time instead of reps. Then rest and repeat. This mimics high intensity interval training or cardio on a treadmill.

Cardio on a treadmill, bike, or elliptical is generally assigned for a length of time, right? So why not perform kettlebell sets for time? This will help steady-state cardio and improve a client's metabolic rate. Clients experience more calorie burn because of lifting with a kettlebell. This is because they build muscle mass also.

As a personal trainer, you know building muscle mass is vital to improve fitness levels. It helps increase strength and training abilities.

Functional Movements

Kettlebells exercises are a great option for functional movement, such as a kettlebell snatch. The movements use multiple muscles, mimicking everyday life. To top it off, clients don't even need a gym to do the workouts. They can improve functional strength and cardio with just one kettlebell.

The functional movement kettlebells promote allows for activation of more muscle groups. The legs plus the entire body work together as one through a kettlebell clean or deadlift. If you compare exercises like these to a biceps curl, you will notice that one produces more muscle action. In a curl, the only muscle working is the biceps.

The Most Effective Kettlebell Exercises

Any kettlebell routine can build muscle. Effective kettlebell cardio exercises build muscle and cardio.

Kettlebell Swing

This is a hip hinge movement. Have your client stand with their feet hip-width apart holding a kettlebell in between their quadriceps. Cue them to have a loose grip. Instruct them to swing the kettlebell from in between the quads up to chin level. Their legs will remain straight while the hips shoot back. The upper body also leans over to allow this movement. The hips will extend forward to drive the kettlebell up.

Implement the kettlebell swing to benefit the cardiovascular system. The explosiveness and force development it requires leads to an increased heart rate. The ability to perform quick reps and for long-duration sets also helps.

Lateral Lunge to Squat

Holding the kettlebell in a goblet position, ensure your client's feet are shoulder-width apart. Instruct them to take a lateral step and lunge. Return to the starting position and perform a goblet squat. Rotate to the other side or leg for the lateral lunge.

A lateral lunge to a goblet squat combines two compound movements. This places more stress and demand on the body. This leads to more energy utilization, which creates better results.

Clean Squat

Start in a standing position over the kettlebell. Hinge at the hips and pick up the kettlebell. Clean it up to chest level. As the kettlebell reaches chest height have your client switch their grip from around the top of the handle to the handles closer to the ball. Finish with a goblet squat.

This full-body movement requires a tremendous amount of effort. It is a great calorie-burning exercise due to its effect on the cardiovascular system. The exertion a client needs to produce will be greater than a treadmill cardio session.

Squat and Press

Stand holding the kettlebell in front of the chest. With the elbows remaining close to the body, squat down to parallel and drive through the heels to stand back up. As the client approaches the starting position cue them to press the kettlebell over their head. Then return to the starting position.

Putting Together a Kettlebell Cardio Workout

There are many ways to perform cardio workouts using the exercises discussed. Consider these techniques when putting together a kettlebell cardio workout in place of cardio.

AMRAP Technique

Prescribe a client with a group of kettlebell exercises. For each exercise set a goal rep range of 10 reps. Have them perform as many rounds as possible in eight minutes.

This is an AMRAP. With little to no rest, you create a cardio training environment. You can perform this at a lesser intensity if your client needs to mimic steady-state cardio. If you prescribe low-intensity cardio for longer durations, this can replace it.

If you need to create a HIIT environment, then have your client complete a full round before resting and moving on. This makes it more enjoyable for clients while they work on improving their fitness.

HIIT Technique

Perform kettlebell lifts for time intervals. Have a client perform 60 seconds of an exercise and then rest for 30 seconds. Then repeat. This is a better option for clients who need high-intensity interval training. It helps bring the heart rate up and down.

Check out this article on the ISSA blog for more about high intensity interval training.

You can change the time intervals depending on the client's fitness level. Performed an exercise for one minute with 15 seconds off, complete three rounds of each exercise, and then move on. If the cardio you prescribe a client is HIIT, then this is a good technique to use.

Higher Reps Technique

Higher rep ranges create a longer set. If your client prefers using rep ranges instead of time counting, then use this technique. Increasing the rep ranges for clients creates a longer set. It also allows them to still count if they prefer that.

If your client normally does 8-10 reps of an exercise, have them decrease the weight and perform more reps. They can exercise faster and keep good technique. Instead of doing 10 reps they can do 30 reps.

Kettlebells for cardio training is a great alternative to cardio. It helps improve creativity within each workout and keeps clients excited. It produces optimal weight loss results, muscle mass building, and flexibility improvements.

Looking to learn more about how to create kettlebell workouts for your clients? Be sure to check out ISSA's Fitness Trainer course. You'll learn how to design a program customized according to a client's unique health and fitness needs.

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