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8 Lower-Body Kettlebell Exercises To Boost Your Power on the Run

Run stronger for longer—and sidestep injury—with these challenging moves.

kettlebell exercises
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One piece of equipment every runner should have in their home gym: kettlebells. These unique tools not only take up little space at home, but they can add tons of variety to your strength routine, while also helping to improve your power, build strength, and even kick up your cardio capacity. So consider kettlebell exercises key to your strength training—and crucial for giving you an edge in your run performance.

Certified personal trainer and kettlebell instructor Lynda Lippin touts kettlebells as a stand-out tool for a serious leg workout—and one that also requires significant core engagement too. What’s so great about working the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, though, is that research shows strengthening these lower-body powerhouse muscles can improve your running performance and protect against injuries.

That’s exactly why strength-focused resistance training should be cycled into your training, says Paul Kostas, a certified personal trainer and Director of Personal Training at Brooklyn Athletic Club. “This helps strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround the joints (ankles, knees, hips) that take a beating from logging miles on the road,” he adds.

But it’s not just injury prevention that should motivate you to swing a kettlebell. Power-boosting moves like these kettlebell exercises below will also increase the strength in your legs in a way that running doesn’t, says Kostas—but in a way you need to pick up the pace. “Running increases your ability to run more; but when you add in strength training, you’re able to complement the endurance training with resistance, not mimic more of the same stimulus,” he explains. That will give you more oomph when you push off, strengthen your stride, and ultimately, make you a better, faster runner.

Since running is a unilateral sport, because you’re transferring weight from one leg to the next with each step, Kostas says to focus some of your training on unilateral movements (i.e., lunges and step-ups). This not only allows you to better your balance, but also recruit more of your core muscles, which enhances trunk stability. It also helps you stay upright, rather than collapse your torso forward when fatigue sets in on later miles.

How to Choose the Right Kettlebell Weight

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Before you get started with these kettlebell exercises, you need to know how to pick the right weight for you. A good starting kettlebell weight for women is between 18 and 26 pounds or between 8 and 12 kilograms. Men can aim for a range of 35 to 44 pounds or 15 to 20 kilograms. This is just an average, which means, you may start with a lower weight or jump up to the next size—it all depends on your fitness level, experience with kettlebells and other weights, as well as what you feel comfortable using. As with any other workout routine, if any of the exercises feel uncomfortable or cause pain, stop doing them, and consult an expert.

How to use this list: These kettlebell exercises, demonstrated by Lindsey Clayton, certified personal trainer and instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp in New York City, target both the quadriceps (on the front of the upper leg) and hamstrings and glutes (muscles along the backs of your upper legs and your butt). While certain movements will place a greater emphasis on one area of the leg, all of these exercises challenge your lower body.

The first four exercises target your quads and the next four target your hamstrings and glutes. One of the many benefits of using kettlebells for legs is that you can create many different circuits with these moves.

To focus on quads one day and hamstrings the next, Kostas says to choose all four quad-dominant exercises on the first day and then all four hamstring exercises the next day. Perform 10 to 15 reps of each exercise, doing one exercise followed by the next to perform a circuit. Repeat for 3 total rounds. Alternatively, you can do AMRAP (as many reps as possible) for 30 seconds per exercise, then rest for 30 seconds, and cycle through the circuit for 3 total rounds.

For a 360-degree lower body workout, choose any three quad exercises and any three hamstring and glute exercises, arrange them in a circuit alternating one with the other, and complete for the same reps or time mentioned above. For example, a goblet squat followed by a kettlebell swing, then an alternating forward lunge followed by a single-leg Romanian deadlift.

If you’re in season (training for a race), consider doing a kettlebell leg workout one to two days per week. Otherwise, schedule a leg workout two to three times a week.

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Kettlebell Exercises for Quads

1. Goblet Squat

Grab the kettlebell by the handle and flip it so the bell (or weight) is on top. Hold it at chest with elbows out slightly from body. Stand with feet just wider than hip-width apart, then send hips back to drop into a squat, keeping spine straight and chest lifted. Pretend you are going to sit in a low chair with great posture. Push through feet and stand back up. Repeat.

Want a new kettlebell challenge? You can put a twist on the goblet squat by elevating your heels and adding a pulse, says Lauren Lobert, D.P.T., certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of APEX Physical Therapy. You can use folded towels or the handles of a kettlebell lying on its side to lift the heels with toes on the ground. With the kettlebell at your chest, squat down. Rise back up halfway, then continue to pulse in the mid-range of the squat for about 30 seconds.


2. Forward Lunge

Hold a kettlebell by the handle and flip it so the bell is on top. Hold it at chest and stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Take a big step forward with the right foot and lower down until the left knee is almost touching the floor and right knee bent 90 degrees. Press through right heel to stand back up. Repeat with other leg. Continue alternating.


3. Lateral Lunge

Grab a kettlebell by the handle and flip it so the bell is on top. Hold it at chest and stand with feet hip-width apart. With right leg, take a wide step to the right, sending hips back straight back and bending right knee but keeping the left leg straight. Push off the right foot to stand back up. Repeat with left leg. Continue alternating.


4. Side Step-Up

Hold a kettlebell with right hand down by side, like a suitcase. Stand to the left of a stair, step, or box (kettlebell should be closest to the step). With right foot on top of step, drive through right foot to stand up. (Focus on pushing up with the right leg, not launching yourself up with left foot.) At the top, bring left knee toward chest. Slowly and in a controlled fashion, lower yourself back down. Repeat. Then switch sides.


Kettlebell Exercises for Hamstrings and Glutes

1. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Start standing with kettlebell in left hand. Shift weight to right leg, and with a soft bend in right knee, hinge at the hips by sending butt back. Keep your back flat, shoulders down, and core engaged as torso reaches toward the floor and left leg lifts straight back behind you. Only lower until you feel a slight pull in right hamstrings; you don’t have to lower weight to ground. Drive right foot into ground to stand back up, squeezing glutes. Repeat. Then switch sides.

“If you want to do heavier weight, or you’re having problems with balance, hold onto something with your other hand,” recommends Lobert. This will help you more steady.


2. Kettlebell Swing

Stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, kettlebell a few inches in front of feet. Keeping back straight, bend just slightly knees and send hips straight back, hinging at hips to lower and grab the kettlebell handle with both hands. Pull shoulders back and down. Drag the kettlebell back and up between legs (like hiking a football), then thrust hips forward and squeeze glutes to stand tall, swinging the kettlebell up in front of chest, stopping at shoulder height. Follow the kettlebell with your gaze, and allow it to float back between your legs. Then repeat.

“This is a fast movement, so stay in control,” says Lippon.


3. Weighted Bridge

Lie faceup with knees bent and feet hip-width apart and planted on the floor. Keep back flat against the mat. Holding kettlebell lightly on top of pelvis, press through heels, squeeze glutes, and lift hips straight up. Make sure to keep spine straight and abs engaged. You should feel your butt and the back of your legs engage. Lower back down. Repeat.


4. Deadlift

Stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip-with apart. Keeping a straight spine, bend knees slightly and send hips back, hinging at hips to pick up kettlebell by the handle with both hands. Pull shoulders back and down, and keep weight towards heels. Drive feet into the ground to stand back up, holding kettlebell. Repeat.


All images: Julia Hembree Smith

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