Best Kettlebell Leg Exercises (Tone Your Lower Body)

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: December 28, 2023
FACT CHECKED by Christiana Mikesch, CPT
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From my 25 years of experience as a holistic nutritionist and personal trainer, I've observed that kettlebells are underutilized in strength training, despite their versatility and effectiveness.

And when I was putting together a new training regime for a client recently, I decided to pull all the information I could get on using kettlebells for leg days.

Collaborating with fellow fitness experts, I dedicated several days to research and hands-on testing to develop the most effective kettlebell leg workout, leveraging my holistic approach to fitness.

We had a lot of fun, and our clients love the variety they now have.

Quick Summary

  • To effectively tone and strengthen your lower body, incorporate a variety of kettlebell leg exercises, such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts.
  • Kettlebell leg exercises are designed to specifically target and engage key muscle groups like the quads, hamstrings, and glutes for comprehensive lower body development.
  • An American Council on Exercise study revealed that kettlebell training can increase aerobic capacity by 13.8% and core strength by 70%.
  • In my experience as a personal trainer, kettlebell leg exercises offer a dynamic and efficient way to build lower body strength and improve overall fitness, especially when coupled with a pre-workout supplement.

Best Kettlebell Exercises For Your Legs

We have broken down these lower-body kettlebell exercises into three sections, and I recommend that you choose one from each for your next leg workout day.

Target Your Quads

A person doing leg workouts with a kettlebell

The first five kettlebell leg exercises I want to show you will specifically target your quads [1].

These kettlebell exercises, especially squats, offer more than just lower body strength; they engage your core and upper body, providing a comprehensive full-body workout that improves overall fitness and functional strength.

Reverse Lunge

Based on my years of guiding clients, here's an effective way to perform the reverse lunge, a movement I often recommend for its safety and efficacy:

  • Get into the starting position by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bring a single kettlebell up to shoulder height and rest the bell against your forearm.
  • Take a step back and bend your front leg to a right angle, with a slight bend in the back leg.
  • Push yourself back up to the starting point to complete one rep.
  • Either do this by alternating legs or complete a set with one leg before moving on to the other.

Goblet Squat

A person doing kettlebell goblet squats

In my experience, the kettlebell goblet squat is an excellent exercise to simultaneously target both quads, aligning with my approach of efficient and holistic training.

Here’s what to do for the kettlebell goblet squat

  • Hold a single kettlebell with a hand pushing against it on each side in front of your chest.
  • With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees and let them flare out to the sides.
  • From the low squat position, push your body back up again to a standing point.
  • Repeat the movement slowly until failure.

Related: Crush Grip Goblet Squat: How-to Guide

Split Squat

If the goblet version of the squat is proven to not be challenging enough, then this split squat version might be a suitable alternative.

Here’s what to do:

  • Get into the starting position, holding either a single kettlebell or one in each hand.
  • Take a large step forward and bring the back knee as far to the ground as possible.
  • Slowly push yourself back up again while keeping your feet in place.
  • Repeat the down and up movements for maximum reps.

Side-Step Squats

A person doing side step squats at the gym

This is another great variation of kettlebell exercises, and you’ll need to make sure that you have at least six feet of lateral space to move.

Here’s what to do:

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold the kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest.
  • Take a step to the left and squat down in the process.
  • Hold the low squat for a second, and then push yourself back up again by bringing your right foot towards the left one.
  • Repeat the process in the other direction to complete one rep and keep going until failure.

Side Lunge

This is a similar movement to the previous one, but it allows you to work on one leg at a time: 

  • Get into a standing position with the kettlebell in both hands, holding it in front of you.
  • Take a large step to the left and lower yourself into a squat.
  • Hold the squat for a second and then push yourself back up again, bringing your left foot back beside the right one.
  • Repeat it for maximum reps with the chosen weight, and then switch to the other leg.

“Regularly performing quad-strengthening exercises may help make it easier to extend your knee and flex your hip.”

- Daniel Bubnis, M.S., NASM-CPT

Target Your Hamstrings

A person working out with a kettlebell

Now it’s time to shift our kettlebell leg workout to the hamstrings [2].

It’s slightly more difficult to target these with kettlebells, but our research has revealed five great options. 

Good Mornings

This is one of the kettlebell leg exercises that is a simple variation of the deadlift, and it’s a great beginner exercise.

Here’s how to do good mornings:

  • Grab a kettlebell and hold it with both hands behind your neck; reach for it with a hand on each side of your neck.
  • Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart and your legs straight.
  • Slowly tilt your upper body forward, and make sure you keep your spine neutral.
  • Stop before your legs and back hit a right angle, and then pull yourself back up again.

Deadlifts

A person doing kettlebell deadlifts at the gym

This is a stiff-legged deadlift where you use only one arm to hold onto the kettlebell.

Keep in mind that you want to alternate sides between sets: 

  • Place a reasonably heavy kettlebell on the ground in front of you.
  • Reach down with your right hand and make sure you keep your legs straight.
  • Engage your core muscles and pull the kettlebell up until you’re in a standing position with the weight in front of your legs.
  • Then, lower it back down again slowly and repeat for your total number of reps in each set.

One-Leg Deadlifts

This is one of those leg exercises that will take a bit of practice to get the balance right.

It’s a highly effective way to add more strain to one leg: 

  • Place a kettlebell on the ground in front of your feet.
  • Lift one foot off the ground, and with that knee slightly bent, tilt your body forward.
  • Reach for the kettlebell and then pull it up until you’re back in a standing position.
  • Then, lower it back down again and repeat the movement for your workout goal.

Standard Kettlebell Swing

A person doing standard kettlebell swings

If you’ve ever been to a class for kettlebell training, then the kettlebell swing should be something you’re very familiar with.

Here’s how to do this kettlebell workout:

  • Take a wide stance and place a kettlebell between your feet.
  • With your knees slightly bent, reach both hands down and grab the handle.
  • Pull the weight up in front of you with your arms straight until it’s at about head height, and push your hips forward.
  • Let it swing back down between your legs, and then repeat the movement as many times as you can.
  • Focus on proper form for this lower body exercise and make sure your spine remains neutral.

Learn More: Will Kettlebell Swings Burn Belly Fat

Windmill

Windmill is a tough exercise that will also challenge your core muscles along with your hamstrings.

Try it with a smaller weight to get used to the movement: 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift one kettlebell up over your head and look up at it.
  • Keep the arm stretched up and lower your body down towards the ground.
  • Touch the ground with the other hand and keep looking up at the kettlebell.
  • Then, pull your body back up again to the starting point; chances are that you won’t be able to do many of these challenging movements.

Other Kettlebell Options

A person working out with kettlebells

The American Council on Exercise study showed that kettlebell training increased aerobic capacity in participants by 13.8% and abdominal core strength by 70% [3].

Therefore, since kettlebells are a game-changer in functional training, here are a few other core and leg exercise movements that you can make part of your kettlebell training.

Some of them are a bit more challenging, but that should make them a lot more effective.

Clean & Press

This is one of the kettlebell workouts where you need to pick your weight wisely, as it’s going to be tough on your core and build muscle mass to support many other exercises, according to the Mayo Clinic [4].

Here’s what you do: 

  • Place a kettlebell between your feet on the ground.
  • Reach down with one hand and grab hold of the handle.
  • Slowly pull it up while bending your elbow.
  • Once your hand is at about chin height, start punching the weight up over your head.
  • Hold the top position for a second, and then slowly lower it down to the starting point.

Lunge Overhead Press

A person doing lunge overhead press with a kettlebell

The kettlebell lunge overhead press involves a lot of body parts moving, so try this out a few times with a lighter weight to get used to it.

 Here’s what to do: 

  • Hold the kettlebell in the rack position with one hand.
  • Take a forward lunge step and lower your back knee to the ground.
  • Once your forward knee is at a right angle, push yourself up and, at the same time, stretch your arm out to lift the kettlebell over your head.
  • You should end up with both feet beside each other and repeat the movement on the other side.

Thrusters

This is a similar exercise to the previous one, but it implements the overhead push with a squat.

Here’s what you do:

  • Grab hold of a kettlebell and hold it in a rack position close to your shoulder.
  • Get your body into a racked squat position, and then push yourself up.
  • At the same time, start stretching out your arm and lifting the kettlebell up over your head.
  • From here, slowly lower the kettlebell and get back into a squat.
  • Repeat the movement for your target reps, and make sure the last few are sore.

Pistol Squats

A person doing pistol squats at the gym

This is an advanced squat movement that will require very strong leg muscles.

I would recommend a smaller weight to get started so that you can get used to holding your balance.

Here’s what you do:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest.
  • Lift one foot off the ground, bend the knees, and raise it forward.
  • Slowly squat down on one leg as far as you can.
  • Push yourself back up on one leg until you reach the starting point again.
  • Continue the movement for your target reps, and then switch to the opposite leg.

Sumo Squat

The sumo squat is one of the easier lower-body exercises that also activates your posterior chain and core.

This is what you need for the setup:

  • Take a wide stance and hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of your body.
  • Let the weight hang down and slowly lower your buttocks.
  • Your knees will flare out, and try to get your buttocks as low as possible.
  • Push your body back up until your knees are straight again.

“With the sumo squat, you get the same benefits as the traditional squat, but you’ll increase activation of the inner thighs and hamstrings.”

- Tara Laferrara, CPT.

FAQs

Can You Build Big Legs With Kettlebell Swings?

Yes, you can build big legs with kettlebell swings. You would need to gradually increase the weight, and it’s also advisable to introduce a variety of different exercises to target your leg muscles in different ways.

Are Kettlebell Swings Better Than Squats?

Yes, kettlebell swings can be better than squats. They tend to activate the glutes and lower back muscles better. But it’s important not to ignore the benefits you get from squats for your quads.


References:

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/22816-quad-muscles
  2. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Hamstrings
  3. https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/3172/ace-sponsored-research-study-kettlebells-kick-butt/
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/core-exercises/art-20044751
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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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