It’s probably going to sound redundant, but it always bears repeating: Your core really is at, well, the core of pretty much everything you do. “Our core strength determines ultimately how strong our entire body is,” says Bob Garon, owner and head coach at Chicagoland’s Synergy Kettlebell Training. “It affects our posture, our back health, and how well we perform daily movements as simple as getting up from a chair.”
And kettlebell training is among the most functional—as in, training to improve body function and movement—types you can do. “The basic kettlebell movement patterns—squat, clean, press, swing, snatch—are loaded either on the front of your body in the racked position or overhead,” adds Samantha Carmean, CSCS, a certified kettlebell instructor and personal trainer in NYC and founder of mindfulmeathead.com. “This unique pattern allows a large amount lot of tension and muscular force to be developed, especially through the core muscles.”
These core-focused workouts, designed by Garon and Carmean, therefore really tax the whole body. Before you jump right in, warm up with some light kettlebell swings, plank walkouts, even some burpees to get your muscles primed—or add one of these routines to the end of your existing routine. Where no rest is noted, rest only as much as needed.
With right arm:
5 Single-Arm Clean
5 Single-Arm Front Squat
5 20-yard Single-Arm Front Rack Carry
5 Single-Arm Row (square stance)
Repeat with left arm
Rest 60 seconds
All this one-sided work makes your core have to stabilize that much more to maintain your form.
2 minutes of Cardio: Row/Run/Burpees
20 American Swings
10 Scorpions (each side)
15 Hollow Body Rocks
20-yard Crab Walk Down and Back
15 Kettlebell Suitcase Squats
10 Kettlebell Goblet Situps
10 Kettlebell Figure 8s To A Hold
American swings bring your arms up overhead rather than stopping at parallel, which forces more core control. For Scorpions, lie facedown on the floor, pick up one foot and lift it up and over your body, allowing your hips to open—think of it like a scorpion stinger—then do the other side.
2 Double Kettlebell Deadlift
2 Kettlebell Renegade Row
2 Double Kettlebell Clean
2 Double Kettlebell Front Squat
2 Double Kettlebell Military Press
Repeat with 3 reps each
Repeat with 5 reps each
It reads easier than it is—it’s Carmean’s favorite variation on a workout called “The Man Maker,” typically done with dumbbells.
16-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible):
3 Kettlebell Man-Makers
6 Wall Climbs
12 Double Kettlebell Windshield Wipers
24 Heels to Heaven
48 Bicycle Crunches
Wall Climbs have you starting in a plank with your feet against a wall, then walking both your hands in and your feet up until you’re in a handstand—add a pushup at the top, if you’re really ambitious. In the Double Kettlebell Windshield Wipers, you’re on your back, holding a kettlebell in each hand right above your chest; raise your legs up, feet to the ceiling, and slowly drop them as a unit to one side, then the other. Heels to Heaven are reverse crunches done with straight legs.
1/2/3 Turkish Get-Up Ladder, each side
10 Single Arm Swings, each side, EMOM x15-20
1 Turkish Get-Up, each side, x3
In the Turkish Get-Up Ladder, you’ll perform 1, 2, and then 3 get-ups per side. Keep these relatively light. EMOM means “every minute on the minute”—at the top of the minute, you’ll do a set, then rest until the next minute, for 15 to 20 minutes. In your second set of Turkish Get-Ups, go heavier than the first.
45 seconds of work/15 seconds of rest:
Double Kettlebell Windshield Wipers
This shorter workout makes a great core finisher. For the Windmill, start with a wide straddle stance and hold a kettlebell in one hand directly overhead. With control, hinge your torso to the side, aiming to touch your toes with your free hand while keeping that kettlebell up to the sky the entire time.
5 Goblet Squats
10 Kettlebell Swings
10 Plank with Kettlebell Drag
For the Plank with Kettlebell Drag, start in a tall-arm plank with the kettlebell to the left of your body. With your right hand, grab the handle and drag it to the right side; then do the other side for one rep. Make it harder by adding a pushup between reps.
20 seconds of work/5 seconds to transition:
Kettlebell Sit-Ups with a Goblet Press
Reverse Plank Kicks
This non-stop workout is only 6 minutes long—possibly the longest 6 minutes of your core’s life. For the Kettlebell Sit-Ups, hold a kettlebell, goblet-style, in both hands. As you sit up, press the bell up and overhead; bring it down as you lower your body. Reverse Plank Kicks, you’ll pop up into a reverse plank—from seated, place your arms behind you, hands on the floor, and press your feet into the ground to bring your body up, forming a straight line from shoulders to toes—then take turns picking up one leg, fully extended, without letting your hips drop.
20 Double Kettlebell Front Rack Walking Lunges
20- to 40-yard Bear Crawls
20 Hand-to-Hand Alternating Swings
Rest 60-90 seconds
There’s so much coordinated effort in this one, you won’t realize your core is working—until you do.
50 seconds of work/10 seconds of rest:
Double Kettlebell Windshield Wipers
Russian Twists with Kettlebell
Crunchy Frogs start seated, balanced on your tailbone, then you extend your body out into a wide V and crunch in to bring your knees to your chest. Dirty Dogs have you beginning in downward dog position, then switching to upward dog (without letting the hips hit the floor), then back to downward dog, at which point you pick up one hand and touch the opposite toe (or shin). Repeat and touch with the other hand. Butterfly Situps start seated, soles of feet touching and knees bent out to the side. You lie back on the ground, then sit up, touching your hands between your legs.