May 27, 2021
If you are looking to increase your lower body strength, build your legs and glutes, or tone up and improve endurance, kettlebells are the way to go. The best part is, you really only need one kettlebell to get a great leg workout in (and if you have two, you can really take things to the next level). In this article, we will cover how to use kettlebells to build bigger legs and glutes, get stronger, and lose fat to tone up and stay lean. With that, we have 13 of the best kettlebell leg exercises for your hamstrings, quads, and glutes, as well as 4 fantastic lower body kettlebell workouts for either hypertrophy, strength or fat loss.
Without further ado, let’s begin...
You can definitely build your legs and glutes (both in terms of muscle and strength) with kettlebells. However, not in the same way that you can with barbells. This is simply because you can use much heavier loads with barbells than you can with kettlebells. Kettlebells and dumbbells are similar in how much you can develop your legs and glutes as you have to actually hold onto the weight with your hands.
That said, if you are a beginner, then you can build muscle in your legs and glutes with kettlebells as well as you can with barbells, since very heavy loads won’t be needed to achieve hypertrophy.
Now, if you are more of an intermediate or advanced fitness level, then you can still build your leg muscles with kettlebells, you just have to apply some different techniques to continually progress. This is because at some point, it will be very difficult to go up in weight for certain exercises with kettlebells because unlike barbells, no matter what exercise you do, your arms need to hold them. This means even if your legs can handle the extra load, your arms/hands may not be able to.
Fortunately, increasing weight is not the only way to build muscle. You can reduce rest time, increase reps, increase sets (or volume of your workout), increase the intensity (i.e. slower tempo or being more explosive), try more difficult exercises (progressions), and so on. If you apply the various methods of progressive overload, then you can continue to stimulate muscle growth with your kettlebells.
Be that as it may, you will never become a mass monster like Dorian Yates, Big Ramy, or Ronnie Coleman (Mr Olympias) with kettlebells. For that you’d need steroids and heavy barbell lifts.
Nevertheless, if you are into kettlebell training and you are like the vast majority of us, you would never want to look like that anyway. You probably want to be lean and muscular, like an athlete, not a freak of nature. If this is true for you, then kettlebell training will surely allow you to achieve your dream legs and glutes. Just train hard, be consistent, employ progressions, and your legs and booty will grow!
By the way, the best part is, kettlebells are generally far safer than barbells and its easier to use a deeper range of motion, which is great for hypertrophy.
There are two main types of kettlebell exercises, grinds and ballistics.
Grinds are basically slow and controlled movements that focus on maximizing tension and time under tension, similar to exercises done with barbells and dumbbells. For legs, that’d be kettlebell exercises like goblet squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, good mornings, and so on.
Although ballistics are fantastic for strength and conditioning, they are more so full body exercises. They aren’t the best for strictly building muscle as they don’t force you to create constant tension and extended periods of time under tension. They are about using bursts of explosive power and creating joint stability.
So, if you are looking to build muscle, you need to do kettlebell grinds.
Nevertheless, you should still be mixing in ballistics even if your main goal is to build muscle as the explosive power you will gain translates to improved performance on all fronts. Plus, ballistics help you stay lean as they burn a ton of calories.
As such, our kettlebell leg workouts always involve at least one ballistic exercise.
Grinds = Building Muscle & Strength
Ballistics = Explosive Power & Fat Loss (and Toning & Conditioning)
When it comes to training your legs, double kettlebell exercises (meaning using two kettlebells at once) are obviously superior because you have twice the load on your legs! However, for beginners, single kettlebell training is recommended, and there are plenty of lower body kettlebell exercises that are symmetrical or evenly loaded (meaning you are targeting both sides at once) that you can do with one kettlebell.
The reason single kettlebell training is recommended for beginners is because it’s a lot easy to perform exercises correctly with a single kettlebell than it is with two kettlebells. This is because kettlebells are awkward and not perfectly balanced along the handle like dumbbells are. Yes, a single kettlebell might make you place more emphasis on core stability (for the asymmetrical exercises) and you will not have as heavy a load, but at least you will be performing the exercises correctly, and proper form and range of motion trumps weight any day of the week.
Regarding even and uneven loading (or essentially unilateral exercises), a single kettlebell can be used to target both of your legs at the same time. For example, goblet squats, two handed deadlifts, and two handed kettlebell swings all are even loaded exercises.
What’s more, unless you are very strong, your total load may not even have to be sacrificed because you are using just one kettlebell. With two hands, you can hold onto a much heavier kettlebell than you can with one hand. So, let’s say you can hold onto a 100lb kettlebell with a goblet squat (which is two handed), would you really be able to hold a 100lb kettlebell in each hand for front rack squats? Probably not unless you are very strong and advanced with kettlebell training (and trust us, if you can do a 200lb barbell squat, it’s not the same with kettlebells, as kettlebells are much more difficult - the weight doesn’t translate the same). Now, maybe you could hold onto a 60-70lb kettlebell in each hand and perform double kettlebell front squats, which would be a higher total load than a single 100lb kettlebell, our point still remains, and that is, you can go pretty heavy with single kettlebell leg exercise (if you have heavy kettlebells at your disposal, that is).
In any case, it’s not all about weight load, it’s about the quality of your reps. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t have very heavy kettlebells, you can still get an effective leg workout in. The same goes for if you are doing single kettlebell exercises or doubles.
If you are a very strong individual or more advanced in kettlebell training, then by all means do doubles, but for most people singles are fine. In a perfect kettlebell world, you’d be doing both singles and doubles!
Note: The kettlebell leg exercises in this article are demonstrated with a single kettlebell. Nevertheless, the ones that are one-sided can be done with two kettlebells in the same manner. Just put one kettlebell in each hand...but trust us, the movement mechanics will feel harder and not just because it's a greater load.
TIP: If you don’t have kettlebell pairs but you have a few different sizes of kettlebells and you want to do double kettlebell leg exercises, just do doubles with one heavier and one lighter kettlebell. Choose the sizes that are closest together and put one in each hand. Switch the sides the kettlebells are on every other set to keep things even (and obviously do an even number of sets). This may seem strange if you are not familiar with kettlebell training, but the kettlebell training community will tell you this is common practice.
Now that we’ve established that you can build your legs and glutes with kettlebells, along with some of the basics, let’s get more specific on the programming for building muscle and strength.
Related: How to Build Muscle With Kettlebells
When it comes to strength training and hypertrophy training, there is a considerable crossover. When training for strength, you will build muscle, and when building muscle, you will improve strength. If you want a happy medium, then aim for something in the middle of the above. Our workouts further below will provide you some clear examples of good strength and hypertrophy workouts.
If you want to tone your legs and lose fat, you’ll take a different approach.
Toning/Losing Fat/Endurance :
Related: How to Lose Weight with Kettlebells
If you are skinny or overweight, we recommend that you aim to build muscle and mix in some cardio or HIIT workouts rather than only go for toning as with more muscle, your metabolism will be higher and your body composition will be better.
We will organize our kettlebell leg exercises by 'hamstrings & glutes' and 'quads & glutes'. This is because the glutes are activated when doing both quadricep and hamstring focused kettlebell exercises. That said, some exercises will emphasize the glutes more or less, so we will make note of where the emphasis is placed for each exercise.
Note: There are also some more complex exercises that target the glutes, quads and hamstrings as well as exercises that bring the upper body into effect more. We will have a specific section for these exercises too.
The Goblet Squat is the best beginner kettlebell leg exercise there is. It is easy to perform and it promotes getting deep into the squat. It’s a very safe and effective exercise. And while it is a great exercise for beginners, it is also just as effective for more advanced trainees! All you have to do is go heavy, relative to your fitness level, and use a slow tempo on the downward phase (eccentric phase).
Muscles Worked: Quads, Glutes
While you can do a forward lunge with the kettlebell held in a goblet position, we like to use a racked position as it places the weight directly on the working side. The front rack will take some time to get used to, but its a vital kettlebell holding position that you will use for so many exercises, so get used to it!
Muscles Worked: Quads, Glutes, Calves (your hamstrings and core are stabilizing so they will be considerably activated as well).
The lateral lunge is a fantastic exercise for your hip abductors (which means your side glutes!) and legs. However, it will require good hip mobility. If you are new to this movement, practice without a kettlebell at first. Even your bodyweight alone will be challenging.
In this picture, you can see we are holding the kettlebell with arms straight down. This is the easiest holding position. You can also use a front rack on the working side or a goblet hold, but beginners should start with the kettlebell holding position seen in the pic above.
Muscles Worked: Glutes, Quads (your hamstrings will be activated as well).
The racked squat is a more advanced version of a kettlebell squat. Again, you will need to know how to do a proper racking position. You can do this exercise with a single kettlebell or two kettlebell, but start with one if you are knew to it. If you are using a single kettlebell, be sure to switch the side its on every other set.
Muscles Worked: Quads, Glutes (your calves and core, as well as your hip abductors, will come into play to a greater degree with single racked squats as to maintain stability.
The split squat is similar to a forward lunge but you will keep the split stance for the entire exercise. With that, the movement will be somewhat easier (especially with the kettlebell be held in the downward position as seen in the pic) but at the same time, maintaining the split stance allows for constant tension, which is great for muscle hypertrophy.
Muscles Worked: Glutes, Quads (your calves, hamstrings and core will be stabilizing)
This is a very simple exercise, HOWEVER, you must know how to perform a proper hip hinge for that to be so. If you don’t know how to do a proper hip hinge, then work on that before you add a weight load.
This exercise can be done with two kettlebells as well.
Note: Stiff-Legged Deadlifts bring the bottom of the kettlebell to just above the floor. Romanian Deadlifts stop about calf level.
Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Glutes
The reverse lunge is very similar to the forward lunge. You'll just be stepping backward. However, with that, you are placing more emphasis on your hamstrings.
Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Quads, Glutes
One of the great things about kettlebells is there are so many training variables. This one shows you the training variable of body positioning. You obviously wouldn’t be able to do a staggered stance or split stance deadlift with a barbell!
Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Core (your quads will be more activated here to maintain stability)
The good morning is a great hamstring exercise, but you really need to stay focused and maintain good form. It requires a good understanding of the hip hinge just like stiff-legged deadlifts.
With this exercise, you will be holding the kettlebell with a goblet grip.
Muscles Worked: Hamstings, Glutes
This is the first ballistic exercise so far and it is the most effective kettlebell ballistic exercise for the lower body!
Some people think the shoulders work during kettlebell swings, but they are really just supposed to be stabilizing the kettlebell. All of the force should be coming from your hamstrings and glutes using a powerful hip drive.
Remember, this is a ballistic exercise, so you want to be explosive with the hip drive. The force driving the kettlebell up is explosive, then you let momentum take over and use your legs, glutes, core and shoulders to stabilize your body as the kettlebell comes back down and in-between your legs.
Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Glutes, Quads, Calves, Core
Kettlebell swings will definitely help you build muscle and strength and endurance in your hamstrings and glutes, but not as much as kettlebell grinds like deadlifts and lunges. Kettlebell swings are great for building explosiveness at the hips, which is great for athletes. The movement will also translates into improvements in your grind exercises. Moreover, swings are great for burning calories and getting shredded. They are often used as a form of non-running cardio, if using a light weight.
If you want to build muscle and strength with kettlebell swings, go heavy and keep your reps around 8-12. Really make every rep count!
The swing squat is a total lower body exercise that targets every single muscle of your lower body because it involves a combination of the swing (which is more of a posterior exercises) and the squat (which is quad and glute centric). You can save a lot of time with an exercise like this. Plus, it'll get your heart rate up like crazy, allowing you to burn a ton of calories.
The swing squat is a hybrid exercise, meaning it has both ballistic and grind movements. So, you need to know when to be explosive, when to slow down and focus on tension, and when to let momentum take over.
Muscles Worked: Quads, Hamstings, Glutes
There are two ways to do a thruster (well, technically three). You can do a thruster from a goblet position or a racked position (of which the latter can use one or two kettlebells). We will show you how both look.
Either way, the thruster is a fantastic full body exercise that emphasizes the legs. Your legs are the driving force that really powers the entire movement. The more force from your legs, the easier it will be to bring the kettlebell up overhead. Nevertheless, this is not an exercise that uses momentum. Make sure the kettlebell is controlled and secured at all times. It is a squat to press movement. If you are too explosive on the way up, it can be dangerous, especially with a very heavy kettlebell. Conversely, you will need a little bit of explosive power if you are using a heavy kettlebell so the force of your legs helps your shoulders and upper body get the kettlebell pressed up overhead.
Muscles Worked: Total Body (Quads, Glutes, Shoulders, Chest, Lats, Low Back/Core)
The overhead lunge is interesting because it really brings the weight of the kettlebell directly over your quads and it forces your hamstrings and glutes to work even harder to stabilize the lunge. It, of course, also requires good shoulders and traps stability. This is definitely not an exercise for a beginner. To do overhead lunges, you need good shoulder mobility and a strong, healthy back. It’s as much a stability and mobility exercise as it is a strength exercise.
Your upper body will be working isometrically. Your lower body will be working isotonically.
Muscles Worked: Total Body (Quads, Hamstings, Glutes, Calves, Shoulders, Traps, Lats, Core/Erector Spinae)
Here are two exercises that we like to throw into leg days that aren’t exactly leg movements, they are full body movements. They are the Windmill and Turkish Get Up.
Turkish Get Up (TGU):
Both exercises are durability exercises that will help make your body stronger, more mobile, and more resilient. In terms of how they target the legs, the windmill hits the hamstrings and glutes and the TGU is more quad and glute focused. It’s nice to do these at the end of the workout when your legs are already exhausted or near exhaustion.
This first workout is created by Scott Viala, a seasoned kettlebell coach.
Workout Goal: Lower body hypertrophy and strength (quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves)
Time: 30-35 minutes
Here is a breakdown of the workout...
1. Superset x 3 sets:
- Goblet Squat (10 reps)
- Romanian Deadlift (10 reps)
30-45 seconds rest between supersets
2. Superset x 3 sets:
- Kettlebell Swing (15 reps
- Split Squat (10 reps each side)
~60 second rest between supersets
3. Turkish Get Up (5 sets x 1 rep each side)
Minimal rest between sets/sides. Only rest as needed and if form is compromised. This is a great finisher for durability.
Here are a few more workout examples, with different goals in mind.
This workout uses a few different protocols and keeps rest time in the optimal muscle building metabolic range.
1. Swing Squat: 4 x 15 reps
Rest 60 seconds between sets
2. Superset (3 sets):
- Forward Lunge x 10 reps (each side)
- Good Mornings x 10 reps
Rest 60 seconds between supersets
3. Lateral Lunge: 4 x 10 reps (each side)
Rest 60 seconds between sets
4. Descending Ladder (finisher)
- Stiff-Legged Deadlift x 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
- Goblet Squat x 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Go down one rep each round. Only rest when needed between rounds and exercises. The goal is to complete all 10 sets of the superset down to 1 rep as quickly as you can, YET, without sacrificing form. So, rest will be taken for sure.
1. Goblet Squat (or Racked Squat): 5 x 8 reps
2. Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 5 x 8 reps
3. Kettlebell Swing: 5 x 8-10 reps
For endurance and fat loss workouts, we like to use circuits and AMRAPs. Here is a cirucit/AMRAP based kettlebell leg workout.
1. Circuit x 3 rounds:
- Forward Lunge x 10 reps each side
- Goblet Squat x 10 reps
- Split Stance Deadlift x 10 reps (each side)
- Lateral Lunge x 10 reps (each side)
Rest 15 seconds between exercises and 30 seconds between rounds
2. 10 Minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible):
- Kettlebell Swings x 20 reps
- Goblet Thrusters x 10 reps
- Stiff-Legged Deadlift x 10 reps
Only rest as needed. The goal is to do as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes.
- Turkish Get Up: 5 sets x 1 rep each side
Complete as quickly as you can, but don’t sacrifice form. Form is more important than speed.
Use a light to medium weight kettlebell for this workout. The goal is to be able to keep intensity throughout the workout without sacrificing form.
Workout Time: 15 mins
Equipment: One heavy kettlebell
Goal: Leg Strength, Hypertrophy, & Endurance
30 seconds work
30 seconds rest
This is a full length workout, so all you have to do is throw it on your phone, tablet or TV and follow along.
Are kettlebells good for glutes?
Kettlebells are certainly effective for the glutes. If you use perform lower body exercises and use an appropriate weight load, you will definitely be able to build your butt with kettlebells, just like you can build your legs.
Do kettlebells build calves?
Because many kettlebell exercises are off-balanced and unilateral, your calves will be working harder than with evenly loaded exercises as they will need to stabilize your body more. This should help with the development and toning of your calves.
If you have any questions more about kettlebell lower body workouts or kettlebell training in general, feel free to reach out to us. We are always happy to hear from our readers!
More Kettlebell Training Resources:
Kettlebell Training Guide:
If you don’t know how to perform the exercises above, you should check out our kettlebell training guide. It will teach you 41 exercises and 10 complexes via step-by-step videos instructed by seasoned kettlebell coach Scott Viala. With our kettlebell training e-guide, you are guarantee to master all of the most important kettlebell exercises, and fast! Plus, it has 8 weeks of programming...
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