When you think of losing weight, weight training is not exactly the first thought. It’s usually running and HIIT. However, the kettlebell is a type of free weight that has a special place in the weight loss category. With kettlebell training, you can burn a ton of calories, lose fat, and boost your aerobic capacity, all while increasing your strength and putting on muscle.
In this guide, we are going to explain exactly how you can lose weight (in the form of fat) with kettlebells. We will provide specific exercise examples as well, so you will know exactly how to approach your fat loss goals with kettlebell workouts.
A lot of people ask us, “are kettlebells good for weight loss?” The answer is simple…they absolutely are great for weight loss, and more specifically, fat loss. Here’s why…
Kettlebell training involves compound exercises that move you through multiple planes of motion. In one exercise, you will be working multiple muscle groups.
And while traditional weightlifting burns a good amount of calories, it’s not as much as kettlebells as kettlebell workouts are typically more explosive and intense. They will increase both your aerobic and anaerobic capacity. It’s a double whammy that offers fat loss and muscle building effects.
Moreover, kettlebell exercises are offset and unbalanced, unlike dumbbells and kettlebells. This causes more muscles to chip in as to help stabilize your movements.
All in all, the more muscles you use and the more intense your movements are, the more calories you burn. Kettlebell exercises are said to work more muscles in one movement than any other training tool. Certain kettlebell exercises can work up to as much as 600 muscles in one movement (that’s pretty much every muscle in your body!).
Most intense workouts will give you an after-burn effect, which means you are burning calories long after your workout finishes. This is called EPOC - Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption.
However, kettlebells are widely considered the best training tool for EPOC. Because the exercise and workouts are intense and so many muscles are being worked during one workout, the EPOC effects are far more profound than running or traditional weightlifting.
Running is undoubtedly effective for losing fat. However, running for long periods of time will cause your muscles to break down due to cortisol release (a stress hormone). As for kettlebell workouts, the average workout burns more calories in a shorter time than running (unless you are running at a very high pace, in which case it can be similar). Also, with kettlebell training, you won't be sacrificing muscle loss, and we all know the more muscle you keep on, the more calories you burn while resting. Because of this, kettlebell training is clearly more effective.
Related: Non-Running Cardio Workouts
A study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that the average person can burn 400 calories in just 20 minutes. So, 20 calories a minute, which is the equivalent to running a six-minute mile.
Let’s compare more…
Normal weightlifting and resistance training: 350-450 calories per hour (5.8-7.5 calories per minute)
Running: 300-400 calories per half hour (10-13 calories per minute)
So, considering most people can burn 20 calories a minute, which is 600 calories per half hour, you can see that kettlebells are the best option for fat loss! After all, more calories burned means greater weight loss/fat loss!
PLUS, with kettlebell training, you get the after-burn effect, so you will be burning calories for as much as 24-30 hours after your training session. And make note, the calories we discussed above for kettlebells does not include the after-burn effect. So, you will be burning far more calories than that.
With kettlebell training, you will be burning fat without losing muscle. Kettlebell fat loss workouts are a mix or aerobic and anaerobic training, so you get the best of both worlds. Again, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Therefore, this is a major benefit of using kettlebells for your fat loss goals.
Overall, if your goal is to increase your metabolism (which will help you lose weight without needing to cut back so much on your eating), then you definitely want to maintain muscle or even put on some muscle. With kettlebells, you can do this if you eat a high protein diet.
It is hard to say how quickly you will lose weight and fat with kettlebell training, as it depends on a variety of factors such as how often you train, how intense your workouts are, and what your diet is like.
On average, if you train hard and eat at a deficit, you can consistently lose 1.5-2 pounds per week, with the first few weeks being on the higher end and as much as three pounds.
If you really want to lose fat in the most efficient manner, keep reading on as we are now going to get into the nitty gritty…
You can’t just pick up a kettlebell and lose fat without knowing what you are doing. Follow the 4 points below and we guarantee you will shred fat, lose weight and keep muscle mass so you look like a lean, mean, fighting machine.
Let’s start off with the basics. There are two types of kettlebell exercises, grinds and ballistics.
Kettlebell Grinds involve slow, controlled movements with heavy kettlebells (relative to your strength). Grinds aim to cause a lot of tension, and time under tension, for the purpose of hypertrophy and strength.
Examples of kettlebell grinds: Front Squat, Military Presses, Sumo Deadlifts.
Kettlebell Ballistics involve swinging motions that move you through at least two planes of motion. Ballistic exercises are explosive and dynamic. They are meant to burn a lot of calories and improve conditioning. That said, they will also help you increase strength and muscle endurance, and they can even build muscle if you use heavy enough dumbbells as it will put you in an anaerobic state, which boosts testosterone levels.
Examples of kettlebell ballistics: Kettlebell Swings, Cleans, Jerks, Snatches.
With kettlebell ballistics, you will typically use a lighter weight than you would for grinds. Moreover, you will be doing more reps. With grinds, you will do 8-10 reps, with ballistics, you are doing at least 10 reps and as many as 30 reps. Therefore, a lighter weight, relative to your strength, is necessary.
The general starting weights for ballistic exercises are as follows:
Men: 26lbs (12kg) - 35lbs (16kg)
Women: 18lbs (8kg) - 26lbs (12kg)
If you are very athletic, you can increase the weight slightly when starting off. Use your own judgement.
Make note, kettlebell ballistics are more complex than grinds as the exercises are based on movement patterns rather than a single plane of motion, so using a lighter weight to start off is smart as to avoid any injury and to get the form down correctly.
Related: What size kettlebell should I buy?
No, but they should make up the majority of your workout if your goal is to burn more calories, i.e. lose weight and fat. Try the 80/20 rule - 80% ballistics, 20% grinds.
When creating a kettlebell workout for fat loss, it is important to keep the following in mind:
Let’s go over each of the above with a little more depth.
Choosing the right exercises? That’s easy, we already discussed it. Ballistics should make up the majority of your (full body) workout.
Number of reps and sets? Aim to do 5-8 exercises each workout, with a minimum of 15 reps to start.
How much rest time? It really depends on the type of workout, but overall, you should minimize your rest time. You don’t want to rest more than 1 minute between exercises. Generally speaking, you should have a 2-to-1 work-to-rest ratio for fat loss workouts. That means if a set takes you 1 minute, you rest 30 seconds. We will give you more examples about the rest time when we discuss the types of workouts just below.
Intensity - Your workouts should be intense. If you follow the below workout protocols, they should be intense, so long as you are using an appropriate kettlebell weight.
How long should my kettlebell fat loss workout be? Your workouts should be a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 45 minutes. 20 as a minimum because you need to get enough volume in to burn enough calories and have a good effect on fat loss. And 45 minutes as a maximum because any longer and your cortisol levels will rise, which is not conducive with losing weight and fat. Plus, if your workouts are as intense as they should be, you should not be able to last more than 45 minutes.
NOTE: FOR FAT LOSS, FULL BODY WORKOUTS ARE BEST. HOWEVER, YOU COULD DO AN UPPER/LOWER SPLIT. THAT SAID, KETTLEBELL BALLISTICS ARE TOTAL BODY MOVEMENTS SO FULL BODY WORKOUTS MAKE MORE SENSE.
For circuits, you can do 2-3 circuits of 3-5 exercises for 2-3 rounds. You can rest after each round for 1-2 minutes, or you can rest 20-30 seconds between exercises. If your circuit has 4 or more exercises, the latter is recommended. However, if your circuit is short, then you can rest after each round. Keep the rest minimal in any case, and keep the reps on each exercise to at least 15 reps. As the circuits will be ballistics, the reps will go quickly.
Note: If you are a complete beginner, keep things on the low end (i.e. 2 circuits of 3-4 exercises for 2 rounds). As weeks go on, you can increase the demand you put on your workouts.
For AMRAPS, they can be 20-30 minutes, as you will only rest when you absolutely need to. The goal is to get as many rounds in the time you give yourself. So, it will be very high volume in a short time.
For a 20-30 minute AMRAP, choose 3-5 exercises and keep running through the circuit, resting only when necessary.
Tabatas are very intense, as you will be working for 20 seconds then resting for 10 seconds, continuously. Thus, you want to keep the workouts to around 20 minutes. The EPOC effect on Tabatas is strong, so you will be burning fat long after the “short but intense” workout is over.
For a tabata, you can do 1-5 exercises. It is up to you. If you choose 5, for example, you will be doing 4 sets for each exercise within 20 minutes.
Don't worry about reps, its 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest. So no need to count reps.
A complex involves a series of exercises done one after the other. There are two ways to go about this…
Swings x 15 reps
Cleans x 15 reps
Snatches x 15 reps
Swings x 1 rep
Cleans x 1 rep
Snatches x rep
REPEAT THIS SEQUENCE FOR 15 REPS TOTAL
For a complex, you can do this for 3-5 rounds. Or you could do 2 complexes for 3 rounds. Depends on what your capacity is. In any case, a complex workout can range from 20-40 minutes.
After a single complex, rest for about half or 3/4ths the time it takes to complete the one complex.
SETS X REPS WITH LOW REST
This is a traditional style of training made intense by keeping the rest time low. Choose 5-7 exercises, do them for a minimum of 4 sets x 15 reps. Keep your rest time between sets and exercises to around 30-45 seconds.
Aim to do 3-5 workouts per week. However, listen to your body. If you need more rest days, then take them. Overall, create a habit of working out with a good intensity that is sustainable. If you push way too hard, you may not be back in the gym for days, and that is not ideal. You need to find a happy medium of high intensity but not over doing.
Note: For circuits, AMRAPS, and COMPLEXES, the rep count can be shorter than the minimum 15 that we suggested, as you will be doing a lot of volume with little rest (one exercise after another). Use your best judgement and make sure your workouts are intense enough if you really want to lose weight.
Progressive overload means you are continually making your workouts harder over time. If you keep the same workout structure, it will become easier, as your muscles and body adapt to the stimulus. Essentially, you want your workouts to be just as hard as the last. If you don’t make them harder, that won’t be the case, as things will get easier.
Although this is typically good for building muscle, it is necessary for weight loss too as you need to make your workouts harder or else it will become too easy for you and you will burn less calories.
The best ways to make your workouts harder so you can keep improving and burning a high amount of calories is to:
If you want to lose weight, this is probably the most important point. You need to eat the right diet. If you overeat, you will never lose weight, no matter how much you workout.
To lose weight and fat, you need to eat at a calorie deficit. To do this, you can count calories, but it is not absolutely necessary. If you eat healthy small meals multiple times a day and you workout hard, you should be at a deficit. Weigh yourself each week and if you aren’t losing weight, then adjust your diet. It’s that simple.
Be sure to eat a high protein diet, so you can maintain muscle. If done right, you can keep your muscle while losing fat. Overall, the goal is to keep your metabolism running strong.
Now, you might be wondering, why do I need to workout if I can just eat at a deficit and lose fat?
Well, if you want to keep muscle, look lean and be fit, then you need to workout. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so the more you can eat. So, with kettlebell workouts, you can eat pretty much a normal healthy diet and lose the weight. You will constantly be burning calories because you aren’t losing muscle and the workouts are intense enough to cause the after-burn (EPOC) effect. What's more, working out will help keep your metabolism in check.
If you eat at a calorie deficit and you don’t workout, you will get skinny (not tone) and the quality of life won’t be as good as you will need to be way more careful of what you eat.
As we mentioned, for fat loss, you want to do more ballistics, here are some kettlebell ballistics exercises that are great of weight loss.
While ballistics should make up much of your workout, adding in some grinds with heavier kettlebells is effective as they are physically taxing, which causes more calorie burn. Moreover, they can help you keep on muscle mass. So, each workout, add in one or two exercises like the double kb front squats, double kb presses, double kb deadlifts, single kettlebell stiff-legged deadlifts, and so on.
How to build muscle with Kettlebells (exercises included!)
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