I DON'T GIVE A SQUAT. OR DO I?
Squats are natural. Squats are fundamental. Squats are plain beautiful!
Squat is built into your DNA as a natural movement. Watch an 18-month old pick something up, nailing perfect technique. As we get older, perhaps a little stiffer, we often opt for other methods of getting stuff off the floor, often risking injury to our backs.
Squatting is one of the most powerful exercises you can do to strengthen your lower body and core.
Kettlebell squats are unique as the weight can be positioned away from your body in front of you, meaning your back also has to fire or to one side (unilaterally), requiring cross stabilization.
Every time you squat, you use hundreds upon hundreds of big and small muscles, building your strength, losing fat and gaining confidence.
MUSCLES WORKED IN KETTLEBELL SQUATS
Kettlebell squat is a full-body exercise. It focuses on the largest muscles; however, depending on the variation, it will – to a larger or smaller extent – work every bit of your body.
Each kettlebell squat will work all those sweet spots: first and foremost, your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes (aka thighs and toosh), also your calves, core, forearms, upper and lower back.
The variations unique to the kettlebell squat mean you can increase the activation of your posterior chain and your core as we’ll explain below.
DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS OF THE BIG MOVEMENT: TECHNIQUE, VARIATIONS AND BENEFITS
If you’re new to squats or just getting back on the horse, before starting with a weighted squat (whether it is a kettlebell, a barbell or another weight), you need to get comfortable with the bodyweight squat. Bodyweight squats by themselves are an awesome workout and a great warm-up for weighted squats, getting everything firing.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, point your toes directly forward or with toes turned slightly outward. Hold your hands out in front of you at the shoulder level. Breathe in and engage your core.
Standing on the middle of your feet, bend your knees and push your hips back for counterbalance. Look straight ahead, keep your back straight, knees tracking over your toes. Go down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.
If you find that your heels begin to lift off the floor or your back starts to round, just go down to this point – and no further. If you get stuck at this depth, we have a few exercises you can try – to get you into a deeper squat.
Stand straight up, exhaling on the way up.
Keep your core engaged throughout the movement.
Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps.
If you are struggling to get your thighs parallel to the floor then please check out our posts of improving squat mobility.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Once you have mastered the bodyweight squat and can perform 10 reps comfortably, we advise you to transition to a Kettlebell Goblet Squat. It is pretty simple, yet has many variations (holding horns, bottom-up, bottom-down). Apart from the apparent strength and conditioning benefits, it will teach you good body alignment using the counterbalance of the bell.
Classic. In the most common Goblet Squat variation, you will be holding the bell by the horns (handle) at your chest level, bottom down.
Here is the sequence:
1. Make sure your feet are comfortably apart: a little wider than shoulder-width, with the toes pointing naturally outwards at 5–10 degrees.
2. Pick the kettlebell from the floor with both hands and clean it into a goblet hold position – to around your chest level. Roll your shoulders back and down. Maintain a firm grip on the handle throughout the movement.
3. Squat down to at least parallel (or as low as you can) while maintaining a neutral spine.
4. Explosively stand up. To better "feel" that explosive movement and generate maximum power, think that you are pushing the ground away from you with your feet rather than just standing up.
5. Throughout the entire movement, make sure that your knees and toes are tracking: your knees must not cave inward or push too far outside of your feet. Your heels must not lift off the floor. Keep your chest up and face forward.
Bottom-down. In this variation, you will be holding the bell by its bottom, with both hands underneath it, as if you were supporting a watermelon, at the level which will allow you to look directly through the "window" (bell's handle).
Clean the kettlebell off the floor, fit in on your hands, bring your elbows all the way together, and squat all the way down. At the bottom, lean back as far as you can – without breaking the form. Then stand up, until your legs are straight, tucking the elbows and squeezing that booty.
Bottom-up. Here, you will pick the kettlebell up and hold it by the horns: so that the bottom of the bell faces towards the ceiling.
Your elbows should remain bent at approx. 90 degrees, tucked into your body, and the kettlebell should be out in front of you, not touching your body. As you squat down, bring the corners of your elbows up to the insides of your knees, so that they are pushing against each other – to help you maintain good posture. Keep your chest up. Then stand all the way up – till your legs are straight.
This is our favorite version of the goblet squat as you are also working your forearms and grip through the whole exercise. Both of them are super important for functional strength: the stronger your grip, the longer you can work out, the stronger you’re going to get in a short amount of time – that’s the point, right?!
Kettlebell Front Squats
For Kettlebell Front Squats, also known as Rack Squats, there is a single and a double-kettlebell variation.
Single Kettlebell Front Squat
You can perform the Kettlebell Front Squat while loaded unilaterally (that is, on one side).
The benefit of this – offset – movement is that it requires more cross-body stabilization because it shifts your center of gravity: side-to-side, instead of the usual front-to-back. Your core has to fire continually throughout the exercise – to get you balanced.
You can’t do this with a barbell, which is loaded with same weight on each side.
Start with 5 sets of 5 reps on each side, then start adding more reps to each set. You’ll soon understand why powerlifters also do this as part of their routines.
The perk: in the Single Kettlebell Front Squat, you can get away with a lighter weight (than, for example, in the Sumo Squat) because of different demands on the muscles.
Clean the kettlebell into rack position, where it shall remain. Your unloaded arm can be tucked in a similar position or be out beside you at 90 degrees as a counterweight. Start with what’s natural to you; when you get comfortable, try the other position.
Remember: you don’t want to do what’s comfortable, you want to challenge your body – this is what makes you strong through and through.
Double Kettlebell Front Squat
Double Kettlebell Front Squat is great if you want to load yourself with more weight. You can do it anywhere with a couple of humble kettlebells. Get into a beast mode on the leg day with this one!
To perform it, clean a set of kettlebells into a front rack position. From there, squat to depth, as explained above (see Single Kettlebell Front Squat), and return to the starting position.
After each set, keep your back strong when you return the kettlebells to the ground.
Kettlebell Sumo Squat
In a Sumo Squat, your stance is wider and toes are turned out more, compared to the Goblet Squat or Front Squat. In this stance, you will work your inner thighs and calves slightly more.
Start by taking an excessively wide stance and point your feet about 45 degrees away from your body. In this version, you hang the weight from your hands rather than clean it up to your chest.
Pick up the bell and hold it with both hands (arms should not be flexed), with your core engaged and your back straight. Bend your knees and send your hips backwards, lowering your body and the kettlebell as far as you can without breaking the form or until the bell touches the ground. Rise back to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
Kettlebell Jump Squats
These squats start in a position similar to the Kettlebell Sumo Squats, with kettlebell below your waist and feet pointing forward. Squat down to your 90-degree position. On the way up, use all your explosive power to jump up: into the vertical jump. Don't let go of the bell!
This movement helps build explosive power. Your heart will be pumping after this one!
Kettlebell Overhead Squat
This is an advanced exercise, involving a heavy, hard object above your head. If you have not mastered simpler squat variations with good mobility, as well as the Clean and Press and the Turkish Get Up, work on those first.