6 of the best kettlebell exercises for runners
Kettlebells have been around for quite a long time now, however it is only recently that they have started to gain widespread popularity as an excellent fitness device. Using kettlebells for running may seem irrelevant, but actually it couldn’t be more relevant! Many runners focus on their cardiovascular fitness over everything else; but strength (particularly core strength) still has a crucial role to play in increasing your fitness for running.
What is a kettlebell?
A kettlebell is a weight that contains most of its mass within the ball shaped base, with a handle not too dissimilar from an old fashioned kettle (hence the name). Due to the uneven weight distribution, they make for an excellent strength training tool as they force your body to use more synergists (stabilising and assistive muscles), rather than just the prime movers (the focus muscle group) in any particular exercise. This makes them a far more effective training tool than the traditional dumbbell.
We have selected the six best kettlebell exercises for running and will explain how to do each exercise correctly and also explain the muscle groups you will be targeting with each exercise. So here they are:
1. Walking Lunge
The walking lunge is an excellent kettlebell exercise for runners, as it works the hamstrings, glutes and the Quadriceps through a deep range of motion. Complete this exercise by holding the kettlebell in either hand and take a longer than normal step forward, then lower your trailing knee to the ground before standing back up and repeating for as many steps as you choose.
2. Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is a great exercise all-around, it not only works the shoulders from lifting the kettlebell into its top position, but it also works the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip stabilisers and core. To perform this great all over body exercise hold the kettlebell between your legs with both hands then proceed to squat slightly. Then stand whilst “popping” your hips forward and lifting the bell by raising your arms, this should bring the kettlebell up in line with your waist. Then after gravity has pulled the kettlebell back to its original position you squat with it and repeat the hip pop and stand up this time the momentum will carry the kettlebell higher. Repeat until you are lifting it above your head without leaning back too much this will be one rep. Kettlebell swings can be performed for multiple reps and in fact is more suited to running when performed in high rep sets.
3. Turkish Get-up
Turkish get-ups are one of the best possible all-body exercises you can do with a kettlebell. The exercise will work your core, legs and hips all intensely and will also have a positive effect on your shoulder stability.
To perform the Turkish Get-up you start by lying face up on the ground with the kettlebell held above your head with a straight arm (the arm should stay straight throughout the entire movement). You then place the hand that’s not holding the kettlebell on the ground and sit up. Next you bring the opposite foot (to the hand that’s touching the ground) up to your bum, but flat on the ground. From here you need to lift your bum and hips off the ground, then in a clean movement bring the extended leg (the leg the opposite side to the kettlebell arm) back behind you. Then you should be able to stand from this position. Repeat the entire sequence in reverse until you are lying in the original position and that is one rep. Remember to keep your breathing steady throughout and alternate arms for an even workout.
4. Round The World
Round the worlds are one of the best kettlebell exercises for runners, because they work the stabilising muscles of the core such as the obliques and transversus abdominis, both of which are crucial for a stable running gait. They also work the anterior deltoid of the shoulder which is important in a runner’s arm swing.
To perform a round the world, you simply pass the kettlebell from a double-handed grip in front of you to one hand moving behind your back, where you pass it to the opposite hand; the hand that receives the kettlebell then brings it back around to the front ready to pass it back to the first hand. One rotation is one rep, remember to work both right to left as well as left to right. For a more advanced version you can try standing on a wobble cushion or bosu ball; and for the ultimate core burner then try them balancing knelt on a swiss ball!
5. Goblet Squat
Goblet squats are a novel type of squat that makes great use of the round shape of a kettlebell as you hold it as if it was a goblet (just a much heavier one!). As with all squats the target muscles are the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps (all critical runner’s muscles). The focus with the goblet squat is keeping the feet no more than shoulder width apart and trying to open up the hips so you can touch your elbows to the insides of your knees without your toes pointing outwards (our model needs to work on his mobility in the above pictures!). You should aim to squat below parallel (so your bum should go lower than your knee) and you should also ensure that your knees align with your 2nd toe (they shouldn’t fall in).
6. Leg Pass-Throughs
Another great core exercise the pass-through is a perfect kettlebell exercise for runners as it simultaneously works your legs and your core (which is exactly what running does), but it is weighted so you’ll get much more resistance than running alone can do for you.
Start with the kettlebell in between your feet in a comfortable (but slightly wider) stance, squat slightly and keep your back straight. Then pick up the kettlebell with one hand and swing it behind and around the front of either leg, from here you pass it to the other hand, then using the new receiving hand, pass it behind and around the leg on the receiving hand side. When the hands re-meet it’s one rep. The kettlebell should effectively be travelling in a figure of eight around the legs and only ever held by one hand except at the handover point between the legs.
Kettlebells are great for runners, as is strength training in general. By incorporating a good strength program into your training you are reducing the risk of injury as well as helping to stabilise your gait and improve muscular efficiency. The advantage of kettlebells over tradition dumbbells or weight sets; is the versatility they offer. They can be used for far more exercises and movements and the imbalanced weight distribution ensures that the body is constantly challenged. For more info on how weight training can improve your running, check out our blog article “how to increase race pace: weight training” we did as part of our marathon series.