Looking to get some leg work in with the kettlebells and not sure what’s best? I’ll cover some kettlebell exercises for the legs and why they’re good.
First, let’s talk about one of the most important aspects, form and technique. A squat is hips low and shoulders high, look ahead, push those hips down and don’t create a fake range by hinging (bringing the shoulders down). Create a range in three joints for the squat. A hip hinge is shoulders low and hips high, look at the ground, and move either one or two joints, no range in the ankles, the ankles remain static.
Now, let’s dive into some of kettlebell exercises for the legs. They all have something different to offer, some allow you to load more, some create instability, some allow you to go deeper, some provide different qualities important for other aspects of live/sport, etc. etc. So without further ado:
Kettlebell Goblet Squats
The goblet squat is great for beginners because it’s an easy way to hold the kettlebell (if done correctly) with two hands and the position of the kettlebell forces a good squat posture. The downside is that you can only use one kettlebell and a lot of work needs to be done by the elbow flexors to keep the weight up. Note, this short explanation does not do the Goblet squat justice and you should seek more info on this excellent exercise if you’re thinking of including it in your training.
Here is how you include the goblet squat in your workout with kettlebell swings. Here is another great and simpler example of how to put the goblet squat in with your swings.
Kettlebell Front Squats
The racked squat allows you to work with more weight as you can rack two kettlebells, the kettlebells are also slightly easier to hold and less of a strain on the elbow flexors. With the racked squat you can rack one kettlebell but still implement a double-hand grip by placing the other hand over the working hand. If you work with two kettlebells you can implement an interlocking grip.
Here is what a single-arm racked squat looks like.
Kettlebell Back Squats
The back squat is great to directly place the weight above the center of gravity which removes the pull forward when the bells are placed in a rack (front). The downside is that it’s not easy to place the kettlebells on the back, especially with very heavy weights and you need to have some meat on your traps to make it comfortable.
Kettlebell Squat Thrusters
The squat thrusters are just like a racked squat but performed explosively, whereas the racked squats are great to work on strength with slow long reps, the squat thruster is the opposite and works on power (speed and strength) which is all about moving as much weight as fast as possible.
Deadlifts are great but they place the weight further away which requires more flexibility. This is great in some cases and not in others. The hip hinge movement for the deadlift is the variation that provides the most load on the posterior chain muscles. The squat variation is safer/easier to pull a lot more weight and also places more emphasis on the anterior. The hang lift is a great variation for those who do not yet have the flexibility to start with the weight dead on the ground.
Kettlebell Overhead Squats
Overhead squats are great, but not particularly for the legs, they work the legs, of course, but their goal is more to work the shoulders, thoracic, triceps, etc. It’s a full-body exercise and absolutely great to include in your training.
There are many ways to get the kettlebell overhead for the overhead squat, here is a variation that uses the bent press to come into an overhead squat. You need to warm up more than just the lower body for the overhead squat and here is how. If you really want to test your overhead squat, try the bottoms-up overhead squat!
Kettlebell Racked Lunges
I have to say, racked or overhead reverse lunges are one of my favorites to work the legs. With lunges you’re working only one leg at a time, hence, all the load is placed on that one leg, so you can add more weight without adding weight. You’re also working on stability. The downside is that you can’t go as deep as you can with squats, a good exercise to look at for this depth and instability would be the pistol squat.
You can see overhead reverse lunges in this video here.
Which are the best?
What the best variation is for you entirely depends on your goals, your current state, i.e. strength, flexibility, technique, etc. It’s important to understand what each variation does for you and then program the right exercises, which is usually a mixture of several variations with an emphasis on the ones you want to focus. One thing is for sure, if you have not mastered the bodyweight squat, you really have no business adding load to the exercise, if you do, it’s asking for trouble. A loaded squat is not just a leg exercise, it’s a full-body exercise with a lot of emphasis on the spine, a lot of work needs to be done to keep those shoulder up and back, this requires a strong back. With that said, here are some videos to work your way up to a good kettlebell squat.
Reverse Wall Assisted Squat
Overhead Squat Mobility
There are so many more variations that work the legs, check out this list of kettlebell exercises here, make sure to check out the Hindu squat, the Curtsy lunge, or just buy the book Kettlebell Exercise Encyclopedia.