How to use a kettlebell for cardio

Kettlebells are just as effective for cardio as they are for strength training. Fitness experts explain how to use this piece of equipment for a cardio boost.

Walk into any gym’s freestyle training suite during busy hours and you’re almost guaranteed to find the dumbbell rack empty, while the kettlebell bench next to it remains fully stocked. Part of the reason for this could be that despite their easy design and inviting handle, working out with kettlebells takes a little more getting used to than dumbbells, and is associated with gruelling workouts like CrossFit.

According to Chloe Trigg, head PT at BLOK, people tend to shy away from working out with kettlebells because they “can look intimidating – not only can the size of them be daunting, but people are often not sure how to handle them.” And when they do, they’re usually picking them up for strength training rather than cardio workouts.

Despite this, sales of kettlebells rose so dramatically after the first lockdown in 2020, that they caused a widely reported shortage. With uncertainty surrounding the reopening of gyms and people trying to boost the aerobic effects of their home workouts, now is as good a time as any to find out from the experts how to make a kettlebell an effective piece of cardio equipment.


A lot of us are so used to the idea of cardio looking and feeling one way, we forget that anything that calls for full-body engagement and raises the heart rate counts as a cardiovascular workout.

Hammond-Blackburn says, “Kettlebell exercises are compound and metabolic. This means they’re effective at increasing your heart rate and maximising after-burn due to the variety of muscles involved and the explosive nature of the exercises – which ultimately trains your cardiovascular system and improves aerobic capacity.”

But when does the addition of a kettlebell turn your cardio workout into a strength training workout? Trigg says, “Keep to a light weight and a few simple movements you can flow between.” This will keep your heart rate up and your body moving without fatiguing your muscles and overworking your joints. 

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So, a kettlebell can help you get the cardio burn you might be missing from hitting the treadmill or spin bike, but how exactly do you incorporate one into your routine? Making kettlebells count towards your cardio goals is as simple as combining them with full-body movements.

Effective Kettlebell Cardio Moves to Try

Trigg says, “Kettlebell exercises can have an aerobic effect as long as they are performed in a particular way.” The trainer suggests: “Kettlebell swings, squats, lunges, sumo squats with high pulls, push-ups with kettlebell press-ups, and deadlifts.”

Kettlebell Cardio Circuit 

PT, Hammond-Blackburn’s favoured kettlebell cardio workout for beginners includes three rounds of the following: “Kettlebell swings for 45 seconds, kettlebell goblet squats for the next 45 seconds, ending with kettlebell clean and press for 45 seconds. Rest for 15 – 30 seconds and then go again.” When adapting your favourite HIIT moves to include a kettlebell, she advises you remember to “grab a slightly lighter weight and perform more reps as many times as you can for a higher intensity.”

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Although it might be tempting to head for the highest weight to maximise your workout, if you’re a beginner to training with kettlebells, it’s best to familiarise yourself with a comfortable weight first.

Trigg says, “Pick a weight you can move comfortably with for three to four sets of eight reps. Once you’re confident and comfortable there, you can start to increase the reps to 10 to 12 for four sets.” Once your body feels used to this level, she advises, “You can then look to increase the weight and return to eight reps with the heavier weight. Keep progressing the reps and sets, and then weight as you go!”

Hammond Blackburn says, “Safety and correct form are key, so master how to do the exercise correctly and once you are accustomed to it, start using kettlebells.”

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