Kettlebell Workouts for Runners

Thanks to our friend David for being our guest blogger today! We’re always touting a healthy mix of cardio and strength; check out tips below for how to incorporate kettlebells into your workout. 

Many runners are discovering a new, unique workout tool that strengthens, tones, increases mobility and burns max calories in a short time frame. We’re talking about kettlebells, which provide the ultimate workout: strength and cardio training packed into around 20 minutes. Professionals in the industry are extolling the benefits of this fitness tool, but beware, there is a method to using these effectively to get the maximum benefit, especially for runners.

What are Kettlebells

Kettlebells are not a new piece of equipment just recently developed. They’ve been around for a long time, originating in Russia in the very early 18th-century. The Soviet army used them as part of the army’s physical conditioning programs. Later, competitions called Girevoy developed, similar to weight lifting competitions. By the 1960s, kettlebells came to the U.S., but were only used “underground” by elite, unorthodoxed athletes. Today, they are a very popular mainstream fitness program, including classes devoted to them as well as certification programs to teach those how to workout with kettlebells, exclusively.

Unlike a barbell or dumbbell, kettlebells are intended to be used with momentum. That’s why they have a handle at the top. Traditional free weights are best utilized with slow, controlled movements with a set number of repetitions. Not so for kettlebells. The idea is to use the bells in a pattern of movements for a sustained period of time, with short breaks in between, for a very high-intensive workout. Kettlebells deliver a total body workout, working several muscles simultaneously while providing maximum calorie burning, as much as 300 calories every 15-minutes.

Kettlebells come in a variety of weights, allowing anyone to incorporate them into their workout regimen.
Kettlebells come in a variety of weights, allowing anyone to incorporate them into their workout regimen.

Kettlebells for the Runner

Most runners have well-developed hamstrings and quads, unfortunately at the expense of other muscles. That’s why you need strength training with weights if you’re a runner. Kettlebells are especially versatile because they can activate glutes and abs, while bringing the upper body into play.

For the runner, the challenge is finding an effective workout that makes the best use of this unique equipment. Try twice-weekly kettlebell sessions on rest days. Start with 12 reps for each exercise, building up to three sets of 12.  Women can start with 10 lbs, while men should start at 20 lbs.  Here are a few to try:

  • Sumo squat with upright row: This exercise lengthens the inner thigh adductors, which are often tight in runners. You simply stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the kettlebell waist-high with both hands, shoulders back and abs pulled in. Inhale to squat, bringing the kettlebell to the floor. Exhale and come up, raising the kettlebell to the chin.  Repeat this 11 more times.
  • The Two Arm Swing: This exercise mobilizes joints, gets the heart rate up and sets off a firing sequence through the posterior chain of muscles, especially the glutes. To do this exercise, again you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, squat with the kettlebell in both hands. Inhale and swing the kettlebell up between the legs, hinging at the hips. Exhale and lower.
  • Tricep Extensions: improve posture, counteracting the hunched spine and internally rotated shoulders that often afflict runners. Use a mirror to keep your back straight – arching it disengages the key muscles. Stand, feet hip-width apart, grab the kettlebell and lift it over your head.  Inhale, bend your elbows and lower the kettlebell back.  Exhale to bring it back to your starting position.
  • Shoulder Bridge: Works the glutes more intensively. Fitter runners can intensify the exercise by holding one leg in the air. To do this exercise, you lie with bent knees, feet and knees together. Holding the kettlebell base, bring arms up and over the chest. Exhale, pull abs in, squeeze glutes and roll hips off the floor. Hold for eight breaths, and roll back down on the exhale.
  • The Warrior Windmill: Develops stamina in thighs, shoulders and back; expands chest and lungs. To do this exercise, you hold the kettlebell in the left hand. Open legs wide, left foot forward and right knee bent. Bring the left arm up over the shoulder, and exhale as you straighten the right leg, keeping the left arm straight.

A few things to keep in mind when training with kettlebells. The first is when doing repetitions, sustain and hold the ending of each motion, usually for 5 seconds. Secondly, rest only a few seconds between each move/exercise. Additionally, try not to use a bell that is too heavy; you could injure yourself. Finally, after each set, rest 2 minutes then repeat a set until you reach 10 minutes (if you are just beginning), then work up to 20 minutes.  That is all you will ever need with this training regimen.

Kettlebell workouts for runners are extremely challenging, but they are also very efficient and will work out the entire body, both cardio-wise and strength-wise. For runners, these exercises will peak your performance and keep you very fit, while helping to prevent injury.

David Novak is a international syndicated newspaper columnist, appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV around the world. His byline has appeared in GQ, National Geographic, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, USA Today, among others, and he has appeared on The Today Show, the CBS Morning Show and Paul Harvey Radio. David is a specialist at consumer technology, health and fitness, and he also owns a PR firm and a consulting company where he and his staff focus on these industries. He is a regular contributing editor for Healthline. For more information, visit

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