How to Do Figure Eights

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The figure eight is a kettlebell exercise that works several muscle groups at the same time. When first attempting this move, use a smaller kettlebell. As you become more comfortable with the move, add more weight. The figure eight can be a great addition to your total body strength routine.

Also Known As: Kettlebell figure eight

Targets: Full body

Equipment Needed: Kettlebell

Level: Intermediate

How to Do a Figure Eight

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

For this exercise, you need enough space between your legs to swing the kettlebell completely through them. (You can also use a dumbbell, but it is harder to pass from hand to hand.) Start with the feet slightly wider than hip distance apart and, after doing a few repetitions, adjust your stance if you need more room.

Bend your legs slightly and tilt the torso forward, hinging at the hips. Place the kettlebell in your right hand with the handle positioned vertically, holding it roughly 8 to 12 inches off the floor. This is your starting position.

  1. Swing the kettlebell (with control) between your legs, moving it behind the left leg while bringing the left hand behind the outside of the left leg to meet the kettlebell. Use enough momentum to keep the kettlebell moving but not so much that your stance wobbles.
  2. Pass the kettlebell from the right hand to the left hand and use the left hand to move it in a circular path around the left leg.
  3. Swing the kettlebell back between your legs, moving it behind the right leg while bringing the right hand behind the outside of the right leg to meet the kettlebell.
  4. Pass the kettlebell from the left hand to the right hand and keep the bell moving in a circular path around the right leg.
  5. Continue the figure eight pattern, passing the bell from hand to hand.
  6. Place the kettlebell on the floor and return to a standing position once you are ready to end this exercise.

Maintain a solid stance throughout this move, keeping your weight balanced equally between both feet, your back strong, and your shoulders away from your ears.

Benefits of the Figure Eight

This exercise targets the glutes, erector spinae, hamstrings, quadriceps, and biceps. It also activates your calves, shoulders, and upper back. Choosing exercises that engage multiple muscles helps you be more efficient at the gym.

Research indicates that 10 weeks of kettlebell training can enhance strength and power, even if you don't have access to traditional strength training equipment. Another study found that kettlebell training may be as effective as circuit training with resistance.

One small preliminary study compared the use of kettlebells to other types of training with respect to glucose control. The study concluded that one session of kettlebell exercise is as effective as high-intensity interval running at improving glucose tolerance in sedentary young men.

On a functional level, performing the figure eight can help you build the strength needed to do everyday activities such as picking up items off the floor or sliding an object from one spot to another.

Not everyone agrees that kettlebells have an edge over traditional training. A scientific literature review notes that much of the research in this area is small in scope and of poor quality. More studies are needed to fully understand the benefits of kettlebells, especially as compared to other training modalities.

Other Variations of the Figure Eight

There are a few ways to make this movement harder or easier so it better suits your fitness level and goals.

Lighter Weight

The simplest way to make this exercise easier is to use less weight. If it feels too difficult to complete the figure-eight movement with the kettlebell you're using, try a lighter kettlebell or a small dumbbell. This also allows you to focus on using good form.

Standing Between Reps

You can choose to stand up fully in the middle and at the end of each repetition, lifting and holding the kettlebell at chest height to engage the upper body. To do this variation, begin the exercise as you would when performing the basic move.

After you bring the kettlebell behind and around the left leg, stand up fully. Bring the kettlebell up to the chest and hold it in both hands for just a second.

Then begin the second part of the figure eight, circling the kettlebell around the right leg. Again, come to a standing position after completing the right leg circle, holding the kettlebell at chest height.

Try to keep the movement fluid and continuous when performing this figure eight variation.

Figure Eight With Shoulder Press

To work the upper body even more, add a shoulder press to the figure eight. Do the standing version described above with the hold. After completing the circle around the left leg, come up to stand. Instead of moving the kettlebell into both hands, keep it in the left hand and do a shoulder press.

Bring the weight back to the chest, then down toward the floor to begin the circle around the right leg. When you finish the circle around the right leg, complete a shoulder press on the right. Continue this pattern, alternating figure eight leg circles and shoulder presses.

Boxing Figure Eight

MMA fighters and boxers often use kettlebells for training. Some of these athletes add a boxing move in the middle of each figure eight at the same place where you would add a hold or shoulder press. It's best to use a lighter weight for this option.

To do this version, complete a full kettlebell circle around the left leg and come up to stand. Continuing the fluid motion, bring the left arm into an uppercut, then bring the kettlebell down in front of the body and continue the rest of the figure eight.

After circling around the right leg, bring the right arm into an uppercut. Continue moving through your figure eights, placing an uppercut after each leg circle. This variation can also be performed with other boxing moves, such as the jab or hook.

Common Mistakes

There are a few common blunders to watch for when doing the figure eight.

Jerky Movements

During the figure eight exercise, you want to use fluid and continuous movement. That is, there should be no pause when passing the kettlebell from hand to hand.

This requires plenty of practice to gain coordination and control. Beginners may struggle to keep the bell moving and should use a light kettlebell until they feel comfortable during the hand-off stage of this exercise.

Slumped Back

It's important to stay strong through the core—including the back—as you do this movement. Depending on the variation that you use, you may feel most of the workload in the lower back or you might feel it throughout the entire torso, including the abs.

Keep the back relatively flat and avoid slumping or curving the spine into a C-shape. If you find yourself slumping, reduce the weight and try again.

Safety and Precautions

It's beneficial to have some experience working with kettlebells before attempting this move. It may also be helpful to master the kettlebell swing before you attempt the figure eight—especially if you plan to try variations that use greater momentum.

This exercise may not be appropriate for people with lower back issues. Those with shoulder problems should also exercise caution when performing different variations of this movement. Speak with your doctor or physical therapist to ensure that the exercise is safe for you.

People who are pregnant or have a larger belly area may have a hard time passing the kettlebell around the back of their legs. Other exercises, such as a standing hay baler, may be more comfortable to perform if this action is difficult for you.

When you first begin, do the kettlebell figure eight for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times. You can also practice this move by doing just 2 or 3 full figure eights, then standing up to rest. Repeat several times to learn the move and build more strength.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Manocchia P, Spierer DK, Lufkin AK, Minichiello J, Castro J. Transference of kettlebell training to strength, power, and endurance. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(2):477-84. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825770fe

  2. Vancini RL, Andrade MS, Rufo-Tavares W, Zimerer C, Nikolaidis PT, de Lira CAB. Kettlebell exercise as an alternative to improve aerobic power and muscle strengthJ Hum Kinet. 2019;66:5–6. doi:10.2478/hukin-2018-0062

  3. Greenwald S, Seger E, Nichols D, Ray AD, Rideout TC, Gosselin LE. Effect of an Acute Bout of Kettlebell Exercise on Glucose Tolerance in Sedentary Men: A Preliminary StudyInt J Exerc Sci. 2016;9(3):524–535. 2016 Oct 1.

  4. Meigh NJ, Keogh JWL, Schram B, Hing WA. Kettlebell training in clinical practice: a scoping reviewBMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2019;11:19. doi:10.1186/s13102-019-0130-z

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.