12 Kettlebell Exercises That Work Your Quads, Hamstrings, and Calves

Kettlebells are an excellent option for building strength, cardiovascular fitness, power, and functional fitness. They offer unique properties for challenging your balance in novel ways and provide weight distribution that is unique from barbells or dumbbells.

Incorporating kettlebells into your workout routine provides variety and new demands to your muscles for great results. Kettlebells may offer additional benefits for protecting the back from injury, as the movement created with them is fluid and functional.

Your entire body can benefit from the use of kettlebells with a wide variety of exercise possibilities. Here are several options for working your lower body with kettlebells with varieties of squats, lunges, deadlifts, and more.

One of the superior benefits of kettlebells is that they target and challenge the core to a greater extent than dumbbells. When performing kettlebell leg exercises, you'll also engage your core muscles including your back and abdominals.


Kettlebell Swings

woman performing kettlebell swing


Kettlebell swings are an excellent full-body conditioning exercise that builds strength, power, and works your cardiovascular system. Swings particularly target your posterior chain—the muscles on the backside of your body including your glutes and hamstrings.

Leave room around you to perform kettlebell swings and make sure no one will cross your path.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of your feet. Put a slight bend in your knees and keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down and your core braced as though you expect a punch.
  2. Hinge your hips back and your torso forward as one unit to hold your kettlebell. Maintain a straight back and only a slight knee bend (not a squat).
  3. Inhale to grasp the kettlebell. Exhale, contract your glutes and hamstrings, and push your hips forward to powerfully rise up to a standing position. The kettlebell will swing up naturally to around shoulder height. Do not use your arms to lift it—your arms serve as a hook only.
  4. Inhale and allow the kettlebell to drop back between your legs while again hinging hips back. Keep your spine straight and your torso moving as one with your hips.

Goblet Squat

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Goblet squats will hit your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, as well as your core. A kettlebell is the typical go-to piece of equipment for goblet squats.

It's a fantastic squat variation for everyone, even beginners since you must maintain a tall back and the front loading of the weight provides a counter-balance effect, which helps you maintain proper squat form and prevents butt wink, a potentially dangerous form flaw.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart, your toes angled out slightly.
  2. Hold a kettlebell at chest height with both hands holding the handles in a cupped position with elbows bent.
  3. Brace your core with a neutral spine and hinge your hips back, bending your knees into a squat, keeping the kettlebell close to your chest.
  4. Maintain a tall upright chest while squatting, attempting to lower your hips below parallel to the ground (below 90-degrees). Your elbows should be placed inside of your knees at the bottom of the squat.
  5. Exhale and press through your feet to stand and return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.

Bulgarian Split Squat

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Bulgarian split squats are an excellent unilateral exercise that work the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. They can help improve muscular imbalances and build stability and coordination.

  1. Stand in front of a bench, facing away from it, and hold a pair of kettlebells, one in each hand, or hold one in the goblet position in front of you at chest height. Brace your core and keep your shoulder blades retracted (back and down).
  2. Lift your right foot and place it on the bench behind you to help you stay balanced. The work will be done with your front standing leg.
  3. Brace your core and bend your left knee as you lower into a squat on that leg. Your torso will lean forward slightly while your right knee lowers toward the ground. Keep your weight evenly on your front foot.
  4. Lower until your front leg is parallel to the ground or lower.
  5. Press through your front foot to return to standing, contracting your glutes.
  6. Complete your desired number of repetitions on one side before switching sides to repeat.

Single-Leg Deadlift

Kettlebell single leg deadlift

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The single-leg deadlift is another unilateral exercise that works excellently with a kettlebell. You'll feel your glutes and hamstrings fire up with this exercise along with your lower back and core.

  1. Stand upright with a kettlebell in one or both hands (this is up to you and each variation will provide a different challenge to your muscles and balance).
  2. Place your weight on the front supporting leg and slide the other leg back. You can keep the toe touching the floor for balance.
  3. With your front leg straight or the knee slightly bent, hinge forward to lower the kettlebell toward the floor, keeping it close to your leg. You can lift your back leg off the floor, straight out behind you, or you can keep your toes on the ground for balance. If you raise your back leg, you may want to hold onto a rack for balance. Move slowly and with control.
  4. Use your glutes and hamstrings to pull your body back to standing with the kettlebell remaining close to your leg. If you raised your back leg, bring it back to the floor.
  5. Make sure you are in control of your balance and repeat all reps on one side before moving to the other leg.

Racked Squat

single racked kettlebell squat

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The racked squat is a power and strength-building exercise that uniquely targets your glutes, hip flexors, and quadriceps. Your core will light up as you work to stabilize your weight with the front racked position.

You can perform the racked kettlebell squat with two kettlebells, one in each hand, or with one single kettlebell. If using one kettlebell, use your empty hand as a counter-balance by raising it out to the side (see image above).

  1. Place a kettlebell in each hand, holding them in the "racked" position with your elbows bent and tucked in, the bell placed in front of the shoulders, and the wrists neutral. 
  2. Brace your core and hinge your hips back and bend your knees to squat parallel or lower, depending on your mobility.
  3. Push into your feet and raise your hips using your quadriceps and glutes to return to the starting position.

Kettlebell Back Squat

kettlebell back squat

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The back squat can be performed with kettlebells, just at a lower weight than you would use for a barbell back squat. Squats work your entire lower body, and with the kettlebell variation, you may feel your core fire up even more as you work to stabilize the weights.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Rest one kettlebell on the back of each shoulder and your forearms with your palms facing forward, elbows pointing down (see picture above).
  2. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat. Keep your spine in neutral position and your chest upright.
  3. Continue to lower until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
  4. Push into your feet and push your hips forward to return to standing, contracting your glutes.

Sumo Squat

woman performing sumo squat with kettlebell

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The sumo squat is a squat variation that works perfectly with kettlebells as they help you keep the weight centered, allowing proper form and emphasizing the correct muscles—namely the glutes and quads.

Aptly named the sumo squat, this movement changes up the typical slightly wider-than-hip-width stance to a more dramatically wide stance, similar to a sumo wrestler.

  1. Hold a kettlebell either at chest height in cupped hands or hanging down between your legs (see picture above).
  2. Stand with your feet about 8 to 12 inches wider than hip-width apart, your toes pointing out at an approximate 45-degree angle. Your thigh bones should also be rotated at this angle, in line with your feet.
  3. Inhale and hinge your hips back, bending your knees and lowering into a squat position. Keep your core braced and your spine in a neutral position. Your knees should track toward your toes to the sides.
  4. Exhale and raise to the starting position by pushing through your feet, engaging your glutes, and reversing the motion.

Sumo Deadlift

Another sumo stance-based variation of a popular compound lift, the sumo deadlift, lends itself well to the use of a kettlebell as well. Sumo deadlifts place less stress on the lower back, so they are an excellent choice for beginners or anyone who experiences lower back tightness.

Sumo deadlifts will work your glutes, adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, back, core, and calves. More emphasis will be placed on your glutes, adductors, and hamstrings than with the conventional deadlift.

  1. Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and slightly rotated outward. The kettlebell should be under your hips. 
  2. Inhale, brace your core, and begin to bend your knees in line with your shins. Hinge your hips back, keeping your chest upright and your spine in a neutral position.
  3. Grasp the kettlebell with both hands using an overhand grip. Lock your shoulder blades down and back, and pull up to engage your lat muscles and legs.
  4. Begin to push through your feet, pushing your legs into the floor while raising upward. Your arms should be hanging down close to your body as you lift the kettlebell.  
  5. Raise your hips and fully extend them and contract your glutes. Exhale at the top with the kettlebell between your legs.
  6. Lower back down slowly, reversing the motion to the starting position maintaining an engaged core and neutral spine.

Kettlebell Walking Lunge

kettlebell walking lunge

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You can perform any type of lunge with a kettlebell in place of a dumbbell, but the walking lunge is a fantastic choice with kettlebells since they swing and challenge your balance in novel ways. You'll work your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core with walking lunges.

  1. Stand holding a kettlebell in each hand, with your feet about hip-width apart with an upright posture and braced core. Alternatively, hold a kettlebell in the goblet, or racked position.
  2. Step forward about two feet with your right foot.
  3. Keeping your core braced, bend your knees and lower your left (back) knee toward the floor. Stop lowering just before the knee touches the ground. Your front thigh will be about parallel to the floor.
  4. In a smooth motion, push through your right (front) foot and lift your left foot off the floor to bring it to the center, and then step it in front of you as you did in step 2.
  5. Continue alternating steps, moving forward with each lunge. Move slowly and with control, fighting against gravity and your balance to remain steady.
  6. Finish your set by bringing your feet together at the center and standing upright on the last rep.

For a very advanced version that will provide even greater challenge to your core, try holding a single or double kettlebell above your head with locked out elbows.


Kettlebell Wall Sit

Wall sits are an isometric exercise that challenges your muscular endurance and strength in your quadriceps, glutes, and calves. Isometric exercises, which include static holds like the wall sit, are powerful strength builders.

  1. Hold a kettlebell at chest height in a cupped goblet position.
  2. Press your back against a wall with your feet shoulder-width and about 2 feet out from the wall.
  3. Brace your core and slowly slide your back down the wall, bending your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Your feet should be above your ankles, your shins perpendicular to the floor.
  4. Keep pressing your back flat against the wall and hold your stance for 20 to 60 seconds.
  5. Slowly slide your back up the wall to the starting position.

Kettlebell Step-Up

Step-ups target the quads, glutes, and hamstrings while challenging your stability, coordination, and balance. Using a kettlebell in place of a dumbbell increases the challenge to your core muscles as kettlebells naturally hang and swing slightly during movement. You will have to engage more stabilizing and deep core muscles to counter this additional movement.

You can use one or two kettlebells for the step-up. If you use one kettlebell, perform all steps on one side before moving to the other side. With two kettlebells, you can do the same or alternate sides with each step.

  1. Stand holding a pair of kettlebells, with a bench, step, plyo box, stair directly in front of you. Kettlebells are at your sides. Alternatively, use a single kettlebell on one side.
  2. Step up onto the bench with your right foot, pushing through your right heel and glute, raising up to straighten your leg.
  3. Squeeze your glute bringing your left foot to meet your right foot on the bench.
  4. Bend your right knee, step back down with the left foot, bringing the right foot down to meet the left foot on the floor.

Turkish Get-Up

Ben Goldstein / Verywell

The Turkish get-up is a popular functional kettlebell movement that works the entire body and builds coordination and balance. It is uniquely challenging because it works through all three planes of motion—sagittal, transverse, and frontal.

Turkish get-ups are tricky to master but fun to practice. Follow the detailed steps in this article: How to Turkish Get-Up: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

10 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.
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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.