How to blast your legs with kettlebells regardless of your training status

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 5mins

Leg workouts using kettlebells.

Not only will these exercises I'm about to share really test you, but I want to outline another benefit.

You know those days when you're in the gym and it's just SOOO crowded because EVERYONE is squatting?

Yep. Well, kettlebells can save the day here.

There's nothing worse than lining up for machines, and losing your pump as you feel your motivation draining by the second.

In lots of gyms, the kettlebell area is in a different zone, and that means you can actually work out.

But this is no compromise, let me tell you.

The first exercise is kettlebell split squats. And you can really go heavy here.

You might have done these before: grab the kettlebells and have one leg back on the bench. The leg you're working on will be out in front of you, and you'll bop down like you normally do, and return back up.

And remember, there's a kettlebell in each hand. You're not holding just one! This makes it heavier and tougher.

So what muscles do split squats work?

This 2022 study investigated how squats, split squats, and step-ups worked what muscles, and how much. Well, all exercises worked:

  • gluteus maximus
  • m. gluteus medius
  • vastus lateralis
  • m. vastus medius
  • m. vastus intermedius
  • m. semitendinosus
  • m. semimembranosus
  • m. biceps femoris long head
  • m. soleus
  • m. gastrocnemius lateralis
  • m. gastrocnemius medialis

In other words, they worked the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

But here's where it gets interesting:

"In addition, load-dependent increases in m. gluteus maximus, vastus lateralis, m. vastus medius, m. vastus intermedius, and m. biceps femoris long head forces were often more pronounced during the split squat and step up than the squat across the range of loads used in this study."

Are you serious?!

In English, this means that split squats work our glutes, quads (THREE of the heads!) and long head of the hamstrings BETTER than squats.

You’ll get great glute gains from split squats, too
You’ll get great glute gains from split squats, too.

One more time: split squats work our glutes, quads (THREE of the heads!) and long head of the hamstrings BETTER than squats.

Well, throw me a leather jacket and call me Fonzie, because it's happy days.

Now of course this doesn't mean you shouldn't do squats (in fact, I do these after squats, personally) but it means you're not shortchanging yourself by doing as such. And if the gym is busy, hit the kettlebell zone. Simple.

So, push for 5 sets of 6-10 reps here.

Then it's time to move on to the walking kettlebell lunges.

And you can go pretty heavy here again, too.

Lunges work similar to step-ups, so you're not robbing yourself of anything.

Here, shoot for 3 sets, around 10-12 reps. You can go heavier because you should have more stability here than normal split squats.

Now it's time to finish off with a super burn.

Grab a fit ball and find a hard and supportive wall. Sit it in your lower back, and grab a really heavy dumbbell.

Squat up and down, with the fit ball guiding you up and down. These are called (surprise, surprise) Fit Ball Squats. 

In the video in the above link, do as explained, but hold a kettlebell up near your chest. Just ONE this time. Hold it any way that makes you feel comfortable.

Shoot for 3 sets of 12-15 reps here. This will burn like a barbeque.

So recapping:

5 sets of Kettlebell split squats (6-10 reps)

3 sets of Walking Kettblebell lunges (10-12 reps)

3 sets of Fit Ball Squats (12-15 reps)

If you really put your back into these exercises, I can tell you, you won't be disappointed, and you won't be shortchanging your muscle gains.

You could start the workout with squats, and throw some leg extensions in there, too. But if the gym is super busy, this will be testing. You can increase the workload by doing five sets (as opposed to three) of the Walking Kettlebell Lunges, but it's really up to you and how you're feeling (and your training status).

Don’t underestimate kettlebells for quad/hamstring and glute gains!
Don’t underestimate kettlebells for quad/hamstring and glute gains!

The bottom line on kettlebells

Is that they can form part of a very taxing leg workout. Research shows you can call upon more leg and glute muscles by doing split squats, which of course can be done effectively with kettlebells. The beauty of kettlebells is that workouts with them can be done when the gym is busy, as the kettlebell zone (compared to a squat rack) is generally relatively free. Add in Walking lunges with kettlebells, and fit ball squats with them too, and you're in for one taxing leg workout!

References:

  1. Kipp K, Kim H, Wolf WI. Muscle Forces During the Squat, Split Squat, and Step-Up Across a Range of External Loads in College-Aged Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2022 Feb 1;36(2):314-323. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003688. PMID: 32569122.
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