I’m A PT And This Kettlebell Routine Will Strengthen Your Core Without A Sit-Up In Sight

Woman holds two kettlebells above her head in a gym
(Image credit: Starcevic / Getty Images)

Want to train your core? You don’t need to do sit-ups and crunches to work the muscles in your midsection. In fact, I’m training my core whenever I exercise, even when I’m not doing core-specific moves. It’s because my core has to engage for every move I do at the gym to ensure my body stays balanced and stable.

Using kettlebells when I work out adds another layer of intensity. Because the weight of a kettlebell sits below the handle—unlike a dumbbell where the weight is evenly distributed on either side—you have to work harder to keep the kettlebell stable during exercise and your core plays a significant part in helping you do that.

My PT, Will Duru, is a huge fan of kettlebell workouts. “Kettlebells are really effective for core strength because they can be used to imitate real-life situations such as picking things up from the ground, thrusting from the hips, and lifting boxes overhead,” says Duru. “Kettlebells teach you to be flexible in your core strength through rotational movements too.”

Want to train your core without doing back-breaking sit-ups? Give these moves a go. I leave a 30 to 60-second rest between each set depending on how I am feeling.

1 Single-arm swing 

Sets 4 Reps 12 each side

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a kettlebell in one hand in front of you by its handle. Engage your back and core muscles so your back stays flat throughout. Hinge at your hips, pushing your hips backwards and letting the kettlebell swing through your legs. Push your hips forward to generate the power to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height, but don’t overextend and let your back curve. Control the descent and go straight into the next rep. Do all your reps on one side, then switch sides. Read Coach’s kettlebell swing form guide for more technique pointers.

2 Standing Arnold press

Sets 3 Reps 12

Hold lighter kettlebells by your shoulders with your palms facing you. Press the kettlebells up, rotating your hands 180° so your palms face forward when your arms are extended. Avoid using your lower body during this exercise so that your core has to work that extra bit harder to hold you upright as you press the kettlebells overhead. Coach’s Arnold press form guide has more about this excellent shoulder exercise.

3 Gorilla row

Sets 4 Reps 12 each side

Stand over two heavier kettlebells, push your hips back and bend your knees slightly to take hold of the kettlebell handles. Keep your core engaged and back flat as you lift one kettlebell to your rib cage, pause, and then lower back down. Repeat on the other side. Continue, alternating sides with each rep.

4 Plank pike and push-up

Sets 4 Reps 8 each side 

Get into a high plank position, with a light kettlebell by each hand. Lift one hand and pick up the kettlebell on the opposite side. Keeping your arms and legs extended, lift your hips and pull the kettlebell towards your opposite foot. Return to the start, then perform a push-up, bending your elbows to lower your chest to the floor and pressing back up, before repeating the pike on the other side. Keep your core and back engaged so that your body stays square to the floor as you move the kettlebell.

5 Plank drag

Sets 4 Reps 10 each side 

Place a kettlebell next to one hand and get in the high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders, arms extended and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Maintaining the plank position, use your hand furthest away from the kettlebell to drag it under your body to the other side. Squeeze your core as you move the kettlebell to stop your body from shifting to one side.

6 Squat and press

Sets 3 Reps 10

Hold a heavier kettlebell upside down in both hands in front of your chest. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat. As you rise, press the kettlebell overhead.

7 Flutter kick

Sets 3 Reps 20

Lie on your back holding two light kettlebells above you with arms extended. Lift your legs just off the floor and, pressing your lower back into the floor and keeping your legs extended, lift one foot and lower the other, then reverse the movements, alternating at pace. Find out an adjustment to use if you can’t keep your back pressed into the floor with Coach’s flutter kick form guide.

Lucy Gornall

Lucy is an experienced health and fitness journalist, and was formerly health editor for TI Media’s portfolio of women’s titles. Lucy qualified as a level 3 personal trainer with Train Fitness in 2016, and also holds qualifications in pre- and post-natal fitness, as well as in nutrition for exercise.