Moving Out to Shape Up

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day and my friends and I decided that instead of skip a workout because of a busy day, we’d just get together earlier before the gym opened and take our indoor routine into the great outdoors. I brought a kettlebell and Cammy brought a  kettlebell, an old gym bag full of sand (genius!), and a plan. We set up stations–using nothing more than index cards marked with instructions–in a nearby park. Once Terri arrived we began our workout. (Or, we gossiped for a good ten plus minutes, then began.) We did everything from planks, air squats, lunges, and pushups, to sand bag sprints,  kettlebell swings, burpees, and army crawls. Who knew there was so much to do at 8am? We had a blast. We worked out in the sun, fresh morning dew on the grass, birds chirping at us, all while getting our calorie burn for the day.
Your Turn:
Want to take your workout outside? If you have no equipment, no problem.  Pick a few bodyweight exercises: squats, lunges, pushups, mountain climbers, burpees, sprints, planks, etc. If you can find a bench or a tree stump, use it for tricep dips or jumps. Set of stairs that you can run? Whatever you can use, have fun and be creative with your ideas. One idea is to try intervals. Set a timer for 60 seconds and complete the exercise–in good form–as many times as you can in that 60 seconds. Take a 30 second break then do it again. I would do this about three times per exercise. By the time you’re done, you should feel like you just kicked your own butt!

Have equipment? Use it! My favorite piece of gym equipment is the kettlebell because you can take it anywhere and you can do pretty much anything with it. You can perform a certain number of repetitions per exercise or you can complete as many repetitions in a time period. You can swing for 60 seconds and take a 30 second break (like above) or you could aim for 100 repetitions and challenge yourself not to stop til you make it! If you’re brand new to kettlebells, see my article “Become a Swinger–of Kettlebells” here: ( If you’re ready for level two, grab your bell and let’s go.

There are two basic types of swings–the American and the Russian. The Russian is the basic swing, from hips to shoulder height. The American is a bit advanced and adds a shoulder and upper back/lat element to the move. Start with your basic squat stance, hold your bell in relaxed arms in front of you and use your legs and hips to begin the motion of the swing. At the top of the swing, make sure your grip is tight on the bell–wouldn’t want to drop the iron mass on your head–and squeeze your shoulders/upper back for an extra little something that I promise you will feel tomorrow. Always remember while swinging the three most important elements: keep your abs in to protect your back, keep your weight in your heels to protect your knees/alignment, and keep your chest up to stay in good form. You will become addicted to this move, I know it.

The Russian Swing: Notice the determination in Cammy’s face. Meant only for the intensely serious.

The American Swing: You can’t see it, but she’s squeezing the heck out of those shoulders and upper back. Killer move.

The Shoulder Press:
This exercise is exactly what it sounds like. The difference between a dumbbell shoulder press and a kettlebell press is that you start with the kettlebell in rack position (resting comfortable on your forearm and against your chest) and you then press it to the top position. There are two variations here: you can use a lighter weight and keep your upper body vertical and core extremely tight and you’ll work your core and your shoulder. You can use a heavier weight and bend the knees and use your legs to drive the weight into the top position. This one works not only the shoulder but the total body. I like to mix them up.

 Tips: always keep your belly pulled in tight–the tighter the core, the more you will work the core, and the more you’ll protect your lower back. It’s also ok when pressing a heavy weight to let your feet come off the ground a bit, or even jump slightly. In kettlebells, the move always starts from the ground and travels up.

The Sumo-Deadlift High Pull:
One of my favorites because it works the entire body is this deadlift/high pull combination. Simply start in a low squat with feet turned out and wider than your hips. Keep your chest completely upright as you grab the bell from the ground, stand up, and pull the bell to your chest.

Tips: You don’t want to lift the elbows higher than your shoulders or else you could risk injury to your shoulders, and you may simply end up working the wrong muscles. Wouldn’t want to do that, now would we?

Also, feel free to try a heavier weight for this move. You’re probably stronger than you think. Just keep your belly braced and chest lifted. Never let your knees come out past your toes.

How do you vary your normal pushup? By using a kettlebell. There are so many ways to do pushups with kettlebells it’s almost bordering on ridiculous. You can hold on to one while the other hand is planted on the ground–see Cammy–to add work for your stabilizing muscles. You can put both hands on the bell and add a tricep element to the chest work as Terri is doing below. I’ve even seen people hold onto just the handles of the bell requiring crazy stabilization strength, and though I don’t suggest trying this unless you’re willing to fall on your face and possibly break a wrist–I’ve seen people turn the bell upside down, balance it on the handle, hands flat on the bottom side of the bell, and push up in this position. I say play around with the first couple of options. You can do either of these options from knees or toes.

Windmills aren’t as awkward as they seem. Simply hold a bell overhead in one hand while keeping your eye on the bell. This creates stability and also keeps you from dropping it. In whichever hand you’re holding the bell, shift that same hip out just a bit so that your heels also shift out to that side. Keeping your core tight, slide the opposite hand down the leg opposite of the bell. For example, if you’re holding the bell in your right hand, slide your left hand down your left leg. Stop your hand before reaching the point in which you would compromise your form in order to rise back up. Be careful not to go too far–you don’t want to twinge your lower back.

 Really squeeze the obliques on the way down so that you don’t go too far, but especially on the way up to get the most out of this move.

Kettlebell V-Sit and Reach:
A v-sit is a v-sit, no matter how you do it. It’s always tough. But add a kettlebell? Well then you’re just tough. One of Cammy’s personal ab picks is just this: She simply performs the basic V position–core engaged, arms overhead, legs out at a 45 degree angle, and then she uses her core to pull her body in and reaches towards her calves. 

A variation on the sit and reach would be to keep the feet on the ground and reach up and between the knees. It works the entire core and poses the extra challenge of keeping your feet on the ground when trying to sit up. By pushing the bell out between the knees, you add arm and shoulder work to the exercise.

Kettlebell Toe Touch: One of Terri’s fav picks is the toe touch. Use the lower abs to keep the legs perfectly still–the body forming a 90 degree angle. Use the upper abs to reach towards the toes, and squeeze the middle abs to ensure you get as close to your toes as possible.

Last words of wisdom: Just have fun. You can do anything with kettlebells. So grab some friends, some bells, the great outdoors, and have a blast this summer.


  One thought on “Moving Out to Shape Up

  1. May 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    thats awesome! very motivating!


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