A Top Trainer Shares His Favorite Kettlebell Moves for Your Legs

Trainer Marcus Filly, a former CrossFit Games competitor and proponent of “functional bodybuilding,” wants you to change the way you train. His philosophy prioritizes quality of movement over intensity, typically the hallmark of CrossFit-style workouts. He’s previously shared his 30-day workout plan to help you build real, functional muscle, as well as three ways to perfect your kettlebell swing.

For his latest YouTube video, he is sharing how you can grow your legs and butt with just a single kettlebell.

“You don’t need a lot of equipment to get a great leg workout, and you certainly don’t need a lot of weight,” says Filly. “You need to manipulate a few functional bodybuilding variables, and you need to think creatively.”

Here are his 7 favorite lower body kettlebell moves.

Exercise 1: Goblet 1-1/4 Cyclist Squat

3 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps (30 to 60 seconds rest between sets)

“The 1-1/4 squat is when you perform a full repetition range on the way down, come up about a quarter to half of the way up in the repetition, return to the bottom, and then explode up,” says Filly. “By increasing this range of motion on a single rep, we can do a set of 15 reps in this position and get a lot of stimulus.”

For this move, you will be in the cyclist position, which means you elevate the heels. (Filly suggests between 2 to 3 inches.)

“The higher your heels go, the more your knees are going to come forward (which is the point), is going to load your quadriceps a lot more, which will put more stress on the patella tendon.”

He notes if you don’t have strong knees, that you should keep the elevation lower.

Exercise 2: Rear Foot Elevated Hand-Supported Split Squat

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps on each leg

“When you put your back leg up on a surface, that’s a tremendous amount of load on that forward working leg. The forward working leg is now going to get a bigger range of motion, because now we have a deficit to sink into because of that rear foot being elevated,” says Filly.

The reason for the hand support is to achieve hypertrophy, getting maximal contraction of the muscles. Focusing less on the balance and coordination, the hand support allows you to put more load on to the working leg.

Exercise 3: Goblet Box Pistol Squat

2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps on each leg

“The goblet squat is a high degree of difficulty which demands you have great ankle and hip flexibility, as well as balance and strength,” says Filly. “The box pistol is going to minimize how much flexibility restrictions you might experience in this exercise. This demands a lot out of your glutes and quads, and there’s going to be a balance and stability demand.”

If this move is not achievable for you, you can also try a lateral box stepdown or a tall box stepup.

Exercise 4: Single-Leg KB Hip Thrust

2 sets of 15 to 20 reps per leg

This move is a glute-focused exercise. Filly suggests doing this on a lower surface, between 1-1.5 feet off the ground.

“You want to make sure the shoulder blades sit right at the edge of the bench, and you’re going to be driving your glutes and hips straight up to the sky,” says Filly. “You should be staring down at your knees, not looking up to the sky, which will keep you thoracic spine in the correct position to put the bulk of the load on your glutes.”

He notes if you’re having a hard time balancing, you can drop the front foot, which turns it into a B-stance hip thrust.

Exercise 5: Curtsy Drop Lunge

2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps per leg

“In functional bodybuilding, we like to play around with different movement planes and patterns,” says Filly. “Life doesn’t just happen in the sagittal plane. It happens in all planes, including transverse, frontal, sagittal, we’re rotating. The curtsy drop lunge takes advantage of rotation as well as a transverse plane where you step behind the working leg, which enhances glute recruitment. This move also takes advantage of an extended range of motion.”

To do it, choose a loading position where you hold the kettlebell at your chest or side, and if you need to grab hold of something with one arm, that’s okay.

Exercise 6: Low Handle Cossack Squat

1 to 2 sets of 15 reps per leg

“The low handle position simply is going to allow you to keep your torso very upright. When there is a weight in front of your body that you can control safely and securely with your shoulder position, it is going to allow you to lean back a little bit,” says Filly.

He notes that when you’re doing this move, it puts your adductors into a very large stretch. The stretching and contraction is when you get a stimulus on your muscles. This move can also help you build flexibility and enhance mobility.

Exercise 7: Deficit Romanian Deadlift

2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

“The Romanian deadlift is a classic posterior chain strengthening exercise that puts all the emphasis on the hamstrings and the glutes,” says Filly. “There’s going to be a deep contraction that happens at the hamstrings, particularly at the insertion points top and bottom.”

By adding 4 to 6 inches of deficit, you can extend range of motion with the kettlebell past the bottom of your feet.

“Perform these with a very slow eccentric (slow lowering down to the floor) to extend the time you’re stretching the muscle under load,” says Filly. “Try doing these with a 3 to 4 count negative as you go down to the floor. Come up under control but more quickly. Aim to keep the back totally flat, and move your hips backwards as you lower your chest to the floor.”

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