5 Unilateral Leg Exercises for Kettlebells

Building powerful legs with kettlebells is as easy as standing on one foot.  Check out these 5 Unilateral Leg Exercises for Kettlebells.

As we saw in my first article in the kettlebell leg series, 4 Kettlebell Squat Variations for Powerful Legs, the versatility of the kettlebell allows for excellent training variety which can challenge anyone from the beginning trainee to a season veteran for years to come.

Time and time again the one common feature missing from people’s programs is the incorporation of unilateral (single) leg exercises.  The majority of men’s training programs focus on the squat and using both legs to generate power and strength.



While the squats are an important exercise, the benefits to unilateral exercises can improve one’s overall training experience.  If you are guilty of doing more bicep curls than lunges in your training programs those days are done.

I guarantee you that you will be stronger, healthier and less prone to injury when you add these unilateral leg exercises into your regimen.  In this article I am going to show you some of my favorite unilateral leg exercises using the kettlebells.

There are many ways to perform single leg kettlebell movements and a variety of ways to hold the bell. The varying ways are not right vs. wrong nor beginner vs. advances or even better vs. worse; they each induce a slightly different training effect making it either more remedial or more challenging to the individual trainee.

Though I will mention a few favorite ways, I am not going to cover all the kettlebell variations for each of the different exercises below.

Just note that you can use one or two kettlebells in either the low position, racked, goblet (one bell only) or even overhead position.  It is up to you and what your current level of skill and fitness is to determine the position of the kettlebell.

Kettlebell lunge variations

#1) Double Racked Kettlebell Lunge

The Double Racked Kettlebell Lunge is arguably one of the most difficult lunges to perform; loading with kettlebells is my preferred way over a barbell which is technically more difficult, because the elbows must remain up to keep the bar racked, and using two dumbbells is out of the question unless yourest them on your shoulders.

The kettlebells offer a much simpler and safer set up with all of the benefits of their barbell counterpart. With the two kettlebells racked close to the body, your core muscles are heavily engaged and our breathing is labored; which is the fun challenge.  I advise a reverse (step back) lunge as it is generally a bit easier to perform properly and more forgiving on the knees.

racked lunges kettlebell

#2) Lunge with a Pass

The exercise known as, Lunge with a Pass, requires using a kettlebell as it is difficult to execute with dumbbell and I would pay to see someone attempt it with a barbell.

The kettlebell handle and weight distribution allow for the perfect balance of a challenge with the success of proper form execution with a little bit of practice.

I like to hold the handle closer to the far end of the handle outside the leg.  I step back on the side I am holding the weight, stabilize my body using my legs and core muscles and pass through the legs to the other hand and stand back up.

Remember to be properly aligned in the body mechanics and perform this exercise smoothly with maximal stability.

Lunge with a Pass

#3) Single Leg RDL

The Single Leg RDL is my favorite unilateral leg exercise hands down!

It is one that I refer to as easy to learn and hard to perform.  So many attributes are trained with the exercise like: balance, stability of the muscles of the ankle, knee, hips and core as well as learning the proper hip hinge patterns used in so many exercises and athletic movements.

The kettlebell is not necessarily mandatory for this exercise, however, I do find it to be better than a barbell and dumbbell due to its weight distribution being compact and pretty much directed straight
down towards the floor.

I prefer to hold the kettlebell on the side where the leg is going back as I have found that it keeps one’s hips aligned without rotating the way they would with the bell in the other hand.
On the posting leg, I like a slight knee bend to take a little pressure off the knee.

Make sure to hinge, do not drop, the hip for the descent.  When you feel a stretch in your hamstring, that is the time to come back up.  Your goal is to stay stable and smooth, not necessarily to reach the floor.

Single Leg RDL

#4) Hover Lunge

The Hover Lunge is a more obscure and advanced unilateral leg exercise that requires a good strength and mobility foundation, and though they might seem difficult at first there are ways to add them into your program and progress towards the full movement even for beginners.

What I refer to as a hover lunge has one leg with the knee bent behind you as if you are bringing your heel towards your glutes.  Keeping that leg still, perform the lunge on the other leg descending the bent knee towards the floor.

hover lunge

If you cannot get to the floor initially, bring the floor to you by adding a pad or box that you can descend towards and as you get better you can decrease the height until you are at the floor level.

Assisted Hover Lunge

When you want to progress, add kettlebell weight in the goblet position to make the movement more challenging.

Goblet Position Kettlebell

#5) Pistol Squat

You’ve all seen the Pistol Squat on YouTube and even in certain kettlebell certifications and though they
are on the next level of single leg movements they are more achievable than one might think, so do not get intimidated by them.

Like I mentioned in the Hover Lunge, you can bring the floor up to you by pistol squatting to a box and then making the box lower and lower as you get better.

Assisted Hover Lunge

Building tension in the movement aides in its success and using a kettlebell can actually make the exercise easier, not harder, to perform.  By holding a light kettlebell out in front of your chest with straight arms as a counter-balance, you can create more stability through full-body tension, therefore keeping you more balanced through the range of motion.

Pistol Squat Kettlebell

There you have it, a few ways with endless varieties to perform unilateral exercises using a kettlebell. For more information check out the video below where I demonstrate the single leg variations mentioned above. Now go out and make it happen.


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Doug Fioranelli

Doug Fioranelli

In the summer of 2008, I accomplished my lifelong dream by opening: RISE ABOVE PERFORMANCE TRAINING. Mentally and physically pushing my body to the limit has always been a major part of my life. I was a promising high school athlete with dreams of playing college soccer. Unfortunately, I was forced to give it all up due to multiple injuries sustained on the field resulting in a series of complicated surgeries. Unwilling to abandon my dreams entirely, I shifted my focus towards helping others achieve their goals. I thought if I could understand what had happened to me and how to overcome it, I could train other athletes to reach their maximum potential while reducing their risk for injury through proper strength training and conditioning. RiseAboveStrength.com

Comments (1)

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