Why You Should Do These 8 Great Kettlebell Squat Variations

While this is a dumbbell review site, I like basically anything and everything to do with exercise 1 except maybe burpees. That includes dumbbells but also other equipment such as the landmine, jump rope, sandbags, and battling ropes.

And here lately I’ve been on a bit of a kettlebell kick. Similar to dumbbells, kettlebells are amazingly versatile and can be used for a myriad of common (or uncommon) exercises.

And one of the best exercises – probably tied with deadlift – is the kettlebell squat. So let’s look at 8 great kettlebell squat variations you should try.

Why Kettlebell Squat?

Squats are a lower body dominant compound exercise, which means you’ll use multiple large muscle groups when you add them to your workout plan. When you squat, you’ll engage the biggest muscle groups in your legs (and the biggest in your body) including the quads, glutes, and, hamstrings.

There are few better ways to get in shape and push heavy weights than with squats. So you’ll be able to pack on muscle and build power that will help with everything from standing up out of a chair to your most demanding athletic feats.

Now, a couple items to note before we look at some awesome kettlebell squats. One, I arranged these from “easiest” to “hardest” in terms of movement difficulty. Secondly, the order is a general guideline and, as the difficulty varies depending on body type, restrictions, mobility, and the like.

The overhead squat - just one of the awesome kettlebell squat variations you can try today
The single kettlebell overhead squat

And, lastly, this in not an all-inclusive list of every possible kettlebell squat variation. After all, I did leave on some like the sumo squat, a back squat, and some others. However, this list has enough variety and challenge to fit everyone from beginners to advanced athletes.

With all that said, let’s take a look at 8 amazing kettlebell squat variations.

How Do I Hold A Kettlebell?

Before we do a kettlebell squat, let’s look at a few ways to hold a kettlebell. While you can get pretty inventive, there’s 4 ways I want to cover here. And, to make it easy, I’m going to name them (super creatively too).

Kettlebell Overhead Hold
  1. Grab the one kettlebell by the horns (or handle) with both hands and bend your elbows to bring the weight chest height. Your elbows should be down at your sides and not pointed out. This is the goblet hold as, well, you use it during a goblet squat.
  2. Grab the kettlebell handles with your hand/s and stand in a natural position with your arms by your sides. This is the side hold.
  3. Grab the two kettlebell – one in each hand – and clean the weight so it’s held against the chest with the arm tucked in, wrist straight, and shoulder down. It’s an active hold meaning it will take work to sustain; this is the front rack position or front hold.
  4. Grab a kettlebell in each hand and go the front rack position. From there, drive the bells overhead and lock out your arms. Make sure you’re stable and in control at all times, especially before attempting a kettlebell squat. This is the overhead hold.

Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Grip: Goblet Hold

Maybe the most famous of the kettlebell squats, the goblet squat is a great beginner (to advanced) squat. Not only is it safe and relatively easy to perform, it’s very easy to learn as well. You also don’t need great mobility in order to perform it. Let’s take a quick look at how to kettlebell goblet squat:

  1. Stand in comfortable squat stance. For many, that’s feet shoulder width apart, with your toes pointed straight ahead or slightly out.
  2. Using both hands, grab a single kettlebell by the horns and bring it to the goblet hold position
  3. Engage core muscles and upper back to keep your chest up and your body stable for the duration of the movement.
  4. Slowly lower yourself into a deep squat while keeping your torso upright and driving your knees out. Your hips should descend back and down like you’re sitting back into a chair.
  5. Descend until you no longer have the ability to do so safely. For a lot of folks, that may be to where your hips and knees are aligned (or 90 degrees). If you have better mobility, squat deeper.
  6. Push into the floor to raise yourself out of the squat (remember, knees out!),.
  7. Congrats! That one rep.

Why do it?

For a ton of reasons. For one, you get stronger as your quads, hamstrings, and glutes all get a great workout. You’ll burn a ton of calories as your legs are the biggest muscles in your body. And, lastly, you improve your coordination, muscle control, and stability while performing an easy to learn exercise.

Tip! If you’re new to the exercise or lack mobility, try lowering down until your butt touches a bench, chair, or box. That will prevent you from going down too far and you can focus on form.

Tip! If you can’t squat down low, try elevating your heels. Simply put down a weight plate and rest your heels on it. By lifting your heels, your lack of ankle mobility will be mitigated and you’ll find it easier to go lower without falling back.

Kettlebell Front Squat

Grip: Front Hold

Very similar to the goblet squat, the kettlebell front squat is can be used when you’re ready to use two kettlebells at once. Using the front hold or racked position, requires some additional core and upper back activation.

Once the kettlebells are racked properly, the kettlebell front squat is performed in almost the exact same manner as the kettlebell goblet squat.

Double Kettlebell Front Squat

Why do it?

You’re looking for a little more challenge. By having two weights close to your body, the muscular emphasis shifts slightly. You’ll also have to keep extra tight and engaged to keep proper alignment.

Single Kettlebell Front Squat Variation

A cool variation is to just use one kettlebell as having one side loaded makes this much more challenging. The offset weight means even more core and back engagement as well as allowing for additional focus on a particular leg. Be sure to do both sides!

Kettlebell Split Squat

Grip: Front, Goblet, or Side Hold

Kettlebell Split Squt
Kettlebell Split Squat With a Side Hold

A split squat is exactly like it sounds like – you take a staggered stance with your legs. They’re “split” with one leg forward, one leg backward. Be sure to keep your legs hip width apart (or slightly wider) so that you don’t become off balance.

Once you have the kettlebell in your preferred position 2 the side hold is easiest, simply bend your front knee so your front leg reaches 90 degrees to the floor. Then push hard into the ground and simply go back to the starting position.

Why do it?

You want to hit work your muscles differently than in a traditional squat.

One note, your back leg will bend some too but don’t let your back knee hit the ground. If needed, you can put a pillow on the ground so you don’t smash your knee. Anyways, once you’re done with one leg, switch your stagger and do the other side.

Tip! Don’t use too long of a stagger as you’ll get off balance. Also, your front shin should not extend (much) past your toes when in the bottom position of the split squat.

Kettlebell Jump Squat

Grip: Front, Goblet, or Side Hold

A more dynamic version of a squat, the jump squat can be done from any of the positions of the previous three exercises. The main goal of a jump squat is to be able to develop power (power=force * distance / time) quickly.3 if you’re looking for a great exercise to develop power, see here

Why do it?

You want to produce power. Because you’re focused on power, don’t go overly heavy on the weights! Power is maximized by acceleration off the ground and distance from the ground. If the weight is too heavy, you won’t be able generate any force. Shoot for maybe 30% of your normal weight when doing this version.

To perform, simply squat while holding a kettlebell 4I prefer to do this from a goblet squat position and then explosively push away from ground to jump. Bend your knees and absorb the impact when you land.

Don’t forget! Make sure you can squat and land softly and safely before doing a jump squat.

Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat

Grip: Front, Goblet, or Side Hold

The bottom position of the Bulgarian Split Squat

A specialized version of a split squat, the bulgarian squat is performed the same way as split squat except your back foot is now elevated off the floor. Typically, that means you place your foot on a bench or box while your front leg remains planted.

Kettlebell Bulgarian split squats are a fantastic exercise that will heavily work your quads and glutes. Not only will it greatly improve your overall fitness, it doesn’t as much mobility like the next few variations. As such, in my opinion, this is one of the best squats that is accessible to most people.

Tip! If the move is too difficult, just drop the weight. You can still get a great leg workout by just using your bodyweight. Feeling unsteady? Use the wall or a squat rack to help stabilize yourself until you’re comfortable being on just one foot.

Why do it?

You want extra focus and stability. By having your rear foot on a support, you must work extra hard to stabilize your position. You’ll also get a good stretch on your rear leg – typically in the hip flexor. And since it’s a unilateral movement, you can correct any strength imbalances by focusing on just one leg at time.

Kettlebell Skater Squat

Grip: Front, Goblet, or Side Hold

Kettlebell skater squats are a fantastic (and humbling) unilateral exercise. They are typically done without weight – as it’s not needed for a lot of people – but, as you progress, you can absolutely add weight.

According to trainer Tony Gelticore, skater squats are “not quite a single leg squat and not quite a single leg deadlift, skater squats are the ultimate hybrid. They build lower body strength and add size to your quads and glutes, without beating up your back, hips, or knees.”

How to Do it?

Skater squats can be a little difficult to follow at first so, rather than try to explain it, here’s a good video overview –

Why do it?

You want to work in a different plane of motion. Typically, squats are only working in a front to back manner known as the sagittal plane. By getting some bend in your squat motion, you actually begin to work the traverse or side-to-side motion.

This shifts the muscular emphasis of the exercise and makes it more difficult to keep your balance. Use skater squats to really hit those glutes and outside thighs.

Kettlebell Pistol Squat

Grip: Goblet or Front Hold

A pistol squat is simply a full range of motion squat performed on one leg. A full kettlebell pistol squat is a very demanding exercise and should not be taken lightly as you need strength, mobility, coordination, and balance in order to perform one.

It’s a very technical exercise so don’t feel bad if you struggle with it. Keep trying!

How to Do it?

  • Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, and chest tall.
  • Extend one leg straight out with the foot off the ground. Keep your foot flexed and point your toes up. Extend both arms in front of you, at shoulder level. Brace core and look straight ahead. This is the starting position.
  • From here, bend your other knee as you descend down and back. Slowly lower yourself down to the ground, just like you would in a regular squat. Pause when glutes are hovering just a few inches off the ground. Your arms should still be out in front and will help counterbalance your bodyweight.
  • At the bottom of the movement, push through your planted foot to stand back up. Don’t look down and keep a neutral head and spine.
  • Repeat. Be sure to switch sides.

Why do it?

You want a super challenging exercise that challenges your strength, mobility, coordination, and stability. It’s one of the most difficult – and rewarding – squats. It’s natural to find it’s easier to perform on one side the other. That just means you have some imbalances to clear up!

Kettlebell Pistol Squat Regression

A full pistol kettlebell squat is going to be too difficult for a lot of trainees. To make it easier, go ahead and sit on a chair or bench and with only one leg, push yourself up to a standing position. Reducing the range of motion makes the exercise much easier to actually perform the movement.

Once you can comfortably squat to and from the chair, lower the bench to make the exercise harder. Eventually, you build up the strength and ability to do a full pistol squat off of the ground.

Kettlebell Cossack Squat

Grip: Front, Goblet Hold

The kettlebell cossak squat, also sometimes called a side squat, is essentially a deep squat on one leg and one-half of a split on the other. While this is a challenging exercise, with great challenges comes great reward 5 thanks, Spider-Man.

Do to limited mobility, most will benefit from a goblet hold when performing a kettlebell cossack squat. Have the weight in front will help counteract the tendency to fall back on your heels.

How to Do it?

  • Grab your kettlebell, and stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, and chest tall.
  • Extend one leg to the side and plant your foot ground. Pivot on your heel so your toes on your extended leg now point to the ceiling.
  • From here, bend your other knee and at the hip as you descend down and back. Slowly lower yourself down as far as you can comfortably go.
  • At the bottom of the movement, push through your planted foot to stand back up. Don’t look down and keep a neutral head and spine.
  • Repeat. Be sure to switch sides.

Why do It?

You want to work your and flexibility and mobility in the frontal plane. Having a limited range of motion can impede squat strength and also leave you vulnerable to injuries such as hamstring or groin pulls. Doing Cossack squats can help movement quality and strength throughout the lower body.

Kettlebell Overhead Squat

Grip: Overhead Hold, Single or Double Kettlebells

Probably the most difficult squat variation is the overhead squat. Similar to a dumbbell overhead squat, the kettlebell overhead squat requires a lot: strength, stability, and mobility in ankles, hips, spine, and shoulders.

Rather than re-explaining how to do the exercise, you can find the breakdown on this page.

Why do it?

The better question is why not? If you can preform it safely, you’ll see a whole range of benefits as it develops multiple areas of athleticism such as coordination, balance, flexibility, and mobility. You’ll also work your shoulder and scapular stability – by holding the weight overhead you have to engage your upper and middle back to keep the weights in the proper position.

And, lastly, you’ll get strong. Not only is this more quad dominant, you’ll get increase core activation as well as shoulder and back engagement.

Tip: Use a broomstick, closet rod, or similar straight pole to practice and warm-up before ditching that for a kettlebell.

Note: Even if you can’t do it, the kettlebell overhead squat helps you identify areas of improvement. While it may take a coach or trainer to identify the areas of improvement, it’s a great movement for assessment. Do you lack ankle mobility? hip mobility? Are your traps weak? Well, this movement will explore that.

In Summary (TL;DR)

While it’s difficult to go as heavy as in a traditional barbell squat, kettlebell squats make for a fantastic workout. The (kettlebell) squat movement is an amazing movement pattern than will get you stronger, more mobile, and in better overall shape.

There are a ton of amazing kettlebell squats that you can perform to shakeup or improve your fitness level and overall athleticism. So try the kettlebell squat variations covered here to take your fitness to the next level.


How do I hold the kettlebell in a kettlebell squat?

There are multiple potential ways to hold the kettlebell. In short, it depends on which type of squat you’re performing and what you find most comfortable. Typically, though you would hold the bell out front of your body or at your sides.

Why would I use kettlebell squats over barbell squats?

You want a change of pace. While you’re not able to go as heavy with a kettlebell squats, they are more versatile as you can easily work your body in multiple planes of direction. Additionally, you can work unilaterally all while gaining some additional mobility.

What is the hardest kettlebell squat variation?

It depends on your strength, mobility, balance and coordination. For most, a full pistol squat or an overhead kettlebell squat are going to be the toughest variations.

D. Alan is a lifelong athlete who currently trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), Judo, and Kickboxing. Since first picking up weights when he was 13, he's been a fitness enthusiast who scours books, studies, and blogs for lifting, health, and nutrition information. As of January 2022 he holds a purple belt in Judo & BJJ. You can contact him at DA@dumbbellsreview.com.