Functional Training Institute

Kettlebell Squat Variations: Which one to use, when & why?

by Boris Bojanovic

The squat has long been called the king of exercises – with good reason. There’s nothing more functional than loading the legs to get them stronger. This makes the squat the most versatile exercise because it helps the full spectrum of your clients.

Your little old nanna client has trouble getting up off her seat without rocking back & forth to build up momentum or helping herself up with her arms. Solution: train the squat.

An 18 year old guy wants to put on weight but all he does is curls. What’s going to weigh more: his two biceps or the muscles loaded by the squat – the arms, shoulders, core, hips & legs? Solution: train the squat.

Your female client is looking to tone her backside & thighs. Training squats is a no-brainer.

Your athlete is looking to build power in their sprints, jumps, throws. hits & swings. Given that all athletic power comes from the legs & is transferred into the arms the solution is to train the squat.


The bodyweight squat is the base upon which the kettlebell, depending on where it’s placed, modifies the difficulty by introducing a new element. The basics of the bodyweight squat are as follows.

Movements: hip, knee, ankle & back extension (not hyperextension)

Primary muscles used: quadriceps & glutes

Accessory muscles: hamstrings, back extensors, calves, core

Set-up: Feet at shoulder width, toes pointed slightly out

Movement: Begin by pushing the hips back & pushing the knees out to the sides to get down to full depth then keep the torso upright as you stand up fully with knees & hips straight

Points to remember:

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor
  • As you go down further, & especially as you start to move up, the knees want to collapse in so make sure to push the knees out so that the thighs track with the feet (i.e. pointing in the same direction)
  • Keep the spine neutral, i.e. abdominals lightly braced, chest forward, head back, chin in


Go as low as you can before leg strength gives out or the lower back starts to round. With the right hip mobility training most people should be able to reach the depth where the thigh is parallel to the floor.

Ankle dorsiflexion limitations such as tight calves or Achilles tendon can cause the feet to point out more, the arches to collapse in or your clients to lose balance before reaching depth. You can bypass this by putting small plates under their heels when squatting as a band-aid while you work to improve their ankle mobility.

With all that in mind let’s move on to the kettlebell variations.

                    Bulb Squat

The bulb squat is the most basic way to load the squat with a kettlebell because it’s one kettlebell in two hands, held in the centre of the body. The palms support the bulb with thumbs around the horns. The bulb squat adds further load to the muscles used in the bodyweight squat in addition to loading the shoulders & arms. The bulb squat is great for older clients & a good place to start with the rest of your clients before they move on to a rack squat.

Rack Squat


The rack squat builds on the bulb squat by asymmetrically loading the body. This means the will be more of a challenge to balance & core will have to work harder to resist rotation.

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