The kettlebell cooldown

Use the beloved tool in a new way with these 6 mobility-enhancing moves.

Top trainers love kettlebell swings for their strength- and power-building abilities. The kettlebell is also used in another expert favorite: The Turkish get-up. You can use the tool for deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses, too; the options are seemingly endless. Now, athletes are using KBs in a new way: after they've finished their main lifts. “Kettlebells can be great for a cool-down because they add an external load to assist you into deeper ranges of motion while your body is already warm from your workout,” says Leah Dugas, a Tier X coach at Equinox Beverly Hills. The sequence she created below will improve hip, shoulder, and spinal mobility in particular.

“You could do this after any routine, but it would be especially useful after a heavy or high-volume strength training day to stretch and lengthen the muscles after they've been put under some serious tension,” she says. “This will help improve recovery and reduce tightness, stiffness, and soreness, leaving you better prepared for your next session.”

Note: All of these stretches and drills should be done with a lighter bell than you would use for strength exercises; try going one to three sizes smaller than your standard overhead-pressing weight. “My pressing weight for five to eight reps is 12kg, so I used a 10kg for these stretches,” says Dugas. “You don't want the weight to be so heavy that you feel like you are doing work or being pushed too far. The load should add a nice, gentle assistance.”

Move through the following exercises, in order, one time.

Kneeling Loaded Shoulder and Triceps Stretch

From a kneeling position, load the kettlebell on your chest by grabbing the handles (one hand on each side) and flipping the bell upside-down. Squeeze your glutes and core tight as you circle the bell to one ear and then behind you (pictured above). Take a few deep breaths, letting your shoulders open up as the bell pulls your arms down and behind you. Be sure to keep the glutes and core contracted so that you don't arch your back.

Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch with Side Bending

Take a half-kneeling position (left knee down, right foot forward) with both knees at a 90-degree angle. Place a kettlebell on the outside of the right leg to use as an anchor. Grab on to the bell with the right hand and reach up and over to the side with the left arm. Repeat 5 to 10 times, holding the side stretch for 1 to 3 deep breaths, and using the kettlebell "anchor" to help deepen your range of motion with every rep. Switch sides and repeat.

Prying Squat Stretch

Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Toes can be straight forward or slightly externally rotated based on what feels best on your body. Load the kettlebell goblet style (one hand on each side of the handle, at chest-level, elbows in close to your ribs) and slowly descend into your deepest squat. From here, rock side-to-side, "prying" the hips open by pressing your elbows out against the inside of your knees. Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths, or approximately 30 seconds.

Prying Cossack Squat Stretch

Start in a wide stance. Toes can be straight forward or slightly externally rotated based on what feels best on your body. Load the kettlebell goblet style (one hand on each side of the handle, at chest-level, elbows in close to your ribs) and slowly descend into a deep lunge on one side, keeping the other leg as straight as possible. Use your elbow to press the lunging knee out, prying the hips open, and take a deep breath before transitioning to the other side. Repeat 3 to 5 times, stopping for a deep breath or two in each lunge.

Posterior Chain Stretch with Thoracic Spine Rotation

Begin in a standing position with your feet hip- or shoulder-width apart. Place the kettlebell on the floor right in front of you. Reach down, grabbing onto the kettlebell with your left hand and softening the left knee. Take a slow inhale through your nose and then as you exhale, reach the right arm up, twisting your spine and bringing your gaze to the ceiling. Repeat 5 to 10 times, holding the stretch for 1 to 3 breaths each rep. Switch sides and repeat.

Bent Arm Bar

Lie on your back with the kettlebell pressed to the ceiling with your right arm. You should have a very firm, closed grip on the handle of the bell and the elbow must be completely locked out. Lay the left arm overhead and use the right leg to push off the floor and roll to your side. You should be laying on your left side, head resting on left bicep, with the right arm reaching towards the ceiling and the kettlebell stacked over both shoulders. From here, actively pull the kettlebell-loaded elbow to the bottom of your rib cage, twisting the palm towards your head and keeping the forearm vertical. Take 1 to 3 deep breaths in this bottom position, then return the bell to the locked out position by pressing towards the ceiling. Repeat 3 to 5 times. Switch sides and repeat.

Photography by Sam Kweskin. Art direction by Kathryn Marx. Hair and makeup by Paige Smitherman.
Leah wears an bra from Alo and leggings from Nux Active, available at The Shop at Equinox.
Fitness vocab: ELDOA

This spine-focused stretching method eases back pain and improves posture.