Kettlebell training is an incredible way to increase your functional strength and stamina. Like most kettlebell exercises, the kettlebell figure 8 involves practically every muscle in your body, making it a great movement for overall fitness and health.
Additionally, the kettlebell figure 8 is a unilateral, compound exercise that involves both explosive strength and controlled endurance. This makes it a great exercise for fitness enthusiasts of all levels.
By the end of this article, you will understand how to perform the kettlebell figure eight, common mistakes to avoid, and how to add it to your routine.
I will cover:
- How to perform the kettlebell figure 8
- Kettlebell figure 8 benefits and drawbacks
- Common errors to avoid
- How to program the movement
- Kettlebell figure 8 variations
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Video: Kettlebell Figure 8 Demonstration
How to Perform the Kettlebell Figure 8
For this exercise, you will need a kettlebell.
Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell on the ground between your feet. Maintaining a straight back, hinge at your hips, squat down, and grab a kettlebell with both hands.
Form Tip: You need enough space between your legs for the kettlebell to pass completely between them. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, and adjust after a couple of repetitions if you need more space.
Step 2: Stand tall with your arm fully extended and the kettlebell hanging in front of your body. Brace your core, lock your glutes, and engage your lats.
Step 3: Drive your hips forward, sending the kettlebell away from your body.
Step 4: When the kettlebell’s forward momentum stops, let go with your left hand and allow the kettlebell to swing back between your legs. Hinge at the waist and soften your knees to follow the kettlebell’s backward path.
Step 5: Direct the kettlebell back and behind your left knee, reaching your left hand around the outside of your left leg. Pass the kettlebell from your right hand to your left hand as the kettlebell begins to lose its backward momentum. Move your left hand in a circular path around your left leg.
Movement Tip: Focus on touching the outside of your index fingers’ main knuckles together. This will help you feel exactly where the kettlebell is without looking for it. And twist your hand so that your thumb and forefinger are pointing behind you as you direct the bell between your legs.
Step 6: Drive your hips forward, sending your left arm and kettlebell out in front of you. Stand tall, squeezing your glutes at the top and fully extending your hips.
Form Tip: Keep your arms as fully extended as possible during the entire lift.
Step 7: Direct the kettlebell between your legs with your left hand, and repeat the steps above.
Step 8: Continue the figure eight pattern, passing the kettlebell from hand to hand between your legs until you reach your desired number of repetitions or time goals.
Step 9: For your final repetition, catch the kettlebell on the backswing with your free hand so that both hands are once again holding the kettlebell. Hinge at the waist, soften your knees, and let the kettlebell swing between your legs. Without driving your hips forward, follow the kettlebell’s momentum forward and direct it to the ground between or just in front of your feet.
Muscles Worked by the Kettlebell Figure 8
The kettlebell figure 8 is a compound exercise that involves practically every muscle in your body.
Some muscles work as primary movers for the execution of the kettlebell figure eight, while others work as accessory or stabilizing muscles. These accessory and stabilizing muscles will receive some stimulus from the exercise but are not a focus.
Primary movers (agonists) are the muscle or muscle groups primarily responsible for the production of kinetic force behind a movement.
The primary movers during the kettlebell figure 8 are the gluteus muscles (Maximus, medius, and minimus), the hamstrings, and the quadriceps femoris.
These muscles are responsible for creating and receiving the momentum of the kettlebell. They receive the most stimulus and highest strength and hypertrophy benefits.
The gluteus Maximus, along with the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius make up the largest and most powerful muscle in your lower body.
The glutes are responsible for extension of your hips and external rotation of your thighs. They are incredibly important for maintaining proper posture and for force production during athletic movements. Essentailly, training your butt muscles is incredibly for everyone.
The hamstrings muscle group consists of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris muscles.
This muscle group is located on the back of your thighs and functions to both extend your hips and flex your knees.
Ever notice how humongous the hamstrings of sprinters are? This is because the hamstrings are critically important for explosive activities such as sprinting and jumping.
But they’re also responsible for stabilizing the knee joint and helping you stand upright. The stronger and more flexible your hamstrings, the less likely you are to injure them or your low back. This exercise will help with both of these aspects.
The quadriceps, or quads for short, is located on the front of your thighs and is made up of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.
The quads work to flex your hips and extend your knees during squat variations.
During the kettlebell figure 8, your quads will help absorb much of the downward momentum of the kettlebell on its backswing.
The calves, deltoids, and upper back muscles including the latissimus dorsi and trapezius are important for providing stability during the kettlebell figure eight. However, these muscles take a more passive role in the movement, and will not receive much of a training stimulus. But this does make them less susceptible to injury
The erector spinae located along the spinal column, abdominal and core muscles, forearms, obliques, and serratus anterior act as stabilizing muscles for the kettlebell figure 8.
These muscles engage isometrically to help you maintain correct posture and body positioning, as well as to protect your connective tissues from injury, loss of stability, or overextension.
Your core is made up of several muscles, including the rectus abdominis (abs), obliques, transverse abdominis, and spinal erectors.
We all know and love the abs…the show muscles of the core! Your abs function to curl the pelvis and rib cage toward each other, like performing a crunch.
Your obliques sit on either side of your abs and are responsible for rotating your torso.
The deepest core muscles, including the transverse abdominis and internal obliques, assist to draw your belly button toward your spine and maintain torso stability. This creates a strong brace, which is essential for safe heavy lifting and normal daily activities.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Figure 8
The kettlebell figure 8 is a compound exercise that requires the use of multiple joints and muscle groups. This makes it an incredibly effective exercise for developing strength, power, and muscular endurance. The following are several other benefits of the kettlebell figure eight.
Works Your Posterior Chain and Core Muscles
The kettlebell figure eight is an excellent exercise to target your posterior chain muscles, including your glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae (back muscles).
Posterior chain muscles are important for daily activities such as walking, running, and safely picking up heavy objects.
They are also key for exercises such as the deadlift and squats.
A strong posterior chain can help you avoid injuries by taking stress off of your knees and lower back.
The KB figure eight also works your core muscles, which helps improve your posture and can prevent lower back pain.
Burn Fat and Improve Conditioning
The kettlebell figure eight requires the use of large muscle groups performed in a fluid motion without pause or rest. This makes it a great cardio exercise that can burn calories and improve your conditioning.
The KB figure 8 is also an excellent exercise for improving muscular endurance, which is necessary for athletics, bodybuilding, and everyday life.
This exercise is also a good way to warm up your muscles before performing more strenuous exercises, or as HIIT training at the end of your strength training session, which is my favorite way to use it.
I love to finish my traditional hypertrophy or strength training workouts with 3-5 minutes of something performed at high intensity. A kettlebell movement paired with an abdominal movement is ideal for this.
Try 20 kettlebell figure eight super-setted with 10 strict GHD sit-ups. Do As Many Rounds and Reps as Possible in 4 minutes.
Great for Training the Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is a movement pattern that involves flexing at the hips while keeping your spine relatively neutral. This is an important movement pattern to master because it’s used in exercises such as the deadlift, kettlebell swing, and Romanian deadlift.
The hip hinge is also responsible for generating explosive power in many athletic movements.
The kettlebell figure eight can help you develop strength and power in this movement pattern.
Whole Body Stability
The figure eight requires you to maintain total-body stability while training through multiple planes of motion. The kettlebell is not only moving forward and backward, it’s circling side-to-side as well.
This helps develop the muscles and coordination needed to stabilize your spine and joints, which can help prevent injuries.
This type of training not only benefits athletes, but it’s also beneficial for enhancing balance and overall body awareness. This becomes more important as we get older, especially for simple activities like cleaning the house or walking down the street.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that strength and balance training can help prevent injuries by improving coordination, stability, and proprioception (body awareness). This is especially useful for older people. However, if you’re an athlete, the functional and total-body advantages are enough to include it in your sports performance routine.
Drawbacks of the Kettlebell Figure 8
The kettlebell figure 8 is not without its downsides.
You Need to be Patient
The kettlebell figure 8 is not the most complex movement out there, but it’s not the easiest to learn either.
Some will say this movement is a stepping stone to learning the kettlebell swing, but I disagree. The very first movement you should learn is the Russian kettlebell swing.
Once you’ve mastered that, you can give the figure 8 a try. Start light, and be willing to spend the time necessary to learn how to do the movement fluidly and correctly.
Related: Learn How to Perform the Russian Kettlebell Swing
Tendency to Use Poor Form
The figure eight can be performed with poor form quite easily. This is often the case when people try to move too quickly or use too much weight.
And, depending on your limb lengths, mobility, and flexibility, it may be easier to get the kettlebell from hand to hand by bending your back. But that defeats much of the purpose of the movement and increases the shear force on your back.
It’s important to keep the following things in mind when performing the kettlebell figure eight:
- Keep your shoulders down and back
- Don’t let your lower back round
- Brace your core throughout the entire movement
Kettlebell Figure 8 Tips
The following tips will help you do this movement correctly right from the start.
Perfect Your Stance
The trick is to place your legs wide enough that you can swing the kettlebell between the without hitting your thigh, knee, or shin, but narrow enough that you can swing the kettlebell around your leg and crash into your calf.
Start with a shoulder-width stance and practice with a light kettlebell. Move wider or narrower depending on your own mechanics until you find the perfect stance.
I find that a slightly narrower than shoulder-width stance is best for me. I never have a problem getting the bell between y legs, but I can have a tendency to crash into the back of my knees if I’m at shoulder width.
Is the Kettlebell Figure 8 Safe?
Due to the rotating nature of the figure 8, many think that this is not a very safe movement. But that’s not entirely true.
With good form and a reasonable weight, the kettlebell figure 8 is quite safe.
There are two real concerns when performing the figure eight: allowing too much momentum with the kettlebell and moving too fast or with too much weight.
Too much momentum can place unnecessary shear force on your joints, especially your hips, shoulders, and wrists.
Using too much speed or weight can cause too much momentum, but it can also cause you to hit yourself with the kettlebell. If you’ve never done that, trust me…you don’t want to!
These concerns are easy enough to avoid if you choose an appropriate weight and spend the time to learn to do the movement correctly.
How Heavy Should The Kettlebell Figure 8 Be?
If you are a newer trainee or kettlebell training is new for you, opt for a lighter kettlebell than you think you’ll need. Due to the dynamic and rotational nature of the movement, lighter is definitely better until you’re more experienced.
If you’ve got several years of training under your belt, and have worked with kettlebells before, start with a weight that you can perform 20 consecutive Russian KB swings with. A 53-pound, or 1.5-poods, kettlebell is a great place to start for most men, and 53-pounds (1 pood) is a good starting option for women.
Common Errors With the Kettlebell Figure 8
Identify and avoid the following common mistakes with the kettlebell figure 8.
The kettlebell figure eight should be smooth and continuous. Try and avoid any jerky movements or pauses when passing the kettlebell from hand to hand.
At first, this may be difficult to avoid. So start light and focus on smooth movements. You will quickly develop the control and coordination to make this one fluid motion.
You will likely feel much of the work from this movement in your lower back and hips. Some of that is fine! But avoid rounding your back to get the kettlebell into place between your legs.
The movement is a hinge, not a forward bend. Your back should stay mostly neutral. Again, if you find yourself bending forward excessively, lighten the weight.
How do you really know if you’re bending too much? Record yourself! I can’t overstate this enough.
EVERYONE should record themselves performing exercises. Mirrors often lie, and it’s difficult to judge yourself while you’re completing the movement.
Film yourself, and then critique your form.
Programming the Kettlebell Figure 8
The kettlebell figure 8 is a great exercise for functional fitness, athletes, and fitness- enthusiasts. Whether you compete in team or individual sports or just want to be in great shape, the figure 8 can make a great addition to your training.
Try a couple of the following ideas and fit the figure 8 into your routine.
Post Workout Burnout
Use the kettlebell figure 8 at the end of your workout to finish on a high note.
- AMRAP 5 minutes – kettlebell figure 8 paired with an abdominal exercise
- Max figure 8s in 1-minute, rest 30 seconds, for 4 sets
Use the figure 8 to prepare your body through multiple planes of motion.
- Max effort figure 8s for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds. Repeat 4 times.
Kettlebell Figure 8 Variations
Here are several ways to make the kettlebell figure 8 easier or harder depending on your current fitness level and goals.
Kettlebell Figure 8 to Hold
In this variation, you stand tall at the end of each repetition, lifting and holding the kettlebell at chest height. This will further engage your upper body.
To do this variation, start the exercise exactly the same way as the traditional figure 8.
Swing the kettlebell between and around the leg, grab it with the opposite hand, extend your knees and drive your hips forward to stand tall, fully extended. Bring the kettlebell up to your chest, still holding it by the horns, and bring your second around to help stabilize the bell. Pause for a 1 count.
Advanced Technique: Try to do this without bringing the second hand up to help stabilize the bell at your chest. This is known as a “bottoms up” kettlebell hold.
Release the kettlebell with your supporting hand and direct the bell back between your legs. Circle the bell behind your opposite leg and switch hands. Once again, drive your hips and extend your knees, cleaning the kettlebell to a paused position in front of your chest.
Repeat until you’ve reached your set number of reps.
Figure Eight With Snatch
To work your upper body even more and increase the explosiveness of the movement, add a snatch to the figure eight.
Perform the kettlebell figure out as normal. After completing a circle around your left leg, explode your hips forward and snatch the weight overhead in one smooth motion.
You can also switch hands mid-air, from your left and over to your right as you snatch (shown in the video above).
You can either swing the weight far in front of you from this overhead position or bring the weight back to your chest, then down toward the floor to continue with a circle around your right leg. When you finish the circle around your right leg, drive forward and perform a KB snatch with your right arm.
Continue this pattern, alternating figure 8 leg circles and snatches.
Kettlebell Figure 8 Squat
This variation is very similar to the traditional figure 8 but uses a squat instead of a hip hinge.
To do the squat version, squat down (instead of hinging at the waist) and grab the kettlebell with your right hand.
Pass it behind your left leg, grab it with your left hand, and stand up with the kettlebell held suitcase-style at your side as it circles around your leg to come back in front of you.
While the KB makes its pass in front of you, squat down and pass it through your legs and behind your right leg, grab it with your right hand, and stand back up.
Repeat until you reach your desired number of reps.
Alternating Kettlebell Swing
The alternating kettlebell swing is more similar to a kettlebell swing than a figure 8, but you get the benefits of unilateral movement and your core muscles having to stabilize isometrically to prevent shifting from side to side.
Pick up a kettlebell with your right hand and drive your hips forward to send the kettlebell swinging in front of you to eye level.
Bring your left hand up to eye level and switch hands mid-air. Bring the kettlebell back between your legs with your left hand.
Drive forward with your hips and send the kettlebell up to eye level. Bring your right hand up to meet it and switch hands mid-air.
Repeat until you reach your desired number of repetitions.
Kettlebell Squat to Overhead Press and Figure 8
This variation is more of a complex, a series of movements combined together and performed smoothly as if they were one fluid movement. You will need to know how to perform a kettlebell goblet squat, kettlebell swing, and a figure 8 to make this move work. If you’re lacking one of those skills, drill them first and then give this complex a try.
Pick up a kettlebell and hold it in a goblet squat position. Complete one goblet squat.
Without pausing at the top of the goblet squat, drive the kettlebell up overhead.
Lower the kettlebell back down to the goblet squat position.
Drive the kettlebell in front of your body at full arm extension down in front of you (this should look like the top of a traditional KB swing).
Release one hand as the kettlebell begins to swing down between your legs.
After the bell passes around your opposite leg and into the opposite hand, drive your hips forward and clean the kettlebell up to the goblet squat position.
Repeat, starting from the goblet squat. But this time perform the figure 8 with the other hand.
I love kettlebells for home workouts. They’re relatively inexpensive and incredibly versatile! I own at least one of each of the following bells and use them daily.
Titan Fitness Cast Iron Kettlebells – These are my favorite style of kettlebells. If you are just getting into kettlebells, start with a 16 kg (35 lb) or 24 kg (53 lb) bell. I bought my 35-kg kettlebell from Titan Fitness and I love it.
Rogue Fitness Iron Kettlebells – These are great, high-quality kettlebells. I have two 16-kg and one 24-kg from Rogue.
Rogue Fitness E-Coat Kettlebells – These are slightly cheaper than the cast iron kettlebells but are of the same quality and are shaped from the same mold as the cast iron. I have one of these and I use it often with my cast iron version. They are the same height, weight, and feel, which is important if you are doing dual kettlebell work.
Conclusion: The Kettlebell Figure 8
The kettlebell figure 8 is a great exercise to add in some unilateral work and also get your heart rate up. It works well as a warm-up activity, paired with dynamic stretching to get your body prepared for heavy strength training or functional fitness work, or as a HIIT finisher at the end of your training session. Start light and keep the movement fluid and smooth. Then challenge with advanced variations and complexes to keep your body guessing.