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Remembering to target all areas of the body across a training week can be a bit of a challenge. Especially if you’re schedule is chock full of commitments. Have I worked my quads this week? Did I hit my back hard enough? Could I have crammed a bit more cardio in?
These problems are made worse if, like many exercisers, you train an area of the body on specific days – Monday legs, Tuesday back, etc. If ever you can’t make it to the gym, you’re left scrambling to squeeze in that missing muscle group.
This full body kettlebell workout puts an end to these problems. Packed to bursting with compound exercises, in this single session, all the big muscles are activated. Also, exercises such as the swing and snatch don’t just engage every link in the posterior chain. They also stimulate a score of synergist and deep stabiliser muscles.
Essential kit: Competition Kettlebell
But this workout is not all about resistance training. The ‘full body’ appellation cannot be honestly bestowed on any workout that doesn’t stimulate the cardiovascular system. It’s for this reason that cardio caps the list of kettlebell exercises.
However, as I explain in more detail in the hints and tips section below, those that don’t want for full body experience, can skip the cardio and get stuck into the kettlebells.
Full body kettlebell workout benefits
Of course, the most obvious benefit of this workout is that it engages the whole body. As well as eradicating the problems of compartmentalised training, a workout that features a broad mix of exercises and training methods also promotes a wider range of health and fitness outcomes.
For example, functional resistance exercises – cleans, jerks, snatch pulls and the like – develop strength and muscular endurance. Furthermore, such exercises have been shown to enhance performance in unrelated activities. John Shepherd, author of The Complete Guide To Sports Training, discusses research conducted by Soviet strength and conditioning coaches. After introducing kettlebell exercises into the training regime of athletes, the coaches reported the following outcomes:
Improved 1000m run time
Strength endurance – measured by the number of completed pull-ups and parallel bar dips
Complementing the above benefits, cardio exercises can increase aerobic conditioning while burning fat and decreasing your risk of developing many nasty diseases.
A study outlined by Dr Dean Ornish showed that ‘deaths were lower from all causes, including heart disease and cancer’ in people who regularly participate in aerobic exercise (Program For Reversing Heart Disease – p325).
Health and fitness benefits
The brief overview above outlines only the key health and fitness benefits that this workout aims to confer. But, as the following list indicates, there’s more to be had. However, these benefits aren’t a given, they’re conditional.
The condition is that the workout is completed two to three times a week in conjunction with your general exercise routine.
Training consistency was one of the strongest distinguishing features in the study discussed by Ornish. Participants that exercised regularly enjoyed the greatest health benefits.
Increased aerobic capacity
Increased muscular endurance
Enhanced functional strength
High metabolic cost (burns lots of calories)
Elevated heart rate
How to do this full body kettlebell workout
The session plan is kicked in touch with a bout of ‘continuous training.’ For 10-, 15-, or 20-minutes aim to sustain a consistent output on one of the following three cardio exercises – running, rowing, skipping. If you’re short on time, you can use this part of the workout as a warm-up.
Concluding the short sweat fest, steel yourself for the onslaught of kettlebell exercises. At this point, you have two pathways through the plan to choose between. First, complete the stipulated number of sets and reps. Because the primary aim of this route is to develop strength, use a heavier kettlebell (or a pair) and ensure to take plenty of rest after each set.
The second path involves a series of AMRAPs. By far the more challenging path, the objective is dictated by the training protocol: to accrue as many reps as possible. When the time elapses, signifying the end of the AMRAP, make a note of your score before taking a well-deserved two-minute rest.
Cooper run test
When you’ve progressed through the list of kettlebell exercises, there’s another bout of cardio to complete. Slight change of tactic though. The second bout of cardio consists of the 12-minute Cooper run test. Your objective is to cover as many metres as possible in 12 minutes.
Of course, you don’t have to tackle the test if you’re not up to it. Instead, just use the run as a cool-down and an additional opportunity to bag a bit more cardio.
5 minute warm up
5-minute rowing (running or skipping) at a steady pace. Concluding the pre-warm-up, complete the following row/kettlebell swing interval progression:
Set 1: 250-metre row / 10 kettlebell swings (50% max effort)
Set 2: 250-metre row / 10 kettlebell swings (60% max effort)
Set 3: 250-metre row / 10 kettlebell swings (70% max effort)
Set 4: 250-metre row / 10 kettlebell swings (80% max effort)
Full body kettlebell workout hints and tips
As previously mentioned, the first cardio bout can be used as an extended warm-up or as your main warm-up activity. If this is your plan, it’s wise to prioritise rowing and skipping as these exercises engage both your lower and upper body muscles – thus proving a whole-body warm-up.
You only need a single kettlebell to complete this workout. However, if you want to increase the intensity, you could double up. Exercises suitable for two kettlebells include the swing, clean, and jerk. Using two kettlebells makes sense for those aiming to build strength.
Related: Try this Kettlebell Strength Workout
In contrast to the previous point, those looking to improve general fitness conditioning would benefit from using a single kettlebell and opting for a high-volume training protocol. You could select either a high set and rep range – 4 to 6 sets of 12 to 20 reps – or the AMRAPs.
The final component of the workout consists of the 12-minute Cooper run. Under test conditions, the objective is to cover as many metres as physically possible in the time allotted. Traditionally, the test is conducted on a sports field; usually, participants run around the periphery of a football pitch. But the test can just as well be conducted on an indoor treadmill. If you plan to pit yourself against the test, I have outlined the normative data sets in the table below. (Note: distances are in metres.)
12 minute Cooper run
Table adapted from Kenneth Cooper’s The Aerobics Program For Total Well-Being.
The kettlebell exercises selected for this workout are comprised of compound movements that engage one or more major muscle groups. I chose them because, as well as maximising fitness gains, they are familiar to most kettlebell trainers, thus making the workout accessible to a wider audience.
There may be one exception though.
So far on your kettlebell training journey, you may not yet have encountered the lunge-twist. This is simply an amalgamation of the lunge and woodchop. For those that have not practised this exercise before, I’ve outlined the key points.
Kettlebell lunge-twist key techniques
Gripping the sides of the handle, the kettlebell is supported in front of your chest – similar to the start position of a goblet squat.
Adopt a neutral stance.
First, perform a lunge ensuring to step out slightly as you step forward. This helps improve balance.
Once you’ve sunk into the lunge, hold the position while you execute the twist.
To do so, extend the arms out – you’re effectively pushing the kettlebell away from your chest.
When your arms are straight, trace out a 90-degree angle by rotating the kettlebell to the side of the lead leg.
Complete the movement by rotating back to the central position.
Retract the arms while firing out of the lunge.
Repeat on the opposite side.
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About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or email@example.com.