Is it even possible to train your full body with a single kettlebell? After all, it’s just a steel ball with a briefcase handle bolted to the top. Honestly, how much fitness can be eked out of an oversized paperweight?
These are the questions people often ask after clapping their eyes on a kettlebell for the first time. However, as this workout will show, and experienced gireviks attest, you can train the full body with a single kettlebell.
And by full body, I don’t merely mean engaging all the major muscle groups. When kettlebell exercises are completed as part of a circuit or AMRAP, the workout can be physically demanding enough to stimulate the cardiovascular system.
I have briefly outlined a range of fitness benefits you can expect to obtain from the three full body single kettlebell workouts below.
Full body single kettlebell workout benefits
The author of the Russian Kettlebell Challenge, Pavel Tsatsouline, outlines an extensive range of benefits associated with K-bell training. Tsatsouline maintains that, if we regularly use kettlebells, we will develop complete fitness conditioning.
Fitness conditioning, as we’ve explained elsewhere, refers to the improvement of a range of components of fitness. For example, people that confine workouts to the weights room will enhance their strength. But in narrowing their training they sacrifice cardio, muscle endurance and other components of fitness – flexibility, power, and coordination.
Conversely, those that only engage in cardio exercise may boast a high aerobic threshold. They can sustain output for protracted periods – running, rowing, swimming, and cycling for miles. Yet, when it comes to resistance, they’re weaker than a kitten.
Kettlebell training, it could be said, forms a bridge between the two fitness extremes. Incorporating kettlebell workouts into your routine can enable you to develop full body fitness conditioning. That is equal measures of cardio and strength that support the demands of daily life.
Related: 5 Frequently Asked Questions about Kettlebells
So, what’s meant by full body?
Of course, when we say the ‘full body’, we don’t literally mean every single muscle is specifically targeted. After all, the body is made up of over 660 muscles, which together comprise between 40-45 per cent of total body mass (The Strength & Conditioning Bible).
A workout with the aim of isolating and engaging even a fraction of our total muscle mass would likely be too generalised to bring about any worthwhile training effect. In addition, such a workout would feature so many exercises that it would take a week to complete.
There’s an easier and far more effective way to train the full body. Performing compound exercises and functional movements engages one or more major muscle groups.
Furthermore, ‘maximal stimulation exercises’ – squats, deadlifts, snatches – also involve a vast range of synergists and cause the ‘greatest stimulation of the muscle fibres,’ (The Complete Guide To Strength Training).
Snatch | The Tsar of kettlebell exercises
Take the kettlebell snatch as an example of a maximal stimulation exercise. This is such a formidable movement that Tsatsouline calls it the ‘Tsar of kettlebell exercises,’ and says that ‘It will quickly humble even studly powerlifters,’ (The Russian Kettlebell Challenge).
The primary muscles engaged include the mid to upper posterior chain – glutes, erector spina, lats, and deltoids. But to assist the lift, to guide and stabilise the kettlebell, all the muscles of the core, the minor muscle of the back (rhomboids, infraspinatus, teres minor and major), and the muscles of the arm are involved.
So, while the full body single kettlebell workout does not claim to isolate and engage every muscle, it does:
Target all the major muscle groups
Activates a vast range of smaller synergist muscles
Stimulates the cardiovascular system
Promotes a broad range of components of fitness
Related: Kettlebell Snatch Workout
Full body single kettlebell workout
You have three full body session plans to choose from. While each one engages the full body, they achieve this end in different ways. For example, the first plan has been designed for those that want to develop strength in the major muscle groups. Those who select this workout should use a heavy kettlebell.
The second plan promotes full body muscle endurance. Though the bell weight is lighter, the sets and reps and much higher. Also, the rest periods between sets are shorter.
Our final plan can improve whole-body fitness conditioning. Comprised of classic kettlebell exercises, this workout is all about maximum volume. The objective is to complete as many reps as possible on each of the exercises in the time allotted.
K-bell workout key points
Prior to picking up that bell ensure to warm up well first!
Select the session plan that aligns with your fitness goals. To recap the plans:
Workout 1 aims to promote strength. The sets and reps are low, but the kettlebell weight should be high. Remember, when training for strength, take plenty of rest after your sets. You need to give the muscles time to recover before your next lift.
Workout 2 observes the muscle endurance protocol. Though the kettlebell weight is lower, the sets and reps have doubled. Also, the rest period interspersing sets should be short – no more than a minute.
Workout 3 is a physical slugfest. For the stipulated durations (5 minutes), the objective is to complete as many reps as possible. Concluding each exercise, you can take up to half the training time as rest.
1000-metre rowing – progressively increase the intensity over the distance
1 up to 10 kettlebell squats into the swing (1 rep squat then 1 rep swing, 2 reps squat then 2 reps swing, and so on up to 10 reps)
500-metre rowing – moderate- to high-intensity
Full body single kettlebell workout hints and tips
You may find it helpful to have a couple of different-weight kettlebells to hand. This is especially helpful for those training for strength. When your muscles start fatiguing, switching to a lighter bell can enable you to complete the set. The same strategy can be employed if you decide to have a bash at the AMRAPs. If, after a few minutes, you’re finding the AMRAP a touch too challenging, quickly switching to a lighter bell will enable you to maintain momentum.
Of course, the glaring limitation of training with a single kettlebell is the inability to access greater loads. If you’ve only got a 16kg KB in your home gym, what do you do when it starts getting too light? A simple method of increasing the resistance, without footing the bill for another kettlebell, is by applying resistance bands. Resistance bands are cheap and extremely versatile pieces of training equipment. They can be attached to your kettlebell when performing swings, squats, and deadlifts. You’ll be surprised at just how much more challenging these exercises are with a resistance band.
Related: You only a single kettlebell to complete the 10,000 Swing Challenge
Enjoyed these full-body workouts?
Get your hands on 70 more with the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Volume 2.