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I’ve covered cardio kettlebell workouts, HIIT kettlebell workouts, kettlebell circuits – even a skipping and kettlebell swing workout. And while they're all terrific if you want to improve your muscle endurance and aerobic conditioning, they’re not so good if you want to build strength. But by setting aside a couple of training days for this heavy kettlebell workout, you’ll be able to develop the full spectrum of your physicality.
A common misunderstanding is that kettlebells are an ineffective strength training tool. An old exercise acquaintance of mine held this opinion. He maintained that, once you’d mastered a technique, the snatch, say, you could perform it all day long.
That might be the case if you’re using a light kettlebell. But I’d love to see anyone who makes the above claim perform the long cycle with two 32kg kettlebells all day. I’ve been lifting kettlebells for twenty years and my personal best is a pitiful 31 reps – at which point I promptly crumbled.
You'll nee a heavy kettlebell for this workout
Though there is no denying the fact: kettlebells were designed and are primarily used for developing muscle endurance, explosive power, and aerobic fitness – not maximal strength. However, if you bump up a pood – or double up your bells – you can functional strength.
The two types of strength are often conflated. The former refers to the ‘maximum force that your muscles can generate,’ during a single contraction (NSCA: Strength Training). This is the type of strength measured by the one-repetition max test, which is usually established for a compound movement – such as the deadlift, squat, or snatch.
Functional strength, in contrast, ‘isn’t about how much [is] done in a particular lift, but rather the ability to reflect that strength at numerous angles,’ (Advances In Functional Training). Another way of expressing functional strength is by being able to control a heavy weight while coordinating your body through a series of complex movements. This type of strength is expressed when performing a long cycle with two 32kg kettlebells.
Heavy kettlebell workout benefits
Factoring a heavy kettlebell workout into your week can be beneficial in many ways both for your body and health. For example, playing with the big bells boosts testosterone levels. As well as facilitating the repair of damaged tissue, thus speeding post-training recovery, increasing testosterone production drives muscle growth (The Encyclopaedia Of Modern Bodybuilding).
You may have second-guessed where I’m going with this line of argument: Increased testosterone = increased muscle mass = increased strength!
And though that calculation is consistent with the findings of literally thousands of scientific studies, it’s not where I was going. Sorry to disappoint, but that’s old news now.
After ‘increased muscle mass,’ I wanted to add a comparatively new finding. That is, researchers have shown that building bigger (and, yes, stronger) muscles can slow the onset of senescence – the natural age-related deterioration of our physicality.
As we get older, and testosterone production declines, our muscles start to atrophy. But people who have developed their musculature through regular resistance training, are able to preserve their strength into old age. You could view strength training as a form of fitness pension: keep consistently paying into it and you’ll have more to draw on when you’re past your prime.
Related: Benefits of Strength Training >
More reasons to do kettlebell strength training
That’s a long-term benefit of strength training. What near-term benefits can you expect? Thankfully, because the body responds surprisingly quickly to changes in training methods, we won’t have to wait until we’re old and wrinkly before we get to cash in those benefits.
Studies have demonstrated that just 8 to 12 weeks of strength training triggers a cascade of highly advantageous physiological adaptations – such as augmented strength (obviously), neural adaptations, improved general exercise performance, and skill acquisition.
Together ‘these positive alterations allow an individual to be stronger [obviously], more powerful, and maintain a better quality of life throughout the life span,’ (National Library of Medicine).
General benefits of strength training
The health and fitness benefits of building strength don’t stop at improving the quality of life and slowing the onslaught of age-related physical degeneration. Though they are arguably the top tumps. Weightlifting guru Anita Bean brings our attention to an army of attributes that are associated with strength training.
In her comprehensive book, The Complete Guide To Strength Training, Bean tells us that, he or she who regularly participate in resistance exercise, involving complex exercises and heavy kettlebell workouts, can expect to take home one or more of the following outcomes:
Increased muscle mass and strength
Stronger connective tissues
Increased metabolic rate
Reduced body fat
Increased bone density
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced blood cholesterol and blood fat
Improved psychological well-being
Improved appearance and with it improved self-body image
How to go heavy with kettlebells
Now that you’ve seen the many desirable ways that building strength can transform your physicality, you’re no doubt desperate to get going with the heavy kettlebell workout. Before you do, it’s worth considering how to go heavy with kettlebells. As mentioned in the introduction, one limitation of kettlebells is the conspicuous constriction of weights.
Traditionally, kettlebells come in ‘poods’ – which equals 16kg – and ‘there are one, one and a half, and two pood K-bells, 16, 24, and 32kg respectively,’ (The Russian Kettlebell Challenge). This can pose a problem for developing strength.
How do you build strength if you’ve only got a single pood at home? Or if your gym only has a couple of light bells kicking about? The dearth of resistance undeniably makes strength training with kettlebells challenging. However, there are a few ways around this problem. Below I will explore two options.
heavy kettlebell set
The simplest way to increase the poundage of your K-bells is by doubling up. If you’ve got a lone 16kg at home, and that’s your comfortable weight, splash the cash and buy it a buddy. You may think that it makes more logical sense to bump up half a pood and instead purchase a 24kg. However, for single lifts, you’ve only increased the resistance by a poultry 8kg. Getting another 16kg not only doubles the weight, but it also enables you to perform two kettlebell movements which, believe me, are much harder. (Need advice on selecting kettlebell sets?)
adjustable kettlebell heavy
Another way to increase the weight of your kettlebell – without dolling out the dollar for a doppelganger – is to tether it to a resistance band. In addition to being dirt cheap, resistance bands are super-versatile. Also, if procured as a pack, they come in a range of weights, meaning that you can adjust the kettlebell weight as you get stronger. For example, FitBeast's ‘resistance band bundle’ contains 5kg through to 50kg!
But you may be scratching your head over how a resistance band is applied to a kettlebell. It’s surprisingly simple, you just loop the band around the handle and anchor the slack under your feet. In this position, you can perform a surprising number of kettlebell drills from conventional compound movements (squat, deadlift and bent row) to classic exercises (the swing, goblet squat, and snatch pull).
Related: Need more Kettlebell Exercise ideas?
Don’t get me wrong, this method is by no means perfect. Besides the fact that you are restricted to a comparatively limited register of exercises, performing kettlebell movements with a resistance band takes a bit of getting used to. Also, for beginners, it is potentially dangerous. For these reasons, I would only advise intermediate and advanced trainers to apply this method.
Heavy kettlebell workout
I’ve created not one heavy kettlebell workout for you to try but three! They’ve been crafted to cultivate muscle endurance, explosive power, and whole-body strength. Thus, each plan is loaded with a lengthy list of multi-joint exercises that target all the major muscle groups (and every sinew in between). As I discuss in more detail in the hints and tips section below, the workouts can be adapted for one or two kettlebells.
kettlebell strength workout #1
Plan one is comprised of conventional strength training exercises – squats, deadlifts, and overhead pressing. As well as making it more accessible to a wider audience, workout one is suitable for those still finding their way around the kettlebell. The exercises selected will likely be familiar to you as you would have encountered them during your gym induction.
kettlebell strength training #2
Plan two is more challenging than its predecessor as it involves power-strength movements. For example, in place of squats, you’ll be doing sumo squats to high pull. By bolting on an explosive pull, the static squat is transformed into a dynamic exercise that activates every link in the posterior chain (in addition to the squatting muscles, of course). And because such exercises simultaneously engage so many muscles, they also stimulate the aerobic energy system – which serves to elevate your heart rate and burn fat.
heavy kettlebell routine #3
Plan three is for the puritanical kettlebell lifter. Only those with inch-thick palm calluses and a steely-eyed stare should undertake this workout. The bulk of the plan consists of classic kettlebell drills – swings, snatches, cleans, and the long cycle. To eke out those strength gains it’s advisable to double up on all the exercises. In a bid to keep things fresh, barbell power cleans have been infused into the workout. After completing the kettlebell sets, you will perform 5 heavy power cleans.
Heavy kettlebell workout key points
Before embarking on your strength-building journey, irrespective of which path you take, ensure to warm up well before setting off.
Select the heavy kettlebell workout that aligns with your training objectives and exercise experience. To recapitulate:
Gong Heavy #1 is comprised of conventional compound exercises that are to be completed at a moderate intensity. Because Heavy #1 features foundational movements, it is suitable for all levels of ability.
Gong Heavy #2 is more involved as it sports a series of explosive power-strength exercises. Thus, navigating the plan requires technical proficiency and experience-backed exercise efficacy.
Gong Heavy #3 is suitable for the seasoned girevik and those who know their way around a kettlebell. Anyone who can’t comfortably execute a perfectly polished long cycle should steer clear. Another distinguishing feature of plan three is the option to undertake a five-minute AMRAP.
1000m row → 10 kettlebell swings → 100m row → 10 kettlebell swings → 100m row → 10 kettlebell swings → 100m row → 10 kettlebell swings → 100m row → 10 kettlebell swings → 100m row → 10 kettlebell swings → 100m row → 10 kettlebell swings → 100m row → Go heavy!
Heavy kettlebell workout hints and tips
The chief concern when completing a heavy kettlebell workout is not, paradoxically, how much weight you lift. Load is, of course, an indispensable factor in strength training. If you don’t sufficiently stress the muscles those all-important physiological adaptations won’t take place. However, poundage should never supersede safety: always prioritise the quality of your technique. Truly, it’s not about how much you lift, but how well you execute that lift. The heavier we go the greater our risk of suffering severe injury. Next to warming up, applying the correct form is our best weapon in the war against injury prevention. So, with that said, ensure to perform exercises cleanly and smoothly: no jerky or fractured movements. Keep that back straight, knees bent, and eyes fixed forward. Always maintain control of the load. And, as Bruce Lee rightly said, ‘Above all else, never cheat on an exercise; use the amount of weight that you can handle without undue strain,’ (The Art of Expressing The Human Body).
Related: Test yourself against these Tsatsouline Workouts >
View the heavy kettlebell workout plans as strength-building blueprints. If they do not precisely reflect your exercise objectives, or they feature training tasks that you are not fully confident in performing, amend them accordingly. How might you go about this? For starters, you can change any of the exercises. Let’s say that Going Heavy #2 has piqued your interest, but those sumo squats to high pulls are putting you off somewhat. Instead of backing out, break the exercise down into two distinct parts (sumo squat → pause → controlled high pull) or park the pull and stick with the squat.
Related: More Kettlebell Strength Training >
As for training tasks, perhaps you fancy your physicality in the five-minute kettlebell swing swashbuckling session. But you’re not so keen on going toe-to-toe with the long cycle. No shame in that whatsoever. Again, instead of sidestepping the workout, simply mix and match the tasks. AMRAP the swing, snatch and goblet squat then revert to the sets-reps-rest formula for the clean, jerk and long cycle.
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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 at email@example.com.
Bean. A. (2008) Strength Training: The Complete Guide To. A&C Black. London.
Boyle, Micheal. (2017) Advances In Functional Training.
NSCA’s Strength Training Essentials. (2015) Human Kinetics. USA.
Schwarzenegger. A. (1998) The Encyclopaedia Of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon & Schuster. New York.
Watson A. W. S (1995) Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance. Longman. England.
National Library of Medicine: Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training
'The capacity for human exercise performance can be enhanced with prolonged exercise training, whether it is endurance- or strength-based. The ability to adapt through exercise training allows individuals to perform at the height of their sporting event and/or maintain peak physical condition throughout the life span.' (Accessed: 19 – 10 – 2023)
Hughes DC, Ellefsen S, Baar K. Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018 Jun 1;8(6):a029769. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029769. PMID: 28490537; PMCID: PMC5983157.