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Equipped with these four kettlebell circuits you’ll have access to a compact training system. A system that enables you to activate all the major muscle groups while stimulating your heart, lungs and vascular system.
The circuit is comprised of kettlebell, cardio, and callisthenic exercises – though kettlebells do, of course, take the lead role. Combined, these three training approaches form a potent mix capable of cultivating explosive fitness conditioning. Let me take a minute to justify those claims.
Related: Need a Competition Kettlebell?
Kettlebell circuits fitness benefits
You probably already know that kettlebells are an indomitable functional fitness developer. But they don’t just strengthen skeletal muscles. Legendary kettlebell lifter and fitness author Pavel Tsatsouline maintains that the kettlebell is a ‘highly effective tool for strengthening the connective tissues’ and forging ‘extreme’ muscle endurance (The Russian Kettlebell Challenge).
But as brilliant as kettlebells indubitably are, you need a break from them at some point during a circuit. A circuit or workout crafted completely of kettlebell exercises will likely result in overworking certain muscle groups (such as the forearms and those of the posterior chain). Moreover, kettlebell-only workouts can get a bit boring and cause ‘palm trauma’ – a.k.a. blisters!
Related: Try these Pavel Tsatsouline Workouts
Improve multiple components of fitness
To avoid these undesirable outcomes, cardio and callisthenic exercises have been enlisted. These exercises also serve to diversify the training experience and broaden the range of fitness benefits the circuits promote.
Cardio is by far the best method of improving heart and lung health. Furthermore, as Professor Daniel Liberman points out in his book Exercised, cardio is the most effective exercise for burning fat and improving body composition – the ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass.
Callisthenics, by contrast, contributes to the augmentation of muscle endurance. Moreover, they have been shown to enhance ‘body control’ – a functional fitness attribute that can make ‘real world’ tasks easier.
Kettlebell circuits health and fitness benefits
Increased whole-body functional strength
Enhanced muscle endurance in all the major muscle groups
Augmented cardiovascular capacity
Improved functional fitness
Facilitate fat loss
Help to cultivate a healthier body composition
Related: Learn How To Program Kettlebell Training
Kettlebell circuits fitness outcomes
Below you’ll find four kettlebell circuit session plans. Each circuit has been crafted to confer a specific training effect – or fitness outcome. For example, the first circuit focuses on fostering explosive power. This is evidenced in the non-too-conspicuous number of plyometric exercises.
Related: A Guide To Plyometrics
Circuits two and three shift the training emphasis to strength and muscle endurance respectively. Thus, the second circuit requires a heavier kettlebell or, for intermediate and advanced trainers, a pair of bells. To promote muscle endurance, the primary concern of circuit three, the resistance drops while the volume increases.
Our final circuit is an amalgamation of its predecessors. The intended training effect can’t be specifically stated and instead is lumped under the generic aim of ‘general fitness.’ But this is both an indelible hallmark and a leading attribute of circuit training. In the words of Royal Marines PTI and fitness author Sean Lerwill, ‘for general, non-specific fitness, circuit training is probably the best one-off method available to develop endurance, stamina and strength,’ (Royal Marines Fitness Manual).
How to use these kettlebell circuits
So now we know in what ways the circuits can improve our health and fitness. In addition, we’ve reviewed a range of components of fitness they aim to develop. At this point, it’s perhaps worthwhile briefly considering a few ideas of how they can be integrated into your training routine. I’m going to outline a couple of options.
First, you could prioritise the kettlebell circuit that aligns closest with your fitness goal. For example, if you aim to improve functional strength, then you would look to integrate the second kettlebell circuit into your regime.
A second option is to cycle through the circuits every week, two weeks, or monthly. This is the optimal approach for the person pursuing general fitness as it enables them to engage every body system.
But that’s enough chat. Let’s crack on with the circuits.
Kettlebell circuits #1: Powerseekers
Sad though it makes me sound, but I named this circuit after the first ever kettlebell I bought. It was a shiny 24kg competition kettlebell made by a company called Powerseekers. Unfortunately, the company’s long since gone bust. But my kettlebell, even after 20 years of use and abuse, is as good as the day it arrived on my doorstep.
As the name suggests, the aim of our first kettlebell circuit aims to develop power. To achieve this training effect, the session plan has been populated primarily with plyometric exercises. The plyometric training methodology, remember, involves such actions as jumping, propelling the body or resistance equipment, or performing explosive movements. A few examples are in order.
The squat (or box) jump is a quintessential plyometric exercise. It can be performed with just the body weight or, for that extra kick, resistance equipment. The clap press-up or overhead kettlebell toss constitutes a plyometric propelling movement. As well as promoting incredible power, these types of exercises also engage the cardio system. In addition to those just listed, American swings (above the head as opposed to shoulder level) and power snatches qualify as explosive quasi-plyometric movements.
KB circuit key points
Warm up well before commencing the circuit: 2 min mobility exercises → 2 mins skipping → 5 reps air squats, press-ups and light swings → 2 mins skipping → 5 reps squats jumps, clap press-ups and light overhead swings → 2 mins skipping → 5 reps squat jumps, clap press-ups and light overhead swings → Start the circuit!
When warm and ready, begin ascending the repletion ladder.
Complete one rep at each station before taking a short rest.
Now progress to the next rung on the ladder – 2 reps.
Repeat until you have reached the top of the ladder.
At the top, you have two options. Option 1: Call it a day. Hit the shower. Break open that post-workout pasta salad. Option 2: Descend the ladder. If you select the second option, don’t forget that the descent starts with another round of 10 reps.
Kettlebell circuits #2: Functional strength
The focus of our second kettlebell circuit has shifted up (or down, depending on how you look at it) the training continuum to strength. In contrast to circuit one, there’s a lot less going on here.
Because the objective is to build strength in all the major muscle groups, the training volume has been turned down while the resistance has been turned up. Also, to delay fatigue and conserve energy, you are encouraged to take longer rest periods between stations. Doing so will enable you to generate more force during each lift thus maximising your strength gains.
Essential reading: Advances in Functional Strength
These modifications to the circuit mechanics are consistent with the strength training protocol – low sets and reps, long rests, and high weights. However, as this is a kettlebell circuit, and as kettlebells are inherently limited to the loads available, the emphasis leans more toward functional strength as opposed to maximal strength. This subtle change in the training dynamic enables us to increase the sets and reps slightly.
Circuit key points
Complete this progressive-intensity 10-minute warm-up: 2 min mobility exercises → 2 mins rowing (or skipping) → 10 reps swings → 1 min rowing → 10 reps swings and deadlifts → 1 min rowing → 10 reps swings, deadlifts, and cleans → 1 min rowing → 10 reps swings, deadlifts, cleans and jerks (5 each arm) → Start the circuit!
To facilitate strength gains, use a heavier-than-normal kettlebell or, if possible, a pair!
At your leisure, progress around the six stations performing 4 to 10 reps per exercise.
After one round of the circuit, complete the cardio burner.
Kettlebell circuits #3: Muscle endurance
Kettlebell training is a superlative muscle endurance developer. But then this is no surprise considering that all the Girevoy Sports competitions are tests of extreme endurance. Take the standard competition as an example. Performing a classic kettlebell exercise, such as the snatch, jerk or long cycle, gireviks attempt to amass as many reps as possible in 10 minutes. He or she who achieves the highest overall score wins.
Elite-level kettlebell lifters can rack up a staggering number of reps. For example, during the 2013 Russian Girevoy Sports championships, the kettlebell lifting phenom Ivan Denisov performed a muscle-quivering 238 snatches with a 32kg (a total lift of over 7600kg in 10 minutes!).
To prepare for such competitions, it’s no surprise that gireviks prioritise muscle endurance training. This means performing lots of lifts for protracted periods.
The third kettlebell circuit, then, incorporates elements of Girevoy Sports competitions. Featuring classic kettlebell exercises and a few contemporary variations, the objective is to complete as many reps as possible in the time allotted. After each exercise, which is a mini AMRAP, you can take a short break before transitioning.
Circuit key points
Fire up the engine with this warm-up: 3 mins rowing → 1 min swing → 2 mins rowing → 1 min alternate arm cleans → 2 mins rowing → 1 min alternate arm clean to jerk → Enter the circuit!
The circuit is comprised of a series of short-duration AMRAPs (as many reps as possible).
First, establish a baseline score for all the exercises under AMRAP 1 (see plan). Remember, if you plan to beat your previous score with each successive circuit, it’s prudent to take the first lap easy(ish).
Now the competition is on to better those rep scores!
Kettlebell circuits #4: Complete fitness conditioning
Up to now, the kettlebell circuits have been crafted with a specific fitness component in mind. The first circuit aims to promote power. The second is functional strength and the third is muscle endurance.
Our fourth and final circuit is an amalgamation of multiple components. Thus, it possesses the capacity to facilitate the cultivation of all-round fitness. That is, equal measures of strength, power, cardio, and muscle endurance.
An additional advantage of general-purpose circuits is that they can be tailored to accommodate a broad range of fitness goals or sports. For example, if your training concern centres on improving body composition, you may want to increase the number of cardio stations.
The adaptive qualities of a general circuit also encompass sporting disciplines. For example, you could replace some of the exercises with sports-specific movements and drills. This will enable you to sharpen your skillset while improving your fitness.
Circuit key points
Complete this all-weather warm-up: 3 mins mobility exercises → 5 mins skipping → 5 reps press-ups, air squats, and burpees → 3 mins skipping → 10 reps press-ups, air squats, and burpees → 2 mins skipping→ 15 reps press-ups, air squats, and burpees → Good to go!
The exercises are ordered in the form of a shopping list. Each assigned a set number of reps and distance.
Your objective is somewhat similar to a supermarket sweep: get through the list in the shortest time possible.
Remember to start your stopwatch before dashing off.
The moment that you have ticked off all the items (exercises) on your list, stop the clock and take your time.
Kettlebell circuits hint and tips
Circuit 1: For the sake of your hips, knees, and ankle joints, perform all plyometric exercises on a soft training mat. As well as softening the impact, this simple health and safety measure reduces injury risk should you lose your balance and fall. Not to put the scarers in you, but it’s better to be safe(r) than sorry.
Circuit 2: When training strength, safe lifting technique must – not should, but must – be prioritised over all other goals. Of course, your technique is important irrespective of the exercise or weight being lifted. However, the heavier the poundage the greater the risk of severe injury.
Circuit 3: The first circumnavigation of the circuit enables you to establish a baseline score. Those of a competitive bent will no doubt want to better those scores with each successive lap of the circuit. Of course, this gets increasingly harder as fatigue creeps in. A trick is to use the first lap of the circuit as an extended warm-up. Maintaining a steady output will ensure that the bar won’t be set too high to start. From there, you aim to increase the baseline score by, say, 5 reps – and the same for proceeding circuits.
Circuit 4: To recapitulate a point made in the circuit introduction, you can tailor it to include sport-specific techniques. The aspiring pugilist could integrate activities such as shadowboxing, skipping, or the boxing bag. A cyclist could include more leg exercises like step-ups and alternate leg lunges.
All circuits: Do not hesitate to modify the circuits to accommodate your training predilections. If you’re not keen on a particular exercise (I loathe lunges), change it to one that you do like (more kettlebell swings!). Also, you may wish to adjust the circuits to align with your current level of fitness. New exercisers, for example, will likely find some of the prespecified lap numbers and station times a tad steep. Don’t sweat it! Simply reduce the laps and times to suit.
Enjoyed these workouts?
Then get your hands on over 80 more with the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Volume 3.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.