If you’re tired of traditional strength training – barbells and big weights – this kettlebell strength workout will offer an engaging alternative. The structure of the workout has been designed to develop functional strength in all the major muscle groups. In addition, for those that enjoy a fitness challenge, the workout concludes with a 10-minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible).
This workout can be performed with either one or two kettlebells. Of course, if you can use two it will compound the effectiveness of the workout. Training with dual bells requires considerably more strength and control. Thus, strength gains can be achieved more efficiently.
However, handling two kettlebells also requires considerably more skill. So, if you’re new to KB training, it’s advisable to stick with one. When you’ve completed a couple of run-throughs consider doubling up.
Why do this kettlebell strength workout?
For starters, by integrating this workout into your training routine, you’ll develop functional, whole-body strength. Functional strength is arguably superior to the strength built by performing static exercises. As Pavel Tsatsouline states in The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, kettlebell exercises such as jerk, snatch, and long cycle ‘will quickly humble even studly powerlifters.’
In addition to building strength that’s useful outside the gym, kettlebell training promotes superior muscle endurance. A frequently reported benefit of using kettlebells is improved ‘staying power’. After a couple of weeks of working out with kettlebells, you’ll likely notice a notable increase in stamina and conventional weight training will not pose nearly the challenge it once did.
How to do this kettlebell strength workout
The workout observes standard strength training protocol. Each kettlebell exercise is assigned a specific range of sets and reps. As you’d expect of a strength workout, each set is separated by periods of rest. Because the focus of the workout is to increase strength, the sets and reps are short, and you are encouraged to rest for between 2- to 3-minutes.
Furthermore, to get the best possible results, you should select heavy kettlebells. But even though you’re going heavy correct form and safe lifting technique must not be sacrificed. As Bruce Lee said in The Art of Expressing the Human Body, ‘Above all else never cheat on an exercise; use the amount of weight that you can handle without undue strain.’
Related: Try Bruce Lee’s Workout
Kettlebell strength workout key points
Warm up well prior to starting the workout.
The workout can be completed with either one or two bells. However, if you are new to kettlebell training you should stick to one bell until you’ve got a feel for the exercises. After a couple of weeks of practice have a go with two.
The workout is organised around conventional strength training principles: low sets and reps. On completion of each set ensure to take plenty of rest – between 2- to 3-minutes. You want to give those muscles plenty of time to recover before entering the next set. Remember, the objective is to maximise strength gains. To achieve this, you have to push the poundage.
The session plan below features spaces for you to document your performance on each exercise. It’s worth making a note of the weights used as you can use this information to track progress. For example, let’s say that you plan to complete the workout once a week for two months. For the first workout, you use two 16kg KBs. But after a month the 16s are too easy and you’ve increased to 20kg. By making a note of your weights you’ll be able to compare current and past workouts which will hopefully show strength gains.
5-minutes rowing (or skipping – or airdyne cycling) – maintain a light- to moderate-intensity
1 up to 5 reps kettlebell swings (use a light KB)
3-minutes rowing (or skipping – or airdyne cycling) – maintain a moderate- to high-intensity
1 up to 5 deadlifts (use a light KB)
2- minutes rowing (or skipping – or airdyne cycling) – maintain a high-intensity
1 up to 5 reps long cycle (use a medium weight KB)
1-minute rowing (or skipping – or airdyne cycling) – maximum intensity
Kettlebell strength workout
Kettlebell exercise tutorials
Kettlebell sumo squat
Purpose of exercise: increase strength in the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and the muscles of the lower back. Sumo squatting also develops upper back and grip strength.
Key teaching points
Stand over two kettlebells ensuring to adopt a one and half shoulder-width stance.
Bending at the knees squat down and grasp the handles.
Firing through both quads stand up – keep the back perfectly straight as you do so.
Before initiating the set, readjust your posture and position if need be.
Proceed to perform the sumo squat remembering to focus on the flexion and extension at the knees.
Purpose of exercise: develop strength in the glutes, lower back (erector spinae), upper back (latissimus dorsi and trapezius), and various muscles of the arms.
Key teaching points
Hold two kettlebells at your sides, with palms facing inwards and your feet spaced shoulder-width apart.
To execute a deadlift simultaneously hinge at the knees and hips.
The back remains straight throughout the movement.
When the base of the kettlebells is level with the ankles, pause momentarily before standing up.
As you stand up focus on forcing the hips forward.
The primary action takes place at the hips. But flexion also occurs at the knees as the glutes and quads assist the lift.
Purpose of exercise: engages all muscles of the posterior chain: hamstrings, glutes, lower back, lats, and traps. Kettlebell swings also activate the anterior and medial heads of the deltoid and forearm muscles.
Key teaching points
Hold a pair of kettlebells between your legs. To accommodate that extra bell, you’ll have to adopt a slightly wider than normal stance.
Keeping the back straight pull the kettlebells between your legs and, using your glutes, propel them forward until they are level with your shoulders.
Throughout the swing ensure to keep your core engaged and your back straight.
Purpose of exercise: build strength and stamina in the quadriceps, upper chest, and deltoids.
Key teaching points
Standing strong with two kettlebells resting against your biceps and forearms; they are, in effect, being cradled in the nook of the arms which are flat against your upper torso.
The most common mistake made when jerking is to initiate the movement with the shoulders. It is the quadriceps, not the deltoids that are the prime instigator in this exercise.
Taking a shallow dip at the knees (the first dip), explosively fire through the quads propelling the bells up.
At this stage assist with the shoulders.
As the bells pass your head dip again at the knees (the second dip). You are essentially dropping under the kettlebells.
Simultaneously lock the arms out as you double dip.
Now stand up.
The long cycle
Purpose of exercise: to build immense whole-body strength and muscular endurance. The long cycle is a complete exercise and there literally isn’t a muscle that it doesn’t in some way engage.
Key teaching points
The start position of the long cycle is the same as the swing: standing over two kettlebells, feet spaced one and a half shoulder widths.
Taking the kettlebells by the handles, start the exercise by pulling them back between your legs.
Fire forward through the hips propelling the bells up. You’re not swinging the kettlebells as you would with the swing. Instead, cut the movement short by cleaning the kettlebells into the start position of the jerk.
Pause momentarily at this point.
To complete the second part of the long cycle, perform a jerk as described above.
Again, take a second pause when the arms are locked out and the bells are suspended above your head.
From the top position back to the start of the jerk should be completed in one movement.
Related: Master these 10 Killer Kettlebell Exercises
Workout hints and tip
The exercises have been organised in a lower body/upper body sequence. Following such a sequence facilitates progression through the workout. Furthermore, organising your workouts in this way helps ensure that all major muscle groups are areas of the body are targeted. Thus, I recommend sticking to the exercise order as per the plan.
Two of the exercises are complex movements that require a high level of technical expertise to execute. The jerk and long cycle – more so the long cycle – present a significant challenge even for experienced k-bell trainers. I’m not telling you all this to put you off, only to encourage you to approach those exercises with caution. If you are not an experienced girevik, either reduce your bells by a pood or practice the movements before having a bash at the workout. I know it makes me come across as a bit prudish, but the quality of form should always take precedence over all other training priorities. Remember Lee’s wise words: 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).
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