Total-Body Kettlebell Circuit for Runners

In this article we offer runners a comprehensive total-body kettlebell workout to develop greater power, build muscle, and enhance running performance; all while increasing injury resilience. The below workout is divided into four circuits, with the entire kettlebell workout lasting less than one (1) hour.

Benefits of Kettlebell Training for Runners

Below are three (3) benefits of kettlebell training for runners. Note, that most forms of resistance training as a whole are beneficial for runners. Runners who do not participate in resistance training may be setting themselves up for imbalances, stress fractures, decreased aerobic capacity, and increased incidences of muscle fatigue and failure.

Posterior Chain Development

Kettlebell training can target the entire body, however most movements (swings, squats, complexes, etc) are dependent on posterior chain for production. Coaches can mix in kettlebell training with other strength exercises to build muscle coordination, stamina, power, and cardiovascular fitness…all at once.

Unilateral and Anti-Rotational Movement

Kettlebells are a great tool to increase unilateral coordination, muscle development, and address core strength deficiencies. Movements like swings, unilateral presses, and asymmetrically loaded lunges (just to name a few) are great for increase balance, core stability, and increasing single-sided strength and muscle.

Additional Aerobic Training

Aerobic training is key for runners, as running is an aerobic sport. Kettlebell training has the ability to be manipulated in a way (longer sets and shorts rests) that can keep the heart rate elevated for longer periods of time, up to several minutes at a time. This can be a great way to add interval training (for the heart rate) to increase muscle stamina, anaerobic capacity, and overall cardiovascular health without the repetitive pounding on the joints due to running. Workouts like the one below can be used to train the cardiovascular system similar to running yet allow the joints and body to heal in-between runs.

The Workout

The below workout consists of 4 segments: (1) warm-up, (2) power, strength, and hypertrophy, (3) conditioning, and (4) core. The entire session should take less than one hour to complete, and includes a wide variety of movements to increase unilateral strength, core stability, leg strength, and aerobic/anaerobic capacity. Runners can perform this routine twice per week for best results. If they are looking to train more than twice per week with weights, I suggest the look at some other runner-friendly training resources we have on BarBend.

Warm-Up and Movement Circuit (15 Minutes)

The below circuit is best done after a general steady-state warm-up (run, jog, bike, or row) and/or a dynamic warm-up.

  • Kettlebell Turkish Get Up – 3 sets of 5 repetitions per side
  • Kettlebell Cossack Squat – 3 sets of 10 repetitions per side
  • Kettlebell Weighted V-Up – 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions

Power, Strength, and Hypertrophy Circuit (30 Minutes)

This section is key for most runners, as it can help to increase posterior chain muscle development and power production. Both of these movements are power and speed based, which is often the attributes runners (distance) lack. Increasing power output will not only help to increase running efficiency and injury resilience (stronger glutes and hamstrings), it can help provide runners with additional muscle tissue to give them the “late-run boost” they are looking for.

Note, some runners may have issues with proper hip hinging patterning, which is often responsible to lower back strain and knee stress (weak glutes and a stiff lower back). Educating them on proper swing mechanics is step one. Developing a stronger swing is step two. Step three is to then get them comfortable moving heavier loads for higher repetitions.

  • Heavy Kettlebell Swing – 5 sets of 10 repetitions
  • Single Leg Box Jump – 5 sets of 5 per leg

The below circuit should take no longer than 15  minutes. Perform the first exercise, completing eight (8) repetitions with one side, and then another eight (8) repetitions with the other side. Once you have done this, rest for no more than 30 seconds, and move onto the second exercise and repeat. Once you have completed all three exercises one time, go directly into the next complete round. This entire circuit is the (3) complete rounds.

  • Single Arm Kettlebell Clean + Reverse Lunge – 8 per side
  • Single Arm Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press – 8 reps per side
  • Bent Over Alternating Kettlebell Row – 8 reps per side

Conditioning Circuit (4 Minutes)

Lower body endurance is key for runners, as the legs are the muscles most responsible for propulsion of a runner. Increasing the anaerobic and aerobic abilities of the muscles in the lower body can be extremely taxing (and painful), however must be done if optimal running performance is your goal. Complete the below conditioning Tabata on time through per workout, which targets the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings, core, and upper back (postural muscles).

Perform 8 rounds of 20 seconds. In between each 20 second work set, rest only 10 seconds (in other words, you have 8 sets of 20 seconds of work : 10 seconds of rest). Exercise A will be the kettlebell goblet squat, and Exercise B will be the American kettlebell swing.

  • Exercise A – Kettlebell Goblet Squat  – max repetitions in 20 seconds
  • Rest – 10 seconds
  • Exercise B – American Kettlebell Swing – max repetitions in 20 seconds
  • Rest – 10 seconds

Repeat this 3 more times through, for a total of 4 minutes.

Core (10 Minutes)

The below core circuit should be performed after all above workout segments. Runners will need a pair of kettlebells, a resistance band, and bodyweight. Perform this core circuit for a total of 2-3 rounds

  • Front Rack Double Kettlebell Walk – 1 minute
  • Hollow Hold/Rock – 30 seconds
  • Kneeling Rotations with Resistance Band – 12 per side

Featured Image: @patry.cabedo on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.