Kettlebells are a highly valuable tool for building stamina, muscle, and strength. Often, when athletes think about building serious strength, the kettlebell is not one of the first tools to choose from. While the barbell, dumbbell, and other free-weight modalities are effective, we are here to offer coaches and athletes a kettlebell-based strength workout to increase total-body strength, movement, and fitness.
The key to this workout is to use loads that are challenging, which can be better determined by looking at the loading recommendations next to each exercise below. Rest periods should be kept to roughly 2-3 minutes, to ensure proper recovery from heavy sets. Lastly, and I will repeat, building strength is load dependent, so be sure to master these movements with moderate loads first, such as learning all the kettlebell exercise in these muscle building kettlebell circuits.
The kettlebell clean and press should be done with one kettlebell. The lifter must complete four (4) repetitions per arm, per set (therefore, total presses are 8 per set, 4 per side). The lifter should choose prior to the workout if they will do a kettlebell clean and STRICT press or kettlebell clean and PUSH press. Whichever one they choose, they must stick with it throughout the entire workout.
- Kettlebell Clean and Press – 8 sets of 3 repetitions, per arm. Use a kettlebell that is close to your 5 rep maximum. Rest period should be kept to 30-45 seconds between arms, and 2 minutes between sets. To save time, complete one set (both arms) every 2-2 ½ minutes. This entire section should take no more than 20 minutes.
In this section the lifter will perform two supersets, each pairing movements up that should be done with 30-60 seconds between and 2 minutes between rounds. Once a lifter completes all sets of the first pairing, they should then move onto the next pairing. Lastly, it is key that the lifter uses loads that are highly challenging (heavy), so be sure to adhere to the weight recommendations below.
- Double Kettlebell Squat (Pause) – 4 sets of 5 reps, as heavy as possible. The key here is to pause for a 2-3 seconds in the bottom of the squat, focusing on a vertical torso and strong core (choose a weight that is roughly your 8-repetition max for double kettlebell squat with no pause). When you stand up, be sure to not lose this position (such as letting the hips shoot up). Most lifters will allow their squat patterning to look like a rounded deadlift, which does us no good here.
- Heavy Russian Kettlebell Swing – 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions, as heavy as possible (choose a weight that is roughly your 10-12 repetition max). Most gyms do not have 100+lb kettlebells, let alone a weight that would borderline scare you. That said, we do need to use a heavy, heavy kettlebell. If this means using two kettlebells, so be it.
Once you have completed the above sets, move on to the superset below. Note, that these repetition ranges are slightly higher, and can be viewed more as strength and hypertrophy training, which is key to increasing overall strength.
- Double Kettlebell Front Rack Walking Lunge – 4 sets of 20 steps (10/leg), using moderate to heavy loads. Choose loads that are challenging, ones that will force you to brace your core extra hard. The key here is to still allow for proper lunge mechanics.
- Double Kettlebell Pendlay Row – 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, with moderate to heavy loads. Be sure to not let the hips jerk up and down in the movement, and set the lower back.
The last part of this strength-building kettlebell circuit is a series of kettlebell loaded walks/carries. This will help to strengthen the traps, upper back, grip, and core muscles; all essential to lifting heavy weights. Complete the walks in order, doing your best to not rest between. One you have finished the loaded walking, rest 2-3 minutes and repeat for a total of 3 sets. This entire section should take no more than 10 minutes.
- Double Kettlebell Front Rack Walk (50 meters) – Perform this by walking with two kettlebells, one in each arm, secured in the front rack position.
- Double Kettlebell Overhead Carry (50 meters) – Perform this by walking with two kettlebells, one in each arm, secured in the overhead position. Be sure to keep the biceps by the ears and the elbows straight.
- Double Kettlebell Farmers Walk (100 meters) – Once you have completed the overhead carry, simply bring the kettlebells down to your sides, and walk back to the start line (100 meters)
The Kettlebell Movements
The below kettlebell exercise are key movements for all strength, power, and fitness athletes. Many of these movements are also the foundational patterns for most fitness enthusiasts, making them ideal for most fitness levels. The key to build strength using these is to (1) use enough loading, which may be limited by one’s strength and the availability of heavy kettlebells, and (2) to create enough stress via volume.
Coaches and athletes should master the below exercises with proper technique and spend at least four (4) weeks in a hypertrophy phase to ensure proper readiness for this high intensity workout (high loading). Failure to do so may result in injury.
Kettlebell Clean and Press
The kettlebell clean and press can be done using a push press or strict press to get the kettlebell from the front rack position to the overhead position. Be sure to read the kettlebell clean and press guide for proper form, technique, and tips.
Double Kettlebell Squat
Grab two kettlebells and place them into the front rack position. Once you have set your back and core, squat down, keeping the hips open and chest up.
Heavy Kettlebell Russian Swing
The heavy kettlebell Russian swing is a standard kettlebell swing (not done overhead) using HEAVY weight. You can perform these with 100+lb kettlebells or even plate-loaded kettlebell handles.
Double Kettlebell Walking Lunge
With two kettlebells, one in each hand, secure them properly in the front rack. Once you have set your torso and core in an upright position, step forward 3-5 feet and lunge. Stand up and repeat.
Double Kettlebell Pendlay Row
This is done with the feet slightly wider than that of a barbell Pendlay row. With the back flat and hips set, simply row the kettlebells to the middle of the abdomen, making sure to keep the chest high and the movement smooth (no jerky movements).
Double Kettlebell Front Rack Walk
This is done by cleaning two kettlebells to the chest/front rack (one in each arm) and walking.
Double Kettlebell Overhead Walk
This is done by cleaning two kettlebells to the chest/front rack, lifting them overhead (one in each arm) and walking. Be sure to keep the (1) elbows straight, (2) biceps by the ears, and (3) thumbs backwards (palms neutral).
Double Kettlebell Farmers Walk
Simply grab a kettlebell by the handle, one in each arm, and walk with an erect torso.
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