Life has a way of getting between you and a good workout. Maybe you need to stay late at work. Or, perhaps your gym is closed indefinitely due to a global pandemic (imagine?). Either way, know that there are always alternative training options. One of the best alternatives is called a kettlebell complex. All you need is one or two kettlebells and half an hour to achieve more muscle mass and better conditioning — all from the comfort of your home gym.
Below, we break down everything you need to know about kettlebell complexes — why and how they work and how to design your own — and outline three workouts for you to try.
What Is a Kettlebell Complex?
A kettlebell complex is a set of kettlebell exercises performed back-to-back, one right after the other. A complex is sometimes also referred to as a flow because each exercise should flow seamlessly into the next. You’ll be stringing different exercises together — usually, but not always, compound movements — and executing them without pause in between. For example, a simple kettlebell complex could be one kettlebell swing, followed by one kettlebell clean, followed by a kettlebell press. Then, switch sides.
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One rep constitutes one full flow through each move you’ve programmed into your complex, which means you’ll generally be keeping your overall rep count pretty low.
You can also perform kettlebell complexes with two bells. Keep both bells in your hands for the entire set. If that’s proving to be too difficult, you’ll want to lower your weights and/or perform less complex reps per set.
How Does A Kettlebell Complex Work?
If you’ve ever combined two compound movements into one, you’ve already got an idea of how a kettlebell complex works. Think about a kettlebell thruster: one single rep comprises a front squat and a push press. With a kettlebell complex, you add a few more moves to the mix — say, a clean before each front squat and a dead stop double kettlebell swing as you’re coming down from each push press. Those four moves, in total, will constitute one rep of your kettlebell complex.
A kettlebell complex allows you to add various movements into your workouts for more calories burned without adding virtually any time to your training session. It really is more bang for your buck.
In terms of programming your kettlebell complex, you’ll determine how many reps per set based on how many moves — and what kinds of moves — constitute one rep. In the example above, your four moves per rep are: double kettlebell clean, double kettlebell front squat, double kettlebell push press, and double kettlebell dead stop swing. That’s four moves total. If you’re training for endurance and cardio benefits, you could program your complex with up to six reps (24 moves total per set).
But remember: three of the four moves (all except the front squat) are ballistic in nature. That means they’ll take a lot more wind out of you, so program accordingly — you might only want to program “only” three or four reps (12 or 16 moves total) per set.
What Are the Benefits of Double Kettlebell Complexes?
Specific kettlebell complexes have specific benefits, of course — we’ll talk about that below — but overall, all kettlebell complexes offer a similar thread of benefits:
- Improve functional fitness, because life doesn’t come with a discreet separation between different movements.
- Increase your strength and hypertrophy by forcing your entire body to engage in each component of your workout.
- Strengthen your core and full-body coordination — it takes a lot of stability to manage not one, but two kettlebells, especially when you’re flowing through multiple moves.
- Enhance your cardiovascular endurance and explosive power, because you’ll be focused on moving heavy weights quickly with little rest.
Make Your Own Kettlebell Complex
Another beautiful fact about kettlebell complexes is that you can get creative with how you design them. Really, you just need to pick a few moves that make sense together — either with one or two kettlebells — and perform them in a sensical order.
Before you do that, however, you need to think about your goals. If you’re trying to go heavy and grind your complexes out with an emphasis on building raw strength, pick more controlled movements like goblet squats and strict presses. If you’re looking to emphasize hypertrophy, combine some explosive moves (you’ll need slightly lighter weights for these) with slower movements (you’ll be using lighter weights so that you can go for more reps). Going for fat loss? Your kettlebell complex will want to be explosive and focus on going as hard as possible with perfect form.
When choosing your moves, flow through them in your mind and with your body (no weights) first. You need to make sure what you’re doing actually goes together in sequence. For example, a deadlift into a strict press just doesn’t work — you’ve got to clean the bells up to rack position before you press. It’s very risky to go from a push press to a row, as transitioning immediately from a vertical to a hinged position with momentum may lead to back pain. So always simulate your complexes without weight before you do them to make sure they’ll work efficiently and safely for your body and goals.
Double Kettlebell Complex For Fat Loss
Pretty much all kettlebell complexes will have a wide array of benefits — but certain complexes put particular emphasis on strength. This double kettlebell armor complex EMOM (every minute on the minute) will torch your cardio system and help you gain some major endurance, targeting your posterior chain while fueling some major fat loss.
Benefits of a Double Kettlebell Armor Complex EMOM
- Improve cardiovascular fitness with an emphasis on power development.
- Increase full-body strength and coordination with a complex series of movements.
- Practice proper hip hinge technique and enhance posterior chain strength.
How to Do the Double Kettlebell Armor Complex EMOM
One rep of a double kettlebell armor complex consists of two double kettlebell swings, one double kettlebell strict press, and three double kettlebell front squats. So, before you dive completely into the whole EMOM aspect of this complex, make sure you can handle the armor complex component all on its own.
Perform the below workout in an EMOM fashion. In the odd minutes, you will perform one round of the kettlebell armor complex. During the even minutes, you will perform double kettlebell swings. Repeat this format for 10 complete rounds (20 minutes).
- Minute 1: 1 Armor Complex = 2 Double Kettlebell Cleans + 1 Double Kettlebell Strict Press + 3 Double Kettlebell Squats
- Minute 2: 8 Double Kettlebell Swings
- Minute 3: 1 Armor Complex = 2 Double Kettlebell Cleans + 1 Double Kettlebell Strict Press + 3 Double Kettlebell Squats
- Minute 4: 8 Double Kettlebell Swings
- Minute 5-20: Repeat exercises in an alternating fashion every minute, for 20 minutes.
When determining a weight for this workout, consider the total volume of this workout (20 cleans, 10 strict presses, 30 squats, and 80 swings). The key to this workout is to choose a weight that is challenging for the overhead press portion of the lift, which is often the limiting factor in the complex.
Double Kettlebell Complex For Strength
When you’re trying to build strength with a double kettlebell complex, your goal is to lift heavy while maintaining a steady flow and solid form. So, you won’t be doing quite as many total reps as when you’re working toward hypertrophy or fat loss. That doesn’t mean you won’t get winded, though — so make sure your muscles and your cardiovascular system are warmed up and ready to work.
Benefits of the Double Kettlebell Thruster Complex
- Develop full-body strength and coordination that will translate easily into Olympic lifts.
- Improve core strength because each component of this lift emphasizes core stability.
- Improve imbalances and strength asymmetries in the upper body with the unilateral presses.
How to Do the Double Kettlebell Thruster Complex
The main ingredient here is your double kettlebell thruster, but it’s not the only move you’ll do. You’re also going to be incorporating double kettlebell cleans and unilateral presses, using your one-sided press as the limiting factor when you’re choosing your weight.
Perform the following exercises in order, without pausing unless you need to:
- Double kettlebell clean
- Double kettlebell thruster
- Double kettlebell front squat
- Unilateral kettlebell press on the left side
- Unilateral kettlebell press on the right side
- Repeat the circuit three times.
This scheme will give you a total of three cleans; six front squats, four presses on your left side; and four presses on your right side. Repeating one circuit equals one set. Based on your current fitness level, you’ll want to perform three or four sets with a solid four to five-minute rest in between. Use a challenging weight.
Double Kettlebell Complex for Muscle Gain
When you’re looking to gain some muscular hypertrophy, it’s important to take the rest you need to make sure you can still lift heavy enough (and with good enough form) to stimulate muscle growth. Sometimes, that means adding some rest between the moves of your complex. You’ll still perform a complex because — like with a regular complex set — you’re not done with your work until you cycle through multiple moves. But the rest you’ll take in between will help refresh your muscles so you can maintain quality presses and squats that will build solid mass.
Benefits of the Double Kettlebell Swing + Press + Squat Complex
- Increase muscle growth by integrating rest intervals into your complex so you can perform the complex with an optimal weight for hypertrophy (instead of going much lighter to compensate for no rest between moves).
- Maximize attention to form, which can sometimes be hard to keep track of during a complex.
- Increase core strength by pre-fatiguing your system with kettlebell swings (and then performing two core-heavy exercises, the strict press and the front squat).
How to Do the Double Kettlebell Swing + Press + Squat Complex
This double kettlebell complex is a straightforward way to add quality muscle mass to your frame. You will perform each movement in the total-body circuit, resting 45-60 seconds in between each. After each round of the circuit, rest 1-2 minutes and repeat for a total of five rounds. (If you want an extra beefy challenge, try keeping the bells in your hands for some or all of the rest periods.)
- Double Kettlebell Swing x 8 reps
- Rest 45-60 seconds
- Double Kettlebell Strict Press x 8 reps
- Rest 45-60 seconds
- Double Kettlebell Front Squat x 8 reps
- Rest 1-2 minutes, and repeat
The total workout should take no longer than 30 minutes (if it takes longer, you are either resting too long or using too heavy of loads). If you can compete in under 20 minutes, go heavier.
More Kettlebell Training Tips
The more you know about training with two kettlebells, the more you can get out of working out in a small space with a minimal amount of equipment — and the more you can get to know exactly how hard you can push your body. If you’re looking for the best education on workouts with two kettlebells, look no further than these kettlebell training articles.
- Mastering The Double Kettlebell Thruster
- The Kettlebell Armor Complex
- Four Benefits Of Double Kettlebell Swings
Featured image: Arsenii Palivoda/Shutterstock