5 Kettlebell Circuits That Will Maximize Your Endurance

A better engine means better, well, just about everything

So you’re a lifter who needs to boost your endurance because you’ve realized that when you’re grinding out that last rep, it helps to have a killer cardio system backing you up.

Or you’re an endurance athlete who needs to increase your strength (the stronger your legs, the more efficient your run!) while also boosting your stamina.

Or, you’re a hybrid athlete looking to have some fun and increase your endurance all at the same time. Whatever your desire, there’s an endurance-boosting kettlebell circuit for you.

kettlebell swing
Niyaz Tavkaev/Shutterstock

Why Kettlebells?

No matter what kind of athlete you are, you probably spend a lot of time worrying about your joints: that tweaked shoulder, that sore knee. Kettlebell circuits offer fantastic low-impact workouts that can make you an endurance powerhouse.

Because most kettlebell movements, by nature, use muscle plus momentum, you’re not throwing your body weight around, jumping, or otherwise slamming on joints that go through enough stress with your lifting or running. Don’t get me wrong: that stress can be good for your bones! But it’s stress nonetheless, and kettlebells are a great way to actively recover from all that.

Plus, it never hurts to do endurance work that increases grip strength, improves your hip hinge, and helps develop solid core strength. And if you’re doing it right, your breath work is bound to improve. Kettlebell swings, cleans and snatches, are works of gym-going art: not only does your body have to flow along with the bell, but your breath has to control the movement.

When you’re working in a circuit, you’ll have to concentrate all the more on keeping your breath in sync. The better you can control your breath (and the more air you can get in your lungs per inhale), the more time you’ll be able to shave off your long distance runs and the more weight you’ll be able to pile onto your max-effort deadlift.

[Related: 10 questions you’ve always had about kettlebells, answered]

kettlebell swings

Circuit 1: EMOM Swings

Ah, the beloved evil of EMOM: doing a prescribed movement for a prescribed number of reps, Every Minute On The Minute.

Set your watch or your phone to go off every minute (or put your clock somewhere you can see it without straining your neck), and get swinging. Grab a moderate weight to start: something you can complete 15 crisp, clean two-handed swings with. When you can complete the circuit with confidence and excellent form, move up in weight, rinse, and repeat.

Kettlebell Swing Form

Set up with the bell two foot-lengths in front of you, and grasp the bell firmly but lightly enough that your fingers have a bit of give (imagine being able to wiggle your fingers hello at someone at the top of your swing. Try doing this only when you’re super confident).

The movement starts with a hip hinge and a slight knee bend. Drag the bell behind you to start swinging with a neutral back, keeping the bell tight to your body (aka above your knees) with each swing.

Use your hips to drive the movement and make sure every rep is crisp and clean. Aim to complete your reps, but stop and rest if you feel like your form is slipping even a little bit.

The Workout

  • Two-handed kettlebell swings: 15 reps, every minute on the minute.
  • Rest when your reps are done.
  • When your clock hits the minute mark, start your reps again.
  • Repeat for 10-15 minutes (for a total of 150 or 225 reps).

[Want to try these at home? See our guide to the best kettlebells you can buy]

Plank Guide
Plank Guide

Circuit 2: Alternating EMOM Swings and Forearm Planks

In this circuit, you’re going to be swinging every other minute.

Every second minute, instead of swinging, you’ll be holding a forearm plank. Remember to keep your elbows directly under your shoulders, plant your toes, and squeeze your glutes, quads, and core for maximum effectiveness. While you’re planking, imagine there’s a water bottle on the small of your back while you’re doing your planks; don’t let it fall by shifting your hips too far up or letting them drop too far down (or shifting side to side). 

This circuit is going to target not only your cardio endurance, but will also make a special point of increasing your core endurance. That will definitely help during that last leg of your race or getting out from under that last deep squat, because core endurance is essential in all of those movements.

The Workout

  • Minute One: 15 two-handed kettlebell swings. 
  • Rest when all 15 reps are completed.
  • Minute Two: 30 second forearm plank. 
  • You can break up the hold as needed throughout the minute: 15 seconds at the top of the minute, for example, rest for a few seconds, then finish your last 15 seconds. Just remember that at the top of the next minute, you’ll be back into swings.
  • Minute Three: 15 two-handed kettlebell swings.
  • Minute Four: 30 second forearm plank.
  • Repeat for 16-20 minutes, for a total of 8 or 10 rounds of each exercise.

[Related: 10 plank variations for a stronger core]

Circuit 3: Cleans and Snatches

Form is always important, but this is especially so with cleans and snatches. Make sure your grip of the bell is offset so the pad between your thumb and index finger is snug against the curve of the handle. And for the love of your forearms, imagine slipping your arm underneath the bell instead of flopping the bell over into rack position when you get to the top of the clean or snatch, respectively. With all circuits, try to adhere to the rest-work timing as best as you can, but always rest when you need to. For this circuit, that’s especially important, because your forearms will not be pleased if your form starts slipping.

The Workout

  • Kettlebell Cleans, moderate weight, left side. 10 reps.
  • Rest 20 seconds.
  • Kettlebell Snatches, moderate weight, left side. 10 reps.
  • Rest 30 seconds.
  • Kettlebell Cleans, moderate weight, right side. 10 reps.
  • Rest 20 seconds.
  • Kettlebell Snatches, moderate weight, right side. 10 reps.
  • Rest 60 seconds. 
  • Repeat circuit 3-4 times.

kettlebell swing free

Circuit 4: Alternating Swing AMRAP

For this circuit, you’re going to set your timer for five minutes and you’re just going to go. And while this is AMRAP — As Many Reps As Possible — you are going to want to seriously listen to your body on this one. Because you’ll be alternating swings — the left hand swings, catch the bell with the right hand in midair at chest level, swing with the right hand, catch with the left and repeat — this is a great circuit for targeting any side strength or endurance imbalances you might have (and most people have them). So if your nondominant side is giving out first, listen to it and take a rest. Better to come out of the circuit with a lower number of total reps (you’ll get better next time: that’s the point of circuits!) than to force awkward reps that will hurt more than help.

The Workout

  • Set your timer for 5 minutes and take a deep breath.
  • Start your swings, alternating hands as you go.
  • Rest only as needed: the goal here is to do as many reps (with good form) as possible.
  • Try to keep count of your reps to compare to next time, and try to keep your rest to a minimum. 

In other words:

  • Alternating kettlebell swings, as many reps as possible in 5 minutes.
Shutterstock / prostock-studio

Circuit 5: EMOM Swings and AMRAP Pushups/Squats

If you’re loving the kettlebells but looking to add a little extra challenge, incorporating pushups or bodyweight squats into your circuit is going to be a great way to pre-fatigue your muscles and cardio system to push your endurance that much harder.

You can choose either bodyweight squats or pushups here, depending on when you’re integrating this circuit into your broader training program, and depending on what your overall goals are. 

Because the kettlebell reps are going to be in descending order (10 the first minute, then 9, 8, all the way down to 5), use a much heavier bell (with good form!) than you would for the circuits above. And don’t worry: the rep and timing schemes look complicated, but once you get into a rhythm, you’ll be rocking out your endurance… hard.

The Workout

  • Minute One: 10 two-handed kettlebell swings.
  • Rest.
  • Minute Two: AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of pushups or bodyweight squats for the first 20 seconds of the minute. 
  • Rest for the last 40 seconds of the minute.
  • Minute Three: 9 two-handed kettlebell swings.
  • Rest.
  • Minute Four: AMRAP pushups or bodyweight squats for the first 25 seconds of the minute.
  • Rest for the last 35 seconds of the minute.
  • Minute Five: 8 two-handed kettlebell swings.
  • Rest.
  • Minute Six: AMRAP pushups or bodyweight squats for the first 30 seconds of the minute.
  • Rest for the last 30 seconds of the minute.
  • Minute Seven: 7 two-handed kettlebell swings.
  • Rest.
  • Minute Eight: AMRAP pushups or bodyweight squats for the first 35 seconds of the minute.
  • Rest for the last 25 seconds of the minute.
  • Minute Nine: 6 two-handed kettlebell swings.
  • Rest.
  • Minute Ten: AMRAP pushups or bodyweight squats for the first 40 seconds of the minute.
  • Rest for the last 20 seconds of the minute.
  • Minute Eleven: 5 two-handed kettlebell swings.
  • Rest (perhaps in a puddle on the floor).

Get Swinging!

Any of these circuits can serve as a quick workout on their own, or you can use them as finishers when you want to pump a little extra oomph into your training program.

Remember to rest as needed, regardless of what the guidelines suggest: the more you practice the circuits and the movements, the better you’ll get at them. And the more endurance you’ll have to continue to crush your workout goals.

Go forth and get swinging: you got this!

Featured image via mrbigphoto/Shutterstock