Figuring out how to work out with kettlebells — in all their off-balanced glory — is one thing. You’ve long since mastered the kettlebell swing, and you’ve even got enough training pizzazz to perform a very clean kettlebell snatch. But what’s the point in knowing all the coolest kettlebell moves on the block if you’re not sure how to organize them into a proper kettlebell training program?
Maybe you’re looking to spice up your off-season training. Or perhaps you’re going back to basics and want to continue training at home while getting a whole lot stronger. Whatever the case may be, training only with kettlebells can go a long way toward getting you to your strength goals. You’ll iron out pesky asymmetries, get stronger and more cardiovascularly fit, and build a ton of grip strength and overall muscle mass.
Read on for a kettlebell training program that you can progress for whatever hypertrophy, strength, and endurance goals you might have. You’ll also learn about how training with just kettlebells can make you a better athlete and how to warm up before all those swings.
The Complete Kettlebell Training Program
Below, you will find five kettlebell workouts based on a push/pull training split. These workouts, performed in turn — and with rest days between them as needed — will comprise your kettlebell training program. You can run this program by working out three, four, or five times per week.
- Upper Body Pull Workout
- Lower Body Push Workout
- Core and Conditioning Workout
- Upper Body Push Workout
- Lower Body Pull Workout
Starting your kettlebell training block with an upper-body pull workout can set the right tone for the rest of your program. Why? Because by emphasizing pulling right out of the gate, you’ll be promoting a balanced program that won’t get too lost in all that sexy pushing work. Yes, you want to push — think the bench press and overhead press — but the sometimes less glamorous work of pulling can help keep your shoulders healthy, prevent imbalances, and provide a stronger base for all other lifts.
This will be the first workout of your kettlebell program. Perform it at the start of your week after a thorough warm-up. Rest between 90 seconds and two minutes between sets.
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Row: 3 x 8 per side, 3-2-3-1 tempo
- Double Kettlebell Upright Row: 3 x 8
- Single-Arm Kettlebell High Pull: 3 x 8 per side
- Alternating Ballistic Kettlebell Row: 3 x 10 per side
- Kettlebell Flow — Single-Arm Kettlebell Upright Row into Kettlebell High Pull into Kettlebell Row: 2 x 2 reps per side
When you’re using kettlebells for lower body push movements, you’ll likely select much heavier weights. If you’re front-racking the bells, remember that your limiting factor won’t be your lower body. Since you’ve got to get them into the front-rack position, the limiting factor of your weight selection will be your kettlebell clean.
So if you need to use a much heavier weight than you can clean, do these exercises but hold the bells at your sides. Front-racking, though, will present more of a challenge to your core — so the slightly lower weight might be worth it.
You’ll perform this workout second in your training week. It’s okay if you rest a day or two before — that will depend on how many times a week you decide to work this program. You’ll want to rest between two to three minutes between sets, so you’re able to handle the heavier weights required.
- Double Kettlebell Front Rack Goblet Squat: 3 x 6
- Double Kettlebell Front-Rack Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 x 10 per side
- Double Kettlebell Front-Rack Lateral Lunge: 3 x 8 per side
- Double Kettlebell Front-Rack Walking Lunges: 3 sets, two reps shy of failure per side
In the middle of your training week, you’ll perform a conditioning workout that will emphasize your core. The idea here is to keep your entire body active while ramping up your heart rate so you really maximize the benefits of training with kettlebells. By increasing core strength and improving your cardiovascular system, you’ll be better able to handle the heavier lifts your training will demand.
If you’re new to conditioning workouts, you’ll want to rest as needed to start out with. Try to keep your rest under three minutes, but it’s okay if it takes you time to trim down your rest periods during such intensive movements. Just keep note of how long you’re resting between sets so you can track your progress throughout your program.
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing: 3 x 30 seconds per side
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Suitcase Carry: 3 x 30 seconds per side
- Dead Bug Kettlebell Pullover: 3 x 15 reps per side
- Kettlebell Flow — Single-Arm Kettlebell Pushup into Burpee into Single-Arm Kettlebell Clean into Goblet Squat: 3 x 2 reps per side
- Kettlebell Weighted V-Ups: 3 x failure
You’ll go relatively heavy for this, but remember to think about what’s heavy for your upper body. You’ll likely lift a lot lighter than you did with your lower body workout. Remember throughout this workout to emphasize perfect form as opposed to hefting more weight. Keep your glutes and quads tight during overhead lifts to avoid hyperextending your lower back.
If you’re working this program three days a week, this will be the workout that starts your second week. On the other hand, if you’re training four or five days a week, just perform this workout the training day following core and conditioning. Rest between 90 seconds and three minutes between sets.
- Double Kettlebell Overhead Press: 3 x 8
- Alternating Kettlebell Floor Press: 3 x 8 per side
- Kettlebell Pushup With Renegade Row: 3 x 6 rows per side (12 total pushups per set)
- Double Kettlebell Push Press: 3 x two reps short of failure
- Double Kettlebell Clean and Press: 3 x 30 seconds AMRAP (as many reps as possible)
Even if deadlifting is your favorite part of training, lower body pull days can be grueling mentally and physically. This will be especially true if you have access to suitably heavy kettlebells. Pay strict attention to your form and make sure you’re specifically warmed up for deadlifts, especially since you’re ending this workout with a kettlebell swing finisher.
The first few lifts are slow and very deliberate, while the last two are explosive and powerful. This is by design so that you can really maximize everything kettlebells have to offer your lower body. For the slower lifts, rest between 90 seconds and three minutes. For the more explosive lifts, rest a little longer if you need to, especially if you’re still getting used to conditioning work.
- Double Kettlebell Deadlift: 3 x 12 per side
- Single-Leg Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 8 per side
- Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift: 3 x 8 per side
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Snatch: 3 x 6 per side
- Kettlebell Swing: 3 x 30 seconds
How to Warm Up For Kettlebell Training
Even with a light weight, you don’t want to just grab a kettlebell and start swinging. To help raise your heart rate, increase your blood flow, and activate all the muscles you’ll use in your training session, make sure you’re warming up for kettlebell work just like you would warm-up for any workout. Whenever you use bells during this warm-up, make sure you’re moving light weight.
Sample Kettlebell Warm-Up
- Cat-Cow: 3 x 30 seconds
- Banded Pull-Apart: 3 x 15-20
- Kettlebell Windmill: 3 x 10 per side
- Squat Sit To Reach: 3 x 10 per side
- Inchworm to Hip Opener to Push-Up: 3 x 6 per side
- Kettlebell Swings: 3 x 30 seconds
How to Sequence This Kettlebell Training Program
With kettlebells, you’ll be moving less weight overall than you would with an equivalent barbell routine. That said, just because you can train with kettlebells every day doesn’t mean you should. Kettlebell training is hard work, and your body will still need to recover.
According to your training experience, recovery routine, goals, and schedule, you can choose to commit to this program three times, four, or even five times a week.
If you opt for three times a week, the first week will have you performing the upper body pull, lower body push, and the core and conditioning workouts. Start the next week with upper body push and lower body pull, and your third workout of the week — upper body pull — will start the sequence over again.
If you have enough training experience and can commit to a solid sleep, food, and recovery regimen, you can opt to perform all of the workouts in this training program in a single week. Choosing that option means you will be working out five times a week.
You might also choose a middle ground of doing this program four times a week. That means you will complete every workout except lower body pull during the first week. In this case, start your second week with lower body pull, and maintain the sequence from there.
To complete this kettlebell training program, plan to complete each workout six times. If you’re training five times a week, that will make the program six weeks long. Training four times a week will make the program seven weeks long. If you’re training three times a week, this program will take you eight weeks to complete.
How to Progress for Hypertrophy
When you’re training for muscle growth, you typically want to lift moderately heavy weights at a moderate volume with medium-to-high intensity. You’ll want to grab weights that will get you close to failure for the prescribed rep range. Then, you’ll be setting yourself up to build muscle.
To progress these workouts over the course of your program, complete each workout as is at first. Then, the next two times you tackle the workouts, add one rep per set. On your fourth time completing this cycle of workouts, go back to the original rep scheme — but use a heavier weight.
Again, add one rep per set per workout as you continue the program through completion. This will give you a periodized approach to hypertrophy where you’re first training your body to complete more reps with the same weight; then you’ll train your body to lift heavier weights, all in a hypertrophy rep-range.
How to Progress for Strength
To progress in this kettlebell program for strength, you’ll complete the first set of workouts as written to get your body accustomed to kettlebell training. During your second round of workouts, you’ll lower the rep scheme where necessary. When the program calls for six reps, lower it to five; eight reps, lower it to six; from 12 reps, lower it to 10. As you lower the reps, increase the weights you’re using.
The next round, lower from five to four reps; from six to five reps; and from 10 to eight reps. Again, increase the weight you’re using as the reps get lower. On the fourth round of your program, go back to the original rep scheme. Start with a heavier weight this time, then repeat the process of increasing your reps over the next two rounds.
The exception to this rule is the third day of workouts, for core and conditioning. You can keep those rep schemes as they are since you want to be focusing on form and breathwork above all else. Keep the flows on the lower end of the rep scheme, too.
How to Progress for Endurance
There are a couple of paths to choose from when you want to progress this kettlebell program for endurance. You can keep the same weight but add an extra set to each workout every time you complete a round of the training. Or, you can keep the same weight and same number of sets, but you’ll add one rep to every set each time you perform the workout.
The first option is more intense, so you’ll stop adding an extra set after three rounds of each workout. Just as with strength and hypertrophy progressions, you’ll go back to the original set and rep scheme midway through this program. Grab a heavier weight and start adding sets again. You’ll boost your endurance and get stronger all at the same time.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training
You don’t need a barbell to skyrocket your strength, conditioning, and overall athleticism. Training with kettlebells makes you stronger, gives you a low-impact way to improve your cardiovascular endurance and conditioning, and will make your body much more balanced than only training with a barbell.
Increasing Total-Body Strength
Want to get stronger all over? Enter kettlebells. Your grip strength and core strength will improve dramatically when consistently training with these implements, but your entire body will benefit, too. Even if your primary training goals revolve around putting more weight on a barbell, taking a microcycle or two to work with kettlebells can translate directly into stronger lifts.
Because of their strange shape, kettlebells have a unique ability to recruit a lot of stabilizer muscles that might normally get neglected. And since most kettlebell moves require your full body’s involvement, your entire body gets a lot stronger — even when you’re “only” working one area.
Kettlebell cardio, on the other hand, involves pretty explosive movements that will definitely get your heart rate up — but your feet won’t leave the ground. Because kettlebells have such a low impact on your joints, they’re excellent for building a strong cardiovascular base without all that repetitive stress.
Improving Movement Patterns and Asymmetries
Even when you’re lifting with two kettlebells at once, you’re essentially training unilaterally. That means the different sides of your body are lifting weight independently from each other. This combats strength and muscular imbalances that can easily develop when you work exclusively with barbells.
Kettlebells can also improve the integrity of your movement patterns. These implements integrate your entire body into pretty much every lift. Since you’re moving unilaterally, it’ll iron out movement flaws. You’ll carry good form into all your lifts.
More Kettlebell Training Tips
On your kettlebell training program journey, you’ll learn even more about the ins and outs of kettlebell workouts. Check out these articles to read up on the latest and greatest of all things kettlebell.
- The Complete Guide to Kettlebell Training for Beginners
- 5 Ways Kettlebell Training can Improve Your Barbell Lifts
- Can You Train with Kettlebells Every Day?
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