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3 Tips for Designing a Single Kettlebell Workout Program

First up: know where you are right now.

You’ve only got one kettlebell and you need an actual workout program. Don’t worry — contrary to what it might feel like, you’ve already got all the equipment you need.

Figuring out how to design a single kettlebell workout program actually isn’t too daunting, as long as you let yourself sit down and figure out what your goals are.

And — tell yourself this in your best medicine commercial disclaimer voice — always learn how to keep your forearms bruise-free with a kettlebell before proceeding. Your program will be much more pleasant if your wrists and forearms don’t absolutely hate you.

[Need to shop first? Check out our list of the best kettlebells on the market!]

Assess Your Starting Point

Before you start designing an at-home training program, you’ve got to know what you’re training for. But to know what you’re training for, you need to figure out where you’re currently at.

In the gym, you might know exactly where you are because of the notes you take on your workouts. But if you’re suddenly stuck at home sans equipment (except, of course, for your trusty steed… er, steel kettlebell), you might not really know what goals to make because you might not know what you’re already capable of.

Can you swing for 10 minutes with only short, intermittent breaks? If not, maybe building up to that can be one of your goals.

Can you clean and press the bell cleanly (I’m not even sorry)? Maybe you want to learn how and then build up your strength with that move.

Haven’t quite mastered the Turkish get-up?

Can you only do one kettlebell snatch before your form goes all haywire? (Those links are all really handy if you can’t, by the way.)

Measure where you’re at with form checks and benchmark workouts to figure out what your starting point is before going any further.

[Related: Check out this sample one-kettlebell workout from Onnit’s Francheska Martinez]

Determine Your Goals

Maybe you can’t perform a kettlebell snatch to save your life, but if you’re avoiding overhead movements to nurse a shoulder injury, that move definitely shouldn’t be one of your goals anyway.

If, on the other hand, your shoulders are good to go and you want to develop maximal strength, power, and coordination, mastering this move and making it a staple of your workout (much like a barbell snatch might be if you’re a weightlifter) might be the way to go.

Since you’ve only got one kettlebell and therefore can’t go up in weight, your goals might be several-fold: first, perfect your technique; find out what a comfortable rep range is for you with the weight you have, and determine what you’d like it to be by the end of your next training cycle; or benchmark an AMRAP workout for yourself and keep track of how your numbers improve.

If you want to change your body composition or improve your cardiovascular endurance by a particular measure, keep those powerful movements crisp and work over the course of your program to gradually reduce your rest time between your efforts. If you’re focusing on hypertrophy, choose your programming strategies based on whether you’re working with a light kettlebell or a heavy bell.

Once you’ve figured out where your goals are at, you can determine what your program should emphasize.

Design A Single Kettlebell Training Program

Remember that your kettlebell isn’t the only thing you can and should use.

If you’re training for power, you’re going to have to work especially hard to maintain and even improve mobility, not to mention taking good care of your joints. Weaving yoga and other mobility work into your program will be essential.

Trying to build strength? Make sure you’re getting your cardio in there, perhaps with a jog or two per week (not right before days when you really fire up your legs).

Figure out what “extra,” non-kettlebell elements you’ll want in your program. Maybe your bell is super heavy, so you’ll need to program in bodyweight exercises to help your upper body maintain strength (heavy swings will do wonders for your grip strength, so don’t worry too much about that).

Or maybe your quarantine sanity needs require you to work out every single day: that’s fine, as long as you’re programming lighter days alongside your more intense lifting days.

Take the same principles as you do with your regular, in-gym training programs: if Monday’s workout is particularly challenging for your CNS (a lot of kettlebell snatches, for example), you probably don’t want to go all out on the swings Tuesday. Maybe program a long yoga session instead. As ever, make sure you’re rotating which exercises you go hard with each day (i.e., heavy split squats the day before double-handed floor presses might work well, but you might not want to program a load of weighted lunges the day after your split squats).

And — this is the one you’re not going to like, but you’ve really got to do it — integrate what you don’t like into your program.

So yes, if you hate goblet-style lateral lunges, you probably should make sure they’re in your program. Why? Because if you hate them, it likely means you don’t move in the frontal plane enough. Don’t like Turkish get-ups? If you want to develop an absurd amount of core strength and stability (and if you’re reading this, you probably do — it’s literally central to every lift under the sun), throw them into your program.

And not just at the end of your workout — put what you don’t like in the beginning of your days. That way, you won’t be spending your entire workout in a state of dread leading up to those darn get-ups, and you won’t be so fatigued by the time you get there that you only put in an afterthought of effort. 

Use your program to get stronger at your weaknesses, and you’ll find that your strengths get even stronger — and you get to your goals much faster.

More Than Just Swinging

Get creative about what kinds of moves you put into your program. Sure, you only have one kettlebell, but that doesn’t mean you only have one move. Use your favorite training splits, but kettlebell style — and really, you can’t go wrong.

 Featured image via Srdjan Randjelovic/Shutterstock

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