The Kettlebell Armor Complex: How, When, and Why It Should Be In Your Training

The kettlebell is a relative of the barbell, one that was used hundreds of years ago to showcase strength and physical prowess. Today, kettlebells are common among fitness athletes, strength and conditioning coaches, and even strength and power competitors to develop:

  • Fluid Movement
  • Explosiveness
  • Metabolic Conditioning
  • Cardiovascular Health
  • Strength

A photo posted by Paul Roberts (@paul_g_roberts) on

Kettlebells offer athletes and coaches a unique dynamic means to improving one’s fitness, with some kettlebell complexes made to undoubtedly challenge even the best of athletes.

The Armor Complex, developed by Dan John, is just that.

The History of the Armor Complex

Dan John, coach and decorated strength and power athlete, came up with this simple yet highly challenging (and effective) kettlebell complex to improve a magnitude of fitness markers, with some unique additional benefits for nearly every athlete.  

Why Do It

Like most kettlebell complexes, the Armor Complex can be used to reduce body fat and improve metabolic conditioning, with further individualized conditioning training when coaches and athletes manipulate intensity, rest periods, and overall volume.

The Armor Complex also offers some unique benefits, not generally inherent to most kettlebell complexes, in which strength, power, and functional fitness athletes may find beneficial:

  • Strength: Kettlebell complexes by nature may not be the top way to develop maximal strength, unless loading is held high (often the heaviest loads used for the Armor Complex are equivalent to an athlete’s 5-rep maximum for the strict press portion of the complex) and volume low/moderate. However, this exercise allows athletes to handle significantly heavy loads, in escalating volume fashion, to promote strength gains in the long-term.
  • Callusing”: Frank Shamrock, an American Mixed Martial Arts fighter (MMA) and 4-Time Defending Undefeated Middleweight Champion (retired as that) described callusing as, “a focus attempt to prepare an athlete for contact.” The ability to prepare for a forceful blow, whether from a fist, another athlete (collision sports), or heavy load (such as in weightlifting while catching a barbell), can improve an athlete’s ability and performance. 
  • Mental Focus and Stamina: Kettlebell complexes by nature are very arduous at times, however the Armor Complex will force athletes to grow resilient to endure the mental and physical challenges of cycling heavy loads repeatedly. This skill is often hard to teach, especially in an environment where mental laziness can result in repeated blows to the body and physique. Improving one’s mental focus and stamina overtime will most certainly make every athlete better.

How to Do It

The Armor Complex consists of three movements, each performed with using a kettlebell in each hand:

  • Double Clean x 2 reps
  • Double Strict Press x 1 rep
  • Double Front Squat x 3 reps

The complex can be performed using heavy loads, in either straight set fashion, max complex repetitions in a time period, or my personal favorite, EMOM (every minute of the minute). By manipulating the loads used, rest periods, and volume, coaches an athletes can build strength, muscular endurance, and stamina.

Final Thoughts

Kettlebell complexes, like the Armor Complex, can be a valuable asset in most athletes training, whether for strength, metabolic conditioning, or movement training. Mastering the basics of kettlebell training, such as these 10 exercises, may very well increase an individual’s potential for athleticism and enhance overall fitness.

Featured image: @paul_g_roberts on Instagram

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