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

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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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.