How to Build Kettlebell Workouts into your Training Program

If you don’t already own a kettlebell, get one. You’ll never regret it.

The Kettlebell is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal as an athlete. When the berlin wall fell, and this little guy crept found its way across, it both sparked and augmented a fitness revolution.

The large handle, the compact mass, and the rotational design are all characteristics that make this training implement incredibly unique and effective.

And at its core, it’s incredibly simple–a forged clump, with a handle. Simple is good, simple is cheap.

In simplicity, there is versatility. The kettlebell can (and should) be effectively employed in the Functional (Phase I), Strength (Phase II) and Metabolic (Phase III) phases of your training program.Here’s how:

Phase I

At first, the kettlebell seems like an unlikely candidate for the movement pattern portion of your training program. Ballistic is, after all, the opposite of what we’re training to achieve during this phase of training. Slow steady motions. Controlled, repeated movements. And fresh, frequent rehearsals.

Hardly seems like the standard kettlebell workout, does it?

However– if used correctly– the kettlebell’s abilities to develop grip, build a slightly off-balance exercise, and demand concentration with its compact weight distribution make it adept in building stable movement patterns. Here are the key KB exercises for use during phase I:

Turkish Getups

Turkish Getups (TGUs) work the stabilizers in your abdominal, lumbar, shoulder, and pelvic muscles. It demands coordination across your body’s ceter line and through all limbs and joint. It’s awesome. Click Here for a Step by Step Guide.

Half Kneeling Halo

The half kneeling position is widely used by followers of the Functional Movement System. by doing a KB halo from this position, you extend this exercise from working shoulder ROM to incorporating trunk stabilizers and improving the overall impact on your movement patterns. Here’s an excellent instructional from youtube:

KB Windmill

As versatility and variations are the key to continuing to drive improvements in your movement patterns, the KB windmill should be incorporated as a compliment to the Turkish Getup in that in drives the trunk, shoulder and pelvic stabilizers, but also demands improved focus in range of motion. Here’s how it works.

Phase II

The kettlebell, in itself, sucks for building maximal strength. It’s not heavy enough to drive the neural loads and motor drive that we’re seeking to build. However, in ballistic motion, the kettlebell excels.

That’s a Bingo.

By pairing medium to lower weight kettlebell ballistic exercises with your maximal strength exercises (squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and weighted pullups), you’ll build an extremely effective complex training protocol that drastically increases your motor recruitment. Here’s how to match the exercises up:


2-3 Sets of:
1-3 Deadlifts @ 85-95% 1 RM max
immediately followed by 7 KB swings (use a weight that you can normally do 75 swings without rest)

OH Press-KB Push Press

2 sets of:
3-4 OH presses @ 80-90% 1 RM max
immediately followed by 5 KB push presses (use a weight that is .5 pood lower than your 75-swing weight)

Weighted Pullups–KB Row

2 sets of
2 weighted pullups (max vest weight)
immediately followed by 7 KB suitcase rows

Squats- American Swings

Warning: Controversial some maintain that the American style (overhead) kettlebell swing is injury prone–unless you’re slamming that KB into the top of your range of motion–your physiology should self limit with no risk of injury.
2-3 sets:
1-3 Squats @80-95% 1 RM max
immediately followed by 5 American style KB swings (“75 swing” weight)

Phase III

If you didn’t realize that the kettlebell is appropriate for high intensity metabolic workouts, then you’ve probably never used (or even seen) a kettlebell before. This is where the KB shines. Here’s some workout structures to help you get the most out of your handled clump:

KB Moving Target Complex

Straight from Pavel Tsatsouline himself, this workout combines cleans, presses and squats in a way that maintains high intensity across all three exercises.
Learn the Moving Target Complex

KB Snatches for VO2 max (VO2)

1:1 work to rest ratio.

Weighted Carries

The large grip and concentrated mass make the kettlebell ideal for longer farmer walks, suitcase carries, and even waiter carries.

Discipline vs Intellect: The War for Modern Health

How will you fight for your health?

Historically, we built our fitness on a foundation of disciplined behavior. We woke up early to go to the gym. We skipped desert. We ate less. We put a high importance on not letting our daily lives violate our workout routine. We devoted time every day.

But today, discipline.

Distractions run rampant. The smart phone is a classic example–every five seconds we can connect with someone, something, or somewhere that takes us away from the current situation. Email, texts, phone calls, tweets, Facebook, the Web apps. Always at our fingertips, tugging at our shirt sleeve, drawing our attention away from what we were doing. What were we doing anyway?

None of us are immune to this phenomenon. And by all accounts, the march of generations is only going to make us more distracted.

And because aerobics, workout schedules, training plans, diets and all health regimens have relied typically heavily discipline, our fitness has drastically declined during the rise of the information age.

But what if we used the information age to our advantage?

There are basically two options that we face when it comes to how we’re going to manage our health in the modern era:

  1. We can steal ourselves against distractions, endeavor to focus our discipline and…hold on I just got a Facebook post with a new cat video…focus our discipline and revive the fitness culture.


  2. We can turn the problem on its head. We can use the information age to learn more about ourselves, how our bodies respond to food and exercise, and how slight (rather than drastic) changes can make the difference get into better shape than ever before.

Don’t think it’s possible for information to save our health?

This much red meat used to be a no-no if you were trying to lose weight. Today, it's a very legitimate diet option.

This much red meat used to be a no-no if you were trying to lose weight. Today, it’s a very legitimate diet option.

Consider the emergence of the low carb diet. Support or oppose it, this paradigm shift in how we view weight loss represents a  major shift in how we view dieting. Before the Atkins revolution, fat was the enemy. Fat was what made us fat. Today, dieters take a much more systematic approach to their plan, seeking to minimize insulin response and keep the body in a state of ketosis (burning fat as a primary energy source) for as much of the day as possible.

More interesting than what changed behind the dieting system was how quickly it happened. Shifts of this magnitude used to take decades. The low carb revolution seemingly happened overnight, with the aid of national media and the rapid dissemination of the new information. (Today social media allows these changes to happen even faster than before.)

Another excellent example was the metabolic training revolution. Crossfit  represents a huge leap in short-duration, high-intensity workouts that are capable of delivering superior results to the long slow aerobics classes of old. But the truly amazing thing is how Crossfit was able to spread so quickly, and so quietly. There’s no main spokesperson, no TV personality, no early morning infomercials. Through the internet, and social media, programs that deliver results spread, with little to no commercialism behind them.

That’s because workout programs are (and always have been) about information–and in today’s information age, that is very exciting.

The rise of the kettle bell  would have been impossible in a market driven fitness world. But in the information age, it's effectiveness made it spread like wildfire.

The rise of the kettle bell would have been impossible in a market driven fitness world. But in the information age, it’s effectiveness made it spread like wildfire.

You can learn more about fitness and exercise science today–using your smartphone– while waiting in line for a cheeseburger– than you could over the course of an entire month in the 1980s. You can review the pros and cons of Russian vs American kettle bell swings. You can price compare ashantaga yoga studios within a 50 mile radius in an instant. You can study muscle activation technique (MAT) and find a specialist to treat your chronic injury in the same breath. And the list goes on and on and on…

This is how we will win the war for health in the 21st century. Continuously learning more about the latest health and fitness studies–everyday.

Information on the training programs of professional athletes is more available than ever before. The lines between competition and collaboration are starting to blur as we learn that, by sharing information we can get more information. Sharing innovation is more powerful than guarding against immitation.

Once you start to understand the nuances of insulin response, the adaptation cycle, motor drive, lipolysis, muscle growth, endocrine function, and other key aspects of how your body responds to certain stimuli–then you can start to find those minor tweaks that make major differences.

In the modern era, these can be called “health hacks.” Basically using the extraordinary amounts of freely available information to find those adaptations that can quickly build extraordinary levels of fitness. Here are a few examples of “health hacks” that are already out there:

  • Low Carbohydrate diets hack the endocrine system by minimizing the insulin response and kick the body into a ketosis state where it targets fat.
  • PNF stretching hacks the automatic reactions in your muscles to attain a deeper stretch by triggering the H-Reflex and gongli tendon in order to automatically cause muscle relaxation.
  • The Central Training Program hacks the central nervous system (CNS) and quickly builds efficient, strong and powerful movements to develop athletes faster.
  • Nerd Fitness has hacked the road trip.
  • And a new product called soylent has even hacked food! (Follow this development–I have no earthly idea where its going to end up.

We can’t win the war for discipline, distraction is inevitable. Today’s fitness will have to be more clever and cagey than before. But there’s a huge upside–it’s way more fun to be cagey and clever than disciplined. So start studying, and let’s find the next health hack.