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HomeOnline LibraryArticlesKettlebell Training › How To Structure A Kettlebell Workout For Size and Strength

How To Structure A Kettlebell Workout For Size and Strength

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By Mike Mahler

Mike Mahler

I get tons of emails from kettlebell trainees on how to structure kettlebell workouts for getting bigger and stronger. Many trainees make the mistake of doing too many exercises; apply improper use of volume; and use flawed training frequency. Training frustration is soon to follow with the inevitable lack of progress from not having a clear target. When designing a program, you must consider that you can only be good at so many things. Thus, one of the keys to designing an effective program for strength and size is to keep things simple and focus on doing a few things well. Moreover, you balanced development is critical as is proper exercise selection. Lets get into some key ingredients for maximizing a kettlebell program for size and strength.

The first thing you need to do is focus on are exercises that provide the most bang for you buck. I like to break down a full body workout into five categories. Pick one pressing exercise, one pulling exercise, one exercise for the quads, one for the hamstrings, and one core exercise. This ensures that the entire body is getting a workout and prevents trainees from focusing too much on one area. For example, men like to focus on the upper body and women like to focus on the lower body. To avoid imbalances and being mistaken for a California bodybuilder, focus on working the entire body and pick one exercise per category. Lets discuss each category:

Pressing

A pressing exercise will take care of the shoulders, triceps, and depending on what you pick the chest as well. Here are some kettlebell pressing exercises to choose from:

  • The Double Clean and Military Press (clean before each press)
  • Double Military Press
  • Double Sots Press
  • Alternating Military Press
  • Floor Press
  • Alternating Floor Press

Pulling

Pulling exercises are a necessity to ensure balanced development for the upper body. Moreover there is a synergy between pulling and pressing muscles. The better you get at pulling, the stronger your pressing will be and vice versa. Here are some excellent pulling exercises for you to choose from:

  • Pull-ups with a kettlebell attached (use a dipping belt)
  • Renegade Row
  • Double Bent Over Row
  • Alternating Bent-over Row
  • One-arm Rows with two kettlebells (see Pavel’s “More Russian Kettlebell Challenges DVD)

Quads

To avoid looking like a California bodybuilder you need to work on the legs. Even if you do not care about leg development, if you care about upper body development you need a strong foundation. I have had online clients that blast through pressing plateaus by increasing leg strength. You body is only as strong as you weakest link. Build a strong foundation with the following exercises:

  • Double Front Squat
  • Double Lunge
  • Suitcase Squat
  • Double Front Box Squat

Hamstrings

The next critical area is the back of your legs. You need to balance the quad development from the squats with some hamstring exercises. In addition, if you are an athlete, you need strong hamstrings for explosive strength and speed. Choose from the following:

  • Double Swing
  • Double Clean
  • Double Snatch
  • Full Body Attack (on my new DVD, The Kettlebell Solution For Speed and Explosive Strength)
  • Double One Legged Squat

Core

The last important area to cover is the midsection. The midsection is the hook that connects the lower body to the upper body and if your core is weak so is your entire body and you will not be as strong as you could be with a well-developed powerful midsection. Choose from the following list:

  • Double Windmill
  • One-arm Windmill
  • Turkish Get-up
  • Turkish Get-up Sit-up

Now that we have all of the bases covered. Lets go over program design options. If your main goal is to get bigger and stronger then split your workouts into upper body and lower body and workout each area two times per week. Here is a sample program:

Monday: (Upper Body Focus)

  • A-1: Double Clean and Press 5x5
  • A-2: Double Bent Over Row 5x5

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 5x5 on both exercises. When you can do 5x5, add another set and do 6x5. Your long-term goal is to do 10x5

Tuesday (Lower Body Focus)

  • A-1: Double Front Squat 5x5
  • A-2: Double Swing 5x5

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 5x5 on both exercises. When you can do 5x5, add another set and do 6x5. Your long-term goal is to do 10x5

Take a one-minute break and then do:

  • Turkish Get-up 2x5 l,r (left and right with one-minute breaks)

Thursday: (Upper Body Focus)

  • A-1: Double Floor Press 5x5
  • A-2: Pull-up with a kettlebell 5x5

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 5x5 on both exercises. When you can do 5x5, add another set and do 6x5. Your long-term goal is to do 10x5

Friday (Lower Body Focus)

  • A-1: Double Front Lunge 5x5 each leg
  • A-2: Double Snatch 5x5

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 5x5 on both exercises. When you can do 5x5, add another set and do 6x5. Your long-term goal is to do 10x5

Take a one-minute break and then do:

  • Double Windmill 2x5 l,r (left and right with one-minute breaks)

Now if you are under some time constraints and only have time for two workouts per week then try doing two full body workouts per week. This is also a great program for people that require more rest days for adequate recovery. Here is a sample program:

Monday

  • A-1: Double Floor Press 3x5
  • A-2: Pull-up with a kettlebell 3x5

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 3x5 on both exercises. Your long-term goal is to work up to 6x5 per exercise.

Take a one-minute break and then move on to:

  • B-1: Double Front Squat 3x6
  • B-2: Double Swing 3x6

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 3x6 on both exercises. When you can do 3x6, add another set and do 4x6. Your long-term goal is to do 6x6 per exercise.

Take a one-minute break and then do:

  • Double Windmill 2x5 l,r (left and right with one-minute breaks)

Thursday

  • A-1: Double Clean and Military Press 3x5
  • A-2: Renegade Row 3x5 l,r (left and right)

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 3x5 on both exercises. Your long-term goal is to work up to 6x5 per exercise.

Take a one-minute break and then move on to:

  • B-1: Double Front Lunge 3x6
  • B-2: Double Snatch 3x6

Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, wait a minute and then do a set of A-2, wait a minute and so forth. Continue in this fashion until you have completed 3x6 on both exercises. When you can do 3x6, add another set and do 4x6. Your long-term goal is to do 6x6 per exercise

Take a one-minute break and then do:

  • Turkish Get-up 2x5 l,r (left and right with one-minute breaks)

To summarize, the keys to building an effective kettlebell program for size and strength is to focus on compound exercises and balanced development. Make sure to cover the five major categories for balanced development and organize a program in such a way that all of the bases are covered with the appropriate amount of training days, volume, and intensity.

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