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20-Minute Kettlebell Workouts That Will Rock Your World

20-Minute Kettlebell Workouts That Will Rock Your World

Posted by Phil McDougall on 13th Jul 2021

Most people have trouble sticking to a structured training program. They fall off the wagon because of greater responsibilities, such as parenthood or work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing feel-good sessions when you have time. Consistency, however, is king.

If the goal is long-term fitness and wellness, arguably the best way to spend a spare 20 to 30 minutes is going for a brisk walk. But if you already have your daily steps in, you know your way around a kettlebell and you want a quick meltdown that’ll leave you feeling awesome, these are for you.

Here’s a collection of my favorite creations that can be nailed in 20 minutes or less. They’re all extensively tried and tested by folk of all fitness levels and will leave you invigorated and very sweaty. They can be as easy or as hard as you want them to be. Just increase or decrease the weight of the kettlebell or adjust your effort level. Prior to indulging in these cheeky little numbers, I strongly recommend spending 15 minutes flowing through a pre-kettlebell workout warm-up LIKE THIS ONE. It will optimize your body for performance, activate beast mode and minimize the risk of injury.

Angry Bear

This one makes your heart bang against the inside of your chest like there’s an angry bear trying to escape. Well, if will if you go heavy enough. WARNING: risk of addiction if carried out for three consecutive weeks (due to significant gains).

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Go every minute x 15

10 two-arm swings, 1 goblet squat, 5/5 march-in-place (MIP)

10 two-arm swings, 3 goblet squats, 5/5 MIP

10 two-arm swings, 5 goblet squats, 5/5 MIP

10 two-arm swings, 1 goblet squat, 5/5 MIP

10 two-arm swings, 3 goblet squats, 5/5 MIP

10 two-arm swings, 5 goblet squats, 5/5 MIP

10 two-arm swings, 1 goblet squat, 5/5 MIP

10 two-arm swings, 3 goblet squats, 5/5 MIP

10 two-arm swings, 5 goblet squats, 5/5 MIP

…and continue in this fashion for 15 minutes (doing 1, then 3 then 5 goblet squats)

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Marching-in-place is an unloaded locomotive activity that helps blood flow back to the heart. It also ticks the locomotion-movement-pattern box, helping connect left arm to right leg and vice versa.

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Which Kettlebell?

Starting point: 20% bodyweight

Everyday athlete target: 33% bodyweight

Jedi target: 50% bodyweight

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Progressing

Ability to complete all reps marks a graduation with that KB. Add 4kg and drop goblet squat reps to 1-2-3. If successful, continue to add goblet squat reps until you’re back up to 1-3-5, marking another graduation. If/when your improvement curve starts to flatten, stop doing the workout for a few months, while you work on other things. Improving your aerobic capacity (thus improving your ability to recover) would be beneficial.

The Shredder

For those who love to sweat I salute you. Here’s a little treat for you.

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Go every 2m 30s x 8 (set interval timer)

5 swings, 5 snatches, 3 military presses (or push-presses), 3 front squats, switch arms, repeat.

Then jump rope until the next bleep

Fast transitions: KB – jump rope – KB – jump rope. Jumping rope is your active recovery.

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Which kettlebell?

Starting point for most: 15% – 20% bodyweight KB

Everyday athlete target: 25% bodyweight KB

Jedi target: 33% bodyweight KB

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Progressing

Ability to complete all reps explosively marks a graduation with that KB. Add 4kg and drop reps on the two lifts you found toughest (usually presses and snatches) to singles, then build back up from one session to the next. If/when your improvement curve starts to flatten, stop doing the workout for a few months, while you work on other things.

Quick Quadrathlon

Everyone loves this workout, but it’s not something you’ll want to do every week. It feels better as a quarterly performance test.

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Pick one KB and use it for all lifts:

4 minutes get-ups

1 minute rest

4 minutes push-press

1 minute rest

4 minutes snatches

1 minute rest

4 minutes goblet squats

Done!

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NOTES:

This has the potential to look and be a very messy session. If your torso becomes flaccid or your form feels sloppy, it’s too heavy for you. However, if you can maintain rigidity throughout the sets and park it like pro every time you put it down this high-rep workout has the potential to feel magical.

Get-ups for reps?! By the gods of Mandalor, how dare I suggest such a thing? I’m all for doing get-ups for strength with near maximal load. There’s nothing unsafe about experienced lifters doing speeded up get-ups as long as they keep the grounded shoulder packed. High speed, high volume get-ups with a submaximal load is a great conditioning exercise, but if you can do more than 12 reps in 4 minutes you definitely need to use a heavier kettlebell.

Push-press: switch arms as many times as required, just don’t put it down

Snatches: switch arms or put it down as many times as required

Goblet squats: put it down as many times as required

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Which kettlebell?

Starting point for most: 15% – 20% bodyweight KB

Everyday athlete target: 25% bodyweight KB

Jedi target: 33% bodyweight KB

Ultimate Swing Protocol

This is the most successful protocol I know of for improving Hardstyle swing performance. Swings are one of the highest value exercises that we have available. The cross-over training effect to other activities is significant and swings are almost a one-stop shop for building elite athleticism. I wrote about all of the why’s and benefits of this particular protocol in a previous blog, but here’s the short version.

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Part A:

8–10 swings every 30 seconds for 10 minutes. Park the KB and alternate arms after every set. That’s a max of 200 swings in 10 minutes.

…then directly into Part B:

10 swings every minute for 10 minutes. Park the KB and alternate arms after every set. That’s 100 swings in 10 minutes.

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Goal: build volume in part A so you’re able to achieve all 200 reps. If/when that happens, add 4kg and drop reps to 8s. Part B involves a lot more rest between sets and exists to offer sufficient overload and to enable the lifter to end with perfect, explosive sets of 10. This speeds up the adaptation.

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Which kettlebell?

Starting point for most: 20% bodyweight KB

Everyday athlete target: 30% bodyweight KB

Jedi target: 40% bodyweight KB — only three people in the world have completed this with 50% bodyweight, that I’m aware of (mentioned in previous blog).

Snatch Ladders: 20-Minute AMRAP

Snatches and push-ups are a match made in heaven! This tends to be more preferred by dudes due to the high push-up volume and pumped upper body feeling at the end.

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How many ladders can you smash in 20 minutes?

ONE LADDER:

4/4 snatches, 4 ring push-ups

8/8 snatches, 8 ring push-ups

12/12 snatches, 12 ring push-ups

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Modify the variation of push-ups and weight of the KB to suit your ability. If 12 good quality ring push-ups isn’t manageable in one set, try depth push-ups (on paralettes), regular push-ups or inclined push-ups.

If you can do six rounds with solid reps, it’s time to add 4kg. Remember to keep your elbows tucked in and shoulders depressed for the push-ups. Press from your lats, keeping the biceps pointing forward. Wide elbows = weak reps, injured shoulders and training plateaus.

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Which kettlebell?

Starting point for most: 15% – 20% bodyweight KB, 5 ladders

Everyday athlete target: 25% bodyweight KB, 5 ladders

Jedi target: 33% bodyweight KB, 5 ladders

Power of Greyskull

Develop the resilience and power of He-Man by including this one every week. By the power of Greyskull… I have the power!

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Part A: Get-Ups

Continuous reps for 15 minutes. If/when you can achieve 20 reps (10 per arm) add load. 45 seconds per rep allows some serious weight to be lifted. Take 1 minute rest before part B.

Part B: Snatches (with the same KB)

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5-plus reps per arm, every minute for 4 minutes. Park the KB and shake off the tension every minute. Finishing on something explosive is optimal for promoting athleticism so treat every rep as an individual effort to produce maximal power and pause for a second in the top position. Continue to build up the reps from one session to the next. Add load when you achieve 20 get ups in part A.

If/when your improvement curve starts to flatten, stop doing the workout for a few months, while you work on other things.

Shoulders of Thor

Definitely another bro workout. It does what it says on the tin.

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Set interval timer to bleep every 90 seconds x 12 and use for parts A and B (consecutively).

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Part A

Six sets, starting every 90 seconds

Pull-ups, X reps

Offset clean and military press, 2-5 reps @ heavy loads (switch KBs after every set)

Record reps and either match your numbers next week or add more (but never allow yourself to do less)

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Part B

Six sets, starting every 90 seconds (following directly on from part A)

Chin-ups, X reps

Offset clean and military press, 6-9 reps @ lighter loads (switch KBs after every set)

Record reps and either match your numbers next week or add more (but never allow yourself to do less)

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Part C

Drop-set military press finisher. Use the four different kettlebells you used above. Right after finishing your final set of part B, grab the heaviest kettlebell and perform as many military presses as possible with your nondominant arm. Then match reps with your dominant arm. Then after no more than 10 seconds rest do the same with the next lighter KB. Repeat this process for all four KBs, bringing your shoulders to utter destruction. Record reps and try to squeeze out more next week.

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NOTES:

X reps means a relatively uniform number, so don't max out to start with. Record numbers and add reps from one week to the next. Squeeze a dumbbell between your upper adductors if you can do more than five explosive pull-ups or chin ups in every set. I only count reps if the chest makes contact with the bar. Modify to lat pull-downs or rows if pull-ups and chin-ups aren’t possible.

Five-Minutes of Fire

You know those workouts that absolutely fly by? This is one! It’s full of super high-value moves too.

Complete these four five-minute rounds in succession, making 20 minutes of non-stop movement. Set an interval timer to bleep every minute x 20, to help pace yourself.

Infinity Crawl

Leopard crawl in a figure eight shape around two kettlebells. Unless you’re a highly conditioned Jedi, you won’t manage this for the full five minutes. In which case, use the 60-second bleeps to break it down into five shorter sets. Record performance and try to squeeze out an extra 5 seconds per minute next week.

Snatches

Pick the appropriate KB to perform 5–8 explosive reps per arm, every minute for five minutes. Park the KB and shake off the tension every minute. Pause for a second at the top of every snatch to maintain technical integrity. If/when you achieve 5 x 8/8 reps, add 4kg and drop to 5/5 reps then build back up.

Jump Rope

Transition straight to your jump rope and recover from the potentially brutal snatch set while you bounce. Developing powerful lower limbs and having the ability to jump rope nonstop for five minutes is a litmus test to determine whether or not running (any distance) is unsafe. People who can’t bounce on the spot for five minutes are putting themselves in harm’s way by participating in statistically the most hazardous exercise we do: running. As with the crawling, you may need to break the five minutes down and build up over time.

Overhead Carry

Now pick up the same kettlebell you used for snatching and walk with it locked out overhead, at a steady pace, for the final five minutes. Switch arms with a swing whenever you feel like it but don’t put it down. Count and record the number of arm changes and try to do less next week. Maintain a tight grip of the KB handle (to keep the shoulder stabilizers active) and don’t hold it in such a way that extends the wrist. Extended wrists when holding KBs in the rack or overhead position is a rookie mistake that leads to injury and limited strength progress.

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Which kettlebell?

Starting point for most: 15% – 20% bodyweight KB

Everyday athlete target: 25% bodyweight KB

Jedi target: 33% bodyweight KB

Colossus

…for the torso of a Greek God.

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5–10 offset swings (heavy KBs)

Rest 20 seconds, switch KBs, repeat

Overhead and rack carry 20 meters (lighter KB overhead, heavier KB in rack position)

Rest 20 seconds, switch KBs, walk back

Shake off the tension. Go again when ready

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Offset kettlebells are more effective in all training situations (aside from KB sport specific event prep) than using pairs. Using offset KBs instead of pairs helps you reach any training goal faster due to the added neural challenge.

I don’t want to offer targets for this one. Just go as heavy as good solid form allows and ideally keep at least 8kg difference between the two kettlebell loads. This difference helps ignite your torso.

Compact Gladiator

The full gladiator workout has been one of my favorites since I read about it in Breaking Muscle about a decade ago. I modified the original by doing it with offset kettlebells instead of pairs (for reasons I’ve written about extensively), by adding jump roping as active recovery between rounds and by adding an extra round (because using offset kettlebells calls for an even number). I’ve taken dozens of groups and hundreds of individuals through this workout over the years and everyone who does it, loves it. It’s definitely worth a try!

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Set your interval timer to bleep every 5 minutes, 4 times. Start each round on the bleep. As soon as you finish a round, jump rope until the next bleep, switch kettlebells then start again:

ONE ROUND:

10 offset swings, 10 seconds shake off

8 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 10 seconds shake off

6 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 2 offset squats, 10 seconds shake off

4 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 2 offset squats, 2 offset military press, 10 seconds shake off

2 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 2 offset squats, 2 offset military press, 2 offset front squats, 10 seconds shake off

Jump rope until the next bleep, switch kettlebells, go again

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NOTES

It’s 10 seconds rest between sub-sets. If you’re disciplined enough to stick to this, each full round will take less than 3 minutes. This gives you about 2 minutes jumping rope per round. Don’t switch kettlebells until after each full round. Use kettlebells that are offset by 4kg to 8kg. The military press is usually the limiting factor, in which case you could switch to push press (or just get stronger).

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Which kettlebell?

Starting point for most: 20% bodyweight (both KBs)

Everyday athlete target: 40% bodyweight (both KBs)

Jedi target: 60% bodyweight (both KBs)

Commando Litvinov

Yes, this is the eleventh. “Eleven 20-Minute Kettlebell Workouts...” didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

A few years back I read about the Litvinov workout in Dan John’s Never Let Go (a truly great read for anyone who loves training). This basically involved 10 heavy power cleans followed by a 400m track run for three rounds, as fast as possible. I tried this with a pair of heavy-ass kettlebells instead of a barbell and it was love at first sight.

I spent the next few years trying different versions and assessing the outcomes and training effects. For the sake of keeping this short I won’t explain my reasons and justifications for my modifications, but my version is more geared to cardiovascular capacity and anerobic threshold than raw power.

For once, I recommend a pair of kettlebells versus offset loads for safety. You could be so exhausted that you need the stability of even loads. This works really well if you have access to a running track, but any uninterrupted 400m loop will do, or even a treadmill.

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Five Rounds for time:

10 double swings

5 double cleans

5 double front squats

5 depth push-ups (on the KB handles)

Run 400m

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Starting weight: 30% bodyweight (both KBs)

Everyday athletes: 50% bodyweight (both KBs)

Jedi’s: 70% bodyweight (both KBs)

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Bronze medal: Sub 16 minutes

Silver medal: Sub 14 minutes, 30 seconds

Gold medal: Sub 13 minutes

Obviously, there are thousands of other cheeky little feel-good kettlebell workouts available, but cycling through these should keep you hot and happy for a few years.

May the force be with you.

Phil McDougall

IG: @phil.mcdougall

www.philipmcdougall.com