Killer Kettlebell Complexes

Posted by Phil McDougall on 5th Sep 2019

A quick guide to constructing the most effective kettlebell complexes for targeting any given goal and program examples for each. The most common goals being fat loss, muscle gain and real-world strength.

Kettlebell training can be unforgiving. It involves swinging heavy objects around in multiple planes of motion. When untrained, chair-shaped adults do this they tend to become injured. As a pre-requisite before attempting the advanced complexes you should be proficient in:

  • performing a hip hinge movement without flexing your lumbar spine (lower back)
  • sitting in a deep squat position. 4 minutes tells me you own it enough to add load
  • using your diaphragm and pelvic floor to create intra-abdominal pressure
  • creating this pressure during loaded hinge, squat and pressing movements
  • walking for 45 seconds holding any kettlebell(s) you intend to use with locked out arm(s) overhead
  • leopard crawling in an infinity (figure 8) shape. 3 minutes demonstrates sufficient torso strength to avoid hurting yourself when holding kettlebells

All of the following complexes should be preceded with a 20-minute joint lube and warm up sequence. The ingredients of which would be respective of your personal movement needs and all should fully lube up the ankles, hips and thoracic spine.

I’ve tried and tested using offset kettlebells against using pairs enough over the years on people of all ability levels to make this bold statement: In all training scenarios outside of preparation for a kettlebell sport lifting competitions, offset kettlebells will get you to your goal faster than using pairs. Read this blog to learn why.


Kettlebell Complexes for Fat Loss

Fat loss complexes and conditioning complexes are essentially the same thing. The main ingredients for an effective fat loss complex are:

  • More ballistics (swings, cleans, snatches, push press) than grinds (squats, military press, windmills, get ups)
  • Constant movement. Rest periods should be kept short and filled with low intensity locomotive movement (marching, jogging, jump roping)
  • Workout duration should be no less than 20 minutes of continuous movement
  • Load doesn’t have to heavy but very short bouts of high intensity (heavy load) followed by longer bouts of low intensity can be highly effective. In KB complexes, adding a difficult grind amongst easier ballistics can act at the intensity

Skier Swing Complex

Set timer to bleep every 3 minutes, 10 times. Go on the bleep. Switch kettlebells after each round.

10 offset skier swings
2-5 kettlebell push-ups*
10 offset skier swings
2-5 kettlebell push-ups
Jump rope / March-in-place until the next bleep

*The risk of wrist damage outweighs the benefit of doing kettlebell push-ups on anything lighter than 16kg – it might topple over under your fatigued bodyweight. If using lighter KBs, do push-ups on the floor instead.


Fighter Conditioning Complex

Set timer to bleep every 60 seconds, 20 times. Go on the bleep.

Minutes 1-6:

10 offset cleans
3 offset front squats
March-in-place until the next bleep
(Switch KBs after each round)

Minutes 7-10:

Reverse leopard crawl in an infinity shape (4 minutes)

Minutes 11-16:

10 offset cleans
3 offset front squats
March-in-place
(Switch KBs after each round)

Minutes 17-20:

Leopard crawl in an infinity shape (4 minutes)

Add load if successful.


Offset Gladiator Complex by Gabrielle D’Angelo

SIX ROUNDS:
10 offset swings, 10-20 seconds off
8 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 10-20 seconds off
6 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 2 offset squats, 10-20 seconds off
4 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 2 offset squats, 2 offset military press, 10-20 seconds of
2 offset swings, 2 offset cleans, 2 offset squats, 2 offset military press, 2 offset squats, 10-20 seconds off

Switch KBs after each round. Strict 2-minute rest between rounds. Sticking to the 10-20 second rest periods become very hard. To help, set a timer to bleep every 5 minutes, 6 times and start every new round on the bleep. If this allows a full 2 minutes rest between rounds it means you managed to stick to your 10-20 seconds. Add load if successful.


Hercules Conditioning Complex

With one kettlebell, set timer to bleep every 60 seconds, 20 times. Go on the bleep.

TWENTY ROUNDS:
3 swings, 3 cleans, 3 push press, 3 snatches, 3 front squats, shake it off

Alternate between arms from one bleep to the next

Start light. If/when you’re able to complete this with the same light kettlebell, next time add load.

Kettlebell Complexes for Muscle Mass

I wrote an entire blog recently called How to Build Functional Mass with Kettlebells, which covered this subject in a lot more detail. But the main ingredients of a mass building complex are:

  • More grinds (squats, military press, get-ups) than ballistics (swings, cleans, snatches, push press)
  • Approximately 1:1 time under tension:rest. Although, if the lift is very demanding (such as front squats), a little more rest is necessary to facilitate more total volume
  • Massive work volume – a lot of load lifted for a lot of reps in not a great length of time
  • Tempo – explosive concentric action, slow and deliberate (3-5 second) eccentric action. This is relative to grinds only – all ballistics are explosive because this is Hardstyle
  • Two bells is better than one. More tension & more load = more volume = bigger muscles. Offset, obviously
  • Frequency. Doing any of these complexes once or twice isn’t going to create any changes. Pick one and do it once or twice a week, every week for 6-8 weeks. Keep adding volume from one workout to the next. The specifics of what else you should be doing to yield the highest payoff is dependent on your individual case

Muscle Complex

Set timer to bleep every 90 seconds, 10 times. Go on the bleep.

TEN ROUNDS:
5 offset cleans
3-5 offset military press
5 offset front squats

If/when 5 press can be achieved in all 10 rounds, add load.


Modified Prometheus Protocol
by Pat Flynn

Modified by using offset kettlebells for faster gains.

Part A: Set timer to bleep every 60 seconds, 10 times. Go on the bleep.
TEN ROUNDS: 3-5 x offset clean & offset military press (re-clean the kettlebell between presses)

Part B: Set timer to bleep every 60 seconds, 10 times. Go on the bleep.
TEN ROUNDS: 3-5 front squats

If/when you can achieve 5 reps in every set (in either part), next time add load.


Big Legs Complex

Set timer to bleep every 60 seconds, 10 times. Go on the bleep.

TEN ROUNDS:
3 offset cleans
3-5 offset front squats

If/when you can achieve 5 reps in every set, next time add load. This one is complimented nicely with “All the pull-ups” protocol where you do a set of pull-ups every minute for 15 minutes.


Captain America Complex

…for a physique like a superhero. Set timer to bleep every 2 minutes, 10 times. Go on the bleep.

TEN ROUNDS:
1 offset clean
7-10 offset military press
10 offset front squats

If you can’t do 8 rounds of 7 military press, use a lighter load. If/when 10 military press can be performed in every set, next time add load. This is also complimented nicely with the “All the pull-ups” protocol, above.

Kettlebell Complexes for Real-World Strength

Kettlebells are great for forging real world-strength because they can be swung through three planes of motion in a single repetition. Arguably the best lifts for developing usable strength are heavy swings, snatches, front squats, farmers’ carry, get-ups and bent press. Get-ups and bent press are most effectively performed for very low reps because they’re high tension exercises. These two therefore don’t go well in strength complexes but should be included in any kettlebell strength program.

Ingredients should include:

  • Long enough rest between sets to not be out of breath. At the beginning of every set you should be able to produce maximum whole-body tension
  • Longer rest periods should be filled with easy mobility movements to target your own restrictions.
  • Heavy loads for 1-5 reps
  • Farmers’ carries, swings, military press, snatches and front squats
  • Explosive and deliberate movements
  • Frequency – even the most advanced of athletes can only take a maximum of two strength sessions per week. The nervous system needs more time to recover than the muscular system. You could pair the first two or the second two up and do them in the same session. Do your session once a week for 6-8 weeks and always add reps/load from one week to the next. Always add reps/load from one session to the next
  • Master the art of muscle relaxation – shake it off and breathe with your diaphragm. Strength is your ability to produce force. The more tension you can create during a lift, the more force you’ll be able to produce. The more you’re able to relax between sets the more tension you’ll be able to produce during the next


Colossus Strength Complex

Set timer to bleep every 2 minutes, 10 times. Go on the bleep.

TEN ROUNDS:
3 offset swings
1 offset clean
1-3 offset front squats

Active recovery / mobility movements

If/when 3 front squats can be achieved in every set, next time add load.


Shoulders Almighty Complex

Set timer to bleep every 2 minutes, 10 times. Go on the bleep.

TEN ROUNDS:
3 offset cleans
3-5 offset military press

Active recovery / mobility movements until the next bleep

If/when 5 press can be performed in every set, next time add load.


Farmers’ Complex

Set a repeatable distance, such as 400m. Or if you’re indoors, identify a walkway that you can walk in laps for approximately 400m. Using two offset kettlebells that are at least 12kg difference in weight, walk the distance using a farmers’ carry. Every time you put them down perform one set of 5-15 depth push-ups (on the kettlebell handles), switch hands and continue as quickly as possible. Record your time. Add load if it takes you less than 6 minutes.


Snatch Power Complex

Set timer to bleep every 2 minutes, 10 times. Go on the bleep.

TEN ROUNDS:
5 offset snatches
1-3 offset military press

Active recovery / mobility movements

If/when 3 presses can be performed in every set, next time add load.


If you’d like to learn about the fundamentals of kettlebell complexes from me in person, please attend one of my Killer Kettlebell Complexes workshops.

May the force be with you

Phil McDougall

IG: @phil.mcdougall

Website: www.philipmcdougall.com