Kettlebell complexes are one of my personal favorites when it comes to kettlebell exercises because you can get an intense, full body workout in a short amount of time. A kettlebell complex is essentially a series of different movements that are strung together. You complete the whole string of movements before dropping the kettlebell.
Kettlebell complexes are great because you can get an intense, full body workout in a very short amount of time. These kettlebell exercises can also bring so much benefit to you when it comes to muscular strength and power too.
Turns out that the research has shown that “kettlebell exercise may elicit cardiovascular, neuromuscular, and metabolic responses sufficient for improvements in strength, aerobic power, and overall physical fitness” (1) This can be accomplished all with just one kettlebell!
In this full body kettlebell workout, you will be doing a variation of a complex that involves 4 movements. You will string all four movements together before letting go of the kettlebell. You will complete as many reps of the complex as you can in one minute, rest one minute, then repeat up to 5 times.
Let’s discuss each movement below:
1. Kettlebell swing: This is a staple kettlebell movement that challenges power in a position called the hinge. The hinge is a movement that involves a slight bend in the knees, and movement of the hips into a flexed position. A hinge is similar to the position you find yourself in when deadlifting. The idea is to then explosively extend the hips and knees until you are standing up tall, letting the bell float up until it’s parallel with the ground. This movement benefits your hamstrings (muscles in the backs of your thighs), quads (thigh muscles), and core.
2. Kettlebell two hand clean: The clean adds a pulling motion, involving your shoulder and core muscles. With the kettlebell clean, you start with the kettlebell between your legs and then pull it towards your chest, changing your hand position on either side of the handle. This movement benefits your upper back and shoulders as well as your core.
3. Kettlebell alternating back lunge: Lunges are a vital part of a lower body training program which is why they are included in this full body kettlebell workout. A lunge includes stepping backwards with one leg while keeping the kettlebell close to your chest. You then bend both knees, like someone is pushing the top of your head straight down, instead of a forward motion (one common lunge mistake). This movement benefits your glutes, hamstrings, quads, gastrocnemius/soleus (calves),and core. Now do you see why it’s so important? ;)
4. Kettlebell overhead press: Pressing the kettlebell overhead wraps this complex up. Extending the kettlebell with both hands and driving the kettlebell above your head works many different muscles at the same time. This movement benefits your triceps, chest, upper back, and deltoids (muscles around your shoulder).
It is best to start with a lighter weight to warm up each movement before starting the complex. To get the most out of this full body kettlebell workout, use a moderate weight.
The goal is to be challenging but not too heavy because your form may become compromised under fatigue.
For each of the 5 rounds, you want to try to achieve a similar number of reps as the first round. To do this, you have to find a consistent pace you are able to hold for the 60 seconds. Starting out too hot may make it very difficult to maintain the number of reps each round.
Rest up to 2 minutes in between each round to bring your heart rate down. Then at the start of the next round, you’ll speed it back up again.
Adding a higher intensity workout like this one into your training routine at least 1-2 times per week can help to improve your stamina, strength and power. A workout like this is very versatile and can be done with one piece of equipment and a small space.
I keep workouts like these in my back pocket for days when I don’t have much time and still want to sweat. When I was stuck at home, I also used a lot of these kettlebell complexes to increase the intensity without having a full home gym.
Mind you, this kettlebell complex is perfect for all ages and fitness levels. You can go as fast or as slow as you need to. The idea is that you are moving and reaping the benefits of exercise!
As a physical therapist I tell my clients that there isn’t only one way to move. There is so much variety out there and it's important that you find something that you enjoy doing. Something that makes you feel good once you accomplish it.
This full body kettlebell workout is a great way to try something new and to spice things up!
Dr. Alyssa Kuhn is a physical therapist and arthritis specialist with Keep the Adventure Alive based in Sandy, Utah. She is on a mission to help arthritis sufferers around the world go from hopeless to hopeful! She is a crossfitter herself and kettlebells are a staple to her own training program as well as her patients even with osteoarthritis! Follow her on social media to find out more about osteoarthritis and adventure.
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1. Vancini, R. L., Andrade, M. S., Rufo-Tavares, W., Zimerer, C., Nikolaidis, P. T., & de Lira, C. (2019). Kettlebell Exercise as an Alternative to Improve Aerobic Power and Muscle Strength. Journal of human kinetics, 66, 5–6. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2018-0062