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Read Gregg's general
guidelines for Strength Training and
Kettlebell Workouts by
clicking these links.
Read about how to use
kettlebells to develop Optimum
For individual help in
designing workouts or learning kettlebell exercises, contact:
Gregg Althen, Certified
Russian Kettlebell Instructor
Owner of Core Fitness Training
THESE IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES APPLY TO EVERYONE
FROM BEGINNERS TO OLYMPIANS
Lifting weights is safe for people of all ages and abilities
who are willing to follow these guidelines:
- Your workout area must have adequate space and an uncluttered
floor with good traction.
- Do not stretch prior to a strength workout (I know, I know - this
is counter to everything you've ever heard).
- Static stretching deforms and weakens your muscles -- not
a good idea right before a strength workout, eh?
- The best pre-workout warm-up is to use a battery of joint
mobilization exercises to increase circulation in your connective
- Never use mirrors -- your focus must be internal, not external.
- Always wear shoes with thin, flat soles or go barefoot when working
- There are important neurological reflexes in your feet that
detect when you are bearing weight.
- These reflexes protect you by helping tighten your legs and
other supporting musculature.
- Shoes with thick soles dampen these reflexes.
- Exercising with perfect form is your best protection against injury.
- MOST IMPORTANT: Never train to failure on any exercise.
- Injuries occur when your stabilizing muscles become fatigued
and you lose your form.
- Always quit BEFORE your form goes. Rest a while, then continue
- Be mindful of any injuries you have or have had in the past, and
consult a physician before beginning a training program.
- Be mindful of your current level of conditioning, and do not overextend
yourself in any single workout. Build gradually.
- If you ever feel unsafe performing an exercise, simply reduce
the amount of weight you are working with, or quit altogether and
seek help with your technique.
One Size Does NOT Fit All
No two people are alike in their strengths, weaknesses, goals, or body
types. It would be futile to attempt to design a single workout to
fit the myriad people who use kettlebells, so bear in mind that everything
you will read below for Beginners, Intermediates, and Advanced students
is merely an example; only the tip of the ice berg.
There are countless variations and combinations of exercises
that can be performed, and perhaps the most basic program that would
be effective would consist of some joint and muscular mobility exercises
combined with one kettlebell pull (such as a swing or snatch) and
one kettlebell press (such as a side press or military press).
Workouts can be designed to fit into 15 minute intervals
4-5 days per week, 40 minute intervals 2-4 times per week, or anything
in between. Your own primary goals, whether they be to improve strength,
lose weight, develop endurance, etc., determine how your program should
Sample Workout for Beginners
Plain and simple:
at the beginning, your main objective is to develop good technique
so that you can then increase your workload without fear of injuring
yourself. Lift kettlebells 3 days per week for 30 minutes at the beginning.
First 2-4 Weeks -- Perfect your technique in the swing and
- Joint Mobilization Exercises - no
warm-up is necessary before a kettlebell workout because the human
body possess a number of mechanisms that immediately prepare it
at even the mere hint of exercise. Your body is programmed to raise
its core temperature, shunt more blood to the arms and legs, and
cease or diminish digestive and other processes at the first sign
of exercise. If you are accustomed to using a warm-up, gradually
wean yourself of your need for it. Begin with 20 minutes, then 15,
then 10, 5, down to zero.
- Deadlifts - perform 20 repetitions
broken into 3-5 sets. Practice
perfect lifting alignment using the deadlift. Make sure that your
shins are vertical, your tailbone is high, and your head is up,
looking forward. Deadlifts are performed slowly and with maximum
tension, and they represent your opportunity to master the back,
hip, and knee alignment that are the basis for all ballistic kettlebell
exercises (swings, cleans, and snatches).
- Military Press - perform 2-3 sets
of 3-5 repetitions. Mix in
some Palm Strike Press to begin activating your
lat during pressing motions. Integrate your entire body into each
repetition -- begin by creating a solid, immovable base with your
feet and legs. Before lifting the bell, inhale fully, crush the
handle of the bell, and either hold your breath or use power breathing
as you press the bell out and up. Keep your eye on the weight at
- Swings - aim for 30-80 repetitions
broken up into as many sets as you need. Begin
with 2-hand swings and progress to 1-hand swings when you are ready.
Swings are performed explosively and with no hesitation between
repetitions. It is critical that you synchronize your breathing
with the motion of the kettlebell (preferably you will inhale on
the backswing - see Images) and use your
hips to drive the kettlebell forward and up. It's helpful to visualize
performing a standing vertical jump as you perform each repetition.
Week 2-8 -- Incorporate cleans
- Joint Mobilization Exercises. See notes above.
- Swings. Perform 1 set of kettlebell swings or
passes to loosen up.
- Military Press. See notes above. Remember that
you can increase the repetitions to a maximum of 5 or 6 per set.
Beyond that, you should increase the number of sets or the weight,
not the reps.
- Ballistics. Aim for 60-100 ballistic movements,
using any combination of 2-hand swings, 1-hand swings, and cleans.
Cut the total number of repetitions into as many sets as you need.
Never train to failure on any set, but instead focus on your technique.
You're going to need it as you move to intermediate and advanced
When you are in a Rush...
Assuming you have mastered the 1-arm Clean
and Jerk, you can use this sinlge exercise to get a total-body workout
in just a few minutes. You'll get both pulling and pushing action
so that nothing is left out.
- 1-arm Clean & Jerk. Perform 3 sets with each arm,
proceeding with each set until you are mildly fatigued. Never compromise
For Intermediate Students - My own favorite workout
I assume that by this point, you have
mastered the basic kettlebell skills - deadlifts, swings, cleans,
military presses, and perhaps you've done some work on snatches and
the side press. Now, it's time to start increasing your strength and
endurance by increasing the weight and/or the repetitions, and de-emphasizing
deadlifts in favor of more advanced exercises or more difficult routines.
I will not go into extensive detail on proper form here.
MAKE SURE YOUR FORM IS CORRECT BEFORE PROCEEDING.
My own favorite workout consists of one set of warm-up passes,
then a high-tension circuit consisting of 2-3 sets of 2-3 exercises,
followed by a ballistics on the clock. If I really want to emphasize
strength, I might choose to do two high-tension circuits, and then
minimize the ballistics or move them to a different day. I'll explain:
- (1-2 minutes) Kettlebell Passes - perform a mixture of
behind-the-back passes and underleg, figure-8 passes. Make
sure to keep your head up during the figure-8 passes. These drills
are excellent for activating all the stabilizer muscles in your
back, ribs, and abdominals, and they take the place of deadlifts
for emphasizing correct knee, hip, and spinal alignment. Peform
enough reps to achieve a light sweat/fatigue.
- (20-25 minutes) High-tension Circuit - choose 2-3 of the
following exercises including at least one pull and at least one
press. Pulls include 1-legged deadlifts and squats. Presses include
military press, side press, windmill, or get-ups. Use
the heaviest weight you can handle with good form.
I always include front squats in this circuit becuase they help
me maintain groin flexibility -- an area where I would struggle
otherwise. I rotate the press that I choose every 6 weeks or so,
and choose between the pistol and 1-legged deadlifts each workout.
My philosophy is that squats attack a particular weakness of mine
so I stick with them, and then I can rotate the other exercises
as I see fit.
- (10 minutes) Ballistics on the clock - It doesn't
get much simpler than this. I perform 10 sets of 10 high swings,
starting each set on the minute. This works out to be about 30 seconds
of swinging and 30 seconds of rest. If your swings are lower, you'll
have a little more time to rest within each 1 minute window. This
type of workout has been demonstrated to have the greatest impact
on your endurance, and on your hormones. Simple and devastatingly
effective. Sometimes I replace the 10 high swings with sets of 6
double cleans, or 8 snatches. Regardless of the specific exercise,
keep yourself on the clock.
- (Relax!) Zero Tension Drills - During technical
exercises such as presses, squats, and even passes, your goal is
to maintain total body tension. When finished with your workout,
and even between sets of your workout, your goal is to create minimum
tension. By opening your jaw and fists, gently bouncing with your
knees, and breathing deeply through your nose, you should be able
to completely relax your body. These techniques are great any time,
but they are particularly effective when performed back-to-back
with high-tension, weight-bearing exercises. Your goal is to develop
greater and greater control of your nervous system -- remember,
the difference between you and me and a world-class athlete is their
uncanny ability to totally contract and then totally relax all the
right muscles at exactly the right times. Total workout
time: 30-40 minutes
Sample Advanced Workout
To say that you're
ready for an "advanced workout" can mean many different
things. The kettlebell competition held by the Russian military, for
example, consists of the same exercises you have already done (snatches
and clean&jerks), but simply with higher weights for higher repetitions
and with less rest. The competition is certainly one example of an
advanced workout. On the other hand, an advanced workout may consist
of technically more challenging drills such as the bent presses and
2-hands anyhow, or simply heavier weight on the side and military
presses. Regardless, suffice it to say that most people do not ever
need to proceed beyond the intermediate workouts. If, however, you
are a competitive athlete or you simply have an unstoppable drive
to see how far you can push yourself, read on:
Again, no matter how advanced
you are, the SAFETY PRINCIPLES outlined above still apply.
My theory on advanced workouts:
Hit hard but keep them brief. Choose difficult, heavy exercises and
perform a few sets of low reps. Then finish with a demanding ballistic
routine. Total workout time should be 30 minutes or less. Here's an
- Medium Swings. Perform
2 sets of the swings with moderate weight to loosen up.
- Turkish Get-ups or heavy
1 kb or 2-kb windmills. Perform 2-3 sets of 5 reps or fewer.
- 2-kb Clean & Jerk. Work
heavy and work hard, but never compromise your form.
- Continuous Ballistic Drill
- use a light bell and a combination of passes, cleans,
swings, and snatches to keep a kettlebell in constant motion for
anwhere from 2-12 minutes. You can even incorporate some kettlebell
releases and juggling if you are outdoors or have an appropriate
surface. Begin with passes, go to snatches, then back to swings,
then passes again, etc. Alternate more demanding motions with easier
- Practice Zero Tension. See
- Hit the Showers! You just
did an advanced kettlebell workout!
Total workout time: 25-30 minutes
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