05 Mar How I Really Use Kettlebells (6 Specific Training Approaches)
How do you use kettlebells? Specifically, what’s your approach when using the tool?
I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about how I specifically use kettlebells in my training (at least not in a while), so here’s what I do. Kettlebells are a big part of how I train and always will be. Of course, it all depends on the specific goal I’m training for. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.
We all know that there are many great tools available for training, but I like to keep things simple. And kettlebells are definitely one of the most simple and effective tools we have available. They’re no fad or gimmick and they can provide a large number of benefits in terms of general strength, specific performance goals, conditioning, fat loss, lean muscle building, movement, mobility, flexibility and more.
Let me share with you my training approach and how I specifically use kettlebells.
It basically comes down to these 6 areas:
1-TO SUPPORT THE BARBELL LIFTS
The first (and maybe the primary) way I use kettlebells is to support the barbell lifts – which is either a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting program or approach.
Kettlebells are a great way to supplement – and add to – the barbell lifts, but the extent of how I use them will be determined by the program I’m doing. What I mean is that kettlebells could be a very small part of the program or a larger part – it all depends on what I’m trying to focus on at any given time. I could write an article on this entire approach.
In general, kettlebells will always be a part of the barbell program I’m doing, in one way or another.
If kettlebells are programmed correctly, they can help to improve performance and not just in the barbell lifts.
Purpose: To complement the barbell lifts and improve performance.
2-FAT LOSS & HIGHER LEVEL CONDITIONING
Obviously this is a big one. Kettlebell training is a great way train for the goal of fat loss and conditioning. You already know that. They are great conditioning tools with exercises such as:
- goblet squats
- even Turkish get-ups
When I’m more focused on fat loss, working on higher levels of conditioning or work capacity, I will definitely focus more kettlebell work into my program. For the benefits of conditioning and fat loss, this is one of the major benefits of kettlebell training.
Purpose: Fat loss, conditioning, skill.
3-FUNCTIONAL HYPERTROPHY TRAINING (FHT)
Let me explain this one approach. Yes, kettlebells will put on muscle when programmed correctly. This is not to say that you should train for bodybuilding by using kettlebells because I do think you have to train with more “specificity” for the goal of bodybuilding (more targeted hypertrophy training).
As I’ve evolved through the years in my training, not only do I want to put on – or preserve – quality muscle, but I want perform at a high level.
I want to be the “best version of myself” and I’m sure you do too. This is functional hypertrophy training, where you’re training to improve function and performance, as well as enhance muscular development.
It’s a simple concept really.
With that said, double kettlebell training will add muscle mass and you’ll be able to do it in a much more “functional” way than if you were doing traditional bodybuilding style training. Double kettlebell training is definitely more effective for putting on size and strength than training with a single kettlebell. I’m a big fan of double kettlebell work for multiple benefits, including functional hypertrophy training (FHT).
Another notable benefit is that double kettlebell training can be used for fat loss, as well. But for the FHT approach, double bells are one way to go. The point is that kettlebells are a great way to improve function and performance while working on lean muscle building at the same time.
Purpose: Size and strength.
4-AS A PREHAB/REHAB APPROACH
This approach might be a little bit surprising, but I highly value the kettlebell as a prehab/rehab training tool. This approach is very simple, if you think about it with the following understanding.
Prehab means to prevent, while rehab means to restore.
With this definition, I like to think of the kettlebell as a way to prevent injury and maintain – or restore – key movement qualities such as mobility and stability. This is important, so I’ll repeat it. Kettlebell exercises maintain and improve my mobility and stability.
Let’s just take an exercise like the underutilized SOTS press. This incredible (yet unconventional) exercise is the perfect example of a kettlebell exercise I use to maintain and improve my mobility and stability, among other things. I view this as a “prehab/rehab” exercise – if we use the definition I gave you above (to prevent and restore).
The kettlebell is a tool that teaches us how to move well, become stable, and requires mobility and flexibility to perform many exercises. Another great example is the Turkish get-up which does all of that – it teaches us how to move well, we must be stable, and we need to have sufficient mobility to perform the exercise.
I think the kettlebell is one of the most valuable prehab/rehab tools we can use in our training and there are many exercises I could name that could apply here.
Purpose: Improve movement, mobility, stability, and help prevent injury.
5-FOCUSED PERFORMANCE TRAINING BLOCKS
I’ll do focused training blocks specifically with kettlebells. Here’s the best example of what I mean. When I’ve trained to prepare for the StrongFirst kettlebell certification, I exclusively focus on the kettlebell exercises that are required for the certification.
In other words, I focus on kettlebells and don’t do much else.
As Dan John said so simply “keep the goal the goal.” So, I may do a focused training block to:
- specifically prepare for the SFG kettlebell certification
- to focus on improving my overall kettlebell performance skills
- to focus on new (or uncommon) kettlebell exercises – bent press, SOTS press, more double KB work, etc.
- to improve the snatch test performance
Focused training blocks are way to improve performance or work on a specific goal.
Purpose: Specific end goal or to enhance kettlebell techniques and skills.
6-GENERAL STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING
Finally, I use kettlebells for “general” strength and conditioning. What I really mean here is “planned variety work” or de-load training phases in between structured programs. As my training has evolved through the years, I much prefer to do structured programs for the simple reason they produce the best results (as opposed to “general” or “random” training phases which tend to keep me in the land of “status quo.”)
Even when I’m not doing a specific program, I still follow a framework or more loosely based plan of some kind. What I mean is that I try to avoid total randomness and always have some type of plan or rationale – for each and every training session. That’s just me.
“Planned variety work” for me is variety that has a reason.
Purpose: De-load phases and “off” program training cycles.
To review the 6 kettlebell training approaches I use, they are:
- Support the barbell lifts
- Fat Loss and conditioning
- Functional hypertrophy training
- Focused performance
- General strength and conditioning
In general, I’d summarize and say that most of the time the way I use kettlebells goes back to that first scenario – where I use kettlebells to complement my barbell lifts.
I’ll also mention one last thing about kettlebells.
These are skills that can be developed and improved over a long time. Sure, you can get pretty good with kettlebells – where you’re decent with the tool. But you can continually deepen your skills over many years. This is one of the greatest benefits about kettlebell training.
You can also say the exact same thing about barbell training, as the techniques and skills can be continually developed.
These are tools to train for a lifetime.
This are how I use the tools, but how do you use kettlebells?
Did I miss anything?
Where do they fit into your training approach?
Like everything in life, I believe that clarity is power, so know where things fit in your long-term training plan.
Spread the word! Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere you’d like.