Kettlebell Complexes

Kettlebell complexes are an excellent way to get a combination of strength and conditioning work when time and space are limited.

Combining strength and aerobic conditioning into the same session is always a trade-off. Neither quality will be optimally trained in such sessions because of something called the "interference effect". This effect has been studied quite a lot and in essence, it appears that, if you are looking for the best possible strength gains or optimum aerobic conditioning, combining them into the same session isn't optimal.

Circuit classes and boot camps fall into this category, as do bodypump-type classes.

"Proper" strength work requires levels of external load that you wouldn't be able to keep lifting for an extended period of time. Yes, even using bodyweight requires that you rest after each minute or so of work.

The non-cyclical nature of resistance training doesn't train aerobic conditioning the same way as traditional "cardio" activities either.

However, sometimes we just don't have the time to do full blown workouts, and kettlebell complexes are a great stand-in until you can return to your regular lifting or running/cycling/rowing/swimming workouts. Intelligently put together, you get a bit of strength work, a bit of aerobic conditioning and a bit of a mobility challenge all rolled into one.

Here's one that I like to use when I find myself stuck in a hotel room somewhere unfamiliar (the kettlebell travels on my passenger seat, neatly strapped in with the seatbelt).

This is what it consists of...

Inchworm out - Inchworm back - 3 Right arm cleans - Military press - Overhead squat - 2 Rack squats - Kettlebell down - Repeat using the left arm - Rest for as long as that set took (about 45s) - Repeat for time

How to do it...

After a good mobility warm-up

  • Inchworm out and back
  • Perform 3 crisp cleans with the right hand
  • Press the kettlebell overhead and keep it there
  • Squat with the kettlebell overhead
  • Return the kettlebell to the rack position
  • Perform 2 squats with the kettlebell racked
  • Place the kettlebell back on the ground
  • Repeat the sequence using the left hand
  • Rest for the same amount of time you were working (approx 45 sec)
  • Repeat for your chosen amount of time (15 minutes will allow 10 rounds)

It's important to make sure that your form remains crisp and accurate throughout any kettlebell complexes like this. Remember the anatomical breathing match and the tension at the top of the cleans and throughout the press.

Another option, if you have a friend handy is to do this as a work in session. Your rest is then whatever time it takes your partner to complete their round.

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Will Newton


In over twenty years of coaching, I have coached everyone from absolute beginners to world champions. My interest in getting the best results for athletes who compete for the love of the sport, rather than as professionals, drives me to find the most effective ways to get results. My mission is simple: Be in better shape at 70 than most people are at 20, and to help you do the same.

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