11 Kettlebell Exercises For Strength GainsJan 03, 2022
Kettlebells might be the tool that’s been missing from your training – there a number of reasons why you should consider the implementation of them into your weekly plan.
And if you’re already using the Conjugate Method, it’s easy to forget about implementing Kettlebells with so many other special exercises to choose from.
The bigger question is how do you know what exercises to choose seeing there are about 1 million different KB exercises to choose from?
You could spend hours going through a myriad of popular exercises on IG OR you could choose 10-15 variations that work well and resonate with YOU.
I’m not a kettlebell guru by any means, but I’m always open to playing with new ways to level-up the training of my clients and myself so I’ve assembled a shortlist of 10 exercises I’ve found to be beneficial for myself for the people that use our programming.
A key component of training people online is that coaching cannot get lost in translation so naturally exercise variations that involve less of a learning curve is key.
With that said, you could go well beyond what I have provided here, but if you’re a meat-head like me, the basics will probably serve you well.
Moreover, you’ll likely see that you can reap even better results with the right loading parameters and including this work at the right times in your programming.
In terms of implementing Kettlebells with Conjugate, these are the variations that we use in our Individual Programming and the variations we’ve had the most success with as special exercises on max and dynamic effort training days.
#1a Heavy Russian Kettlebell Swings
The Russian Kettlebell Swing done with high-amounts of volume/load has been something I’ve added to our training as of recently and training effects have been great.
The effects are similar to that of a Reverse Hyper with high-amounts of stress on the glute complex, spinal erectors, and hamstrings. Additionally, the anterior core experiences a fair amount of contraction at end range not to mention the pump you’ll experience in the forearms and traps so in reality Russian Swings really is a full-body movement.
The catch is that stronger people may not have access to a big enough KB to get the job done which is why we may opt for option #1b by adding band resistance.
Keep in mind though, adding band resistance does change the intent of the movement increasing the demand on fast-twitch fibers. While this isn’t a bad thing it may be harder to sustain this level of power output for bigger sets so changing the rep schemes may suit you better.
#1b Heavy Band Resisted Russian Swings
100-200 total reps. Increase volume overtime
10 x 10 with band resistance done on the minute
#2 Double Kettlebell Swings
Another great option if you do not have access to particularly heavy kettlebell is to add another bell to the mix. This variation provides somewhat of a unilateral effect with two working limbs instead of one.
For some contraction of the gluteals at the top of each rep may be stronger with this variation – this is where experimenting and practical knowledge come in to play to find out what resonates most with you.
For volume recommendations, I stick with higher amounts of around 100 total reps.
#3 Double Kettlebell Box Squat
The Box Squat we know has a ton of great benefits – if you’re not privy to them check this article out here.
A great variation and likely the hardest squat variation you have not tried is the Box Squat with double kettlebells in the front rack.
Keep in mind, this is definitely not a beginner level progression. In fact, you may find this version more challenging than it’s barbell counterpart for obvious reasons.
This variation we use as a “special exercise” for the squat. By using the box and breaking up the phases of the lift we can effectively add an even higher level of difficulty.
In terms of when and why we’d opt for this variation – this is a great variation to use if you’re deloading from the barbell which is something we try to do from time to time to change things up.
It’s also a variation that can provide significant benefits to improve anterior core function when squatting – we all know how coaches say keep your “abs tight” but with this variation, there is no choice but to do so!
4-6 x 8-10 reps to a 13-15″ Box
#4 Double Kettlebell Front Rack Walking Lunges
Another challenging double kettlebell in the front rack position variation. This variation people often perform incorrectly by placing the bells on their shoulders – this, in essence, defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve – single limb strength while keeping the midline engaged.
For higher-level CrossFit athletes, this is a variation that can be used in a conditioning setting to purposefully interfere with other elements of their session – imagine this coupled with a movement like Toes-2-Bar!?
3-4 x 20-30 steps
#5 KB Hammer Curls
A nice change from its dumbbell counterpart because of the placement of the load and the higher demand on the forearm flexors (grip of the kettlebell is fatter than that of a standard dumbbell.)
3-4 x 8-10
#6 Double Kettlebell Clean + Jerk
This particular variation works best in a conditioning setting. Why? Because it’s a globally demanding movement that will spike the heart-rate considerably and is more demanding on the respiratory system than it is local musculature.
While this movement is “higher-skill” than any of the other listed movements, the learning curve is still not nearly as long as it’s barbell counterpart. I would recommend learning each movement separately first though.
15 Double KB Clean + Jerk
500 Meter Row
#7 Double Kettlebell Push Press
Pressing overhead has become a hot topic and for the record, most people are better suited to NOT press overhead than the number of people that are.
Let’s face it, our everyday postures (sitting while staring at our smart-phones) doesn’t predispose us to be able to go overhead efficiently, but that does not mean that those postures cannot be improved significantly, they can – a discussion for another day.
So, instead, we prefer pressing with a landmine, dumbbells, or kettlebells. In fact, with kettlebells, the load is in a better position to keep the shoulder joint centered.
And most people don’t need to go into an excessive amount of spinal extension to gain range of motion particularly at lockout.
Additionally, the unilateral component is EXACTLY what more people need anyway so this version will actually strengthen your overhead press.
3-4 x 6-8
#8 Bottoms-up KB Floor Press
Be prepared to be humbled. The biggest limiting factor with this exercise (which is almost why I decided NOT to share this one) is finding the right load. For most, you’re going to need less than 25# KBs (shown with 18# KBs.)
But if you do have access to some lighter bells this is an excellent version to train the top range of your bench press lockout while enhancing stabilization of the lats. This variation also forces you to keep the shoulder joint centrated which translates to joint health.
3-4 x 5-7
#9 1-Arm KB Row With A Rotation
Much like the KB Hammer Curl the row with a rotation adds an increased level of grip difficulty for an increased demand on the biceps and a novel version of the 1-arm row because of the placement of the load vs. a standard dumbbell.
4-5 x 8-10 each
#10 Single Arm Front Rack Carry
No kettlebell list is complete without at least one loaded carry. Much like a number of the other variations listed, teaching people how to brace and create 360 degrees of tension is paramount to staying safe with the big lifts such as the squat and deadlift.
In this case, I’ve opted for the SINGLE-ARM front rack carry simply because I see too many people perform this one incorrectly. When performing this unilaterally we can use the opposite hand to provide a tactile cue to keep the abs tight and turned on.
Of course, performed with two kettlebells is an option as well and something you should still include in your programming.
4-6 x 90 ft. – switch sides at 90 ft. mark
Whether your goal is strength & performance or getting better at the Sport of Fitness, kettlebells have a variety of uses beneficial to anyone’s training plan. Moreover, there are too many reasons that kettlebells should be included in your Conjugate plan. The fact that we can provide a novel stimulus to otherwise basic movements is important to avoiding stagnation. It’s also important to keep you interested and excited to train each day.