A Full-Body Kettlebell Training Program for Strength, Power and Endurance

Kettlebell training is rapidly growing in popularity amongst general fitness enthusiasts and athletes.

Used by the Russian military and Special Forces, the kettlebell (or girya) has been touted as the most effective, efficient piece of strength training equipment available. Proponents of kettlebell training suggest that it increases strength, power, speed, co-ordination as well as core stability. Some even claim that it can replace several different forms of training and is superior to more traditional weight training.

A commonly cited study by Voropayev in 1983 is used as evidence that kettlebell training is more effective than traditional training. In this study two groups of college students were followed over several years. One group followed a standard military regimen of pull-ups, 100m sprints, standing broad jumps, and a 1km run.

The experimental group used nothing but kettlebells and kettlebell exercises. Both groups were then tested using the same military exercises. The kettlebell group scored higher in every test – including those that were not purely strength based. So could kettlebell training be a ‘magic bullet’ for athletes?

Kettlebell Training for Sport-Specific Conditioning

From an athlete’s perspective, the most important principle to remember is specificity. Exercises and intensity should mirror the demands of the sport. That may be best achieved through the use of dumbbells, medicine balls, resistance machines OR kettlebells. But an athlete should think seriously about basing their strength training entirely around just a few kettlebell exercises.

Girevoy Sport (a Russian-born competition using exclusively kettlebells) is not just about strength – Gireviks require tremendous strength endurance. As a result, kettlebells are lighter than you might think. A 35lb (16kg) kettlebell can provide a very demanding workout even for an extremely fit male. A 53-pound (24kg) kettlebell is considered heavy and lighter weights include 26lb (12kg), 18lb (8kg) and 9lb (4kg).

So traditional kettlebell training is not about lifting maximum loads. In this sense, it won’t lead to the same neural adaptations as maximal strength training with traditional free weights. Maximal strength training is an important phase in most sport-specific strength programs. It allows potentially greater development of explosive power and / or strength endurance in later phases.

Kettlebell training may be more useful for a phase of explosive power training. One method used for developing power is through plyometrics. However, this is not the only way to convert gain in maximal strength into sport-specific power. The use of lighter resistances and increased speed of muscle contraction may mean that some kettlebell exercises are highly suited to relevant sports.

Kettlebell Training During the Off-Season

The off season is usually a good time to spend on more functional-type strength training. It not only provides respite from very intense maximal strength and power training, but can also be used to restore any imbalances between opposing muscle groups for example.

Many kettlebell exercises work all the major muscle groups simultaneously. In this respect they can help to restore some of the physical imbalances that are inherent in many athletes.

However, remember that the off-season is primarily about recovery. Some kettlebell routines are gruelling to say the least so choose exercises, load and particularly volume very carefully.

Below is a sample routine using only kettlebells. Athletes may want to cherry-pick some of the exercises for in-season training. Alternatively, the routine could be used as is during the off-season.

Sample Kettlebell Training Routine

Below is a sample routine using only kettlebells. Athletes may want to cherry-pick some of the exercises for in-season training. Alternatively, the routine could be used as is during the off-season.

  • Power Cleans – 3 sets x 15-20 reps
  • Single Arm Rows – 3 sets x 15-20 reps
  • Alternating Floor Press – 3 sets x 15-20 reps
  • Front Squat – 3 sets x 15-20 reps
  • Single Arm Jerk – 3 sets x 15-20 reps
  • Kettlebell Swing – 3 sets x 15-20 reps
  • Kettlebell Windmill – 3 sets x 15-20 reps

See the above kettlebell exercises on this page