Life can get in the way of working out. Maybe you need to stay late at work. Or, perhaps your gym is closed for an extended period of time due to a global pandemic. There are always alternative training options available. All you need is one or two kettlebells and half an hour to increase muscle mass and improve conditioning — all from the comfort of your home gym.
What Is a Kettlebell Complex?
A kettlebell complex is a circuit of kettlebell exercises performed one after the other with no rest in between. A complex is a group of exercises that are performed in succession with little to no rest in between. complexes are often referred to as “flows” because each exercise should flow seamlessly into the next. You will connect various exercises together without taking a break in between them. These exercises are usually, but not always, compound movements. For example, a complex using a kettlebell could be made up of one kettlebell swing, followed by a clean with the same kettlebell, and then a press. Then, switch sides.
A “rep” is one complete cycle of the moves you have programmed into your routine. Therefore, you will generally perform fewer reps than you would for other types of exercise.
You can also perform kettlebell complexes with two bells. Both bells should be kept in your hands at all times during the set. If you are finding it difficult to complete the set, you may want to lower the weight or do fewer reps per set.
How Does A Kettlebell Complex Work?
Complexes are essentially a combination of two or more exercises performed back-to-back with no rest in between. A kettlebell complex is a combination of two or more exercises performed back-to-back with no rest in between. One single repetition of a kettlebell thruster consists of a front squat and a push press. If you want to make a kettlebell complex, you can add some more moves — like, a clean before each front squat and a dead stop double kettlebell swing while you’re coming down from each push press. Those four moves will make one repetition of your kettlebell complex.
A kettlebell complex is a type of workout that involves adding various movements in order to burn more calories without adding virtually any time to your training session. It really is more bang for your buck.
To program your kettlebell complex, you’ll need to determine how many reps per set based on how many moves there are, and what kinds of moves they are. Your four moves per rep should be a double kettlebell clean, double kettlebell front squat, double kettlebell push press, and double kettlebell dead stop swing. That’s four moves total. If you are training for endurance and gains in cardiovascular health, you could do a complex of up to six repetitions (or a total of 24 moves per set).
Remember that three out of the four moves are ballistic in nature. They will require more effort, so plan accordingly by doing fewer reps per set.
What Are the Benefits of Double Kettlebell Complexes?
Specific kettlebell complexes have specific benefits, of course — we’ll talk about that below — but overall, all kettlebell complexes offer a similar thread of benefits:
- Improve functional fitness, because life doesn’t come with a discreet separation between different movements.
- Increase your strength and hypertrophy by forcing your entire body to engage in each component of your workout.
- Strengthen your core and full-body coordination — it takes a lot of stability to manage not one, but two kettlebells, especially when you’re flowing through multiple moves.
- Enhance your cardiovascular endurance and explosive power, because you’ll be focused on moving heavy weights quickly with little rest.
Make Your Own Kettlebell Complex
Choose exercises that are more controlled if you want to focus on building raw strength. Examples of such exercises are goblet squats and strict presses. If you’re looking to grow your muscles, try a combination of explosive and slow movements. Use slightly lighter weights for the explosive moves so that you can go for more reps. Going for fat loss? You will want your kettlebell complex to be explosive, and you should focus on going as hard as you can while maintaining perfect form.
Flow through the moves in your mind and with your body before choosing your moves. It is important that the steps you take are logical and in the proper order. For instance, you can’t do a deadlift into a strict press – you have to clean the bells up to the rack position before you press. It can be dangerous to go straight from a push press to a row because transitioning from an upright position to a bent position with force can cause back pain. Before attempting any complex exercises, it is important to ensure that they will be safe and effective for your body by trying them without any weight first.
Three Kettlebell Complexes for Faster Fat Loss
Kettlebell Complex No. 1
This complex is a great opportunity not only for those new to kettlebells to get a challenging workout but also to learn and perfect the clean, which is a basic movement found in many kettlebell routines.
- 5x kettlebell cleans
- 5x clean and press
- 5x rear lunge and press
This means that you should keep the kettlebell in your right hand for one full transit through the workout and then switch to your left hand for the next time through. If you’re just starting out, practice good technique and try to do three rounds on each side. If you can’t do the full number of rounds, you’re using too much weight. Try using a lighter weight or no weight at all until you’re ready for a bigger challenge.
Move 1: Kettlebell Cleans
- Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart. Grip the kettlebell in one hand, thumb rotated inward so it’s pointing between your feet.
- Keep your elbow close to your body as you use the power of your glutes, hamstrings, and back — not your arm — to “scoop” the weight in and up, rotating it around your arm. Or, if you prefer, it might help to think of winding your arm around the kettlebell instead, so that it settles easily into a rack position.
- Take note of the correct rack position: Although experts disagree somewhat on the details of arm position, there is general consensus that your arm should be tucked close to your body. This keeps the weight, which rests against the outside of your forearm, close to your body as well.
- Reverse the motion to reset for the next repetition.
The kettlebell clean exercise should not cause the kettlebell to make any noise when it hits your wrist or arm. If your technique isn’t perfect, focus on fixing it and use less weight. Hands-on training with kettlebells is always the best option, but if that’s not possible, a video is the next best thing.
Wildman’s video showcases common errors people make while weightlifting and provides solutions to fix them, such as keeping your wrist straight and winding your arm around the weight.
Move 2: Clean and Press
- Position yourself for the kettlebell clean.
- Clean the weight into the rack position.
- Squeeze your core muscles to keep your body stable and your shoulders even as you press the weight straight up overhead.
- Reverse the motions to reset for the next rep: First, lower the weight back to the rack position, and then reverse the clean.
When you’re ready to move on to the next exercise, keep the weight in the rack position.
Move 3: Rear Lunge and Press
- Holding the kettlebell in the rack position with one hand, take a step back with the leg on the same side.
- Squeeze your core muscles to stabilize your body as you bend both knees, sinking down into a lunge position. Your rear leg should come close to the floor.
- Press off with your back foot to return to the standing position.
- As you reach that standing position, press the kettlebell up overhead.
- Bring the kettlebell back down to the rack to complete the first repetition.
You should complete the kettlebell complex twice, once with the kettlebell in each hand.
Kettlebell Complex No. 2
This kettlebell complex consists of the kettlebell swing and other integral movements.
- 10x two-hand swings
- 10x push-ups
- 5x single-arm swings (right hand)
- 5x single-arm swings (left hand)
- 10x squat and press (hold the kettlebell in both hands, using the horn grip)
Move 1: Two-Hand Swing
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms straight and kettlebell gripped in both hands by the handle.
- Soften your knees and hinge forward from the hips, letting the kettlebell swing between your thighs.
- Drive forward with your hips, straightening your knees so your torso hinges upright. If done properly, this will naturally swing the weight up to the abdomen or (at most) chest level as a result of your hip drive. Do not pull, swing or lift the kettlebell with your arms.
- Allow your arms to naturally swing back down, forearms contacting your inner thighs as you immediately sink back into the hip hinge to start another repetition.
Move 2: Push-Ups
- Balance yourself on your hands and toes, hands below and slightly wider apart than your shoulders. Your body should be straight from head to heels.
- Bend your arms and lower your chest toward the floor.
- Straighten your arms, pressing yourself back up to the starting position.
Moves 3 and 4: Single-Arm Swing
Swinging a kettlebell with one arm works in a similar way to swinging it with two arms, except that you hold the kettlebell in only one hand. Do not use one hand to push or pull on your body; let the other hand move naturally either extended out to the side or down alongside your body.
This movement requires a lot of core strength, so make sure to use your abs to keep your body stable against the weight of the kettlebell.
Move 5: Squat and Press
- Hold the kettlebell in the rack position.
- Squat down into an air squat: Think of sinking your hips down and back as you would sit in a chair, and using your core to stabilize your shoulders over your feet. Don’t over-arch or slump your back.
- Stand back up, and press the kettlebell overhead, just as in the rear lunge and press.
Kettlebell Complex No. 3
This workout is not for the faint of heart. It is called “The Great Destroyer” and it is from Pat Flynn, founder of Chronicles of Strength and Strong ON!, and author of Paleo Workouts for Dummies.
- 10x double kettlebell swing
- 10x double kettlebell snatch
- 10x double kettlebell front squat
- 10x double kettlebell clean and press
- 10x push-ups
- 10x bent-over rows
A “double” kettlebell exercise means you’re working with one kettlebell in each hand. This type of exercise is great for improving your grip strength and overall conditioning.
If you don’t know how to do this, you can either do the workout with one side at a time or spend some time getting used to the moves with lighter weights. Make sure to focus on the kettlebell snatch when working out, as it can be hard to do correctly without help from someone else. Although there are videos that can teach you how to do it, it is often best to have someone physically there to show you how to do it.
This truly is an intense workout. If you are able to complete Flynn’s suggested three rounds, you have done very well.
Bonus: Double Kettlebell Complex for Muscle Gain
If you want to increase the size of your muscles, it’s important to take the rest you need to make sure you can still lift heavy enough (and with good enough form) to stimulate muscle growth. This means that you should take a break in between the movements of your routine. Although a complex set may appear similar to a regular complex at first, there are differences in the number of moves performed. A complex set requires the completion of multiple moves before the sequence is complete. You will need to take breaks in between your sets in order to refresh your muscles and maintain the quality of your presses and squats, which will help you build solid mass.
Benefits of the Double Kettlebell Swing + Press + Squat Complex
- Increase muscle growth by integrating rest intervals into your complex so you can perform the complex with an optimal weight for hypertrophy (instead of going much lighter to compensate for no rest between moves).
- Maximize attention to form, which can sometimes be hard to keep track of during a complex.
- Increase core strength by pre-fatiguing your system with kettlebell swings (and then performing two core-heavy exercises, the strict press, and the front squat).
How to Do the Double Kettlebell Swing + Press + Squat Complex
The complex is a great way to add muscle mass to your frame. After completing the circuit, rest for 2 minutes, then repeat For each movement in the circuit, you will have 45-60 seconds of rest in between. After completing the circuit once, you will have a 2-minute rest, then repeat the circuit. After each lap of the circuit, take a 1-2 minute break and do the circuit five times in total. Try holding the bells in your hands for some or all of the rest periods to make the challenge more difficult.
- Double Kettlebell Swing x 8 reps
- Rest 45-60 seconds
- Double Kettlebell Strict Press x 8 reps
- Rest 45-60 seconds
- Double Kettlebell Front Squat x 8 reps
- Rest for 1-2 minutes, and repeat
If you’re working out for longer than 30 minutes, you’re either resting for too long or using too much weight. If you can finish the race in under 20 minutes, you should go for a heavier weight.
More Kettlebell Training Tips
The more knowledgeable you are about how to train with two kettlebells, the more effective your workout will be in terms of both space and equipment – and the more you will be able to gauge how hard you can push your body. If you want to learn about the best ways to work out with two kettlebells, read these kettlebell training articles.