Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kettlebell Finishers

Kettlebell Finishers

Roland Denzel, IKFF-CKT

I love my kettlebells, and from the looks of the forum, a lot of you do, too. Also like me, many of you are still primarily using barbells and dumbbells to get stronger. Not that you couldn’t drop the barbells and dumbbells completely, and get bigger, stronger, or leaner using just kettlebells, but not everyone has a full set of kettlebells available. Your gym might only have one or two kettlebells, or you might be interested in getting just one to see how you like them. Maybe you just enjoy using barbells. I do.

Since you’re using conventional weights as your primary tool, you might wonder how you can incorporate some kettlebell fun into your training. To wet your whistle on kettlebells, I suggest adding in a kettlebell exercise or routine to your existing program, rather than making your program all about the kettlebell. The perfect place to use the kettlebell is as a workout “finisher.” What’s a finisher? It’s that part of your workout where you “test your mettle.”

A finisher isn’t relegated to kettlebells, it’s a generic term. It can be intervals, HIIT, Tabatas, or some crazy bodyweight circuits. Whatever it is, the author of your current program might already have you doing a “finisher,” whether he or she calls it one or not. The author probably told you that this part of the routine was to accelerate fat loss, raise your V02 Max, cause EPOC, or some other story. I don’t care so much about their reasons for making you do it, what I care about is the effects on your reality; the reality of you making progress toward fat loss and improved conditioning. Usually, reality says that a finisher will likely make you work damn hard, test your resolve, and cause sweat that just won’t stop. It reminds you that you’re working toward a goal of fat loss or conditioning, and that’s the reality that I want for you and for me.

In my experience, I’ve found that a finisher that really pushes me to work hard, reminds me to follow my diet plan, and encourages me to not throw away the hard work that I just did. I tend to feel the effects for hours, and the constant reminder of what I went through makes it that much easier to pass on the dessert.

Finisher vs. Workouts

Remember that these finishers aren’t actually your workout; these are calorie burners and mental challenges, more than anything. They come at the end of a workout or can even be done on an off day – when you want that reminder that you trained today. I for one, eat with purpose when I’ve trained, and even something as simple as a few rounds of kettlebell swings can do the trick.


While progression is key to improvement, it’s important to note that we don’t need to see progression on every exercise or every portion of every routine. Monitoring key elements of a routine is important to insure overall progress, but micromanaging each element of each workout is an exercise in futility and frustration.

That being said, assuming one goal of using doing your finishers is to increase your work capacity, do pick one routine to do on a repeat basis, then pick any other ones depending on mood, energy levels, and availability of equipment. I suggest one of these first two, Kettlebell Swings for Reps or Time Kettlebell Swings, since it’s easy to chart progress over time.

Reps and Sets vs Time

Since Kettlebells tend to have large jumps between weights, I don’t typically prescribe a set number of reps per set. The ability to do more reps in an amount of time, do the reps faster, or do reps for longer is typically used instead. While kettlebells can obviously make you stronger, this is where dumbbells and barbells typically shine, and are generally easier tools for pure strength and strength progression.

The Finishers are...

Kettlebell Swings for Reps

Pick a kettlebell that you can swing 20 times, either two handed or switching hands as needed

KB Swings – 20 reps
Rest 30s

Repeat for 4 more rounds (100 swings, total)

Next week, cut the rest period to 25 seconds. 20 the next. 15 the next.

At week 5, go back to 30 seconds with 5 or 10 more swings per round, then repeating the pattern of decreasing rest.

If you should ever get to 200 swings, feel free to start over with a heavier kettlebell, possibly switching to a two handed swing if the jump in kettlebell is weight seems like too much.

On the other hand, going longer and harder has it’s merits, so you can always add more rounds or even more swings per round and take it to the next level.

Timed Kettlebell Swings

Pick a kettlebell that you can swing for about 30s, either two handed or switching hands as needed. A Gymboss really helps with this one.

KB Swings, 30s
Rest 30s

Repeat for 4 more rounds

Each week, decrease the rest OR increase the time of swinging, but NOT both.

Mix it up

Alternating Reverse Lunges, 30s
Rest 30s
KB Pushups, 30s
Rest 30s
KB Alternating Renegade Rows, 30s
Rest 30s
KB Swings, 30s
Rest 30s
Goblet Squats, 30s
Rest 30s

Repeat 2 more rounds

Short Circuits

These are short, sweet, and simple, like my little cousin Violet. Also like babysitting Violet, these can really wipe you out!

You can do one or the other, or do both if you have it in you.

Short Circuits #1

KB Jerks, Left, 15s
KB Jerks, Right, 15s
KB Swings, 30s
Rest 60s

Repeat 2 times, then move on to Short Circuit #2

Short Circuit #2

KB Two Point Row, Left, 15s
KB Two Point Row, Right, 15s
Goblet Squats, 30s
Rest 60s

Repeat 2 times

The exercises

KB Alternating Reverse Lunges – Stand with your feet at about shoulder width, holding one or two kettlebells at your side(s). For what it’s worth, one kb is harder. Step back and sink down, bending both legs at the knees, until you reach a 90 degree angle. Focus your effort on pushing back up with your front leg using your glutes to generate force. Alternate every other leg.

KB Pushups – Place two kettlebells of about the same height about a shoulder width apart. Get in the push up position, your hands positioned on the kb handles. Keep your abs very tight as you slowly lower yourself down, with your ankles, knees, hips, upper back and head in one straight line. Lower yourself until your shoulders are lower than your elbows and push yourself back up until your elbows lock. Since you are elevated on kettlebells, you can get an extended range of motion, but only do so if it’s not painful.

KB Renegade Rows – Place two kettlebells of about the same height and weight about a shoulder width apart. Get in the push up position, your hands positioned on the kb handles. Keep your abs tight, rowing one kettlebell up and toward your waist. Pause at the top and then lower under control. If you have two different weights, make sure to switch hands for each circuit, so one arm doesn’t get hyooger than the other.

KB Goblet Squats – Stand with your feet about shoulder width, feet in line with your knees. Cradle the kettlebell against your chest. Begin as if you were going to sit down into a chair. Squat down as far as possible, sliding your elbows inside of your knees. You can push your knees out with your elbows if that helps you squat even deeper. Don’t let your lower back round. Only squat as far down as you can without rounding. Push back up to a standing position, pause, and repeat

KB Jerks – Stand with feel about shoulder width apart. Hoist the KB to the rack (cradled in the crook of your arm) position, cradled against your chest in the crook of your arm. Hip and knees should be slightly bent, like you’re ready to jump. Dip down just a bit, then explode back up, propelling the KB upward. Dip down again, getting under the KB to catch it at the top. Lock it out at the top. Drop the KB back to the rack position, cushioning the drop by allowing the hip and knees to bend again while sinking backward. Repeat your reps, starting with the first dip again.

KB Swings – Place your kettlebell on the ground between your feet, standing with feet about shoulder width apart. Pick up the kettlebell, then swing it back between your legs, hinging at the hips and slightly bending your knees while pushing your butt back and keeping your back flat. Absorb the momentum of the kettlebell with your butt and hamstrings, then quickly reverse its direction with explosive hips. Resist pulling with your arms, letting the hips do the work. Let the kettlebell rise as high as possible, then guide it back through your legs to repeat the swing. The entire ride should be smooth, with the exception of the explosive hip thrust.

KB Two Point Row – Hold the kettlebell in one hand. Stand with feet wider than shoulder width and bend over from the hips (e.g., shove your hips back, don’t just bend over) until your back is about 45 degrees to the floor. Have “soft” knees to help get into the proper position. Let the weight hang down toward the ground, with the other hand behind your back. Row the weight up until your arm is fully retracted. At the top, pause for a second, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then lower under control, pause, and repeat.

Wrap up

Just because the internet has kettlebell fever doesn’t mean you have to catch it, too (but you will). Get one or two, or use them at your gym. Test the waters and see how you like it. If you get the fever (and you will), you can always buy more of them and join the kettlebell cult at any time! They’re always looking for new members.

By the way, the circuits and exercises that I’ve shown you here are just scratching the surface. I picked these because they take little training, pose little danger, and use just one or two lighter weight kettlebells. If you have the training and the kettlebells, take off and run with it.

What’s your favorite finisher? I’d love to see what you’ve come up with, so let me know!

This article has also been featured on JPFitness, Feel free to comment or ask questions about this program and many other articles, topics, and programs, here or at JP's.

BTW, Perform Better is having a great sale, including some great quality kettlebells at a good price.  They are also one of the few places who seem to ship heavy things for a reasonable price! ...and kettlebells are heavy...

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