Everyone has heard of the kettlebell by now. It’s everywhere, from the most serious athletic training done by professionals through to … well, infomercials. The popularity of this simple ball of iron with a handle is due to a few factors – they’re simple, they’re widely available and they’re effective.
So, how do we use them for fat loss?
It’s simple – with complexes.
That’s not just a piece of silly wordplay. A complex is a series of movements done back to back, without a rest, and generally as fast as possible. You don’t use a lot of weight, as the focus is getting as much muscle as possible to move as much weight as possible in the shortest time period.
Complexes do a few things: their metabolic demand is colossal, and they’re very good for general conditioning. They’re also amazing for fat loss.
The only problem for regular trainees is that they’re monstrous. Here’s one from my training program:
Stiff-legged deadlift *6
Bent over row *6
Front squat *6
(Lower behind neck)
Behind the neck push press *6
Good morning *6
That’s 48 reps, all on big exercises. Do them as fast as possible while still keeping everything neat. By the end, there isn’t enough air in the world to help you recover! You don’t need a heavy bar to do these – on a normal day, I used 40kgs for this. On a good day, 50kgs.
(And then those good days very quickly became less good!)
With a kettlebell, we’re going to cut them down to single complex reps, not complex sets. That is, if we have exercise A, B and C:
Complex sets: A,A,A,A,A,B,B,B,B,B,C,C…
Complex reps: A,B,C,A,B,C,…
A complex rep is less metabolically demanding than a full complex. In fact, they’re perfect for beginner and intermediate level KB athletes.
There are a few rules for building a smooth complex rep:
- We avoid complicated exercises. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Turkish get-up (this, if you don’t know it, is where you start lying on the floor, curl your torso up sideways, pop your hips up, swing a leg back, rotate, and stand up). It has a lot of benefits. But it’s complicated, and that means you can’t do them fast, safely. We need fast.
- We avoid traditional KB exercise By these I mean the clean and snatch. They have their place, absolutely. But again: there’s a learning curve, and they both involve the bell making and breaking contact with your wrist. We don’t want to expose ourselves to this unless we have to.
- We embrace simplicity. We’re going to work at high output, under pressure. No point getting anything wrong and putting yourself in danger if you don’t have to.
So, here are our exercises. All of them are done with 2 kettlebells.
These are now a classic, and a tremendously effective exercises. Kettlebells allow you to hit a better depth on the pushup, and increase the anti-rotation component of the exercise by being less stable than dumbbells. Start in the top push-up position with your hands placed on the kettebell handles. Engage your glutes to keep your body static. Alternating arms, pull one kettlebell back to the ribcage, and lower. Repeat on the opposing side. Then, lower yourself between the bells and complete a pushup.
Rack squat to push press
Once you’ve mastered getting into the right position with a bodyweight squat, this is a marvelous way to use the movement. With the kettlebells in the 'rack' position, and your feet out 10 degrees and hip-width apart, keep your weight on your heels and squat down. Fight to stay upright! Push the ground away to stand up, and flex your glutes very hard towards the top of the squat, and using the momentum, drive the kettlebells up and overhead. Lower and repeat.
Reverse lunge to press
Lunges aren’t a great exercise, frankly. Get your kettlebells in the 'rack' position at your shoulders. Pick a leg, and step back. Keep in a straight line - no twisting or falling off center. Keep your torso upright, and your hips straight under your shoulders. Step back to standing. Press the kettlebells.
You’re going to do each complex rep 10 times, cut up with short breaks (20 seconds). So:
Pushup/row – 10 reps
Rest 20 seconds
Squat to push press – 10 reps
Rest 20 seconds
Reverse lunge to press – 10 reps
Wait around until you feel OK, then do it again!
We’re going to use these as a finisher after a main workout, twice a week. Don’t hesitate to use light kettlebells, even 6kg or 8kg bells. The key is making the reps look neat at speed.
When it becomes easy, you can use heavier bells, have shorter breaks (10 seconds is nasty), or go through it three times.