I often get asked “for my kettlebell exercises how many reps should I perform?”
Today I thought I would break down this question and show you exactly how the amount of reps affects the goals you are looking to achieve.
What are your goals?
As with all forms of exercise you should always start by asking yourself “What are my goals?”.
Perhaps your goals are:
- Adding muscle or tone
- Losing excessive fat from your body
- Improving your overall strength
- Developing better cardio and endurance
Understanding exactly what you are looking to achieve from your kettlebell training will go a long way into knowing what kettlebell exercises and how many reps you should be performing.
If for example your main goal is to add muscle or tone to your body then understanding the correct amount of reps for achieving that is important.
Different types of rep ranges
In its most simplest form you can divide the amount of reps you perform into 3 basics rep ranges.
1 – 6 reps = Strength
For developing overall strength you need to lift heavier kettlebells but for only a few repetitions. Strength training has a higher potential for injury because you are lifting right up against your maximum capacity. You will need to choose kettlebells that really push you and only allow for a handful of reps before you cannot lift anymore.
A classic lifting format is 5 reps x 5 sets. Rest between sets will be long, up to 3 minutes each.
8 – 12 reps = Muscle Development (Hypertrophy)
Building muscle requires a longer time under tension than strength training. Exercises should last around 45 seconds resulting in a rush of blood to the muscles and often a swollen or pumped feeling. For many popular kettlebell workouts you will be working within this rep range.
A classic lifting format is 10 reps x 3 – 5 sets. Rest between sets will be around 60 – 90 seconds each.
15+ reps = Endurance
When you perform repetitions over 15 you start to enter the endurance phase and will often experience that burning feeling in your muscles. Higher reps improve your ability to keep going under stress and will raise your heart rate for longer. Classic kettlebell exercises including the swing will often work within this rep range.
A popular lifting format is 20+ reps before changing exercise. Rest is minimal in between exercises.
It is important to note that although I’ve listed rep ranges above these do include degrees of cross over, no rep range is exclusively for one outcome. A muscle building range will develop both elements of strength and endurance at the same time.
Using these different rep ranges
A well designed program may take you through all 3 of the above rep ranges over a course of months.
Many beginners should start with endurance based exercises as they often have lower chances of injury although they do encourage bad repetitive form if not done correctly.
Generally the heavier the kettlebell weight you lift the more experience you should have.
Women often avoid lifting heavier kettlebells because of a fear of adding too much muscle or bulking up, this is a big mistake. Women lack quantities of the hormone testosterone to add large amounts of muscle but lifting heavier weights will greatly improve aesthetics and increase fat burning potential.
Selecting the correct kettlebell weight
There is a direct relationship between reps and weight, the heavier the weight the less reps you can perform.
The challenge for any kettlebell lifter is selecting the correct weight for your goals, this will take a few workouts to get right. Keep notes of your workouts to help remind you.
If your goals are strength then you should physically not be able to lift more than the 6 reps when performing your workout. If you can perform 12 reps with your kettlebell weight but only perform 6 then you are not improving your strength.
The same applies to training for muscle growth, you should only be able to perform a maximum of 12 reps with your kettlebell weight otherwise the kettlebell is too light.
Varying rest periods
Just as kettlebell weights and repetitions have a direct relationship so do your rest periods.
The heavier you lift the longer your rest periods should be to enable full recovery before the next set. Strength based workout will have rest periods of 3 minutes or more whereas endurance workouts will have little if no rest in between sets.
You will also find that the more intense your complete workout is the more rest days you will need.
Finding the right balance between how hard you exercise and thus how much rest you should take both during sets and also after workouts is a very personal choice. For example, younger adults with good nutrition and genes will recover much quicker than older overweight individuals.
As a general guide taking 1 days rest after every workout is a good place to start.
When trying to understand how many reps for your kettlebell exercises it is best to begin by thinking about your goals.
Once you understand your goals you can start performing the various kettlebell exercises within your chosen rep range whether endurance, strength or hypertrophy.
The heavier the kettlebell weight the less reps you will be able to perform. It will take some time to choose the correct kettlebell weight to ensure you are not lifting too light or too heavy for your chosen rep range.
Rest is important with any exercise training program and the more intense your workout the more rest you will need to recover. Taking a days rest after each workout is a great place to begin.
Have you tried experimenting with how many reps you perform? Let me know below….