If you want to achieve a specific result from your kettlebell training then using the right kettlebell workout format is important.
The types of workout that you will use for fat loss, cardio or gaining brute strength are all different.
Today I’ve put together a list of 12 kettlebell workouts formats for you to use to better achieve your goals.
Let’s get started:
How to Use These Kettlebell Workout Formats
Before you start swinging, pushing and pushing your kettlebell around you should have a think about your goals.
Understanding your goals will help you better decide on what types of workouts you should be performing.
Some example goals:
- Lose fat around your midsection
- Gain muscle mass across your full body
- Generate strength though a certain movement
- Fix weaknesses in how you move
- Increase your cardio for a certain sport
Once you understand what you want to achieve you can start to choose the right workout format for the job in hand.
Below I’ve included what goals each workout achieves: strength, endurance, muscle, cardio, fat loss but it is worth mentioning that there is natural overlap between all of these.
Here are the 12 kettlebell workout formats for you to use:
1 Max Reps
Max reps are a great time saver and have been shown to produce excellent results for some exercises without the need for multiple sets.
Max reps or AMRAP (as many reps as possible) is the most simple of workout formats and requires you performing one exercise for the maximum amount of reps you can manage with good form.
Max rep workouts are great for introducing the newbie to various different exercises without the need for over exposure to the movement. Initial over exposure to the same movement can result in muscle soreness to the uninitiated.
GOALS: Strength Endurance
Max Reps Kettlebell Workout Example:
- Goblet Squats – as many reps as possible
The goblet squat is an important movement pattern and excellent for strengthening the legs, hips and buttocks. It works particularly well as a max reps exercise proving very cardiovascular when the numbers build up eg. 20+.
Circuits involve combining a series of kettlebell exercises together one after the other resulting in an overload to the cardiovascular and muscular system.
You can create large circuits of 8+ exercises or keep them shorter and repeat them more than once with rest periods in between.
If constructed professionally and integrating all the body’s natural movement patterns you can use over 600 muscles per circuit. Full body circuits can reduce workout time to under 20 minutes and are great for kettlebell classes.
GOALS: Strength Endurance / Cardio Aerobic / Fat Loss
Kettlebell Circuits Workout Example:
- One Handed Swing x 30 seconds each side
- Reverse Lunge x 30 seconds each side
- Clean x 30 seconds each side
- Thruster x 30 seconds each side
- Rest 60 seconds and repeat
Discover more: 50 kettlebell circuits from beginner to pro
3 Density Training
Density training enables you to overload certain movement patterns to produce specific results in less time.
The clever thing about density training is that they are self restricting meaning that the stronger and fitter you become the more challenging they all.
Select 2 – 3 kettlebell exercises and perform them one after another for a set period of time.
Time periods can be anchored to specific activities so MMA fighters may use 5 minutes whereas for fat loss you may choose over 10 minutes. Limit rest periods to when needed.
GOALS: Strength / Muscle
Kettlebell Density Training Workout Example:
- Side Lunge x 5 reps each side
- Regular Row x 5 reps each side
- Clean and Press x 5 reps each side
- Repeat for 12 minutes
Learn more: 52 kettlebell exercises to try right now
4 Interval Training HIIT
The format of interval training mixes up high intensity exercise with frequent rest periods. The variation of heart rate from high to low is what influences changes within the body.
By mixing up the exercises, kettlebell weight and rest periods you can achieve different results. The more intense the exercise the longer the rest periods.
Less intense exercises can be used to develop cardio, resilience and strength endurance whereas more demanding exercises can increase your anaerobic capacity.
As a simple rule you can use a ratio of workout time to your rest periods eg. 1:2 or 1:1 or 2:1 etc.
GOALS: Cardio Aerobic / Cardio Anaerobic / Fat Loss
Kettlebell Interval Training Workout Example:
- Snatch Left x 30 seconds
- Rest x 30 seconds
- Snatch Right x 30 seconds
- Rest x 30 seconds
- Repeat 3 – 8 sets
The above uses a ratio of 1:1 of 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest.
Learn more: Ultimate guide to the kettlebell snatch
5 Tabata Training
Tabata training is a form of interval training made famous by Mr. Tabata a Japanese speed skating coach.
Traditionally tabata training involves 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times for a total training time of 4 minutes.
Tabata training is often misunderstood as intensity needs to be incredibly high and most exercises will not generate the intensity necessary to mimic Mr. Tabata’s original training format.
The only kettlebell exercises that are really suitable for Tabata training are fast and dynamic like the kettlebell swing, snatch, or high pull.
GOALS: Cardio Anaerobic
Tabata Training Workout Example:
- Two Handed Swing x 20 seconds
- Rest x 10 seconds
- Repeat 8 times
Discover more: Tabata training don’t make these mistakes
6 Repetition Ladders
If you want to increase brute strength through a certain movement or exercise then repetition ladders are for you.
Repetition ladders use very low reps so there is plenty of time for recovery in between each rep. You can use either ascending ladders adding one repetition each set or descending ladders starting with higher reps and then reducing reps each set.
Using this format of training allows you to accumulate a considerable amount of reps (volume) in a manageable way. The result is an increase in strength without the need for long recovery periods.
Kettlebell Repetition Ladder Example:
- 1 x Turkish Get Ups each side
- 2 x Turkish Get Ups each side
- 3 x Turkish Get Ups each side
- Continue to 5 reps
Want more: Ultimate guide to the kettlebell turkish get up
7 Movement Ladders
Movement ladders are very motivational and great in a kettlebell class environment.
The workout format involves adding a new exercise to the existing list every set so ultimately you are overloading the body further each round.
In its simplest form you would start with one exercise, rest, then two exercises, rest, and so on.
Care needs to be taken in how you program this format because the first exercise you choose will be repeated more times than any other.
If you have certain weaknesses then you may choose to put those first so you get to practice and strengthen that movement more times than any other.
Should your goals be fat loss then the use of large multi-joint exercises that work through the entire body’s movement patterns would be a wise choice.
GOALS: Strength Endurance / Fat Loss
Kettlebell Movement Ladder Example:
- Two Handed Swing + Rest 30 secs
- Two Handed Swing + Goblet Squats + Rest 30 secs
- Two Handed Swing + Goblet Squats + Alternating Lunges + Rest 30 secs
- Continue adding 1 exercise after each set
8 Resistance Ladders
Resistance ladders take advantage of the body’s ability to up regulate muscle recruitment as you progressively increase the kettlebell weight.
You can also use resistance ladders as a technique to add muscle mass by increasing the time under tension during an exercise.
For strength gains you start with a lighter kettlebell and perform a set number of reps (usually under 6) and then rest and increase the weight. Each set you will notice your strength increase as your body adds additional muscle recruitment to the movement.
If your goals are muscle mass then after a warm up you would start with a higher weight and then decrease the weight as you fatigue each set. Reps would be higher than those for strength gains usually 8 – 12 reps.
GOALS: Strength / Muscle
Kettlebell Resistance Ladder Example:
- 12kg Overhead Press x 5 reps
- 16kg Overhead Press x 5 reps
- 24kg Overhead Press x 5 reps
- Rest after each set 2 – 3 minutes
Want more? Complete guide to the kettlebell overhead press
9 Timed Reps
Using timed reps will keep your workouts honest and consistent and push your cardio.
For this workout format you choose one full body exercise like the kettlebell swing or clean and press and then perform a set number of reps every minute.
During this format your rest periods are limited to the amount of time that is left after your set and before the start of the next minute.
For more endurance based workouts you can keep the reps higher so the rest periods are kept short or even reduce the intervals to 45 seconds.
This type of workout really creeps up on you so be aware that they may start off easy but soon you’ll be wishing that one minute timer wasn’t going off so soon.
GOALS: Strength Endurance / Cardio
Kettlebell Timed Repetition Example:
- Two Handed Swing x 20 reps
- Repeat at the start of every minute
- Continue for 10 minutes
Discover more: 7 kettlebell swing mistakes that will cause lower back pain
Super sets are a classic way to get more done in less time when training for muscle gains.
Ultimately, super sets put two kettlebell exercises together with no rest periods in between. The super set is repeated after a rest period of usually 60 – 180 seconds.
Using the super set workout format not only means you can finish your workouts quicker but you also gain valuable cardio improvements due to the reduced amount of rest.
Depending on your particular goals you can mix exercises of the same movement pattern, opposing movement patterns or completely unrelated movements.
GOALS: Muscle / Fat Loss
Kettlebell Super Sets Workout Example:
- Reverse Lunge x 12 reps each side
- Overhead Press x 8 reps each side
- Rest 90 seconds
- Repeat 2 – 4 sets
11 Kettlebell Challenges
For motivation and as a gauge for how your kettlebell training is improving kettlebell challenges are a great option.
Kettlebell challenges can take many forms but ultimately it is a combination of exercises that have to be completed as quickly as possible.
As with all my kettlebell workouts I like to choose exercises based on movement patterns that encompasses all the muscles of the body.
Kettlebell challenges are demanding on the body and should not be repeated too frequently, weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly are good choices.
GOALS: Strength Endurance / Muscle / Fat Loss / Cardio
Kettlebell Challenge Example:
- One Handed Swing x 50 reps each side
- Snatch x 25 reps each side
- Clean and Press x 25 reps each side
- Reverse Lunge x 25 reps each side
- Thruster x 25 reps each side
Want more: 3 kettlebell workout challenges
12 Random Workouts
Finally we have the random workout option which involves changing reps, sets, and exercises frequently.
Random workouts can be very motivational because you never know what’s coming next but they will also generate only random results.
There are a few ways to use this random workout format: you can use playing cards to represent certain exercises and turn over a new card each time or use an online random workout generator to do this for you.
The use of random workouts is fun if you have no specific goals other than just to keep moving and working through various kettlebell exercises.
Using random workouts infrequently as part of a more structured program is the best option.
Kettlebell Random Workout Example:
- Lunge with Rotation x 7 reps each side
- High Pulls x 19 each side
- Half Get Ups x 3 each side
- Goblet Squats x 13 reps
- Suitcase Rows x 6 each side
Want more: Kettlebell workout generator
Kettlebell Workout Progressions
Once you know your workout goals and which workout format you are going to use you need to stay consistent and make progress.
A progressive workout program increases movement pattern complexities, resistance, reps and sets.
Each week you need to be improving on the week before and you should do this systematically and gradually.
Don’t forget to take adequate rest days in order to recover, as a basic rule the more intense your workouts the more rest days you will need.
Conclusion to Kettlebell Workout Formats
The use of different kettlebell workout formats will allow you to achieve different goals from your kettlebell training.
Above I have listed 12 kettlebell workout formats along with the goals that they will deliver.
Choose which workout format applies to you and then think about how you can progress that workout over a period of time.
Be sure to take adequate rest days and remember that the more intense your workouts the more rest you will need.
I hope you find these kettlebell workout formats helpful.
Best of luck.
To see more posts about general kettlebells workouts and advice, go here.
Have you tried any of these kettlebell workout formats? Let me know below….
Hi Greg. When thinking about an annual program, how can we combine these exercise formats? Where all formats (strength, endurance, cardio, fat loss and muscle) will be important to work at some point when thinking about the long term. Thanks!
Greg Brookes says
Good question Eric and a big topic for this comment section. Basically you cycle through all the different formats every 2 – 6 weeks traditionally starting with higher reps end endurance and finishing with lower reps and power.
Iris Chung says
Hi Greg! Thanks for your email providing these details. With the above 12 methods, how to sequence them in my routine?
Thanks in advance!
Greg Brookes says
Hello Iris, have another look through the article and see which workout format you are drawn to based on your specific goals.