Kettlebell Complexes — 10 Reasons To Use Them

Master Geoff Neupert described the 10 Reasons To Use Kettlebell Complexes:

1 — Burn Fat

This is arguably THE most common reason for using kettlebell complexes. People are always looking for the “fastest” way to burn off lovehandles, the gut, etc.

Kettlebell complexes work because of their structure. They require a large amount of work and they create a high oxygen debt — they make you breathe hard, burning more calories, and therefore, can help you strip off body fat.

2 — Build Muscle

This was a game changing paradigm and the premise of my book, Kettlebell Muscle, published in January 2010. When structured properly, and especially when using a pair of kettlebells, complexes can help stimulate lean muscle tissue growth.

They do this through by stimulating the 3 primary factors of muscle growth, proposed by Brad Schoenfeld, PhD in his research of the scientific literature on hypertrophy.

However, because the loads are relatively light they do so primarily through the factor of Metabolic Stress, which increases a number chemical and hormonal responses within the body to produce muscle.

To quote Schoenfeld:

Metabolic stress manifests as a result of exercise that relies on anaerobic glycolysis for ATP production, which results in the subsequent buildup of metabolites such as lactate, hydrogen ion, inorganic phosphate, creatine, and others (169,178). Muscle ischemia also has been shown to produce substantial metabolic stress, and potentially produces an additive hypertrophic effect when combined with glycolytic training (136,182). The stress-induced mechanisms theorized to mediate the hypertophic response include alterations in hormonal milieu, cell swelling, free-radical production, and increased activity of growth-oriented transcription factors (50,51,171). It also has been hypothesized that a greater acidic environment promoted by glycolytic training may lead to increased fiber degradation and greater stimulation of sympathetic nerve activity, thereby mediating an increased adaptive hypertrophic response (22).

At the end of the day, we think it works like this:

The increased metabolic stress triggers the release of testosterone and growth hormone, your body’s main muscle-building hormones.

3 — Improve General Conditioning / GPP

General Conditioning and GPP or General Physical Preparation refers to a broad array of physical capabilities that humans in general, and athletes specifically, need to function and perform well.

Abilities like:

Walking for distance

Picking up objects from the ground

Placing objects over head

Running

Jumping

Lifting heavier than normal objects

… And so on…

4 — Improve Respiratory Muscle Strength

This one is an interesting one. Your respiratory muscles include your diaphragm and your intercostal muscles — the muscles between your ribs. When you’re performing complexes, one side of your rib cage, or maybe both, depending on if whether you’re using one kettlebell or two –

Are compressed for a duration of time.

This makes taking a full deep breath hard.

These muscles strain to expand fully, and are therefore trained to get stronger in order for you to get as much air in your lungs a possible so you can keep working without passing out.

As a unique side benefit, this will also make your abs stronger.

5 — Improve Grip Strength

Pavel Tsatsouline, the Father of the Modern Kettlebell Revolution, has stated that training your abdominals and grip make your entire body stronger.

One of the ways to build grip strength is to hold an object for time. That object in this case happens to be a kettlebell. If you’re doing several sets of ballistic exercises in a row in your complex, like Swings, then Cleans, then Snatches, then your grip is going to be taxed Big Time.

This in turn will make your whole body stronger.

6 — Build Mental Toughness

There comes a time in every complex, where you’re huffing and puffing, muscles burning, when you question whether you quit or keep going. It’s a battle between your mind and your body.

This is very simple way to build mental toughness.

7 — Time Efficient

The quickest workout in my book Kettlebell Muscle is a 3-exercise complex. You’re done for the day in 7 minutes.)

That’s right — 7 minutes.

Think about that — who doesn’t have 7 minutes to work out?

No one, that’s who.

Now of course, each kettlebell complex workout will vary based upon the number of exercises included, the sets, and the reps, along with the rest periods, but I think you can see, there’s absolutely zero reason you couldn’t get in fantastic shape using nothing but kettlebell complexes 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes.

8 — Work Weak Points

According to Coach Javorek, and I’ve found this to be true over the last 20+ years, your complexes should be built off your weakest exercise. For example, the kettlebell press.

And where you choose to place that exercise, makes it more or less difficult to perform, due to fatigue.

Let’s use our kettlebell press example. Here are 3 different complexes that challenge your weak points — in this case your pressing muscles — much, much differently.

EASY:
Press x 5
Front Squat x 5
Snatch x 5

MEDIUM:
Front Squat x 5
Press x 5
Snatch x 5

HARD:
Front Squat x 5
Snatch x 5
Press x 5

Running through these 3 kettlebell complexes at various times in your training, in that order, will make your pressing musculature, and therefore your kettlebell press, much stronger, without having to use heavier bells.

9 — Refine Technique

This sounds counterintuitive, in the face of the heavy fatigue created by your complex.

However, this is something I learned from my first Olympic lifting coach, Mark Cohen, back in 1995. I had a nasty habit of pulling with my arms instead of extending my hips. So, he’d let me.

He’d put heavier and heavier weights on the bar until I wore my arms out and was forced to drive with my legs and hips. And the result?

Voila! Near perfect squat cleans!

It was in Hungary back in 2009 at the RKC kettlebell certification that I put this to the test. We were pressed for time between a late start on Day 1 and the language barrier — having to use a translator.

So I tested out complexes of double kettlebell cleans, double kettlebell front squats, and double kettlebell presses with my team. We had great success. So I told Pavel, and we then used them with the entire group.

It was a thing of beauty to see that little bit of fatigue turn sloppy kettlebell cleans into crisp ones… Soft backs on the kettlebell press into stiff ones… and kettlebell front squats become near ramrod straight.

And of course, as their grips fatigued and hear rates soared, the kettlebell instructor candidates figured out how to perform crisp, hip-driven double kettlebell swings.

10 — Teach Calm Under Stress

This is a more esoteric reason that’s very similar to the “mental toughness” aspect of training.

When your heart moves from pounding in your chest to pounding in your chest and your forearms are on fire…

It’s tempting to panic.

This is a time to work on centering yourself by staying in the moment and focusing on your breath. (Plus, you’ll work those respiratory muscles too.)

You need to learn how to keep the right muscles tight, and the right muscles loose. And unfortunately, this one of the only real or true ways to do so.

And in doing so, you remain in control, which produces a sense of calm.