5 Kettlebell Complexes to Blast Fat and Boost Muscle

by Pat Flynn on December 21, 2012

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The purpose of this article is to venture a few workout suggestions—that is, some of the dirtiest and the damnedest ever seen.

I, like most who are blessed with some form of attention disorder, suffer from a low adherence to unchallenging and uninteresting exercise programs. If there is any chance of me following a program with little deviation, then from time to time, I need to experience the rush of workout that redlines me.

To say it another way, I subscribe to the general theory that tough workouts are more fun.

Now to this, the critic may pose a question regarding effectiveness. What good is having fun in the weight room, if we have nothing to show for it aside from the short-lived euphoria of a mental lollypop and swampy undergarments?

And to this doubter, I would say touché! To forgo effectiveness for fun would surely flip us over the edge of reason. But to assert that fun and effective are mutually exclusive is an exhibition of broken logic.

Fun is subjective and unquantifiable. I mean, how does one measure fun? In oodles? Sure, that sounds kind of tasty, but there’s no such metric for evaluation, nor will there ever, because not everybody’s idea of fun is the same.

And to be fair, not everyone will find as much delight in the upcoming assignments as I. It just seems like (because it seems like is honestly the best approximation I got on this subject matter) that most, not all, but most, find tough to be more fun than easy.

I won’t speculate on the reasons why. I have shared my observations on what I believe to be true and will now show you how to add a little bourbon to the sauce of your training program.

These workouts (the bourbon), which you can plug into just about any conditioning slot in your training program (assuming you have one), will fortify your spirit, harden your muscle, and peel away body fat.

Let’s begin.

What Is Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic conditioning is now a term familiar to many, and since there is little good purpose to be served by trotting an old horse once more around the track, I will only touch on this point lightly to familiarize any new recruits, and then refer out to more extensive works.

In short, metabolic conditioning is any exercise, or series of exercises, aimed at improving the efficiency at which your body stores and delivers energy for any given activity.[1]

Some of the best work I’ve found on metabolic conditioning comes from Arthur Jones, who arguably coined the term back in the 1970s. Jones, while working with a group of varsity football players at West Point, found that when he shortened the rest periods between exercises in a circuit, his cadets were unable to handle the metabolic demands—despite them being in good shape.

So what gives? Why were these strong and well-conditioned athletes experiencing rapid shutdown when rest was dramatically shortened or eliminated between exercises in a circuit?

Jones offered the following theory:

“If there is interest in totally unsupported theories, then I do have a theory… a theory that I have no great confidence in at this point; I think that the body may simply be unable to provide the required chemical changes that are necessary to work that hard for a prolonged period of time.  The required oxygen is available, and the circulatory system is capable of distributing it rapidly enough… the required nutrients are also available, but perhaps the body cannot provide the required metabolic changes at such a pace.”[2]

Jones continued to train his cadets in this fast-paced manner and concluded the following:

“Once a subject becomes capable of training in this fashion without going into shock as a result, then it becomes possible to work his muscles to a point of momentary failure while maintaining both the pulse rate and breathing at very high levels throughout the entire workout.  And, since it was impossible for the beginning trainee to work in this fashion, it is thus obvious that something besides strength and cardiovascular ability has been improved… the subject has also greatly improved his metabolic ability.

And just what advantage does such a factor give an athlete?  Well, how would a coach like to have a football team that literally did not require rest for a period of 30 minutes?  Such a team could return to scrimmage immediately without the necessity to huddle… thus giving their opponents no chance to rest.”[3]

For the entire collection of Arthur Jones notes on metabolic conditioning, I highly recommend that you head over to ArthurJonesExercise.com and read his full article on Flexibility and Metabolic Condition.[4]

The premise of metabolic conditioning is to marry strength and cardio. The goal is to keep the system under stress, and working as a whole for some prolonged period of time. The simplest way to do this is to string together a series of compound exercises, and presently I will show you how to achieve this effect through kettlebell complex training.

What Are Kettlebell Complexes?

For our purposes, complexes (specifically kettlebell complexes) are compound exercises to be performed successively and uninterruptedly.

Compound exercises, as you may well know, call upon the coordinated action of multiple muscle groups to move multiple joints through a range of motion simultaneously.

But to perform them successively and uninterruptedly means to string these exercises together and execute them without the luxury of rest.

Complexes can be performed with almost any implement or no implement at all. The kettlebell, however, lends itself uniquely to complex training. The compact nature of the implement, along with its offset center of gravity, encourages one to flow seamlessly from movement to movement. As the saying goes, you can’t swing a barbell between your legs.

Who Are Kettlebell Complexes For?

I play Tae Kwon Do. I competed throughout college, and many times was bested by a more skillful competitor. What I’ve learned from this sport is that sometimes you you will lose because someone is better than you and that’s OK.  It’s how you learn.

But never should you lose because someone is better conditioned than you.

That’s where kettlebell complex training comes in. My mentor, Brian Petty RKC, a lifelong fighter, once told me that kettlebell training is the closest thing you can get to fighting without throwing a punch. He explained to me that kettlebell complex training allows us to generate “high quality fatigue” and that the feeling of lactic acid flooding the system to the point of one feeling almost panicked, or poisoned even, is the reality of a physical confrontation. I agree on all points.

To understand why this is important is to know that a fight is often won in the last round, and when there are two competitors of equal skill, the winner is the one with greater strength and staying power.

I should also mention that when coupled with a workable diet, metabolic conditioning will melt fat like raw meat on a hot grill. This is how I keep under 8% body fat year round.

The great deal of stress and systemic fatigue generated from kettlebell complex training stokes the metabolic furnace, creates a large oxygen debt, and promises prolonged caloric after-burn. To understand this is to know why short and intense kettlebell complex training sessions are far more effective for melting fat than low-intensity aerobics ever were.

Into The Lungs of Hell

I believe kettlebell complexes are such handy fat-chopping devices that every fitness enthusiast should have at least five pegged to memory. Now I have more folders full of complexes than Romney has binders full of women, so if you’ll permit me, I’d like to offer a few up a few of my favorites.

The Great Destroyer

The Great Destroyer is like an extremely hot pepper. It’s both alluring and frightening. You want to taste it, but as soon as you do you regret it.

Once you run your first set of The Great Destroyer, I think this will strike you as a pretty good analogy.

The Great Destroyer Consists of the following:

Double Kettlebell Swing x 10 Reps
Double Kettlebell Snatch x 10 Reps
Double Kettlebell Front Squat x 10 Reps
Double Kettlebell Clean and Press x 10 reps
Push Ups x 10 Reps
Bent Over Rows x 10 Reps

Recommended Operating Weight:

Pair of 16kg or 20kg kettlebells for most males
Pair of 8kg or 12kg kettlebells for most females

 

 The Hellion

This single kettlebell complex is deceptively challenging. The fatigue, like a night prowler, creeps up and slams you unexpectedly.

Check it out, The Hellion goes like this:

Two Hand Swing
One Arm Swing (Left + Right)
Single Arm Kettlebell Thruster (Left + Right)

Start with two reps of each movement. Then, after your first cycle through, perform four reps of each movement. Continue to ladder up by two reps every cycle until you are performing a total of ten reps of each movement. Descend the ladder in the same fashion. icon biggrin 5 Kettlebell Complexes to Blast Fat and Boost Muscle

Recommended Operating Weight:

One 16kg or 20kg kettlebell for most males
One 12kg or 16kg kettlebell for most females

 

Sequential Dismay

Imagine what it’d feel like to have a thousand cold knives slipped into your quads, twisted, and withdrawn. That’s Sequential Dismay.

The sequence of this complex is based off the Fibonacci series in reverse, starting from eight, and combines double kettlebells cleans and front squats.

In case you’re a little rusty on your logical sequences, Sequential Dismay looks like this:

Double Kettlebell Clean x 8 reps
Double Kettlebell Front Squat x 5 reps
Double Kettlebell Clean x 5 reps
Double Kettlebell Front Squat x 3 reps
Double Kettlebell Clean x 3 reps
Double kettlebell Front Squat x 2 reps
Double Kettlebell Clean x 2 reps
Double Kettlebell Front Squat x 1 rep

Recommended Operating Weight:

A pair of 20kg or 24kg kettlebells for most males
A pair of 12kg or 16kg kettlebells for most females

 

Fresh Off the Yacht

This type of complex should be made like biscuits: fresh every morning. Pick five single arm kettlebell exercises and perform five reps of each, back to back, with no rest. Once you’ve completed the series on one side, switch arms and repeat.

Here is just one recipe idea to get you started:

One Arm Swing x 5 Reps
One Arm Clean x 5 Reps
One Arm Snatch x 5 Reps
One Arm Jerk x 5 Reps
Reverse Lunge x 5 Reps

Recommended Operating Weight:

One 16kg or 20kg kettlebell for most males
One 12kg or 16kg kettlebell for most females

 

The Man Maker

I got this kettlebell “sandwich” idea from Jiu Jitsu champion Steve Maxwell, when he paired the double kettlebell clean with a push up on the handles.

I’ve since taken his original recipe, added a few ingredients, and turned it into a party-sub.

The sandwich reference indicates that there are two pieces of “bread” from which to load ingredients (exercises). For our purposes here, the bottom piece of bread is the double kettlebell snatch, and the top is the renegade row (a push-up on the handles of the bells paired with plank rows).

Begin by performing one rep of the double kettlebell snatch and the renegade row. Each cycle there after you will load one additional ingredient (one rep of one new exercise), and continue to cycle through, without rest, until you have constructed a 5-layer sandwich.

I believe an illustration of this monstrosity is obligatory:

Layer 1 – Double Snatch + Renegade Row

Layer 2 – Double Snatch + Double Press + Renegade Row

Layer 3 – Double Snatch + Double Press + Front Squat + Renegade Row

Layer 4 – Double Snatch + Double Press + Front Squat + Double Clean + Renegade Row

Layer 5 – Double Snatch + Double Press + Front Squat + Double Clean + Double Swing + Renegade Row

Perform only one rep of each exercise. No rest between layers.

Recommended Operating Weight:

A pair of 20kg kettlebells for most males
A pair of 12kg kettlebells for most females

 

Concluding Thoughts

Even at the risk of being overly repetitious, I’ll reiterate that these workouts are brandy to the sauce of ordinary conditioning routines. Just how too much booze ruins the sauce, these too can be overdone.

When applied judiciously, however, kettlebell complexes are marvelous, but the last thing I want to happen to anyone is to collapse in the midst of The Great Destroyer, with two bells overhead, like an overcooked soufflé.

Please lift responsibly.

-       Pat Flynn

PS – If you have any questions on how to work kettlebell complexes into your training routine, please drop them in the comment section below.

 About Pat Flynn

Pat Flynn is a certified Russian Kettlebell Challenge instructor, fitness philosopher, and 7th degree blackbelt in hanging out. Pat is the founder of ChroniclesOfStrength.com where he talks mostly on how to chop fat and multiply muscle through kettlebell complex training.


[1] Glassman, Greg (June 2003). “Metabolic Conditioning”. CrossFit Journal (10).

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  • http://www.chroniclesofstrength.com Pat

    For those who’d like to see some of these in action-here are a few more video links:

    The Great Destroyer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sdAJqY-lE4

    The Hellion – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=paXhontNWyw

  • http://www.platefullofcrazy.wordpress.com Tracy

    OMG Pat, you always make me laugh–right before your complexes make me cry. Awesomesauce, with brandy–as always.

    tls

    • Pat Flynn

      : )

  • http://www.beautiful-strength.com Christine

    I’d like to be able to say I have one of those “love/hate” relationships with Sequential Dismay. But it’s mostly just dislike. Damn you, double cleans and squats! Damn youuuuuu! :)

    • Peter

      whole-hearted agreement with you miss Christine. I just had to put those blasted things down after I hit the dreaded sequence of three cleans….and I’m thinking…man!! it’s 2 lousy squats!!!…but alas, I needed 30 seconds to finish it! aaaaargh

  • Mark L

    Pat’s complexes are simplly brutal but efficient. His Birth Of A Hero program greatly helped me prepare for and pass my RKC

  • http://twitter.com/StrongByChoice Strong By Choice

    Pat, I don’t know what lab you go to in order to create these monsters yet I am so appreciative that you do! Yes, they are tough yet if it was easy then everyone would do them! KB definitely sets apart the men from the boys!

    • Pat Flynn

      I can’t say where it is. But I can say that it’s dark, hollow, and cold.

  • Brad

    Merry Christmas, Pat.

    • Pat Flynn

      You too, Brad!

  • Bill Griffin

    Thank you very much for the routines. My question is how many sets for these routines and what work rest time intervals. At present I try to work for a half hour with little or no rest between exercises. What do you suggest? A typical workout for me would be 5 pull ups, 12 spiderman pushups and 15 30lb Kettlebell swings for 10 sets as quickly as possible. Thanks again and God bless. Dragon Door and kettlebell and Kettlebell training have been a great help to me right into my 60s. Bill

    • Pat Flynn

      Hey Bill,

      The answer, of course, is not much! I would aim to keep your total workout for energy days under 40 minutes. Pick 2-4 complexes and run 1-2 rounds of each, to start. Rest however long you need in order to feel fresh going into the next round. But not longer. Thank you and happy holidays!

      • Bill Griffin

        Thanks Pat for the help. I will make those adjustments. God bless and live well. Bill

  • Bill Griffin

    Thank you very much for the routines. My question is how many sets for these routines and what work rest time intervals. At present I try to work for a half hour with little or no rest between exercises. What do you suggest? A typical workout for me would be 5 pull ups, 12 spiderman pushups and 15 30lb Kettlebell swings for 10 sets as quickly as possible. Thanks again and God bless. Dragon Door and kettlebell and Kettlebell training have been a great help to me right into my 60s. Bill

  • Mark L

    Bill,

    If I may answer for Pat. some complexes like fresh off the yacht work best if you set a 15 minute time period and get in as many quality sets of that complex.. others you can get away with 3-5 sets..

  • Candee

    Can you advise how many time or length of workout these should be. One time through does not seem like a very hard workout.

    • Pat Flynn

      Sure Candee, please see my reply above to Bill.

  • http://www.codename-indestructible.com Michael Krivka

    Awesome work Pat! These are both fun and hard… or maybe that should be hard and fun! :) Keep up the great work and I look forward to working with you in 2013. :)

    • Pat Flynn

      Thanks for the kind words Mike! It was a pleasure coming down to your place last month. Looking forward to 2013 as well!

  • http://www.oltimeystrengthsecrets.com Pete Groehler HKC

    These complexes have truly come to save my life over the past few years. After suffering a career ending injury while playing college football, I could not work out and ate my bons bons until I was nearly 380lbs! Pat introduced me to the world of kettlebell training and turned my life around.

  • Anthony Blubello

    Chronicles of Strength: where an exercise routine may call for sandwich making and logical sequences in one workout! Creativity at its finest my man! Great Article, I laughed, I cried…I was inspired! Thanks for the reading man!

    • Pat Flynn

      Thanks for reading Anthony!

  • Walt

    I like the article and tried the first workout even though the first set wasn’t hard at all. I figured (since the article didn’t mention it) that you were supposed to do multiple sets? That’s what I did and it wa a real smoker. But what is the recommended sets? What is the progression schedule? How many times per week? Do you do one workout the whole week and then go to the next one for the next week or what?

    • Pat Flynn

      Hey Walk, yes–multiple sets. Run 2-4 complexes, 1-2 sets of each, 1-2 a week starting out. You can scale up from there in weight, volume, and density (within reason) as you become more conditioned.You do not have to stick with the same complexes–better if you vary it up.

  • http://www.hells-fitness.com Mark Fogle

    You couldn’t come up with a better reference for metabolic conditioning from somebody other than a Crossfit clown leader Greg “let me say this loosely” Coach Glassman????. Hope you aren’t crossing over to the dark side.

    • Pat Flynn

      Mark, while I certainly don’t agree with his means, his definition of metabolic conditioning was serviceable. Never. I’ll never turn to the dark side.

      • http://www.hells-fitness.com Mark Fogle

        Good point Pat regarding use of definition vs techique and formula! Just wanted to make sure an intervention wasn’t necessary to bring you back to the light! Hope you have a great holiday, best wishes for the New Year!

        • Pat Flynn

          Best wishes to you as well Mark, and a happy new year!

  • freddie cruz

    I’m a novice and I an interested in beginning some kettlebell exercise program. Is there any video that I can get to get me started? I am 77 years young and in fairly good shape. My goal is to improve my stamina in bike riding and strength in my golf game. Any suggestions?
    Merry Christmas and a very successful Happy New Year. Hoping to hear from you soon. I want to get started ASAP. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PROMPT RESPONSE.

    • Pat Flynn

      Freddie, have you investigated any programs that Dragondoor has to offer? Many of which would surely benefit you! I also have some thorough kettlebell tutorials on my site as well. Shoot me an email at patflynn@chroniclesofstrength.com and I’d be more than happy to offer a few recommendations

      • freddie cruz

        I cannot communicate with you thru your email so I’m trying it this way. I’m looking for an article “learning to swing the rkc way by Mark Riefkind. Have had no luck. Can you help?

        • Rose

          Do you remember approximately when it was published? I did find this dvd set that may help: http://www.dragondoor.com/dvs030/

          If you can give me more information, I can probably find it for you in the Articles section on the Dragon Door site. Thank you!

  • Ken Battin

    Thank you for your motivation and expertise. Love the complexes. Merry Christmas

    • Pat Flynn

      Thank you, Ken. And Merry Christmas to you as well!

  • http://www.gymferris.com James Ferris

    Pat, great stuff as always. Enjoy the holidays. Keep it CLEAN.

  • Leor Giladi

    Pat,

    Before reading this post I had not heard of you or your business and man am I bummed! Intelligent programming and witty writing, two elements to a great post. I’ve bookmarked your page and have a lot of catching up to do. I’ve been making complexes for many of my clients since i got my HKC in 2011 but they’re in need of some fresh creative ideas.

    Thanks for all of your hard work.

  • Robert Brown

    Pat,

    These are excellent circuits! I am fairly new to KB training. Do you do KB training by itself or do you do KB training to supplement a conventional free weight (DBs and BBs)? Is it possible to build muscle only KBs and w/o conventional free weights?

  • Yordi

    Pat,

    This blog post is the first time I’ve heard of you and I must say you made a great impression! Over the past 2 days I tried a few of your complexes…. they’re bad ass! Being a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, former div-2 ice hockey player and freak athlete in anything that can test my boundaries (and go over it hehe) I’m always looking to improve. Kettlebell has been my friend since the beginning, helped me get to the top and recover from injuries.

    Kettlebell is a never ending journey of improvement and excelling to new heights of physical fitness and preparedness in any sport. Your complexes are a definitive benchmark! Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Justin

    Great article. Concise, and right on point.

    Couldn’t agree with you more about the apathetic attitude towards boring workouts.

    I’ve been working with kettlebells for several years, and though I didn’t know it, I have been doing complexes all the while; the bell just lends itself to a flowing workout.

    And, the “high quality fatigue” point was mind opening.

    I find myself seething, almost to the point of a crying rage during the last sets of my kettlebell complexes, and I had wondered why that was occurring. A purely physical reaction to the stress of the workout. What an exhilaration!

  • Chris

    Pat

    Thank you for the well written article! I am a KB training novice, but have followed many Author Jones principals via The super slow strength training protocol. Can you give me any insight on training session duration as well as frequency with the above routines? Can one typically perform a different complex every day or is 1 to 3 times weekly better to maximize strength fat loss and flexibility?

  • tbone

    “Author Jones” needs to be changed to “Arthur Jones” throughout.

  • Jeff

    Big fan of Hellion and sequential dismay!

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