5 Kettlebell Complexes to Blast Fat and Boost Muscle

by Pat Flynn on December 21, 2012

Pat Flynn

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. 😀

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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