The “Dirty Dozen” Exercises (Part 1) by Phil Ross

by Phil Ross on January 16, 2013

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More often than not, I get asked “Coach, what are the best exercises to do?” Or “If you were to choose “X” amount of exercises, what would they be?”. There are a plethora of great exercises and variations that my students and I truly love to do. However if I were to boil it down to several movements that are essential to any strength and conditioning regimen, I would choose 6 Kettlebell exercises and 6 Bodyweight movements.

I’m not saying that these are the ONLY exercises you should do but they all should be included in your workout regimen, no matter what your focus is. These exercises will increase strength, endurance, coordination, flexibility and durability like no others. These exercises will even improve your performance with your bench press, deadlift and bar squats , not to mention your physique.

Over the next year, I’ll be putting forth write ups accompanied by videos on the “Dirty Dozen”. We’ll discuss variations and progressions, especially when considering bodyweight. I’ll discuss each movement in depth and give my reasoning for the selection of each movement.

OK- here’s the list.


The Kettlebell Swing: This movement is the root of all Kettlebell Training and one of the great differentiators between Kettlebell based training and all other strength developing exercise systems. The Kettlebell Swing “reverse engineers” the practitioner’s hips by developing hip hinge through the pop and lock required to execute the movement properly.

The Front Squat: Single Rack or Bottoms up. Squatting is the most important movement for lower body strength. The Front Squat, by virtue of the position of the Kettlebell, requires the complete linkage of the upper and lower body. Tensioning of the trunk (I’m not a fan of the word ” core” ) and maintaining the bell in the prescribed position requires considerable upper body engagement in addition to the tension in the trunk.

The Kettlebell Press: Pressing heavy weight above your head is very cool and extremely useful. The Kettlebell Press employs full range of motion, full body tension and the active negative motion of the bell.

The Get-up: There is not a single movement that incorporates more muscles of the body than the Get up, also known as the Turkish Get Up or TGU. This incredible exercise is a signature movement of Kettlebell Training. Dynamic tension, balance, flexibility and body alignment are all developed with the TGU.

The Clean: The Kettlebell Clean is used in a great deal of Kettlebell complexes, racking the kettlebell for Squats and Presses, but it’s an incredibly beneficial stand alone movement. A single arm clean taxes the stabilizers in the trunk as well as reinforcing the tensioning and relaxing of the body.


The Kettlebell Snatch: This is my favorite of all Kettlebell movements. The Kettlebell Snatch is a ballistic movement that develops strength, endurance, speed, coordination and there is no question why this movement is used in both competitions and testing as a fitness barometer. The Kettlebell Snatch V02 Max workout is unmatched in maximizing one’s volume of oxygen uptake.


The Bridge: An ignored movement in American physical fitness. Very few athletes, except for wrestlers and gymnasts, utilize this crucial movement. The Bridge is exactly what it’s name connotes. The development of a strong, flexible spine linking together the upper torso with the trunk and lower limbs. Strong spinal erectors are essential to a healthy spine and unhindered movement. Key to athletics, active living and certain vocations – not to mention every day living!

Hanging Abdominal: One can do thousands of crunches and buy every gimmicky ab machine on the TV at 2:00am, but nothing will develop your abdominal strength better than the Hanging the Abdominal. Lifting your legs up to your chest or your feet above your head develops and requires significant abdominal strength.

The Pistol (Single Leg Squat): The most difficult and beneficial leg exercise – period. The training en route a butt to heel Pistol develops balance, trunk stability and incredible leg strength. There are weight lifters that can full squat 600 pounds, yet they collapse and fall over when attempting the Pistol.

The Hand Stand: This is the coolest of all bodyweight exercises. Nothing demonstrates full body control and balance than being able to invert yourself in the middle of a room and hold it there. The progressions building up to the Handstand develop incredible shoulder and trunk strength.

The Pull-up: There is no single exercise that demonstrates and develops upper body strength like the Pull-up. If you can do 20 pull-ups, you are in great shape. I challenge you to show me a person who can do 20 pull-ups and doesn’t have a 6-pack.

The Push-up: The Push-up is my favorite for several reasons. There are fun and challenging variations, the movement works not only your upper body but conditions your abdominals and reinforces the total body tensioning. The best thing about Push-ups is that you can do them virtually anywhere that there is a floor. Your bedroom, basement or office – anywhere. There is no good reason for you not to do them.

Get started now!

There you have it. 12 exercises that no training regimen should be without. If you want to achieve ultimate, applicable strength and conditioning, your program needs to include these core “Dirty Dozen” exercises.

Phil Ross: Master RKC, 8th Degree Black Belt, Specialist in Bodyweight Strength and CK-FMS Certified. Phil Ross’ name is synonymous with Martial Arts and Fitness. He is known as the area’s Kettlebell King and has successfully competed on the National Level in Submission Fighting, Kickboxing, both Full Contact; Point Karate, Taekwondo and Olympic Style Wrestling from 1979 through 2010. He has also held several titles in Bodybuilding and Power Lifting. More important than his personal accomplishments are the many benefits that his students have gained. He has trained many National and State champions in a multitude of Combat Disciplines, Scholarship Athletes, Law Enforcement and Military Personal as well as professional athletes.

He has owned and operated his studio, American Eagle MMA & Kettlebells, ever since 1988, training thousands of students in his classes and seminars. In addition, he created the #1 Rated S.A.V.E. Self Defense and Fitness video series, has an online Kettlebell Training program and The Kettlebell Workout Library video training system.



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  • LOVE IT!!!

  • Terrific, Phil. With the regressions and progressions of each, these 12 can provide exercise for a lifetime.

    • Thank you. I truly believe that they can!

  • Padraig Mara

    Thank you for the excellent advice. Also may I ask if you are a practitioner of Kali? The back ink looks like Kali symbolism.

    • Yes, I do practice Kali. I was trained by Pat Finely and was certified by Dan Inosanto back in 1982-84. However, the symbols on my back are from Bando. The 3 circles & 3 triangles as well as the Crossed Kukris. The circles represent man and his relationship with himself, others and the universe. The triangles signify Birth, Life & Death.

  • vanessa walters

    I disagree with doing handstands…not at my age 61. The kettlebell exercises are excellent, I do these. I am not doing snatches for now, until I get more comfortable and stronger with cleans, presses, swings and squats.

    • Vanessa. My workout partner is 71. He does handstands against a wall facing out. gets up and down on his own. I offer help but he refuses. I hope in 16 years I can keep up with his lead.

    • Start with the High Pulls first and then work your way into the snatch.

    • Vanessa – stay tuned for the progressions. You not be able to do a full handstand – but you should be able to build up to a crow stand or a head stand variation.

      • Agreed Phil! THe progressions outlined in Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning are very attainable at almost any age. I utilize level 1 push and pull instruction in our office to train scapular positioning and shoulder placement along with a neutral spine posture to train patients the basic neuromuscular patterning to move onward or simply avoid pain from routine activities. Crowstands are intense and feasible for someone reasonably fit at almost any age.

    • Eric

      If you have high blood pressure or your pulse rate is very high, you may want to skip the handstands. The increased pressure in your head could cause a vascular rupture. Like all challenging things, if you want to do them, you need to work your way into them gradually.

      Always consider the risk/reward tradeoff of what you are doing. For example: It is ridiculous to trainers encouraging people to squat on stability balls, etc. That kind of activity is only necessary for some circus performers. The risk of permanent injury is very high and the benefit for almost everyone is minimal.

  • This is a near carbon copy of a routine I’ve been doing for the past couple years. I don’t hit all 6 of each in one workout because I’m a bit of a wuss. I just love the effect of training movement with natural weight and adding the momentum of KBs to juice it up a notch or two.

    • Joe, I don’t do all of them every day, but usually perform them some form or another at least twice a week. We also work on a great deal of other movements as well – but these movements are the core of our training.

  • Richard Giambrone

    The pistol is on my list of exercises to try in 2013. And to increase from 10 pull-ups to 20. And the handstand without a wall. 11 months to go!

  • Andy

    Thank you for this awesome article! Over the past four months I have added these exercises to my own workouts and those of my clients with some great success! Love it!

  • Brent

    Mr. Ross, great post and look forward to reading more posts. Question: where can I buy freestanding portable pull-up bars like in the picture? Does Dragondoor sell them?

  • adriene ingalls

    Excellent Article, Phil. Two Words: You Rock!!!

  • I’ve been on CC for a while now and been looking at adding in some Kettlebell moves. This looks perfect!

    I’m in the process of learning the Swing and TGU. Once I get those down, I plan to add in the others you have listed.

    I’m sure there will be a future post on this (and I just subscribe), but do you have a recommended way of adding this all in as a workout routine?

    Thank you so much for posting this!


  • Sam

    Not to be redundant but along with Matt’s post I was wondering if you had an ideal week’s routine of all these 12 exercises combined.

  • John Clary

    By way of introduction, I have been in and out of gyms and training routines for the last fifty years. I consider myself privileged to be one of Phil’s students. His sessions are a mixture of art and science and a real experience for the uninitiated. These core KB exercises, if performed with good form and regularity, are all one needs to maintain functional strength and mobility.

  • Guys – There are so, so many variables on the potential workout routines surrounding the “Dirty Dozen”. If you are not seasoned, it’s very difficult to get meaningful reps of all of the exercises in one workout. For me to hit all of them, it can easy consume an hour and a half.
    Example: The other day, I spent 45 minutes on Bodyweight, 2 sets of handstand wall pushups (10), 5 sets of various reps of pushups – including one arm knuckle push-ups, 5 sets of various pull-ups – 2 of which were “monkey swings”, 3 sets of 5 reps each leg with pistols, 4 sets of jack knife abs, 2 sets of bridge push ups (10) and 2 sets of wall crawl bridges & then I did my big 6 Kettlebell. Get-up – 2 sets, 3 reps Heavy, Heavy swings – 5 sets, clean and single rack squats – 3 sets, 10 each side, Alternating Press & Hold & I finished with a snatch ladder with 104 snatches.
    I’ll also have my Kettlebell Workout Library out on video soon. 104 Workouts, bodyweight, and Dynamic Tension. (Shameless Plug!)
    I hope that this was helpful.

  • Sam

    Thank you that was helpful! I have been doing the good behavior routine from convict conditioning and I guess what I’m trying to figure out is how or when to incorporate the kettlebell exercises. Which kettlebells exercises pair well with which body weight exercises, etc… Thanks for the help. New to kettlebells and bodyweight workouts but feel so much better already doing bodyweight workouts than machines and free weights like I used to do.


  • Thank you for your comments & support! More to come.

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