In my nearly two years of kettlebell exercises, I’ve tried numerous workouts with kettlebells of varying sizes. Some of these workouts have become part of a weekly rotation and continue to provide a challenge but not so much where I feel absolutely exhausted. One that comes to mind is this alternating single kettlebell flow by Eric Leija. That particular workout keeps your body moving but since you’re switching off arms after each set, it allows also for some much-needed recovery time. I actually double the number of sets that Eric recommends from 5 to 10 (50 flows to 100 flows) to get an approximately 20-minute workout session.
I’m not sure how often the average kettlebell enthusiast works out during the week. Myself, I like to do 5 days in a row (Monday – Friday) for 20 minutes each day. In order to sustain that frequency, it’s important that I leave a little bit in the tank as they say. However, once or twice a month, I make it a point to go all out and torture myself with a grueling workout. Why? Sometimes it is out of guilt, especially if I’ve had a poor day of dieting prior to that workout. Other times, it’s just because I want to test my limits and gauge how much my body can handle.
Below are 3 kettlebell workouts that are not just physically exhausting but also mentally taxing. It takes a lot of willpower to get through them but they will help make you stronger, slimmer, and improve your cardio quicker than standard kettlebell workouts. Read on to learn what I love and hate about each of them!
Burpees and Kettlebells Workout
Dubbed the CTCF 100 Challenge, this workout from Cavemantraining actually comes with a disclaimer:
“This is not for the faint-hearted. This simple combination of 2 grueling exercises is super anaerobic and will skyrocket your heart rate in no time.”
Now, one could be forgiven for thinking that a workout with only two exercises wouldn’t pose such a challenge. I definitely didn’t think that I would be pouring buckets of sweat at the end! Yes, it does call for a high amount of reps (100 burpees and 200 dead snatches) but the very nature and transition between those two exercises is what makes it so difficult.
I honestly didn’t know what a burpee was before I discovered this workout. As you can see in the above video, the CrossFit variation is essentially a hybrid of a push-up and jumping jack. It’s a quick move that goes from horizontal to vertical. The 2nd exercise, the kettlebell dead snatch, has you lifting the kettlebell from the floor all the way to the ceiling in one swift motion. It’s an exercise I still struggle with and requires a precise technique which is all the more apparent the heavier the kettlebell is.
Kettlebell of Choice
- 35 lb. traditional style (10 lbs. lighter than my current kettlebell)
Based on the recommended kettlebell weight to reps ratio, I’m underperforming. Perhaps when I’ve mastered the snatch I’ll be able to use my 45 lb. kettlebell. That would still be below the suggested 24kg/52 lb. weight for men. In fact, if I were following the guidelines I’d be adding 50 additional reps to the routine with my 35 lb. kettlebell. I have no shame in admitting that my strength and endurance just aren’t there yet. It takes every ounce of energy I have to cross the finish line doing 100 dead snatches per arm at that weight.
What I want to get out of this workout is more cardio than strength. If you enter with that goal and mindset then the weight you choose really shouldn’t matter. Depending on your level of fitness, completing this workout with a 25 lb. or even a 15 lb. kettlebell is a great accomplishment. Remember, you are the best judge of what your body can and cannot handle!
Mentally, this workout is a grind. I consider a set to be 1 burpee, and 1 dead snatch per arm performed 10 times in a row without rest. After which I usually take 30-60 seconds of rest before starting the next set. In total, I’ll do 10 sets which equal the 100 burpees and 200 dead snatches. Fatigue starts to set in quickly after the first few sets and there are times when I might lose track of my rep count within a set. I typically use playing cards (one for each set) to keep track of my progress. Although, you may choose to use any object or item (pieces of paper, coins, etc.) to record the completion of every set.
I hate this workout because every fiber in my body aches right after. I’m a sweaty, stinky mess and am left gasping for air at the end. The transition from horizontal to vertical becomes increasingly difficult as I progress. Needless to say, I require the most motivational music (usually angry metal!) to help push me through.
That euphoric feeling I get 10 or so minutes after the workout and my body has recovered gives me great satisfaction. I know that I just burned a ton of calories in such a short amount of time. It’s the sort of feeling that sticks with me hours after the workout. That makes the effort very worth the end result!
Even though I’m targeting cardio with this workout, I still feel like my strength is improving as well as my mobility and range. I recall what condition my body was a year ago and remember the struggle I had lifting a 25 lb. kettlebell. Now, my 35 lb. kettlebell feels light to me and there’s no way I would be able to do this workout at that many reps back then. Perhaps someday in the near future, I’ll look back at my current progress with similar astonishment.
Kettlebell Man Maker Workout
Here’s another torture session provided by Cavemantraining. Technically, this sequence of kettlebell exercises isn’t the entire workout that I perform. Rather it’s the central component of an exclusive workout in the Caveman Inner Circle. Since the inner circle is a premium group of kettlebell trainers and enthusiasts, I’m not going to post the exact details. Just know that there is an additional exercise between each man maker set and that the format is that of a progressive style.
For simplicity’s sake, I’d suggest doing 3-5 sets of man maker exercises and then transition to a set of a kettlebell exercise of your choice. Maybe 10 swings, rows, cleans – heck, even jump roping if you want. The point is to give your body a little bit of recovery time while still engaging the muscles. Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and boom, there’s your man-maker workout.
So what is a man maker? Again, to quote Cavemantraining’s description:
“A man maker exercise is a combination of the following exercises that are performed seamlessly one after the other:
Plank and row also known as renegade rows.”
Words can’t really describe the intensity that is a man maker. Seriously, if you haven’t clicked on the play button of the video yet, do so now! The cover image of trainer Taco Fleur sprawled out on the floor is pretty much what you can expect out of a man maker workout. Pure exhaustion! That’s how I feel every time after the fact, and I promise you, so will you!
Kettlebell of Choice
- 45 lb. competition style (current kettlebell)
Unfortunately, due to not having any kettlebells of equal weight, I perform a single kettlebell variation of the man maker. If you’re in a similar circumstance, Cavemantraining does explain how to do a man maker with one kettlebell. If I had kettlebells of equal weight, I would do this routine with a pair of 35 lb. kettlebells. It’s that tough!
In my head, I commonly refer to this exercise as a widow maker. Thoughts of my wife discovering me passed out on the floor in my exercise area are typical. Don’t worry, while I like a challenge I’m not so reckless as that I would continue exercising and jeopardize my health or safety. Nonetheless, man-maker workouts are brutal.
Let me make one thing clear. I don’t like squats. In my opinion that is the most difficult part of a man maker. Going down and bending the knees then rising up into a thrust gives me that burning sensation. Thankfully, it’s just one per sequence. I’ve done ladder-style workouts that require several squats in succession. It’s no fun, then again that’s why it’s called a workout and not playtime.
The format that I follow for a man maker workout starts off easy before ramping up the difficulty level. I also use playing cards to keep track of each set and my overall progress. Due to exhaustion, it’s easy to get distracted and lose my place. I will say, as I get towards the end, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and that prospect really helps in keeping me motivated to finish.
As difficult as this workout is, I feel pretty safe switching between exercises. I’m sure using only one kettlebell has something to do with that. I’m using two hands to hold the kettlebell during the clean, squat, and thrust. So it feels pretty secure and highly unlikely to slip and get away from me.
While I do hate squats, you know what they say? The harder you work at something the better off you’ll be. I’ll never forget my training while working at a warehouse distribution center. Bend at the knees and not the hips. Think about all the heavy things we lift on a regular basis? Doing squats will only make those tasks easier.
I suppose there is a reason why they call it a man maker. I definitely don’t take it in the literal sense since there are many women who also can compete with the best of men on a physical level. Rather, it takes a certain level of grit and composure to perform many reps of these exercises in one session. No matter what your gender is, completing this workout deserves some recognition. That feeling of accomplishment I spoke of in the first workout is just as strong!
Kettlebell Gut Buster Workout
One of the first creations that I published on this website. This workout is over a year old but still kicks my ass every time. If you haven’t caught on by now, I like workouts that transition towards different planes. This one goes from vertical to horizontal.
Looking back at this video, it’s hard not to criticize myself. It appears that I’m over swinging in the very beginning. I believe I’ve learned a lot since then but I still have a ways to go. Proper technique is important not only for safety reasons but also for conditioning. I want to give my body the best opportunity for enduring long workouts or going with high rep counts. It’s just a matter of sitting, down taking the time to read and analyze various exercises step-by-step and working on execution.
Anyhow, this workout consists of the 5 kettlebell exercises listed below:
- 20 Russian Kettlebell Swings
- 10 Goblet Thrusters
- 10 “Figure 8” Squats
- 10 Clamshell Sit-Ups
- 10 Push-Ups
Kettlebell of Choice
- 45 lb. competition style (current kettlebell)
The kettlebell you see in the video is my old 25 pounder. I recently hiked with that up a mountain that shows how far along I’ve come. Now that I’ve progressed to using my 45 lb. kettlebell, I only do 4 sets of the above exercises. That makes it seem like a light workout, but I assure you, my body is DONE after that final set. I do take a moment to rest after each set, so instead of 10 minutes total time, it’s normally around 15 minutes.
The swings aren’t so bad on the first go-round. However, my arms start to get tired midway through the 20 swings on successive sets. Those swings transition into the hardest part of the workout, goblet thrusters. Yup, you guessed it, there is squatting in the goblet thruster! That’s 10 times in a row at 45 lbs. It sucks during the first set and is pure agony during the last.
The “figure-8” squats are no picnic either. Why would I chain so many squats together? I honestly don’t know. Maneuvering a kettlebell between my legs that is nearly twice the weight as when I made the video is no small feat. It’s part of the reason why I switched to compression shorts so that I could better transfer from hand to hand. Additionally, I WILL NOT do a clamshell sit-up with that heavy of a weight and instead opt for a standard kettlebell sit-up. I simply will not risk head trauma by lifting the kettlebell over my head while lying down.
This workout is still deceptive even though I’ve done it multiple times. 4 sets seem like a breeze, but even after one, my heart is beating rapidly and my muscles beg for it to be over. Out of the 3 workouts in this post, this is one that I do the least. I know I’m in for a world of punishment even though it’s 5 minutes less than my usual workout session duration.
What can I say? It’s my baby! I’m extremely proud of what I created. I wanted to design a program that started off in a standing position and then slowly switches gears to the horizontal plane. It’s got a little bit of everything; cardio, strength, and endurance. If I were capable of doing this workout on a weekly basis, I’m confident I would’ve reached my weight loss goal a long time ago.
Today was the first time I did this workout in about a month. As far as challenges go, it hasn’t let me down. I could probably get a hell of a cardio workout doing 7 sets at 35 lbs. Honestly, though, that seems more difficult than 4 sets at 45 lbs. The fact that I still feel the strain in my muscles and lungs several hours later right now is a reminder of why I don’t often do this workout. Still, if you give it a shot at your current kettlebell weight level, I think you’ll be surprised at just how draining it is.