One of the best things about kettlebell training is how versatile it is. A single kettlebell can be used in so many different ways, to achieve a range of results.
Today we’re going to look at cardio kettlebell workouts.
We’ll investigate what makes a cardio workout. We’ll look at the different types of cardio kettlebell workout, how to programme a kettlebell cardio workout and what to expect when you add them into your weekly programming.
We’ll discuss the conditioning benefits that you get from doing your cardio training with kettlebells.
By the end of the article you’ll look at cardio and kettlebells in a completely different light!
- How to define a cardio workout
- The different types of cardio training
- How to do cardio kettlebell workouts
- How often can you do cardio kettlebell workouts
- Unconventional cardio exercises with a kettlebell
- Getting started with cardio kettlebell workouts
How to define a cardio workout
A cardiovascular workout is anything that elevates the heart rate for a prolonged period of time. We think of cardio as being running, swimming, cycling, rowing etc, but that’s not the only way to do it.
We can perform a cardio routine with all kinds of equipment – barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells and even bodyweight. By keeping rest periods short and stringing together a lot of exercises, you can do a cardio workout with just about anything.
As a personal trainer, I prefer the cardio benefits you get from kettlebell work, because there’s a muscle building element to it too.
The different types of cardio training
Here’s a few different examples of ways cardio workouts can be done with kettlebells…
HIIT Kettlebell workout
HIIT stands for ‘High Intensity Interval Training’. You perform these workouts by working at a high intensity for a set period of time. You follow this with a pre-set rest period, then repeat. There’s a lot of flexibility involved in this kind of training.
Exercises, work periods, rest periods and weights can all be adjusted to suit fitness levels.
You can mix different exercises together, or repeat the same one. For simplicity, I tend to repeat the same exercise for a predetermined period of time before moving on to the next one.
In practice, a HIIT kettlebell workout could look like this…
- Kettlebell Swings – 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off x 10
- Kettlebell Cleans – 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off x 10
- Kettlebell Snatch – 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off x 10
- Kettlebell Push Press – 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off x 10
- Kettlebell Lunges – 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off x 10
This entire workout would take less than an hour, but would serve as incredible cardiovascular training. It’s a total of 25 minutes of kettlebells, but the results would be fantastic. You wouldn’t need much – a couple of medium weight kettlebells and a little bit of space.
Another one of my favorite ways to program a cardio kettlebell workout is with a circuit.
In a circuit you’ll perform exercises one after the other for a given period of time (or reps, but in most cases time). Once you’ve done a set of every exercise in the circuit, you rest. You repeat the kettlebell circuit as many times as you want/need to.
In practice, a kettlebell circuit workout could look like this…
Perform 45 seconds of each exercise, before moving on to the next one. At the end of the circuit, rest for 2 minutes then repeat.
- American Kettlebell Swings
- Kettlebell Goblet Squats
- Kettlebell Gorilla Rows
- Kettlebell Push Ups
- Kettlebell Russian Twists
- Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pulls
This is a classic kettlebell circuit. It trains the entire body and keeps the heart rate up throughout the session. You can make it a short, intense workout by only performing 2-3 circuits, or extend it for longer by doing several rounds.
This is where we get more advanced, taking kettlebells from a workout tool, to a competitive sport.
There are different exercises – the jerk, the snatch and the long cycle. These are performed in different events ranging from 5 minutes to 60 minutes. The idea is to accumulate as many reps as possible during the time period.
You’ll be better off using competition style kettlebells for this type of workout, because they have a different design. The thinner handles and uniform size and shape are more comfortable to use for the high reps. A workout may contain hundreds of kettlebell cleans, kettlebell snatches and kettlebell jerks.
It’s the ultimate in advanced kettlebell work, and the purest form of cardio kettlebell workout. Check out this video for a little more information on Kettlebell sport…
How to do cardio kettlebell workouts
There’s a lot of different ways you can perform a kettlebell cardio workout. That’s part of the appeal – you can switch things up so it’s always different. As well as building your muscular endurance, you can play around with different types of kettlebell lifts and endurance type training.
Here’s a few suggestions for how to tweak individual kettlebell workouts when improving cardio is the aim…
Changing rest periods
A simple way to keep the heart rate high is to reduce the rest periods. You don’t need to use the heaviest kettlebell if you’re aiming for high rep work.
A lighter kettlebell, lifted often and coupled with short rest periods is fantastic for putting together a high intensity training session that will elicit the cardiovascular benefits you’re looking for. It’ll change your fitness and your physique.
Selecting the best kettlebell exercises for cardio
There’s no ‘best’ single exercise for cardio. The great thing is that lots of the kettlebell exercises train hundreds of muscles in one go. When they’re performed with correct form, a series of the standard kettlebell exercises (swings, cleans, jerks, presses, rows, squats) will train everything from your head to your toes.
You’ll train all your limbs, your core muscles, your back and your shoulders.
In order to get the most from your kettlebell cardio workout, fill it with compound exercises. These are the big, multi joint exercises that train a lot of muscle in one go. These burn a lot of calories and raise the heart rate quickly. This will fire up your metabolic rate as well!
The ideal rep ranges for cardio kettlebell workouts
There’s no right or wrong rep ranges for cardio kettlebell workouts. Generally speaking though, you want to be lifting for sets of at least 12 reps. If you perform shorter sets with heavier weights, the focus shifts away from cardio and towards muscle mass building.
I suggest you work for a minimum of 12 reps or 30 seconds, if you’re doing timed intervals.
What weight kettlebell for cardio workouts
This depends on your strength levels and your experience with kettlebells. As a general rule, men will lift a kettlebell weighing between 12kg and 32kg (26 – 70 lbs) for high reps, depending on the exercise.
In my experience, most women will lift between 8kg and 20kg (18 – 44 lbs) depending on the exercise.
How often can you do cardio kettlebell workouts
When you first start lifting with kettlebells you may experience extreme DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), especially if you’re doing a lot of swings. The good news is you quickly get used to the technique and your body adapts.
How frequently you can do cardio kettlebell workouts depends on how easily you can recover. If you’re recovered and ready to train again, there’s nothing stopping you training several times per week.
How many weekly sessions?
Anywhere between 3 and 5 is usually plenty. This of course depends on a few factors…
- Goals – the bigger the goals, the harder you’ll have to work
- Workout duration – you can complete shorter workouts more frequently
- Recovery – are you fit and ready to train again?
- Training experience – if you’re used to kettlebell training or exercise in general, you’ll be able to cope with more
These are the kinds of questions I’d be asking before deciding how many times per week I’d be training.
Unconventional cardio exercises with a kettlebell
The great thing about kettlebell training is the exercises you do are completely unique. The ballistic kettlebell moves are unlike anything you’ll do with other equipment, meaning they complement other exercises really well.
Here’s some of the unconventional exercises you’re likely to find in a kettlebell routine…
American kettlebell swings
This isn’t one for the purists, but I like them. Swinging the kettlebell overhead makes the core muscles work hard, and the overhead position gives the shoulders something extra to do…
Kettlebell long cycle
I’ll be honest – this is a kettlebell complex that will take your workout up several levels. It’s the competition style clean and jerk, and learning proper technique may require speaking to a qualified kettlebell instructor…
The kettlebell snatch is a great exercise for woking on the core muscles, the shoulders and general kettlebell technique. It’s a powerful exercise and one that has great athletic carryover…
Kettlebell Farmers walks
This is a good, old fashioned hard work one. A Farmers Walk is a loaded carry. These are amazing for leg strength, core strength and grip strength. They also ramp up the heart rate considerably…
Double kettlebell front squats
This is a fantastic way to hit great quality squats with a decent kettlebell weight. I prefer these to squats where the kettlebells are by your sides, because that movement has a habit of turning more into a deadlift than a squat…
What to expect from cardio kettlebell workouts
How are these workouts different from the other types of cardio workouts, or even resistance training workouts for that matter? Here’s a few pointers on what to expect…
Your hands will need to adapt!
This is the big one! When you first start lifting kettlebells (especially in the competition lifts), your hands will take a beating. They toughen up and get used to the movement in time, but there’ll be a period of adaptation.
Be patient here. Look after your hands. Use chalk. Don’t do too much too soon – you don’t want to rip your hands to bits!
Muscle gain from high reps
The muscle gain is REAL! These are ballistic exercises and they take no prisoners. The trade off for the hard work though is the physique improvements. Hitting great quality kettlebell workouts 3-5 times per week will transform you. Especially if they’re paired with a sensible diet.
Improved strength endurance
This one is a given. Hitting cardio workouts with a kettlebell will change your physical capabilities dramatically. You’ll quickly go from being cooked after a few reps, to hitting sets of 40+ reps in a row. You’ll completely change your ability to endure weight training reps.
Getting started with cardio kettlebell workouts
Now you’ve got some exercises to start with, here’s a few pointers to getting started with cardio kettlebell workouts.
The most important first step is for you to learn proper kettlebell technique. Whilst kettlebells are no riskier than any other kind of weightlifting, they’re unique in their movement patterns. Take the time to learn technique – it’ll make you a safer, more efficient lifter.
Speak to a coach if you need to.
Pick a program
Once you’ve got your technique down, it’s time to pick a program. There are plenty out there, so pick a beginner one. Don’t get ahead of yourself too early – kettlebells are no joke. They’ll make you work hard, so start at an appropriate level.
Go ahead and enjoy adding cardio kettlebell workouts into your training regime. Your health, fitness and physique will be glad you did!