The Setup

You’ve got yourself a pair of kettlebells and a stopwatch, and you want to lose bodyfat and improve your conditioning with some high-intensity interval training (HIIT), but you need a way to periodize your set and rep schemes without spending an hour repeating the same exercises. This kettlebell pyramid circuit will show you the basics and give you a way to set up your sessions without boring yourself to death.

Everyone knows about kettlebells by now. You can find them in mainstream sporting-good stores and gyms, and some trainers have been incorporating  these Russian artifacts into their clients’ programs for years now. In fact if widespread criticism can be seen as one measure of noteriety, a shining example of the worldwide kettlebell-fever pandemic is the current backlaash questioning their efficacy and claiming that it’s possible to perform all the same movements with dumbbells.

The Solution

While it’s certainly true that you can perform similar movements with dumbbells, you can’t replicate the way kettlebells feel. There’s a stability requirement — your wrists, elbows, shoulders and lower back are all recruited to keep the kettlebell in line throughout a movement — that’s simply not a factor when you use dumbbells for the same exercises.

When you use kettlebells, you’ll find yourself concentrating harder on what you’re doing, because you have to. Simply put, the movements are harder to execute with kettlebells.

Take the swing, for example. When you perform a swing with a kettlebell, the weight is pulling away from you with significantly more force than a dumbbell does because its center of gravity isn’t right in your hand; it’s away from you, offset from your hand by the length of the kettlebell, from its handle to its body. This places more stress on your lower back and hamstrings and makes the exercise more difficult.

Grasp a set of kettlebells and try this deceivingly difficult circuit. Start off by doing one rep of each exercise. Each time you go through the circuit, you’ll do one more rep than you did in the previous set. (So for your second set you’ll perform two reps, and so on.) Once you’ve made it through all four exercises, rest one minute and start the next round.

The Workout

Keep progressing until you can no longer achieve the increased rep counts on all four exercises, then work your way back down to singles, one rep at a time, using the same one-minute rest period between rounds.

Kettlebell Workout Climb

1. Swing*

2. Snatch*

3. Front Squat**

4. Thruster (front squat to overhead press)**

* Perform with one kettlebell
** Perform with two kettlebells