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How to Use Kettlebells for Light Conditioning?

So, i was thinking about buying a kettlebell to do some indoor conditioning. I usually do loaded carries for heavy conditioning so I needed something that falls into the light conditioning/active recovery category… no clue what to do and how.
I’ve looked here on the boards and on the website, the general consensus for active recovery would be something with almost only concentric activation like swings, sleds, prowlers etc.
But in practice, what should I do? I was thinking about kettlebell swings and snatches, but how many of each? For how long?
And, what weight should I use? I’m 170lbs, I can’t see myself getting heavier than 180-185lbs in the foreseenable future, I was thinking about a 22lbs kettlebell but honestly no clue, I’ve never used them

Kettlebells are a great tool for conditioning and if you do them correctly they won’t beat the crap out of you. I use kettlebells a lot for conditioning as well as weight vest walks. As far as KB movements you can’t go wrong with the Swing (1 Hand or 2 Hand), Snatch and 1 Arm Clean & Jerks. You can either go for a set time and see how many reps you can get in that time frame or have a total rep count. For KB Swings I would say no less than 200 reps total, Snatches 100 total (50 each hand), and 50-100 Clean & Jerks (25-50 each hand). You can get creative and do bodyweight movements between sets of KB moves as well. Personally I like to combine Swings with Push Ups, Clean & Jerks with Pull Ups, Snatches with Ab Wheel or Push Ups.

As far as what size Kettlebell to purchase, you will outgrow a 22# bell very quick. When my wife first started to learn kettlebells herself, she bought a 15 pound kettlebell and let’s just say my 4 year old son can swing that thing for reps after he sees me do swings with my bells. If you are a healthy male that lifts then I wouldn’t go less than a 24kg / 53 pounds. That size bell will give you a great workout on all fronts. Even though a 55# bell is now considered a light bell for me, I still use it with great results when it comes to conditioning.

Hope this helps!

Thanks a lot for the inputs, it’s exactly what I was looking for.
All of this is for light conditioning/active recovery, right? It won’t impair my performances on following days heavy workouts? I’d use kettlebell the day after deadlift day, if this is relevant in any way.
As for the number of reps, i.e. 200 swings, should they be done in a single big set or should I split them somehow?

And thanks for the suggestion about the weight. I’d really prefer to buy a just one kettlebell (already tight on space here at home) so nailing the weight would be better. I’ll go for 24kg, from what you say it sounds like the most sensible choice. Now that I think about it I used to dumbbell snatch and swing with 20kgs for cardio supersets when I was younger and weaker

No problem.

Me personally, I’ve never had any issues with recovery the next day following a kettlebell workout even before/after a deadlift or squat day. Granted if you have terrible swing technique then your lower back may not like you very much. If you even did kettlebell work the day before your deadlift day, it can serve as a good “feeder” workout and will make your deadlifts feel even better. Done the day after a deadlift session I have found that it helps alleviate soreness in my posterior chain.

As far as number of reps, the 200 swings is meant to be split up however you like. I found 200 total to be a pretty good number that will get you breathing pretty hard but not kill you. A setup I love to hate is setting a timer for 20 minutes and doing Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM) 10 Swings and either 5-10 Push Ups depending on how decent you are at push ups. Doesn’t seem like much but seems like once minute 15 comes around those push ups start to feel a little harder. Plus as Dan John has mentioned, the getting up and down off the floor each time adds in a tiny bit of extra to the conditioning process.

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Seconded on the weight. If you weight 170 pounds and do any regular weight training (sorry, I don’t know your current level, don’t recognize your handle from a training log?) you should get at minimum a 20kg, but I’d recommend a 24kg.

This is an excellent conditioning circuit.

My wife also is partial to a 20-minute circuit rotating between the following 4 exercises:

Goblet Squats
Russian Twists

…but that can be tricky with one kettlebell as she typically uses a lighter bell for the halos and Russian twists.

If you can do the same thing over and over again, I love simple EMOM workouts with only swings. If you need a little variety to keep yourself from getting bored, a pushup superset works well, or even a 4-exercise combo like my wife’s listed above.

Great input so far. Not much to add.

I’m not totally clear on what “light conditioning” is vs “heavy conditioning”, but active recovery I do understand. Even something as simple as a bunch of single Turkish get-ups can be a good way to loosen things up and get some blood flowing. With enough volume, you might “accidentally” bump up the cardio component, but it’s not a “cardio exercise” to be done quickly. A good TGU kinda reminds me of weighted yoga.

As far as what weight to get, I remember way back in the day (like 15+ years ago) when Pavel was just getting his name out there, the recommendation was to start with a 35-pounder for men and 18-pounder for women. I also remember ordering one of each and feeling just a little bad for the Fedex guy. But, yeah, times have changed and I don’t think those are the standard starting points anymore.

Have you considered making your own KB handle out of floor flange and pipe? I admit they’re ugly as sin, but for $10-15 they get the job done and you can load them with whatever weight you want. I’ve never used mine for anything other than swings however, so can’t really comment on how effective they are for cleans.

yeah, Dan john has a lot of good kettlebell workouts, this came to mind:

I wasn’t sure which one to buy initially either, but ended up getting a 55lb KB. It was brutal at first while doing swings. After several months though, I’m ready for an 88lb KB.

Several mornings a week, or when I’m traveling and in hotel rooms, I like to do:

200 swings in as little time as possible.
sets of 30 swings with rows/presses/pushups/squats in between
a circuit like Activities Guy mentioned.

Yeah, I have shifted to more of a running/barbell focus so I am doing less KB these days, but if I am traveling and gym access is spotty, I still may take one along on road trips and do “200 swings divvied up into EMOM sets of 20” (or the same thing with snatches, if I’ve brought a lighter bell…I have even flown with a 35-pound kettlebell and used it for high-rep snatches). KB’s are also perfect for I-have-no-time-to-get-to-the-gym days, and I’m also thinking that when we have our first kid, it will be a good way to get a workout like “put baby in crib / playpen and work out for bouts of a few minutes in between baby’s desire for attention.”

How did you do this? I tried a bowling ball bag, but it couldn’t support my 55lb bell very well.

I’m in the same boat. I know that will probably be something that happens in the next 1-2 years. I’ve prepared as well as I can by building a home gym, but I’m sure I’ll get to a point where 5-10 minutes is all I’ve got and stare at my squat rack and KB and go with the KB.

I also used a bowling ball bag…taking one step back:

For home use, I have a lovely set of Rogue KB’s (26, 35, 44, 53, 88) but I didn’t really plan on taking any of those on a flight…I did some research and concluded that since people are allowed to take things like bowling balls, golf clubs, etc as checked luggage I could see no reason why a KB should be prohibited. Just in case it was dicey, I bought a cheapo 35-pounder via Craigslist to be my “airline” KB. My thinking on the weight was that most airlines have a weight limit of 50 pounds per checked bag, so the 35-pounder was the right size to include the weight of the bag and some padding around it while staying under the 50 pound limit. Although a 35 is light for me, it’s still enough to do some snatches, and you can get creative with some weird exercises like halos and other stuff that I don’t normally do.

The bag that I bought has 2 compartments for bowling balls; it stands vertically so one ball would rest on top of the other. Here’s how I pack it:

  1. Place old towel on the very bottom of bag.
  2. Place 35-pound bell in bag in “lower half” compartment.
  3. Pack old towels on either side of KB and on top.
  4. Secure “lower half” compartment
  5. Place shoes, workout clothes, etc in “upper half” of bag

I agree that my bag wouldn’t travel very well with just the bell (the towels are needed for some extra support and padding), and the 55-pounder would probably be too heavy. 35 is probably about as heavy of a weight as I would put in the bag and feel good about it; with anything heavier, I would be worried that it might bust something.

I’ve done this for three or four trips now. Once my bag did get opened for inspection, but it’s always arrived on time. I do usually leave a little hand-written note explaining what a kettlebell is along with a picture of me lifting a KB to show that it’s a real thing used for exercise…I would love to have seen the TSA agent reaction the first time they opened my bag and saw that…

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All great posts, thanks to everybody

Sounds like a great option and the one i’ll probably stick to. Basic EMOM swings sounds good enough, I’ll skip the push ups most likely, at least at the beginning, I’m a slow person lol.
If I understood EMOM correctly, in a 20 minute circuit with 200 swings to make I should do 10 swings each minute, and whatever amount of time remains each minute I’ll rest. Correct?

Yes I don’t keep a training log because I don’t post that much.
I’ve been lifting 1 year and I’m 3 months into 5/3/1 now, still novice level, currently getting near to 2xbw deadlift and 80%bw overhead press as max lifts, so still a long way to go.

Hmmm it’s a difference I’ve been told about in the 5/3/1 forum. Heavy conditioning is doing stuff like farmer walks, intense rope jumping and such. Light conditioning is man walks with vests, running and such.
Not sure if it makes much sense but I do loaded carries twice a week (once overhead carry, once farmer walks) at the end of the workouts, then I wanted something lighter to do at home on two other days other than man walks

This is useful. Depending on how I handle the KB and initial swings workout I might then go into this progression (maybe adding just one movement at a time, either pushups or goblet squats)

You may still be “novice level” but if you’re doing 5/3/1 and you can deadlift near 2xBW at 170 pounds, then I definitely recommend a 24kg (53-pound) kettlebell as your first one. Anything less and you’ll find it too light for swings in pretty short order.


Noted, thanks guys!
Gonna pick up the KB tomorrow and start :slight_smile:

OK I’ve tried once. 200 swings, 20 min EMOM. Solid stuff, I liked it a lot. I feel I have to work on form with the swing cause I noticed I should go down with the torso as parallel to the ground as possible, looking at the videos I noticed that women seem to do it much better than men on average (maybe due to less weight + more flexibility).

Only thing - the next day my traps were really really sore. Is this normal? I did the swings on Wednesday, came from Deadlift day on Tuesday and Overhead Press day on Monday so my traps already had their fair share of work done, but it surprised me how much they were sore.

Also, I noticed I got faster after the first half. Meaning, the whole thing felt heavier in the first 5 sets, it took me about 20-25 sec to do each group of 10 swings. Then from sets 5-10 it took 19-20 sec and from sets 10 to 20 it was more in the 15-17 secs range, and overall it felt lighter.

How ‘parallel to the ground’ are you talking about? The swing is an explosive hip hinge movement, more like a romanian deadlift than a good morning. You definitely don’t want to bend over so your chest is flat to the ground.

I found this article useful when learning the swing.

I was referring to a T Nation article with this video:

these were referred more or less as perfect swings and this is a screencap, her torso ends up being pretty much parallel to the ground on each rep

But I’ve noticed the difference with this kind of swing:

Reading the article right now

There are differences of opinion on how swings should be done. Personally of those 2 examples I prefer the type demonstrated in the StrongFirst video (which I believe is similar to that described in the article I linked). I find the slightly more upright body posture and hip snap on initiation has more carry over to athletic movements and is protective of the lower back. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination though.