10 Kettlebell Complexes To Torch Fat And Build Muscle

The Kettlebell Complex is arguably the fastest way to strip off unwanted body fat ASAP with minimal time investment and a unique way to build lean muscle, especially in the upper body – traps, shoulders, arms, and forearms.

In fact, I practically wrote “the book” on it – Kettlebell Muscle, back in 2010.

And I was tagged with the moniker, “Captain Complex” by Pavel Tsatsouline, back at an RKC kettlebell certification in Budapest, Hungary, in 2009, where we used complexes to reduce the kettlebell technique learning curve and mitigate the need for translators.

The kettlebell complex it seems, speaks a universal language.

Before we go any further, we should probably define a Complex, because it’s been bastardized over the last decade or so.

What Is A Kettlebell Complex?

Complex: A series of compound exercises performed sequentially with the same weight (kettlebell) and without rest. All the reps for one exercise are completed before moving on to the next exercise in the sequence.

Here’s an example

Swing x 5
Clean x 5
Press x 5

A kettlebell complex then is a complex performed using a kettlebell. Or two kettlebells.

Let’s not confuse this with a “Chain,” which is similar.

Chain: A series of compound exercises performed sequentially with the same kettlebell in which each exercise is preformed once before the sequence is started again. Each time the sequence is performed is considered one repetition.

Here’s an example:

(Swing + Clean + Press) x 5

Rutgers University, where I first learned about Complexes

I first learned about complexes as a greenhorn college strength & conditioning coach in 1997 at Rutgers University.

Someone had left a Muscle & Fitness magazine on my desk and I perused it during one of my breaks between teams. In it, I found an article by Romanian Strength Coach Emeritus, Istvan “Steve” Javorek on barbell complexes.

They were very similar to the warm ups I was introduced to as an Olympic Weightlifter back in 1995, but I’d never thought of them for anything past the warm up.

This opened a whole new world to me and I immediately tried Javorek Barbell Complex #1 with several of the guys on the wrestling team. They of course immediately loved them. 

And I’ve been using them in some way shape or form, either with dumbbells or kettlebells with my clients, or kettlebells and barbells with myself.

10 Reasons To Use Kettlebell Complexes

double kettlebell press

1 – Burn Fat

This is arguably THE most common reason for using kettlebell complexes. People are always looking for the “fastest” way to burn off lovehandles, the gut, etc.

Kettlebell complexes work because of their structure. They require a large amount of work and they create a high oxygen debt – they make you breathe hard, burning more calories, and therefore, can help you strip off body fat.

2 – Build Muscle

This was a game changing paradigm and the premise of my book, Kettlebell Muscle, published in January 2010. When structured properly, and especially when using a pair of kettlebells, complexes can help stimulate lean muscle tissue growth.

They do this through by stimulating the 3 primary factors of muscle growth, proposed by Brad Schoenfeld, PhD in his research of the scientific literature on hypertrophy

However, because the loads are relatively light they do so primarily through the factor of Metabolic Stress, which increases a number chemical and hormonal responses within the body to produce muscle.

To quote Schoenfeld:

Metabolic stress manifests as a result of exercise that relies on anaerobic glycolysis for ATP production, which results in the subsequent buildup of metabolites such as lactate, hydrogen ion, inorganic phosphate, creatine, and others (169,178). Muscle ischemia also has been shown to produce substantial metabolic stress, and potentially produces an additive hypertrophic effect when combined with glycolytic training (136,182). The stress-induced mechanisms theorized to mediate the hypertophic response include alterations in hormonal milieu, cell swelling, free-radical production, and increased activity of growth-oriented transcription factors (50,51,171). It also has been hypothesized that a greater acidic environment promoted by glycolytic training may lead to increased fiber degradation and greater stimulation of sympathetic nerve activity, thereby mediating an increased adaptive hypertrophic response (22). 

At the end of the day, we think it works like this:

The increased metabolic stress triggers the release of testosterone and growth hormone, your body’s main muscle-building hormones.

3 – Improve General Conditioning / GPP

General Conditioning and GPP or General Physical Preparation refers to a broad array of physical capabilities that humans in general, and athletes specifically, need to function and perform well. 

Abilities like:

Walking for distance

Picking up objects from the ground

Placing objects over head

Running

Jumping

Lifting heavier than normal objects

… And so on…

4 – Improve Respiratory Muscle Strength

This one is an interesting one. Your respiratory muscles include your diaphragm and your intercostal muscles – the muscles between your ribs. When you’re performing complexes, one side of your rib cage, or maybe both, depending on if whether you’re using one kettlebell or two –

Are compressed for a duration of time. 

This makes taking a full deep breath hard.

These muscles strain to expand fully, and are therefore trained to get stronger in order for you to get as much air in your lungs a possible so you can keep working without passing out.

As a unique side benefit, this will also make your abs stronger.

5 – Improve Grip Strength

Pavel Tsatsouline, the Father of the Modern Kettlebell Revolution, has stated that training your abdominals and grip make your entire body stronger.

One of the ways to build grip strength is to hold an object for time. That object in this case happens to be a kettlebell. If you’re doing several sets of ballistic exercises in a row in your complex, like Swings, then Cleans, then Snatches, then your grip is going to be taxed Big Time.

This in turn will make your whole body stronger.

6 – Build Mental Toughness

There comes a time in every complex, where you’re huffing and puffing, muscles burning, when you question whether you quit or keep going. It’s a battle between your mind and your body. 

This is very simple way to build mental toughness.

double kettlebell clean

7 – Time Efficient

The quickest workout in my book Kettlebell Muscle is a 3-exercise complex. You’re done for the day in 7 minutes.)

That’s right – 7 minutes.

Think about that – who doesn’t have 7 minutes to work out?

No one, that’s who.

Now of course, each kettlebell complex workout will vary based upon the number of exercises included, the sets, and the reps, along with the rest periods, but I think you can see, there’s absolutely zero reason you couldn’t get in fantastic shape using nothing but kettlebell complexes 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes.

8 – Work Weak Points

According to Coach Javorek, and I’ve found this to be true over the last 20+ years, your complexes should be built off your weakest exercise. For example, the kettlebell press.

And where you choose to place that exercise, makes it more or less difficult to perform, due to fatigue.

Let’s use our kettlebell press example. Here are 3 different complexes that challenge your weak points – in this case your pressing muscles – much, much differently.

EASY:
Press x 5
Front Squat x 5
Snatch x 5

MEDIUM:
Front Squat x 5
Press x 5
Snatch x 5

HARD:
Front Squat x 5
Snatch x 5
Press x 5

Running through these 3 kettlebell complexes at various times in your training, in that order, will make your pressing musculature, and therefore your kettlebell press, much stronger, without having to use heavier bells.

9 – Refine Technique

This sounds counterintuitive, in the face of the heavy fatigue created by your complex.

However, this is something I learned from my first Olympic lifting coach, Mark Cohen, back in 1995. I had a nasty habit of pulling with my arms instead of extending my hips. So, he’d let me. 

He’d put heavier and heavier weights on the bar until I wore my arms out and was forced to drive with my legs and hips. And the result? 

Voila! Near perfect squat cleans!

It was in Hungary back in 2009 at the RKC kettlebell certification that I put this to the test. We were pressed for time between a late start on Day 1 and the language barrier – having to use a translator.

So I tested out complexes of double kettlebell cleans, double kettlebell front squats, and double kettlebell presses with my team. We had great success. So I told Pavel, and we then used them with the entire group.

It was a thing of beauty to see that little bit of fatigue turn sloppy kettlebell cleans into crisp ones… Soft backs on the kettlebell press into stiff ones… and kettlebell front squats become near ramrod straight. 

And of course, as their grips fatigued and hear rates soared, the kettlebell instructor candidates figured out how to perform crisp, hip-driven double kettlebell swings. 

10 – Teach Calm Under Stress

This is a more esoteric reason that’s very similar to the “mental toughness” aspect of training.

When your heart moves from pounding in your chest to pounding in your chest and your forearms are on fire…

It’s tempting to panic.

This is a time to work on centering yourself by staying in the moment and focusing on your breath. (Plus, you’ll work those respiratory muscles too.)

You need to learn how to keep the right muscles tight, and the right muscles loose. And unfortunately, this one of the only real or true ways to do so. 

And in doing so, you remain in control, which produces a sense of calm.

Designing Your Own Kettlebell Complex?

How do you design your own kettlebell complex to achieve your goals?

double kettlebell swing

First, determine what your goal is: Build muscle, lose fat, improve conditioning, LGN (Look Good Nekkid)… yes…

Second, determine your resources.

How many kettlebells do you have? 

What sizes are they? Light? Medium? Heavy?

How many of the kettlebell exercises can you do safely with them? 

One? Some? Most? All?

Third, how much time do you have to train or workout each week?

1… 2… 3 hours? More? 

This will determine how many complexes you should do a week and for how long. I always advise erring on the side of caution and going easy at first.

Fourth, assess your strengths and weaknesses.

For most people, the upper body pressing muscles are the weakest link in the complex. So build yours around the kettlebell press.

Can you squat? 

If not, don’t include the kettlebell front squat. 

Stick to the ballistics – the kettlebell swing, clean, and snatch.

How’s your conditioning?

If it’s subpar, then you should start with fewer exercises in your complex – 3 is a good number.

And use longer rests between sets.

If it’s stellar? Use up to 6 exercises. And use shorter rests between sets.

Double Kettlebell Complexes

As great as kettlebell complexes are, I don’t believe their “full power” is realized until you use a pair of kettlebells to perform them.

Double kettlebell front squat

Why?

Simple.

You can use more total weight and create a greater stimulus for change.

For example:

If you’re using a 24kg for your single kettlebell complex and you do 100 reps total, that’s 2400kg lifted on that day.

By contrast, if you use a pair of 16kg kettlebells for the same complex, and you do 100 reps, you’ve just lifted 3200kg – 

Or 33% more work… and you probably did it in less time because you didn’t have to switch sides.

Plus, double kettlebell complexes are harder and more challenging.

They double down on the 10 reasons to use kettlebell complexes making them seem more like 20. 

Standard double kettlebell exercises I include are:

Double Kettlebell Swing

Double Kettlebell Clean

Double Kettlebell Front Squat

Double Kettlebell [Military] Press

Double Kettlebell Snatch

Double Kettlebell Push Press

Double Kettlebell High Pull

… and sometimes I’ll even throw in the ever brutal, Double Kettlebell Jerk, which I do not recommend for beginners.

Examples of Double Kettlebell Complex Workouts

Below are 10 video examples of double kettlebell complex workouts. You can use these as stand alone workouts… 

… Use them as “finishers”…

Or put them into some kind of program that you can use.

(Speaking of programs, these are all workouts from the 20 different kettlebell complex programs in my book, More Kettlebell Muscle, which you can get here.)

I primarily use these double kettlebell complexes for fat loss or conditioning. However, if you eat a caloric surplus, you can build muscle with them too.

————————

#1 – The Olympic 3.0

https://youtu.be/pobsnkUG4hk

Here are the details:

(Make sure you’re using a 10rep max for your double kettlebell press.)

Double Kettlebell Clean           x5

Double Kettlebell Press           x5

Double Kettlebell Snatch         x5

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

*Work: Rest = 1:2 means time yourself performing this double kettlebell complex. Then rest twice as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 minutes before doing another set.

————————

#2 – The Shoulder Smoker 

https://youtu.be/j6wKbjrcSbs

Here are the details:

(Make sure you’re using a 12 rep max for your double kettlebell press.)

Double Kettlebell Snatch           x6

Double Kettlebell Front Squat    x6

Double Kettlebell Press             x6

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

*Work: Rest = 1:2 means time yourself performing this double kettlebell complex. Then rest twice as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 minutes before doing another set.

————————

#3 – Jerk Werk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFvxtKimarU

Using this double kettlebell complex for faster fat loss will be challenging – it’s called “Jerk Werk,” and is based around the double kettlebell jerk. If you don’t know how to perform the double kettlebell jerk (or any jerk), simply substitute it with the double kettlebell push press. Almost the same, just requires less coordination and won’t jack your heart rate up as high. 

Here are the details:

(Make sure you’re using a 10+ rep max for your double kettlebell jerk.)

Double Kettlebell Clean    x 5

Double Kettlebell Jerk      x 5

Double Kettlebell Front Squat   x 5

Double Kettlebell Jerk      x5

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:3*

*Work: Rest = 1:3 means time yourself performing this double kettlebell complex. Then rest 3X as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 3 minutes before doing another round.

————————

#4 – Clean ‘Em Up 2.0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irNQwipRITE

Here are the details:

(Make sure you’re using a 10 rep max for your double kettlebell press.)

Double Kettlebell Clean      x5

Double Kettlebell Press        x5

Double Kettlebell Snatch   x5

Double Kettlebell Front Squat   x5

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

*Work: Rest = 1:2 means time yourself performing this double kettlebell complex. Then rest twice as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 minutes before doing another set.

————————

#5 – Sir Snatch A Lot 

https://youtu.be/xFFlsslCe9M

This double kettlebell complex workout is one of three days – the light day – inside a program called, “Sir Snatch A Lot,” a double kettlebell snatch based workout program. It’s designed primarily for fat loss but can be used to build muscle too.

Here are the workout details:

(Make sure you’re using a 12 rep max for your double kettlebell press.)

Double Kettlebell Snatch           x6

Double Kettlebell Press     x6

Double Kettlebell Front Squat    x6

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

*Work: Rest = 1:2 means time yourself performing this kettlebell complex. Then rest twice as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 minutes before doing another set.

————————

#6 – The ‘Up & Over’

https://youtu.be/82fLlPRuy_s

Here are the workout details:

Double Kettlebell Swing  x6

Double Kettlebell High Pull  x6

Double Kettlebell Snatch            x6

Double Kettlebell Push Press     x6

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

*Work: Rest = 1:2 means time yourself performing this kettlebell complex. Then rest twice as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 minutes before doing another set.

————————

#7 – The Upper Back Attack

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7EZ3Wg95Ik

This double kettlebell complex fat burning workout is one of three days – the light day – inside a program called, “The Upper Back Attack,” a double kettlebell snatch based workout program. It’s designed primarily for fat loss AND building lean muscle. 

Here are the workout details:

Double Kettlebell High Pull  x5

Double Kettlebell Snatch     x5

Double Kettlebell Press     x5

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

————————

#8 – The A & P

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EWlZvfTPxI

The “A” is for Anterior – as in Anterior Chain – your flexor group, especially your abs. The “P” is for Posterior – as in Posterior Chain – your extensor muscle group, especially your hips and hammies. (Ok, upper back too). Today’s complex will put the hurt on your anterior chain if you get the kettlebell size right.

Remember to keep your abs pressurized – they’ll most likely “feel the love” after the Push Presses.

This double kettlebell complex for burning fat is one of four days – Anterior, Day 1 – inside a program called, “The A&P,” a double kettlebell complex workout program. It’s designed primarily for fat loss AND building lean muscle. 

Here are the details:

Double Kettlebell Press  x30 seconds

Double Kettlebell Front Squat            x30 seconds

Double Kettlebell Push Press     x30 seconds

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2-3*

*Work: Rest = 1:2-3 means time how long it takes you to do this kettlebell complex. Then rest 2X-3X as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 to 3minutes before doing your next set.

————————

#9 – The Universe

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLhCCKaRxQo

The double kettlebell complex for fat loss in this video is the Light Day of a 3-day a week, 6-week program called “The Universe,” found inside my book, More Kettlebell Muscle.

It’s based on the double kettlebell swing. 

Here are the details:

(Make sure you’re using a 10 rep max for your double kettlebell snatch.)

Double Kettlebell Swing     x5

Double Kettlebell Snatch    x5

Double Kettlebell Swing     x5

Double Kettlebell Clean     x5

Double Kettlebell Swing     x5

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 2 to 4
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

*Work: Rest = 1:2 means time yourself performing this double kettlebell complex. Then rest twice as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 minutes before doing another set.

————————

#10 – You Don’t Know Squat, 2.0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHd0OcGoFHk

This is a great kettlebell complex that will demand your attention leaving no muscle unused when done for maximum rounds and minimal rest: Abs, legs, hips, upper back, shoulders, arms and hands. It’s a great kettlebell workout for stimulate fat loss because the front squat restricts the movement of your ribcage, preventing you from taking a full breath. This of course limits your oxygen and the amount of air you can consume.

Here are the details of this complex:

(Make sure you’re using a 10 rep max for your double kettlebell snatch.)

Double Kettlebell Front Squat  x3

Double Kettlebell Swing            x3

Double Kettlebell Front Squat  x3

Double Kettlebell Clean     x3

[+]  Men: 16kg-24kg
[+]  Women: 8kg-16kg
[+]  Sets/Rounds: 3 to 5
[+]  Rest: Beginner – As necessary; Advanced – W:R=1:2*

*Work: Rest = 1:2 means time yourself performing this double kettlebell complex. Then rest twice as long. Example: It takes you 1 minute to perform. Rest 2 minutes before doing another set.

Grab Your “Done-For-You” Kettlebell Complex Workout Programs Below.

Below you’ll discover 20 different kettlebell complex workout programs you can start using today to burn off stomach fat and build muscle in all the right places.

Simply Click The Image Below To Learn More.

More Kettlebell Muscle | kettlebell complexes

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If you’d like a free double kettlebell complex workout program where the exercises, sets, reps, and rest periods are all spelled out for you, day-by-day, then download your free copy of “THE WOLFby clicking the image below.

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