The 2 Best Bodyweight Exercise To Add To Your Kettlebell Workouts

I’ve written pretty extensively over the last 4 to 6 months about the benefits of bodyweight training. In fact, I just finished up about 4 months of almost exclusively bodyweight training – centered around pull-up varations, pistols, and parallel dips.

I’ve gotta tell you, I haven’t felt this good in a long, long time.

I can basically roll out of bed and do a pistol on each leg. I believe this is an important litmus test – as the Pistol is a key indicator of your “reflexive stability.”

And that was something I couldn’t do before I focused on bodyweight training.

Bodyweight Exercise #1: The Pistol

For that reason alone the Pistol is my #1 bodyweight exercise you should look to incorporate into your kettlebell training.

It’s a key indicator to your overall health and performance.

I don’t care how strong you are with a bar or pair of kettlebells, if you can’t do a bodyweight Pistol – without counterbalance – you’ve got some work to do. In the long run, you’ll be stronger.

And as an addendum, you might be wondering just how strong you can get by doing bodyweight Pistols. I recently just put a pair of 24kg kettlebells in the rack and did a Pistol on each leg. (It was a 9 out of 10 on the RPE scale.) So really, the sky’s the limit.

I’ve written at length about the Pistol – click here to check the ol’ archives.

Bodyweight Exercise #2: The Chin Up

Not the Pull Up, the Chin Up. It’s performed with your palms facing you.

And there are several good reasons for this.

1. Most people type or write all day.

This places a long duration load on their shoulders, internally rotating them. The lowly Chin reverses that loading and aligns the wrists and elbows.

2. Loaded stretching and combination cinching of the front of the body.

This is actually pretty cool when you think about it. The front of the body becomes short and tight from sitting all day long. You can very easily stretch it out and then load it by doing Chins. You can also decompress the spine and increase your spine health. Once you can get strong enough you can add weight to your Chins. This will make the front of your body contract in a healthy way, unlike sitting.

Here’s an interesting side note:

We in the fitness industry say that loading the posterior chain is good for countering sitting. I agree to some extent.

But I also disagree.

You have to address the abs too. And not just all the trendy counter-rotational stuff that’s being popularized. You actually have to get some trunk flexion and rotation in there too. (If you don’t believe me, go back and study your child development…)

So the Chin Up is a way to help get this done.

3. Functional Antagonistic Balance (FAB?)

I can’t remember where I first learned this – probably Gary Gray or Vern Gambetta about 15 years ago. However, I forgot all about it until Jedd Johnson of the Diesel Crew reminded me about this in one of his bending DVDs.

Essentially, it’s performing the opposite movements to your main sporting and/or exercise/training movements.

The Chin Up is a great FAB exercise for pretty much all kettlebell training. Here’s why:

KBs.                                      v.                    .Chins
– palms pronated                                  – palms supinated
– feet loaded                                            – feet unloaded
– spine loaded                                        – spine unloaded
– posterior chain emphasis                – anterior chain emphasis
– extension dominant                          – flexion dominant
– lower body intensive                          – upper body intensive

And of course there’s my current favorite version of the Chin – a Chin with an “L-Seat.”

This is where you raise your legs so they’re parallel with the floor and then hold them there throughout your set. Great stretch on the lats, great load on the abs.

How To Incorporate Chins And Pistols Into Your Kettlebell Workouts

There really is no right way. But here are some simple ideas.

1. Work the Pistol and its variations before all ballistics work.

Treat it like practice and you’ll actually open up your hips and make your Swings, Snatches, and Cleans that much better.

2. Work the Pistol in combination with the Get Up.

Do a set of GUs, then work Pistol variations. Go back and forth between them. Each will make the other better.

3. Do a set of Chins after all upper body kettlebell work, like Presses.

This is a great pairing for double kettlebell work.

4. Do a set of Chins after all ballistics work.

Again, another great pairing with exercises like the Double Swing or Double Front Squat.

There are some ideas to get you started.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

16 comments… add one
  • Drew Franyo Oct 6, 2011 @ 14:31

    Geoff,

    Since I am on a limited budget, body-weight exercises are key to my workout, too.
    Between kb’s, pistols and chins – how could I incorporate them into “KB Muscle” workout?
    Lastly, I have been also working on the planche pushup to help blast my chest. It is a long work in progress, but I feel that once I progress to where I can do the “planche” and “pistol” – I’ll know that I’ve progress beyond the “mundane”

    • GEOFFN Oct 6, 2011 @ 16:07

      Drew – I wouldn’t incorporate them into KM. Just do as written.

  • ralph Oct 6, 2011 @ 16:36

    Mike Boyle recommened to me using a “palms facing each other” when doing a chin -up. He claims its safer on the shoulders.Your thoughts

    • GEOFFN Oct 6, 2011 @ 18:23

      Mike Boyle’s a smart guy. He’s probably right. The problem most people face when doing Pull Ups are keeping their shoulders sucked in the sockets. This leads the upper arm to internally rotate and the shoulders to elevate, destabilizing the shoulder joint during the PU. Bad for the rotator cuff for sure. Chins seem to “pre-set” the upper arms into external rotation and help keep them there, especially if you cue off pulling with the pinky.

      That’s my 2 cents…

  • Greg Oct 6, 2011 @ 18:18

    Geoff,
    I was really happy to see this post because it validates what I have been doing for the last 3 weeks. I have been doing weighted pull ups/chin ups latters on mondays and thursdays and in between the latters I do a heavy (for me) get up and a few pistols. I do my kb ballistics on tuesdays and fridays. The pistols were rough at first, but I was persistant and now I can do a few with out a counter balance. The advice on pistols you have posted was a great help. Alternating get ups and pull ups also seems to be very affective, I cant explain it very well but they seem to balance each other out some how.

    • GEOFFN Oct 6, 2011 @ 18:23

      Very cool, Greg. Glad to help.

  • Sean Schniederjan Oct 6, 2011 @ 18:30

    Switching TGUs and pistols is brilliant! Thanks for all this great info Geoff.

    • GEOFFN Oct 6, 2011 @ 20:49

      Thanks, Sean. See you soon.

  • Abdiel Rodriguez Oct 6, 2011 @ 19:12

    Cool article! I would also mention the push up although not for any of the reasons Geoff talked. The humble push up is a good exercise for a lot of reasons one of them being also shoulder health. The free action of the scapulae in protraction strengthen the serratus anterior muscle. Some of the brightest PT minds have stated that serratus anterior activation is as important if not more for shoulder health as the balance between internal and external rotators. That being said, you can’t correctly press a kettlebell without the serratus firing beacuse you scapular stability for pressing that chunk of iron depends on it! And just because push ups are a closed kinetic chain exercise (that tend to naturally create co-contraction and activation of the stabilizers) I have found easier to first teach a correct push ups with all the mechanic subtleties and then the k press.

    By the way, I have a question Geoff. I can do a pistol with my right but not with the left. Have a little less dorsiflexion with the left and it challenge more my left glute. Actually I collapse a few inches at the low end. Do you have any suggestion or modification of the exercise for me?

    • GEOFFN Oct 6, 2011 @ 20:51

      Abdiel – thanks for pointing that out. I like Push Ups too, but I’ll still take the Chins and Pistols over the Push Up.

      RE: Your Pistol – lots could be going on there – hip instability, core instability/lack of strength, lack of ankle mobility, etc…. You should go see a FMS/CK-FMS practitioner.

      • Abdiel Rodriguez Oct 6, 2011 @ 22:06

        Thanks! Love chin ups too and would love to be able to do full pistols with both legs. I’ll find out the nearest FMS/CK-FMS soon. Great article.

  • Ian Oct 6, 2011 @ 21:43

    Great article geof…and such a coincidence. I have spent the last 3 months focused on these 2 exercises. I have read your posts for 2yrs or so, and this is the first that I am commenting on, as I wish to include a couple of tips which may be of use to others….
    I could always manage 3 – 5 chin ups since I was 19 even after not doing them for years at a time…but only now (at 47)can I do them COMFORTABLY…..That is very important…no pain in the shoulders or elbows…no twinged neck etc….

    my method is very simple….First 15 -25 minutes of joint mobility…(Scott Sonnon has the best warm ups out there in my opinion)
    The first set of chinups are all singles. I grab the bar , raise myself up slowly and lower slowly to full hang….then jump off the bar. I pace around the chinup bar shaking out my shoulders and elbows and I concentrate on how I feel….any tightness soreness etc… I then repeat the process. I find that by doing a warm up set of 5 – 8 singles in this way really has helped me. The chin up is such a tough exercise that involves so many muscles and joints I find that these singles really get everything loosened up and working together. Once I have done the first set I then move onto a different exercise (be it side press or Pavels deadlift variations, divebomber pushups or pistols), then come back and do another set of chin ups, usually 5 x 2reps. This way in the workout I can do 5 sets of 5 deadlifts, or divebomers or whatever, mixed with up to 50 chin ups.
    I now do chin ups 4 – 5 days ….any where from just 5 singles up to 50…..but rarely more than 5reps at a time.

    What helped me with the pistol is to do “bottom squats”…..feet together squat rock bottom, then just raise up to parallel and lower down again….all very slowly…sets of 20. IT is very important to keep your belly “stuck” to your quads on this. After the 20reps try to straighten your legs, all the time lengthening your spine…( wont help ya pistols but is just plain good for your back!!) When I first started these I could hardly do 10 reps before my legs were singing! Also at the rock bottom, just stick one leg out, bring back stick out the other (hocey pokey style)….
    Again I need to warm up loosen my knees with a few minutes of joint mobility immediately before my pistol workout, which is usually all singles up to 12 per workout, but I can manage 3 pistols each leg.

    Hope this may help…..But I do think that you should include backbends…or bridges or supermans into your workouts…at least 2x a week….again more as mobility thing!!!

    P.s. after doing my chin up routine for the last 2 months I was really happy that last week I managed 2 consecutive Hip-rollovers( a mix of a pull up and leg raise where you drive your hips up and rollover the chinup bar.)- Trust me it looks and feels really impressive. I last tried this about year ago and pulled a neck (or back ) muscle halfway through and just ended up hanging over the bar like a soggy beach towel…..

  • Clement Oct 7, 2011 @ 0:09

    Hi Geof, I couldn’t help noticing that you emphasised that you’d place the chin-up instead of the pull-up in your list. Why would that be?

    Although I’m better at the chin-up than the pull-up (my body just flies all over the place when I do pull-ups), people like Chad Waterbury and Jay Ferruggia have said that chin-ups place an unhealthy stress on your wrists and elbows. I just wanted to know your thoughts on that.

    Personally, I do both chins and pull-ups, switching them every 4 weeks.

  • Kren Milton May 16, 2012 @ 6:16

    Interesting exercises offered, actually…Though for me as for a woman it’s too tough, IMHO)) Anyway, can you advise some training exercises similar to the two enlisted but in a lighter form? I would be very grateful for the answer))

  • Warren Jul 31, 2015 @ 0:31

    Geoff,
    Your blog posts are always good. I especially like this one as it confirmed that I am on the right track in my training. I have been adding body weight excercises for a few weeks now and really like how I feel when finished.

    • GEOFFN Jul 31, 2015 @ 14:55

      Thanks, Warren. Appreciate it. Let me know how your training goes.

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