Resources > The Complete Guide to Kettlebell WODs (Updated 2021)

The Complete Guide to Kettlebell WODs (Updated 2021)

Oh, kettlebells, we hope you never change. You're one of the most gruelling pieces of equipment to get thrown into a WOD and the one that makes us hurt the most, and yet here you are, back again, with more WODs to throw at us.

It's our own fault. As CrossFitters, we enjoy chasing that pain and kettlebells are a great way to do that. Not only are you doing the movements you'd expect to do in a WOD, but now you're throwing an added level of stability and core control. As if the workout wasn't hard enough, we just keep making it harder, all thanks to the glory of kettlebells.

But enough talk! It's time to take a look at what kettlebells can do for us! That's why we've put together this guide to show you where kettlebells came from, what you can do with them, and some of the best WODs you can find out there! Be careful, though. The WODs will hurt! Though, it's all worth it in the end.

A worn kettlebell

Via Unsplash

Brief History Of Kettlebells

Kettlebells were born in Russia sometime in the 18th-century. It's typical of Russia to bring out a piece of equipment so potent that it would go on to be one of the most formidable weights in sports even 300+ years on. Originally, though, the first kettlebells (known as girya, or also abbreviated as "KB") were used to weigh crops and not even slightly considered for weightlifting.

Then, circus strongmen got hold of the girya in the 19th-century, which is when they developed into the kettlebells we know and love today. The weights were standardised, and they were used both recreationally and in competition. 1885 marked the birth of a kettlebell-specific lifting competition known as "girevoy sport" (most prevalent in Russia and other Eastern European countries.)

If you've seen a WOD featuring a kettlebell written down before, you'll often see the weight marked in poods. A pood is a Russian unit of measurement and is equal to 16.38kg (or 36.1lb), so 1 pood would be a 16kg kettlebell today, 1.5 poods would be 24kg (52.9lb), and so on.

The Main Kettlebell Movements In CrossFit

Whether you've been around CrossFit for years or have only just started, you've almost definitely experienced kettlebells in a workout before. Even if you haven't opted to use them yourself, you've at least seen them used. When most people first start CrossFit, and the WODs say you could either use a kettlebell or a dumbbell in a particular movement, almost everyone would always pick the stable and kind dumbbell over the wicked and cruel kettlebell.

But several kettlebell movements in CrossFit keep coming up in WODs. It's important to know what they are and how to do them, so you don't feel threatened the next time you see them on the board. In fact, you'll welcome the challenge by the end of this article (hopefully).

The main kettlebells movements that you're likely to see include:

US/Russian Kettlebell Swings

There are two variations of this bad boy, but both of them are the most popular choices for just about any WOD out there. You can either do them US-style (or original style, since CrossFit is a US-based company) or Russian-style. US Kettlebell Swings involve firing your hips to throw the kettlebell over your head and catch it when it's above your crown. Russian Kettlebell Swings are often heavier, and use your hip power to throw the kettlebell up to eye level.

View a video demonstration.

Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pull

One of the foundational movements of CrossFit, the Sumo Deadlift High Pull, can be performed with a kettlebell, too. It's a tricky one and, if you're a male, you have to be extra cautious about a particularly precious area, but it's great when thrown into a workout!

View a video demonstration.

Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up

Okay, you might not find this one in too many WODs because of the sheer complication of the movement. It's definitely not easy for beginners to do with a formidable mix of balance, coordination, strength, and stability. However, it's still a popular move in CrossFit that helps work on shoulder stability. Shoulder stability is a vital building block for many more significant movements.

View a video demonstration.

Kettlebell Deadlifts

These deadlifts always seem to be programmed into workouts when you least expect them! They seem easy enough since they're just like a barbell deadlift, except they make use of a kettlebell handle instead of a barbell one, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Kettlebell deadlifts catch up to you quick. You've got to know how to pace yourself if you want to give these a good go!

View a video demonstration.

Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Sometimes it's nice to do some squats in a WOD that don't require a barbell but are a little more challenging than a typical Air Squat. That's precisely what Goblet Squats are. Don't get me wrong, they're still incredibly hard, but they're an interesting variation on the Front Squat that can really burn out your legs.

View a video demonstration.

Kettlebell Snatch

Usually executed in a single-arm format (though it can be completed with two arms), the Kettlebell Snatch adds a brilliant new challenge to most workouts! It's a really technical lift that requires a lot of effort to retain solid form, but the reward from completing a workout with them is second to none!

View a video demonstration.

Analysis of Kettlebell workouts in CrossFit

We took a look at how often kettlebell movements were programmed into mainsite WODs on CrossFit.com over the past 20 years. As you can see from the chart below, they are not the most popular, with an average of 15 workouts including a kettlebell per year:

Chart showing how often kettlebell WODs appear on CrossFit.com

There has also been a general decline in the prevalence of the kettlebell, as seen by the yellow trendline. Since the high of 24 workouts in 2011 and 2013, we now see under 10 per year. Unsurprisingly, the most popular movement within these WODs has been the swing, showing up 89% of the time. Other movements include the lunge, one-legged squat (pistol), snatch, sumo-deadlift high-pull, and thruster.

The kettlebell has only appeared in 2 of the 15 years (13%) of the CrossFit Games; 2010 and 2011. In 2010, it appeared as part of Double Helen:

For time (22-min. cap):
Run 1,200 meters
63 kettlebell swings (1.5 pood)
36 pull-ups
Run 800 meters
42 kettlebell swings
24 pull-ups
Run 400 meters
21 kettlebell swings
12 pull-ups

In 2011, it appeared in "The End" workout (this was repeated three times):

Complete as many reps as possible in 3 minutes of:
20-calorie Row
30 Wall-ball Shots, 20-lb. ball
20 Toes-to-bars
30 Box jumps, 24-inch box
20 Sumo deadlift high pulls, 108-lb. kettlebell
30 Burpees
20 Shoulder-to-overheads, 135 lb.
Sled pull

Interestingly, the kettlebell has never made an appearance in the Open. Could next year be the year?

List of Example Kettlebell WODs

So, let's take a look at a few example WODs you can get out of kettlebells. I'll cover a few from each of the different modalities, too, so you get a good idea of what you can expect. Remember, you can find 1,000s of kettlebell WODs in our online generator and mobile apps here.

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Weightlifting Kettlebell WODs

For Time:
50-40-30-20-10
Kettlebell Goblet Squats
Kettlebell Swings

For Time:
21-15-9
Kettlebell Thrusters
Burpees

16 Min AMRAP:
10 Kettlebell Swings
15 Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pulls
20 Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Every time you drop the kettlebell, perform 4 hollow rocks.

14 Min EMOM:
Odd Minute: 10 Kettlebell Thrusters
Even Minute: 20 Kettlebell Swings

5 Rounds For Time:
20 Kettlebell Swings
15 Kettlebell Power Cleans
10 Box Jumps

Gymnastic Kettlebell WODs

8 Rounds for Time:
25 Kettlebell Swings
20 Walking lunges
10 Pull-Ups

For Time:
120 Air Squats
80 Kettlebell Swings
40 Push-Ups
60 Air Squats
40 Kettlebell Swings
20 Push-Ups
30 Air Squats
20 Kettlebell Swings
10 Push-Ups
15 Air Squats
10 Kettlebell Swings
5 Push-Ups

For Time:
500 Kettlebell Goblet Squats
Every time you break, perform 10 Kettlebell Russian Twists.

5 Rounds For Quality:
20 Kettlebell Russian Twists
20 Hollow Rocks
20 V-Ups

16 Min EMOM:
Min 1: 10 Kettlebell Swings + 10 Hollow Rocks
Min 2: 10 Kettlebell Goblet Squats + 10 Butterfly Sit Ups

16 Min AMRAP:
10 Kettlebell Swings
15 Kettlebell Sumo Dead Lift High Pulls
20 Kettlebell Goblet Squats

Every time you drop the kettlebell perform 4 hollow rocks.

Monostructural (Cardio) Kettlebell WODs

3 Rounds For Time:
400m Run
21 Kettlebell Swings
12 Burpees

20 Min AMRAP:
25 Kettlebell Swings
20 Double Unders
10 Pull-Ups

For Time:
100 Kettlebell Swings
EMOM perform 5 Box Jumps

Perform 100 kettlebell swings as quickly as possible, but every minute on the minute complete 5 box jumps until the 100 swings are complete.

Run Jackie Run:
For Time:
1000m Run
50 Kettlebell Thrusters
30 Pull-Ups

Helen:
3 Rounds For Time:
400m Run
21 Kettlebell Swings
12 Pull-Ups

16 Min EMOM:
Min 1: 15 Cal Assault Bike
Min 2: 15 Kettlebell Swings
Min 3: 15 Cal Row
Min 4: 15 Kettlebell Goblet Squats

Kettlebell being used in a gym

Via Unsplash

(in)Famous WODs With Kettlebells

Now we've looked at some basic WODs that you could implement into your training. Let's take a look at some of the (in)famous ones. You may already have heard about these ones, and often for all the wrong reasons! That's not to say they're bad, in fact, they can be a lot of fun! However, they're certainly going to push you beyond your limits! Good luck if you try one!

Kettlebell Karen:
150 Kettlebell Thrusters For Time
That might sound like a simple one, but give it a go and see what happens.

Death By Kettlebell Swings:
EMOM
Min 1: 1 Swing
Min 2: 2 Swings
Min 3: 3 Swings etc.
If you've ever done a "Death By" EMOM before, you'll understand the pain of this one. Sure, minutes 1-10 will probably be easy, but it's what happens after that that makes this one infamous!

Kettlebell DT:
5 Rounds For Time:
12 Kettlebell Deadlifts
9 Kettlebell Cleans
6 Kettlebell Push Jerk
DT is one of those workouts that is designed to be heavy and catches up with you quickly. You can do it with a barbell, dumbbells, or even kettlebells like in the variation above. Either way, it's not going to be a joyride!

Kettlebell Fran:
21-15-9 Reps For Time
Kettlebell Thrusters
Pull-Ups
One of the most iconic WODs in CrossFit comes with her very own kettlebell addition! I don't know what's more challenging, holding on for dear life with a barbell for 45 thrusters or feeling the life leave your body with a kettlebell instead.

Arnie Hero WOD:
For Time
21 Turkish Get-Ups, Right Arm
50 Kettlebell Swings
21 Overhead Squats, Left Arm
50 Kettlebell Swings
21 Overhead Squats, Right Arm
50 Kettlebell Swings
21 Turkish Get-Ups, Left Arm

I don't recommend this one unless you're a seasoned kettlebell veteran yourself and can consistently get reps of Turkish Get-Ups done! However, it's still worth the mention, as one of the hardest kettlebells WODs out there. If you can complete Arnie, you can say you've conquered the kettlebell.

The Turkish Get-Up

Via Unsplash

Warming Up With Kettlebells

Kettlebells are such a versatile workout tool that you really don't need much else to get your warm-up started before a big WOD. Provided you set yourself a few movements aside that will translate nicely over to your workout, that is.

If you've already got a WOD prepared (either one you're trying yourself or one your box has programmed), then that's great! You'll have a better idea of what to expect and can structure your kettlebell warm-up around that. If you don't have an idea what you're doing, don't worry! A few simple kettlebell priming movements will still go a long way to ensure your safety while you train.

One of the first things you should do is pick up a light kettlebell. I know that sounds silly to say, but I've seen way too many people start warming up in the gym and instantly going for a heavy 24-32kg kettlebell because that's the weight they plan on using in the workout. If you're going to use it in the workout, you shouldn't use it in the warm-up!

Now that's sorted, let's begin the warm-up. You'll first want to take a few priming movements that will correlate with the WOD that's about to occur. Take that light kettlebell and start with 10 Kettlebell Swings. But why Kettlebell Swings, I hear you ask? Nine times out of ten (or 89% of the time to be exact - see above!), the Kettlebell Swing is going to pop up, and it's a perfect place for you to start.

The Kettlebell Swing

Via Unsplash

Then, decide what movements might come up next. If you've got a squat exercise, such as a heavy Front Squat or a Thruster, it's wise to throw some Goblet Squats in there with your kettlebell straight after the swings. Similarly, if you've got Deadlifts coming up, use a light kettlebell to do some Kettlebell Deadlifts. The warm-up will vary, but the point is you should know how best to go about it to ready yourself for the workout.

If it helps, remember that nearly every movement that you can do with dumbbells or a barbell in a WOD can be replicated with lighter kettlebells.

Warm Up Replacement Examples

  • 140kg Deadlift = 10 12kg Kettlebell Deadlifts
  • 50kg Front Squats For Volume = 3 Rounds of 10 12kg Kettlebell Goblet Squats
  • 1-Rep Max Snatch Testing Day = 10 12kg Alternating Kettlebell Snatches

Hopefully, that helps to clear it up a little bit. There are always ways to bring a movement back to the fundamentals and make the most of them with a kettlebell warm-up. Also, because of the extra stability that kettlebells require of you, all those tiny stabiliser muscles in your body are going to thank you for preparing them for the intensity that is to come!

How To Work A Kettlebell Into Your Workout?

Working a kettlebell into your workout might sound tricky at first glance, but I can promise you that with some practice and experience, you'll get the hang of it in no time. Most of the problems I've noticed that people have with kettlebells is that they struggle to find the confidence to use them. If you don't use them often, it makes sense that you'd find them intimidating.

I'm not talking about Kettlebell Swings, either. Since they're so common, everyone and their mum seem to be able to do them! I mean the slightly more technical moves like a Kettlebell Snatch or a Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up. If you don't have complete control of the kettlebell, your body will let you know, making them all the more terrifying to wrap your head around.

My best advice for you? Pick up a kettlebell and get to work! That's the easiest way to get the practice in that you're going to need to get the hang of most kettlebell movements. Don't be intimidated by how they move or feel when it's only your first, second, or even third time using them. Everyone messes it up initially, but with a bit of perseverance, we're all more than capable!

Row of kettlebells

Via Unsplash

Why not try generating a Kettlebell WOD from us? It's the best thing you could do to get started! There are plenty of movements built in that'll test you while encouraging you to get the most out of your kettlebell and your technique. It couldn't be easier, either! All it takes is one little click, and bam, you've got yourself a kettlebell WOD to really push the boundaries!

Even if you don't have a specific kettlebell WOD lined up for the day, as I mentioned earlier, it's easy to sub out any barbell or dumbbell movement for a kettlebell if you wanted to get your practice in. You don't need to use kettlebells every single day to improve, but the more often you can get them out, the better off you're going to be!

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Other Places To Learn Kettlebell Technique

If you want to hone your skills, though (which I encourage you to do, since it's the best way to avoid injury at a later time), then there are a few things you could do! Learning the kettlebell technique is akin to learning a new form of art, though much less pretentious and much more exciting (sorry, art lovers, but it's time for kettlebells to shine!)

My first suggestion is to go to Youtube and find some video guides to help you out! There are so many to choose from, each one telling you exactly what you'll need to do to move the weights well! Since each move has its own set of requirements and needs to move well, you'll need to be specific with your searches. If you've got a kettlebell with you, you might even be able to work along with the video (which I used to do when I was learning technique, so don't feel foolish).

Alternatively, you could always ask a coach (if you've got one available to you). They usually have some decent tidbits of knowledge that'll help you wrap your hand around the kettlebell technique a little more if you're struggling with it!

Summary

The kettlebell will quickly become your best friend - or your worst enemy, depending on how you get on. Either way, you're never going to want to exclude them from your workouts again. Trust me, they are something you can't find anywhere else and make WODs so exciting!

Adding that tiny extra element of stabilisation into your WODs is a great way to build strength you didn't even know you could build. And believe me, there's nothing more impressive than someone capable of doing a heavy Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up, so now you've got a good target to start showing off to all your buddies at your gym!

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1,000s of intense kettlebell WODs, with full definitions and scaling options. Filter based on equipment you have and skills you know. Download now for free.

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