A simple and killer kettlebell workout

KB clean & press with one 'bell. Awesome exercise. (artofmanliness.com)
KB clean & press with one ‘bell. Awesome exercise. (artofmanliness.com)

I decided to take today off, exercise-wise, but yesterday (Friday, Jan. 17) I did a simple but brutally effective workout promoted by RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certified) instructor, blogger and author Pat Flynn. Flynn is, among online fitness folks, an interesting dude, in that he has a funny and rather strange writing voice in his blog that makes me think he’d be interesting to hang out and eat a steak with, if nothing else.

Flynn has developed something he calls the “Prometheus Protocol.” Let’s be real, he’s just marketing the plan with a name–and hey, more power to him. What matters to me is the brutal yet simple workout he describes here is remarkable in that it hits a huge number of major muscle groups, hits them hard, and if you do it right, you will feel the damned thing the next day (believe me, I do). I’m skeptical of a lot of what I read about fitness online–in part because the folks who set themselves up as gurus/teachers are always selling something–but I am not skeptical of the Prometheus Protocol’s effectiveness. As a workout to build real strength and some mass to boot, I’m certain it works.

Muscles worked by the KB squat, same as a "Zercher squat" with barbells. (frontsquat.com)
Muscles worked by the KB squat, same as a “Zercher squat” with barbells. (frontsquat.com)

Leaving aside what Flynn recommends about eating habits that should accompany use of the Prometheus Protocol (follow the link at the end of this post to read about it), here’s his workout, which I did between 3 and 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon, with a pair of 53 lb. (24 kg) kettlebells:

Double [Kettlebell] Clean and Press – 10 sets x 5 reps @ 60-80% of your 1 rep max
Double Kettlebell Front Squat – 10 sets of 5 reps @ 60-80% of your 1 rep max

That’s it. I warmed up various easy bodyweight exercises (again, I’m sold on the value of warming up before workouts, but don’t worry so much about cool-downs) before finishing with 20 burpees, done descending ladder-style. After I finished the core workout I did 12 pull-ups, also in a descending ladder (4, 3, 2, 2, 1). I’m not in any pain today, but I do have that distinctive muscle soreness that says, “dude, you did some shit yesterday.”

It’s worth noting that the volume of work takes enough of a toll on your muscles that it’d just be wise to eat a lot the day you do a workout like this, so again, if you read Flynn’s post, consider that he has a point about loading up on good carbs when you’re treading these waters.

[Chronicles of Strength]

Workouts! Eh, I don’t know. (Wherein the author digresses about the burpee.)

The goddamned burpee. (Photo by: 100lbslater.blogspot.com)
The goddamned burpee. (Photo by: 100lbslater.blogspot.com, via)

Yeah, I have to accept I can’t commit to writing about working out all the time. Two main reasons: my workouts are often variations on a theme, therefore kinda-sorta same/same; I find other things more interesting. I definitely find a wide variety of fitness-related subjects fascinating, so I think the tack I’ll take when blogging about fitness will be more along the lines of covering whatever’s interesting to me at the time (strongman stuff, kettlebell lore, whatever).

That said, here’s what I did recently:

January 7

  • 50 burpees, ladder style (10 reps, 9, 8, etc…)
  • 5 sets of 5 reps of kettlebell cleans & jerks with two 53 lb bells (5 x 5)
  • 5 x 5 kettlebell squats, same weights
  • 4 x 8 reps of plain old curls with two 25 lb dumbbells, then 1 set of six reps.

I threw in three 1-minute planks. It felt like a pretty good workout.

January 9 (today)

Wearing a 25 lb weighted vest, I followed the following pattern:

  • 4 x 5 burpees–burpees in a weighted vest are something else, hence the low number of reps. I recommend them, but you need a good, close-fitting vest. Mine’s not great.
  • 5 x 10 kettlebell swings, with a 70 lb bell.
  • Burpees. Again. Same as above.
  • 4 x 5 reps of torso dips. Add a weighted vest and these are bastards.
  • 5 x 10 reps of “Arnolds” dumbbell presses with two 25 lb dumbbells.

I took off the vest and did two sets of 10 burpees, two sets of 10 dips, the rest of the workout the same as above. What’s funny is looking at it now, it’s a good, tiring workout, but at the time I felt like I could do more.

The couple behind my favorite online fitness resource often mentions feedback from people who like their videos about hating burpees. Anyone who’s ever done a few understands that, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel they’re a genius move in the world of bodyweight exercises. A burpee hits almost everything. And damned if you don’t feel like you have seriously done something when you’ve finished a set.

Then there’s the fact that they’re easily one of the most portable exercises imaginable, which is why if you read up on prison fitness (a weirdly fascinating subject I may cover in a future fitness post) you always read about burpees. I love running for my cardio, but since I’ve been living in a wintry climate and discovered that it’s just kind of a dumb idea to run in the ice and snow sometimes (though I still occasionally do it), burpees have been a lifesaver. Once I began incorporating the damned things into workouts, I found I could go 10 days between runs and then out of the blue do 4 miles at a fairly reasonable pace. Granted, my fairly reasonable pace as a runner is other runners’ fast walk, but still–I’m talking about endurance, here.

As miserable as they make me, I’m a fan of the burpee, and will include them in workouts as long as I’m able to do one.

While the usual disclaimers about my workouts merely being a record of what I’ve done apply, I will say, in closing, that you should learn to do a goddamned burpee. For your health.

My Daily Workout Post (Which Probably Won’t Be Daily)

I’ve already botched one project I planned for 2014–some kind of workout, no matter how brief, every day–barring injury or illness. I skipped yesterday because, well, New Year’s. I mean, come on.

That said, if applying myself like crazy to fitness has taught me one thing in the last 3 years it’s that I am fully capable of not giving up when I want, and starting all over again the next day. So today I started the project as if today was the first day of the year, or something. Here’s the damned workout. Skip this post all together if this is not the kind of thing you like. That seems like it should be a given, but people are weird and the Internet is awful.

(Disclaimer: I’m not any kind of fitness expert and you should never try my workouts. This is for, uh, “entertainment purposes” only and in no way intended to be authoritative or instructional. Also, most workouts I post here will be some variation on something I’ve learned elsewhere. If I think a workout is constructed in an original way, I’ll say so. Otherwise, assume it’s a variation, a cover version. The following is similar to a workout described here.)


(I believe in warming up before a workout but am a little lazy about cooling down. Also don’t stretch before runs, if running is all I’m doing. I also eat donut holes at every opportunity. I’m a rebel, Dottie.) Two minutes of mountain climbers and burpees, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest. Living in a cold region with nasty winter weather, I’ve developed a masochist’s love for burpees for cardio when a run is just a dumb idea due to ice, cold and snow. I will work them into a workout whenever I can. I was a fit teen, had a strong upper body and did a lot of running, but I’m pretty convinced my legs have never been as strong as they are now and burpees have at least a little to do with that.

Workout (each exercise done with two 53-lb kettlebells) 

8 double kettlebell swings. Embedded above is a video of one of the trustworthy masters of kettlebell use and form, Mike Mahler. I can’t find an online fitness type who doesn’t occasionally say something that strikes me as a bit over the top or strange or extreme, but Mahler seems sane and his workouts well-considered. He’s clearly strong as a damned ox, which seems to prove he knows his shit when it comes to strength training. (Every online fitness instructor/guru says nutty stuff related to nutrition sometimes, but that’s for another blog post.)

4 double KB cleans and jerks. Or clean and jerks? I don’t know. Whatever, above is a shaky video of a woman who nails the form for these, based on what I’ve learned. These are my favorite kettlebell exercise, as they hit so many points and if you construct your workouts right, they can put on some muscle mass. You’d get a reasonable workout just doing several sets of cleans and presses. Or jerks. Agh. 

4 double KB squats. I hate squats, but that’s because I never knew how to do them right. Since I finally made them a regular part of my workouts, I’ve learned they’re one of the best strength-building exercises you can do for any reason. Learn squat form. Do them. Do a bunch without weight if you have to. But do them. They are, as long as you have no mitigating issues like hip socket problems or bad knees (my right hip is sometimes dicey, so I am very careful with squats), insanely good for you. This video is of Pat Flynn, another guy who’s staked out an online presence as a kettlebell-focused fitness authority.

I did the above five times through, for a total 40 swings and 20 of the other two exercises. It took 27 minutes. I rested for up to 2 minutes between sets.

If my kettlebell weights sound large, that’s only because the way kettlebells have been promoted to a general American audience is as a cardio aid, not so much a strength-building thing. The moment you start investigating online resources for kettlebell workout knowledge, you learn a five pound kettlebell is not a kettlebell, it’s a paperweight. Guys like Mike Mahler recommend women work with up to 35 lbs and 53 lbs is a good starting weight for a reasonably healthy man. Real humans, however, should consider starting with 20-25 for a woman and 25-35 for a guy, and maybe lay off some of the more complex, aerobicise-style shenanigans with the weight and aim for basic stuff like this.

Like I said, though, I’m no expert. It may be I’m just a lucky idiot that I haven’t had more than mild muscle strain since I started using them, and I’ve begun doing test workouts with a pair of 70-lb kettlebells, which I affectionately think of at the moment as my eventual death-in-waiting.

The next post like this is going to be a lot shorter, because, I mean, damn.