Grind To Grow: Try Your Squats And Presses With Kettlebells!

I’ll never forget the first time I squatted with a pair of 32-kg kettlebells on my chest. It felt like an elephant was sitting on me. The pressure in my gut was immense, and I could barely breathe. Afterward, my abs were almost immediately sore. I was shocked, because as a competitive weightlifter I could front squat, butt-to-ankles, more than 400 pounds. But these two 70-pound balls of iron made me feel like I was fighting for my life!

I quickly learned that kettlebells are unjustly overlooked as strength equipment; they are often only favored as endurance tools for high-rep ballistic movements like swings and snatches. They’re equally adept and providing muscular overload on slow, heavy lifts like squats and presses.

Why? It’s simple: Your body knows that to get stronger, as well as to continue burning fat, it must adapt. Heavy kettlebells give it a challenge that is uniquely difficult to overcome. Because of their odd shape, kettlebells actually make the body do more work than traditional implements such as barbells and dumbbells. Sub them out even just for a couple of movements you already do, and you may be surprised at the benefits you receive.

The Toughest Squat You’ve Never Done

The reason the double-kettlebell front squat is so much more challenging than its barbell cousin is due to leverage. Consider the rack position: With a barbell, the load rests near the top of the spine, across the collarbone and the front of the deltoids, just below the head. In this arrangement, the barbell becomes virtually one with the lifter, making it easier to move the external resistance. This allows you to move much more weight.

With a kettlebell, it’s almost the opposite. In the rack, the weight rests low, against the outside of the forearms, with the elbows pointed down rather than out. The bells try to pull your body forward and off-balance, which forces your entire midsection to reflexively contract in order to keep you from folding in half.

If you’ve been lifting—or just reading about lifting—for a few years, you’ve probably heard this same argument used as a reason to do barbell front squats rather than barbell back squats. But the truth is that the simple substitution of two kettlebells—or even just one—for a barbell means your midsection will take even more of a beating. And this has benefits beyond building core strength.

To start with, you’ll become a better squatter. Because the spine is protected due to the increased reflexive core activation from the rack, lifters can usually squat deeper with kettlebells than they would with a barbell. The difference here is one you’ll likely feel on your backside for days after the first time you try it, so consider yourself warned.

Kettlebell Exercises
Watch The Video – 0:44

Grind To Grow

The increased stability demands upon your core musculature during the front squat are also present in other slow kettlebell lifts—or “grinds,” as they’re often called. Look at the double kettlebell military press, for example: The increased demands placed upon your core mean your body has to work harder to stabilize your joints so your prime movers—the lats and delts, in the case of the press—can do their work.

The upshot, as with the front squat, is that you’ll need less weight to make all types of muscles work more efficiently—particularly the crucial stabilizer muscles around the shoulder and other joints. Efficiency, in this case, means they’ll do what they’re supposed to when they’re supposed to do it. To pick one painful example for many lifters, a strong rotator cuff stabilizes your shoulder joint so you can safely bench press. A weak or injured one, on the other hand, keeps you from benching heavy, or from doing it at all.

Double Kettlebell Military Press

I’m also of the opinion that one of the causes of what are commonly called workout “plateaus” are actually stabilizer muscles that are weak or don’t work properly. Faced with a heavy load that might damage the joint, your body intuitively protects itself by shutting down the nerve force to the bigger muscles—the prime movers—that traditionally do the work.

You may have heard similar logic used to tell you why you should train with free weights rather than with machines. Yes, it’s true: Core and joint stabilizer activation happen to a certain extent with any training tool, but both are more intense with a kettlebell, due to the increased muscular activation from the offset handle. Consider them the freest of free weights.

You Only Need One

“Resist the urge to let your stronger side set the pace. Train both sides to be relatively even with each other.”

Want to know what’s even tougher than a double-kettlebell grind? The same movement loaded unilaterally. Working one side of your body at a time, as with a single-kettlebell military press, requires your body to make all the muscles on the side opposite of the load—and especially the core musculature—contract to keep you from being pulled over sideways.

Another interesting result from training with a single-kettlebell is that you can even-out strength imbalances from side-to-side. Often, side-to-side imbalances are responsible for holding back your progress on traditional bilateral exercises like the barbell squat, deadlift, and military press. Many people find a single-kettlebell front squat to be much more challenging on the core than a double front squat. The same thing holds true for the military press.

If you find you have a strength imbalance, resist the urge to let your stronger side set the pace. Train both sides to be relatively even with each other, both in the number of reps and the amount of weight you put over your head. You may feel like you’re holding back at first, but don’t be surprised if your big barbell lifts get stronger as a result.

Grind to Burn

Strength is a worthy goal on its own, and it’s more than enough reason to try kettlebell squats and presses. But getting stronger is also essential for burning fat and getting leaner over the long term.

Think of it as a cycle. The increased muscle activation and range of motion you experience from doing deep, difficult squats and overhead presses demand that more muscles work harder than they would otherwise. When you work harder, you burn more calories. And since training the core, especially in an integrated manner while standing, makes the body stronger, you’ll be able to lift heavier and work even harder in the future—which burns even more calories. And so on …

The downside, if there is one, is that kettlebell grinds are known to leave bruises—on your ego. I think you’ll be just as surprised as I was at just how hard they make you work. But stick with them, and you’ll also be surprised by the fruits of your labor: A stronger midsection, a more powerful and defined body, and more strength you can put to good use.


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How to do the Plank up + down

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How To Master The Pull-Up

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Alexa Towersey’s resistance training workout

Resistance training targets the full body with particular emphasis on the posterior chain and core for both strength and physique shape and allows you to work towards YOUR own objective by having targeted options with both your rep range and load.It also provides exercises designed to challenge your grip, in addition to providing some of the progressions needed to achieve a pull-up.The HIIT component is representative of Jenna’s ALL IN program. It is designed to challenge your strength, power, coordination and overall fitness, with the metabolic requirement of high reps, moderate load and minimal rest raising your heart rate as quickly as possible and keeping it elevated for up to 36 hours post workout.The active rest and recovery component is highly recommended – not only as a stress management tool, but also to allow you enough time between workouts so that you can perform at your best. For both increased fat loss and muscle repair, in addition to supporting all the detoxification channels that may have been overworked over the holidays, I recommend power walking, foam rolling, infrared sauna and epsom salts baths. Supplementing with a pharmaceutical-grade magnesium is also suggested.This workout consists of a standalone EMOM, followed by two supersets.EMOM stands for ‘every minute on the minute’. The beauty of this format is that you can structure the rep range and load of the EMOM to target your own specific goals.If you’re an advanced lifter, know your one rep max (1RM), and if you want to opt for pure strength and no advance in muscle size, aim for three reps with an exertion level of 8/10.If you’re a beginner to intermediate lifter and want to aim for more strength and minimal size, aim for five reps and an exertion level of 6–7/10.If you’re a beginner lifter and prefer to stick to lighter weights for form OR you want to aim for fat loss with a little lean muscle gain, then aim for 10 reps with an exertion level of 5/10

Fitness 360: Samantha Ann Leete, Training Program

Samantha trains to overcome her weaknesses. She doesn’t cherry-pick workouts for her strengths or make excuses for lagging muscle groups. Her most productive days in the gym are when she’s learning a new lift, working on muscle groups that need extra attention, and moving heavy weight. Her desire to build a better body and become a better athlete fuels her through every workout.

Samantha Ann Leete Fitness 360
Watch The Video – 13:58

Mixing It Up

Samantha likes to use multiple training strategies so she never gets bored. “I love incorporating supersets, giant sets, circuits, HIIT cardio, low-intensity cardio, dropsets, and negatives,” she says. “I also like to switch up my rep ranges, tempo, and exercises.” These constant changes help keep Samantha excited about her workouts and motivated for her future goals.

Although she uses different modalities to train various muscle groups, Samantha likes to keep her split fairly consistent. “I usually lift three or four days per week and do sprints or plyometrics once per week. For my upper body, I usually stick to a 10-12 rep range. For my lower body, I do 10-20 reps per exercise.”

Romanian Deadlift

Like most of us, Samantha has a tough relationship with cardio. “Sometimes it can be fun and I look forward to it, especially when I’ve had a stressful day and could use a cathartic sweat session.” She’ll squeeze in a cardio session during lunch at work, but if she’s in the gym, she prefers the arc trainer, the stepmill, or plyos.

Unlike some elite competitors, Samantha believes in rest days. “I just try to listen to my body,” she says. Sometimes a rest day means hitting a hard cardio session, sometimes it means going for a long, fun hike, and sometimes, rest just means rest. “Rest days can literally mean just chilling out and watching a movie,” she explains.

Samantha’s Training Split

Cardio

These are examples of cardio workouts that I might do during the week

Cardio workout #1
45 minute Arc Trainer

Cardio workout #2
Treadmill lunge intervals
3-minute incline lunge
3-minute incline run
3-minute incline walk
Repeat for 30 minutes

Cardio workout #3
Treadmill HIIT sprints
30 second incline sprint
30 second incline walk
Repeat for 20 minutes

Cardio workout #4
HIIT circuit
2-minute row
1-minute rope jump
100 mountain climbers
Rest 30-60 seconds
Repeat for 20 minutes


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3 Benefits Of Weightlifting Complexes And 3 Sample Complexes!

The hottest topic on most people’s lips is fat loss, whether they’re getting back in shape for the New Year, getting ready for spring break, or getting into that old dress or their favorite pair of jeans. This is the perfect time to recalibrate, refocus, and recommit to your fat-loss program.

One of the best training methods in my arsenal is complex or matrix-style training. These methods work extremely well after the strength-boosting component of your program, when you’ve already made a concerted effort to build some muscle.

I first learned about complexes back in the late 1990s when I was just getting started in the iron game. Istvan Javorek is widely regarded as the pioneer of complexes, and while he used them to improve the Olympic lifts, I feel as though they’re great as a workout finisher as well.

But before we dive head first into a few sample complexes or matrices, let’s first discuss why you might choose to include them in your workouts.

Complex or matrix-style training work extremely well after you’ve already made a concerted effort to build some muscle.

BENEFITS OF COMPLEXES

Complexes and matrices have quite a few benefits, but here are just a few that spring to mind:

1 They’re Fat Loss Friendly

This is an obvious benefit for long duration, low intensity cardio targets such as improved cardiovascular function and parasympathetic tone etc.—but not maximal fat loss. Anaerobic intervals in the 1:1-1:3 work:rest ratio are some of the best ways to shed body fat. You don’t want to use them all year round, but if you want an all-out assault on body fat, they’re the real deal.

2 They’re Fast

If you’re looking to get lean, more training volume isn’t always better. In fact, this is the ideal time to use faster, more high intensity methods. Complexes are fast and brutally effective, which gets you in and out of the gym quicker.

3 They Efficiently Use Space and Equipment

One of the big issues when it comes to fat loss training is equipment and/or space. Not everyone has sleds, prowlers or a hill in the backyard to train with. Complexes and matrices are not only space efficient—they can often be done in a small area—but theyrequire minimal equipment as well. With only one barbell, a sandbag or even just your bodyweight you can knock out an intense workout.

THE BASICS

When performing complexes, I typically prescribe 24 total reps. My favorite options are either four exercises with six repetitions each, or six exercises with four repetitions each. You’ll perform each exercise for the allotted number of repetitions, and then move immediately into the next exercise. Go through the entire series of exercises, and then rest for the same period of time, or at the most, twice as long as it took you to go through the series.

As your conditioning improves, work to decrease the rest period so that you adhere to a 1:1 work:rest ratio.

SAMPLE COMPLEXES AND MATRICES

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at a couple of sample complexes you can take to the gym and start performing today!

The Basic Barbell Complex

This is a super-efficient complex that even the most seasoned iron veteran will enjoy. All the big lifts are tied into one awesome series!

Front Squat

Week 1: 3 complexes
Week 2: 4 complexes
Week 3: 5 complexes
Week 4: 6 complexes

Complex
  • Romanian Deadlift: 4 reps
  • Bent-Over Row: 4 reps
  • Front Squat: 4 reps
  • Push Press: 4 reps
  • Good Morning: 4 reps
  • Back Squat: 4 reps

Bodyweight Leg Matrix

If you struggle with body fat in the legs, this lower-body matrix will help you blowtorch it like no other!

Lunge

Week 1: 2 matrices
Week 2: 3 matrices
Week 3: 3 matrices
Week 4: 4 matrices

Matrix
  • Vertical Jump: 6 reps
  • Squat: 6 reps
  • Step-Up: 6 reps
  • Lunge: 6 reps

Sandbag Complex

Last but not least, if you want something a bit different, give this sandbag complex a shot. It’s not only fun, but the sandbag also creates some unique challenges due to its non-conforming nature.

Overhead Press

Week 1: 3 complexes
Week 2: 4 complexes
Week 3: 5 complexes
Week 4: 6 complexes

Complex
  • Sandbag Shouldering: 6 reps
  • Bent-Over Row: 6 reps
  • Romanian Deadlift: 6 reps
  • Overhead Press: 6 reps

SUMMARY

As you can see, fat loss training doesn’t have to be complex (pun intended). Instead, basic exercises performed in series at a breakneck pace can absolutely help you achieve your goals quickly.

For the next month, finish at least one, if not two, of your workouts with one of the complexes or matrices outlined above. I guarantee it’s going to fast track your fat loss progress, and get you on your way to the lean, sculpted physique you’ve been looking for!


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Power Pairings: Effective Supersets For Strength And Size

As nice as it would be to have unlimited training time, it’s simply not in the cards for most people. The gym is great, but a little thing called life often throws a wrench in your best-laid plans. Realistically, even the most dedicated people can only attend the gym 3-5 days per week for an hour per day, and that’s with a little luck.

The good news is that one hour per session is plenty of time, if you use your time wisely! You just have to be smart with your exercise selection and workout program. Enter “power pairings,” which are specific superset-style exercise pairs I created to help you get the most out of your precious training time.

As with any superset, you perform power pairings without resting between the paired exercises. Take a bench press and chin-up pair, for example. You perform one set of bench press followed immediately by a set of chin-ups. You won’t rest until after you complete both exercises.

Pairing Power

“Full-body workouts are my go-to method when life gets hectic.”

Power pairings can be useful within full-body routines or body-part splits, but for this article I’ll explain how to use them in full-body routines. Full-body workouts are my go-to method when life gets hectic. In a full-body routine, you’d use a power pairing after your primary lift. This allows you to give your first lift maximum attention and strength.

Start your workout with a big-bang strength movement and devote your full energy and attention to it. When you finish your main lift, implement a power pairing as your finisher. Power pairings use one piece of equipment and require little to no setup, which makes them easy to use even in crowded gyms.

Here are four power pairings that you can add to your own training program to cut down on your overall workout time and still get a great training effect!

1 Ring Dip And Chin-Up/Hip Thrust Combo

Pair ring dips with a chin-up/hip thrust combination exercise I created to blast the back, glutes, and hamstrings simultaneously. Rather than confusing you by trying to explain the exercise, here’s a video of what it looks like in action:

From a strength and muscle-building standpoint, this pairing works well because the exercises focus on different body parts, so they won’t negatively impact each other or impair your strength. From a logistical standpoint, it’s a great pair because the ring height is the same for each exercise, which means no necessary adjustments between sets.

To up the ante, try the pairing in a countdown format, as demonstrated in the video. Rather than doing straight sets of each exercise, start by doing decreasing sets of 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps of each exercise with little to no rest between sets. Be warned: This is not for the faint of heart.

Use it: This pair works as a brutal finisher to cap off a great heavy, knee-dominant exercise like the front squat, back squat, split squat, or lunge.

2 “Bottoms Up” Front Squats And Inverted Rows

Instead of starting in the standing position, “bottoms up” squats call for you to start at the bottom of the rep and lift from the squat rack’s safety pins. Pause after each rep! This is a great front squat variation to hammer your quads and core, and help you build strength out of the hole.

After you finish the front squats, leave the bar on the pins and use it to perform a set of inverted rows. The bar will be at a perfect height to allow for full range of motion with no adjustments. It works great from a logistical standpoint.

In the video below, I use chains on the front squats, which is great if you have chains at your disposal, but they’re not essential.

Use it: This pairing is an ideal finisher after a heavy bench press or overhead press variation.

3 Rack RDL And Split-Stance Row Combo

I recommend doing RDLs and barbell rows from the safety pins of a squat rack. Reset after each rep to take stress off your lower back and encourage proper form. I also recommend doing barbell rows with a split stance to take stress off the lower back, because the split stance helps prevent against lower-back rounding.

Fortunately, the proper pin height is the same for each exercise, so it works well as a pairing. You’ll almost undoubtedly be able to use more weight on RDLs than barbell rows, so you’ll need to change the weight, which is a breeze because the bar is raised off the floor. This video below shows how the pair looks in action. I use an oversized trap bar, which is great if you have one, but you can just as easily use a standard barbell.

If you use a barbell, here is how the rows look.

Use it: This pair goes well after a heavy pressing day.

4 Overhead Press And Front Squats

Pairing overhead presses with front squats works well because you don’t need to waste time adjusting the bar in the rack. It’s set to the same height for each exercise, making this a killer combo.

I recommend doing the overhead press before the front squats, because after much experimentation, I found that the overhead press doesn’t negatively impact the subsequent front squats. Alternatively, if you do the front squats first, the overhead press suffers.

It’s also important to note that most people will be much stronger on front squats than overhead press. This gives you two options: add weight for each set of front squats, or simply do more reps. I usually choose the latter and do twice as many front squats as overhead presses, as I do in this video.

Use it: This pairing works perfectly as a finisher after doing a heavy chin-up or row variation. It’s also ideal as a standalone workout when you’re really pinched for time and still want to get a good training effect.

Putting It All Together

Here’s an example of how to utilize these power pairings within a full-body workout program to keep your workouts brief but effective. Shoot to train 2-4 days per week and rotate the workouts as necessary.

Workout 1:
A1. Front Squats: 5 sets of 6 reps
B1. Ring Dips: 5 sets of 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps
B2. Chin-Up/Hip Thrust Combo: 5 sets of 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps

Workout 2:
A1. Incline Bench Press: 5 sets of 6 reps
B1. “Bottoms Up” Front Squats: 4 sets of 10 reps
B2. Inverted Rows: 4 sets of 10 reps

Workout 3:
A1. Dumbbell Bench Press: 5 sets of 8 reps
B1. Rack RDL: 4 sets of 8 reps
B2. Split-Stance Rack Row: 4 sets of 8 reps

Workout 4:
A1. Chin-ups: 5 sets of 6 reps
B1. Overhead Press: 4 sets of 6 reps
B2. Front Squats: 4 sets of 12 reps


About The Author

Ben Bruno graduated Summa Cum Laude from Columbia University. He lives in West Hollywood, California, and trains clients at Rise Movement…

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