New Strength Program: Kettlebells & Barbells


Out of necessity, I greatly reduced my strength training as I was preparing for the marathon. As the stress of running went up, the stress of lifting had to go down. It was a bit tough to give up the weights, but it had to be done. Now I’m back to lifting and I’m loving it. It’s definitely refreshing to let the pendulum swing from the endurance end of the spectrum back to the strength & power end.  My main goals are to see my numbers go up in the clean, press, deadlift, and squat.

I’m a big fan of both kettlebells and barbells. They’re quite different implements but both are very enjoyable to use. Used correctly, both tools can make you big, strong, and powerful. My current workout comes from RKC Mike Mahler and it’s called the Kettlebell and Barbell Solution for Size and Strength Part II. (Part I can be found here.  I had to choose one.  I picked Part II.) It’s a 4x/week workout with two days on/one day off/two days on/two days off.  I like the workout 1) because I get to lift most days of the week and 2) because I get to use kettlebells and barbells in all workouts.

Each workout has one or two of the big lifts (squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift) as the focus with other supplemental lifts included such as pull-ups, renegade rows, bent barbell rows, kettlebell swings and snatches, and core exercises such as the Turkish get-up, hanging leg raises, and windmills. I’ve modified the workout slightly to include barbell cleans, barbell presses, a one-arm dumbbell press, and pistol squats. Ballistic exercises like the kettlebell snatch and swings come at the front of the workout. The ballistic exercises help fire up the nervous system. The big-bang exercises come next, followed by pulling exercises, core exercises, and a finishing metabolic exercises that gets the heart rate up. I plan to cycle various exercises in and out over the course of several four-week blocks.

The scheme

The volume/intensity scheme is a version of Wendler’s 5-3-1 program. In essence, it looks like this: Each workout is centered around one core lift: squat, bench press, deadlift, and standing shoulder press. Each training cycle lasts four weeks, with these set-rep goals for each major lift:

Week 1: 3 x 5
Week2: 3×3
Week 3: 1×5, 1×3, 1×1
Week 4: deload

Then you start the next cycle, using heavier weights on the core lifts. Again, the Mahler program is a variation of this, and I’ve modified it further. Here’s my version:


  • Double kettlebell swing: 5×5
  • Barbell deadlift: 2×5, 3×3, 6×1
  • Barbell overhead press: 3×5, 3×3, 5-3-1
  • Kettlebell Renegade Row: 3×6+ I’ll add weight once I get 10 reps on each side.
  • Kettlebell swings: 3×15, one- and/or two-arm swings. I’ve also used the rower.


  • One-arm kettlebell snatch: 2-3×5-10 each side
  • Barbell cleans: 3×3, 5×2, 6×1
  • Pull-ups: 3×5. I’ll add weight once I get eight reps on the final set. (I’m bad at pull-ups. The cost of being tall….)
  • Bench Press: as per the 5-3-1 program
  • Kettlebell windmill: 3×5
  • Kettlebell front squat: 3×8+ I’m keeping this somewhat light.
  • Kettlebell swings 3×15 or farmer’s walks.

Wednesday: Off


  • Double kettlebell snatch: 3-5×5
  • Barbell hang clean: 3×3, 5×2
  • Back squat: as per the 5-3-1 program
  • One-arm dumbbell press: as per the 5-3-1 program. I clean the dumbbell from the ground and then press all my reps.
  • Barbell bent-over row: as per the 5-3-1 program, except I don’t do a 1-rep max in the 3rd week.
  • Hanging leg raise: 3×5. Mahler’s workout calls for 3×10 but I’m not up to 10 reps yet.
  • One-arm kettlebell swings, rower or farmer’s walks


  • Double kettlebell swings: 5×5
  • Barbell cleans: lighter than Thursday
  • Barbell floor press: as per the 5-3-1 program
  • Weighted pull-ups: 3×3
  • Kettlebell Turkish get-up: 3×3. These are really tough at this point in the workout.
  • Pistol squats: 3×3, 2 or 1 depending how I’m feeling.
  • Kettlebell swings: I’m often smoked by this point so I may only do 1×10 or I may go as high as 3×15-20

Saturday/Sunday: Off


I’m on my third week of the program. I’ve made good progress. I think that since I was away from lifting for several weeks I have a lot of room to move forward. Plus, I’m eating more and I’ve recently started taking creatine which I haven’t used in a while. All of this should contribute to some decent increases in size and strength.

During the workouts I keep a mind to staying within my limitations.  I don’t need to push to the red line during these workouts.  I’ve written here and here about the risks of going too hard too often.  I intend to work hard but I’ll stop well before the failure point.

I intend to cycle exercises in and out as this program moves along.  I’m not sure when I’ll change them out though. Since I’m hitting most of these exercises only once per week that should mean I’ll be able to stick with them for a while.  I know I need to change exercises when I start to plateau on a particular exercise.  Likely substitutions are as follows:

  • Barbell snatch for barbell clean
  • Front squat for back squat
  • Good morning for deadlift
  • Weighted dips for bench press and floor press
  • Push press for barbell press

Depending on how things go and how I’m feeling, I may focus more closely on the deadlift.  I still want to pull 500 lbs. some day.  Maybe that day is sooner than I know.

Three-Week Kettlebell Workout: Power Endurance/Strength


In case anyone’s interested in a medium-term workout, here’s the one I’m doing.  I’ve spent a good bit of the past several months deadlifting and side pressing.  To a large degree I’ve followed one of the programs out of Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power to the People.  So now I want to convert some of that strength into power–and I want to generate power repeatedly–i.e. power endurance.  So here’s what I’ve designed.  Follow along if you’d like and please let me know your results.


All workouts are preceded by a combination of Z-Health Neural Warm-up Levels I and II.  I mobilize various joints such as feet and hands, knees and elbows, hip, shoulders, pelvis and spine.  I want to wake them up fully before I start to generate a lot of force.  I want to make sure each individual joint is read to go before they start working together.  Next comes the warm-up and workout prep.

The warm-up involves body weight movements that resemble the workout movements.  The workout prep consists of the main lifts I’ll use for the day but with a light load.  Here’s how the workout might go:

Body weight goblet squat: 6 reps

Lateral lunges: 6 reps

Crossing lunges: 6 reps

Rotating T: 6 reps

Cross-crawl patterns: 20-40 reps

Get ups, light swings, snatches, presses, high pulls

The Workout, Week 1:

– Monday
1) One-arm snatches: 5 each arm followed immediately by
Swings: 20 two- or- one-hand
Repeat 3x as fast as possible.  You track my heart rate and the time it takes to complete this circuit.  This will show your progress.

2) Clean & press + pull-up ladders: 1, 2, 3 x 3 sets
Here’s how this works. Clean and press a kettlebell for one rep on each arm then do one pull-up.  Next, clean and press for two reps each arm followed by two pull-ups.  Then perform three cleans and presses each arm followed by three pull-ups.  Perform this process three times.  Rest between sets as needed.  This isn’t a race like the previous circuit.  Use perfect form!  No hunched struggling pull-ups.  Use an assisted pull-up machine or a partner if you need help.

– Wednesday
1) Double kettlebell snatches: 5 reps followed immediately by
Swings: 20 reps
Do this circuit once only.

2) Repeat Monday’s clean & press + pull-up ladders x 3 sets

– Friday
1) Repeat Monday’s snatch and swing circuit twice.

2) Repeat the clean & press + pull-up ladders x 3 sets.

Week 2:

Perform the same snatch and swing circuits but move up in weight if the circuits become easy.  As for the clean & press + pull-up circuit, you’ll add one set.  This means that you’ll do 4 x 1, 2, and 3 reps.  (You did three sets of 1, 2, and 3 reps in week 1.)

Continue to use perfect form.  Stop early if you need to.  Don’t go to out-and-out failure.  The work should be challenging but not impossible.

Week 3:

Week three is essentially the same.  You may need to move up in weight on the snatches and swings.  Stay with three sets on Monday, one set on Wednesday and two sets on Friday.  Experiment with one- and two-hand snatches and swings.

Add another set to the clean & press + pull-up ladders.  So that’s 5 x 1, 2, 3, reps.

Simple right?  Shouldn’t necessarily be easy though.  Following this workout I plan to return to deadlifts, various overhead and side presses, and the overhead squat–and who knows what else?!