How to Combine Kettlebells, Bodyweight and Barbells

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“What is the best way to combine to kettlebells and bodyweight and barbells?”

There are many programs available on the internet to get strong with bodyweight, barbells or kettlebells,  but there are few that provide clear direction on how to get strong integrating them together. There is a reason for this and it’s not because there isn’t a market for it.

I was once at kettlebell certification taught by Pavel Tastsouline who during a question and answer portion of the weekend handled such a question like this. “By the very nature of your question, I can tell you are not ready for the answer.”  At first this may sound harsh and dismissive to some, but it’s a perfectly honest and appropriate response. It was a concise way of pointing out that it was apparent the person asking the question didn’t have enough experience with both modalities to combine them effectively.

To put it another way, imagine a similar question about how to use various tools to build a shelf for your home or office.

Question: Should you use a hammer a wrench or a drill to assemble a shelf?

Answer: It depends on the shelf.

Question: What is the best way to use hammers, wrenches and drills together to build a shelf?

Answer: Based on your question, it’s obvious you need to spend more time using hammers, wrenches and or drills.

As you can see… to someone who has experience building and assembling shelves, this sort of question can reveal a great deal about the experience and understanding of the person asking the question.  When you have enough experience with all three tools and you’ve built a few shelves, the answers will be obvious.

So, back to the original question:

Question: “What is the best way to combine to kettlebells and barbells?”

Answer: It depends on your goals, needs and situation. Don’t be distracted by shiny tools. Learn to use each independently of the other to achieve a goal. The best way to learn is to become proficient in one modality at time.  Once you’ve done that, the benefits of each tool and the reasons for choosing one over the other will be clear.  At that point combining multiple tools into a single workout will be intuitive and obvious.


Addendum

Pros and Cons of Bodyweight, Kettlebell, and Barbells

The following list may prove helpful in deciding which tool is right for the job.

Bodyweight

Pros: 

  • Free.
  • Portable.
  • Can be used anywhere.
  • Limited only by your imagination.
  • Conducive to building balance, agility and flexibility.
  • Difficulty and load can be manipulated by manipulating leverage.

Cons:

  • A fixed weight. Not adjustable
  • Difficult to train pulling without added equipment.
  • Impossible to precisely manipulate load such as 70% of your 1 rep max.
  • Not practical for learning how to safely lift truly heavy weights.

Kettlebells

Pros: 

  • Versatility.
  • Portability.
  • Takes up little space.
  • Requires no other equipment.
  • You can perform just about any exercise imaginable with them including barbell techniques making them a great starting point.
  • You can rapidly switch hands and seamlessly transition between exercises for maximally efficient workouts with little to no down time.
  • There are many ways to hold a kettlebell that can make more challenging.
  • It’s hard to outgrow the usefulness of the appropriately sized bell.
  • The shape of the kettlebell allows for overspeed eccentrics that can’t be performed safely with barbells or bodyweight.

Cons:

  • Fixed weight, non-adjustable for precise loading.
  • A workout that requires many different sizes in weight becomes impractical.
  • Due to it’s fixed weight, awkward size & shape of the kettlebell lifting hundreds of pounds becomes awkward an impractical.

Barbells

Pros: 

  • Commonly available in most gyms.
  • Can lift a ton of weight practically with a single bar.
  • The absolute best way to get big and insanely strong.
  • Barbells can be loaded with great precision in small increments.

Cons:

  • Not portable.
  • Takes up a great deal of space.
  • You can’t perform overspeed eccentrics safely.
  • Many lifts require a training partner to spot or a rack to perform heavy lifts safely.
  • It’s more difficult to transition between exercises with barbells than with kettlebell or bodyweight.
  • Requires many other pieces of equipment such as plates, bars, racks, benches, collars, lifting platforms, bumper plates, belts, etc…

Some Suggestions

Until you are competent in two or more modalities keep each separate from the other.

Examples:

Use bodyweight for warming-up, Barbells for strength and Kettlebells for conditioning.

You could perform a bodyweight session earlier in the day and go for a jog. Later go to the gym and get your barbell work in.  Use kettlebells at the home or office as practice throughout the week.

Later on, someone who has more experience may blend all three together in a manner similar to this

5-minute Warmup: Pump Stretches,  Swings, goblet squats and pushups.
Strength Training:  Circuit of Bench Press alternated with Double Kettlebell Cleans, Front Squats,  Pull-ups and Armbar Stretches.
Conditioning :  “Smoker”  Kettlebell Snatches & Hill Sprints
Cool Down: Kettlebell Windmills, & various bodyweight stretches.

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