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The Kettlebell and Barbell Solution For Size And Strength Part 2

Mike Mahler 

In part one I covered a program option that called for two barbell workouts per week and two kettlebell workouts per week. This time around we’re going to be using kettlebell, barbells, and some bodyweight exercises at each training session.

This is a great program for trainees with home gyms or trainees that workout at gyms that have both barbells and kettlebells. When people combine training tools they often make things way too complicated. It is always a good idea to keep training programs simple by focusing on the essentials and discarding the nonessentials.

Many trainees make the mistake of doing way too much work. For example, at the gym I go to I can get in a highly effective fully body workout that covers: deadlifts, kettlebell swings, bench presses, rows, and dragon flags for the core in less time than it takes many of the members to go through their arm specialization programs. Focusing on the basic compound moves that have been proven to be effective by the strongest men and women is the way to go.

Here is how this program works. With the barbell exercises, the focus will be on the power exercises: bench press bent over row, deadlift, and squat. Kettlebell ballistic work will be used to fire up the nervous system as well as effective finishers for conditioning. In addition, kettlebells will be used to build a strong core, shoulder stability, upper body pressing and pulling power, and active recovery.

Let’s get started


Double Kettlebell Swing 5×5 (one-minute breaks)

Swing to chest level on each rep. I like to swing the bells outside of the knees as this loads up the legs more for my body type. Doing a ballistic exercise at the beginning of a workout really fires up the nervous system so you go into the grinding exercises ready to conquer. This is a great tip I picked up from elite strength coach Mark Philippi. 

Barbell Deadlift: 

The deadlift is an effective measure of full-body strength and one of the most productive exercises you can do. It makes sense to focus on the deadlift early in the workout so you can put in a solid effort.

Do as many warm-up sets as needed.  I like to do several ramp-up sets before going into my heavy lifts. For example, if I am going to work up to 495lbs for several heavy singles I will get there by ramping up as follows: 135×1, 225×1, 315×1, 405×1, 455×1 and then several singles with 495lbs. Take one-minute breaks between each ramp-up set and two-minute breaks between each working set.

Cycling the intensity each week is a good way to avoid burning out.  To illustrate, in week one use 85% of one-rep max for seven singles, week two 90% of one-rep max for five singles, and week three 95% of one-rep max for three singles. This is a modified version of Jim Wendler’s excellent 5-3-1 program. Take one to two-minute breaks in between each rep.

It is beneficial to focus on singles for deadlift work as you reset before each rep and really learn how to develop the skill of starting strength. When you do multiple reps with the deadlift, the technique starts breaking down quickly especially when intense training loads are used.

Double KB Military Press: 3×5+ (one-minute breaks)

Now it is time for some upper body pressing. You may be pleasantly surprised by the time you get to presses. While some find that the exercise they do first is the strongest, I often find that what I do second or third is where I feel the strongest. Adrenaline has kicked in from the previous exercises, especially the deadlift or back squat.

The kettlebell military press is great for building strong shoulders and triceps. Many people that find the barbell military press uncomfortable, find they can do kettlebell military presses pain free. Each arm can find its own pathway and the off centered kettlebells pull the weights behind the head for a strong lockout.

Do 3×5+ (on the last set do as many reps as you can. If you get nine reps move up to heavier kettlebells next time.

Kettlebell Renegade Row:  3×6+ (one-minute breaks)

The renegade row is a great exercise to balance out the overhead pressing and also one of my favorite kettlebell exercises for the core. On the last set do as many reps as possible. If you get ten reps each side move up to heavier kettlebells. Avoid twisting when doing renegade rows. Stabilize and pull in a straight line as much as possible. 


One-arm KB Swing 3×15 each side (45-second breaks) great way to loosen up after a heavy day of Deadlifting. Use a moderate weight.


One-arm Kettlebell Snatch 3×10 each side (excellent exercise to fire up the nervous system and get warmed up for heavy training. Take one-minute breaks between each set.

Weighed Pull-ups 3×5 (one-minute breaks) Pull-ups are hard to beat for building strong lats, biceps, and the upper back. A great exercise to pair up with the bench press. Doing pull-ups and overhead pressing on the same day doesn’t work as well as there is too much overlap.

Bench Press: while the bench press is the most overused exercise by many male trainees when used properly it is an excellent exercise for building upper body pressing power.

Use a medium width grip to avoid shoulder issues. Arch the back and stay connected to the bench. Keep the elbows in and lower to just below the pecs. Do not let your butt come off the bench or bounce the bar off your chest. When you push the bar away imagine you’re pushing yourself through the floor. Focus on heavy singles as well with the bench press. Same rep scheme as the deadlift: seven singles with 85% of one-rep max in week 1, five singles with 90% of one-rep max in week 2, and three singles with 95% of one-rep max in week three. Make week four a back off week then add five pounds to your one-rep max and recalculate. Again this is a modified version of Jim Wendler’s “5-3-1” program.

Always have a good spotter when bench pressing or work in a squat rack with safety bars in place.

One-arm Kettlebell Windmill 3×5 each side (one-minute breaks). This is one of my favorite kettlebell core exercises. The windmill is excellent for building a strong torso as well as enhancing shoulder stability and flexibility.

Go as heavy as you can with good form. Make sure that the kettlebell is fully locked out during the entire duration of the set.

Double KB Front Squat 3×8+ (one-minute breaks)

While kettlebell front squats are not ideal for building serious size and strength, they are outstanding for conditioning and active recovery. They will feel great the day after heavy deadlifting and are also excellent for reinforcing proper squat technique.


One-arm KB Swing 3×15 each side (45-second breaks)


Double Kettlebell Snatch 5×5 (one-minute breaks) this is by far the most powerful ballistic kettlebell exercise. I enjoy doing double kettlebell snatches in between the knees and outside the knees as well. Outside the knees takes a lot of practice and is not something you want to attempt until you master the double kettlebell swing outside the knees. In addition to being a great exercise to fire up the nervous system, the double kettlebell snatch is also technically demanding and works best at the beginning of a workout.

Barbell Back Squat: 5×3 (one-minute breaks)

This is the money exercise for the day and the one you really want to put everything you have into. Barbell squats and deadlifts are the real power makers and they are both hard, which is why most trainees prefer to focus on curls and texting while curling. Several sets of heavy triples get the job done for building serious power. When you can use the same weight for all five sets, add 10lbs. Squat just past parallel on each rep. Make sure to get a good range as stopping too high will force the knees to put on the breaks. Squat deep so you can load up the glutes to fire up out of the bottom.

To learn optimal squat technique, Get Mastering The Power Exercises

Lockout Kettlebell Military Press: 3×5+ each side

This is a terrific exercise for building up serious overhead pressing power. Press two kettlebells overhead. Keep the right one locked out and do five presses with the left arm. Now lockout the left arm and do five reps with the right arm. On the last set do as many reps as you can. If you hit eight reps each side then move up to a heavier set of kettlebells.

Barbell Bent-over Row

Superb exercise for building up the back and balancing bench press work. The bent-over row is also excellent for improving posture. It is not an exciting exercise, which is why most trainees avoid it. Then again most trainees are weak so take a page from me and avoid following the masses.

The 5-3-1 program works very well for bent-over rows. In week one, work up to one all-out set with as many reps as you can with 85% of your estimated one-rep max.  In week two, go for a rep max with 90% of your estimated one-rep max. Finally, in week three, go for a rep max with 95% of your one-rep max. Add five pounds and start over.

Hanging Leg Raise 3×10 (one-minute breaks)

The handing leg raise in an outstanding core exercise. Hang from a pull-up bar and raise straight legs all the way up to the bar overhead. Lower under control and avoid swaying and using momentum.


One-arm KB Swing 3×15 each side (45-second breaks)


Double Kettlebell Swing 5×5 (one-minute breaks) (nervous system booster)

Barbell Floor Press

Same rep scheme as the deadlift: seven singles with 85% of one-rep max in week one, five singles with 90% of one-rep max in week two, and three singles with 95% of one-rep max in week three. Make week four a back off week then add five pounds to your one-rep max and recalculate.

Weighted Pull-ups 3×3+ (one-minute breaks and do as many repetitions as possible on the third set)

Kettlebell Turkish Get-up 3×3 each side (one-minute breaks)

The kettlebell TGU is an effective core exercise and good for shoulder stability as well. When you can do 3×3 with the same weight, go up to 3×4. Move up to a heavier kettlebell when you can do 3×5 each side.

Low position-walking kettlebell Lunge 3×8+ each side

Hold two kettlebells like suitcases and do low position-walking lunges across the floor. Staying low works the quads a great deal so expect a serious pump in the quads after several reps. On the last set do as many reps as you can. Move up to heavier kettlebells if you hit twelve reps on each side.


One-arm KB Swing 3×15 each side (45-second breaks)

There you have it, a fun and effective way to work kettlebells into a barbell program for size and strength. Remember to always focus on the basic compound exercises that work. Never do more than five exercises at a workout. Cover upper body pressing, upper body pulling, lower body pressing, lower body pulling, core work, and then call it a day. When in doubt do less and work harder on a few exercises rather than putting in a mediocre effort on several exercises.

Stick to the basics but feel free to do variations of the basics to keep training fun and engaging. For example, instead of doing back squats; do front squats or hack squats for a while. When you get tired of doing the kettlebell military press, try Lifeline TNT Cable overhead work or the barbell military press. If you get burned out on the deadlift, switch to the Romanian deadlift for a while or deadlifts from the knees in a power rack to work the top of the exercise. Variety is important but don’t try to confuse the muscles by doing moronic exercises with zero benefits. Focus on the power exercises and their variations and you will be all set.


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