5 Ways To Use Kettlebells In Your Strength and Conditioning Program



The barbell has and always will be king in strength and conditioning for football and other power sports, but that doesn’t mean it should be the ONLY tool that you have at your disposal when building your athletes.

Kettelbells are a safe, effective and versatile tool that should be a regular part of your coaching arsenal.

Here are five simple ways to add kettlebells into your strength and conditioning program today.

Kettlebell Carry Variations

Conditioning for athletes typically consists of one main event: RUNNING, whether it is jogging or sprinting.

What is running doing for the athlete? Sure it may be increasing cardiovascular endurance and sprinting can increase muscle mass, but it is can also be hard on the joints if the athletes technique isn't on point (and let's be honest - most athletes now a days could use a primer on proper running technique).

Weighted carries with kettlebells will increase the athletes trunk, grip, trap, and single leg strength/stability. They also add a factor of increased proprioception and coordination due to the exercise being a constant movement with heavy weight.

Rack walks have the same perks as a farmer’s walk, but with an emphasis on trunk strength and stability.

Overhead carries, the hardest kettlebell carry variation, also sees the same gains as the others, but with the addition of shoulder strength and stability.


Kettlebell Clean

Kettlebell cleans create an interesting opportunity for conditioning and skill development.

High repetition barbell cleans can be physically exhausting and a great conditioning workout, but in order to execute the movement safely the athlete must have a basic understanding of the movement prior to hitting high rep sets.

The kettlebell version of this movement adds one HUGE advantage when done for high repetitions: it is much less technically difficult, decreasing the risk of injury and making the session much more effective.

With increased exhaustion it is most certainly guaranteed that form will deteriorate. The barbell clean being a whole body, technically difficult, and high velocity movement yields a high chance of injury when done for higher repetitions while fatigued.

The high repetition kettlebell clean on the other hand provides same benefits but with a much more simplistic form and lessened chance of injury.

Sample Conditioning Circuit With Kettlebells

A quick kettlebell conditioning workout using the weighted carry and clean could look something like this:

  1. 5 rounds of sideline to sideline and back (106yds) farmer’s walk  
  2. 5 rounds of 10 double kettlebell clean + sideline to sideline (53 yards) rack walk

If that workout is kept at a quick pace not only will it be grueling and add variety, but more beneficial than mindlessly running suicides until someone pukes.


Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Kettlebells are also an effective tool to build strength and power in your athletes.

They provide a basic form of most barbell movements for the less experienced athlete (or athlete with movement/mobility restrictions), while adding difficult variation for the more experienced athlete.

The kettlebell goblet squat should be the FIRST squatting movement used with new athletes after they have shown competency with the bodyweight squat.

This exercise is often skipped in favor for its barbell brother, the back squat. The goblet squat creates not only leg strength, but the trunk stability needed before advancing to the heavier barbell squat.

Although the barbell squat is the ultimate progression, you cannot discount kettlebell squat variations for the more advanced athlete.

After the athlete shows proficiency in squatting movements, kettlebell front rack squats and overhead squats can be added in. These more advanced kettlebell movements bring about more stability and balance factors. While they may not be perfect as a main lift for advanced athletes they still will be great adding variety as a supplemental movement.


Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings are the very definition of a proper hip hinge.

Andrew Read on the kettlebell swing:

"If you were looking for a single exercise to care for the human frame you’d probably look for an exercise that helped us regain our posture from one of sitting hunched over to one that was upright, extended, and open. You’d probably also look for an exercise that worked the posterior chain to overcome all the negative effects of sitting and, if you could find one exercise that could do both of those, you’d probably also wonder if you could find one super exercise that could strengthen your heart and help you lose weight, too."

The kettlebell swing is that movement, my friends. Not only is it great for improving general movement quality, it's very effective at building better athletes.

Using swings within a program can provide not only a stronger hip extension, but can also develop explosive hip extension that all athletes benefit from.

This stronger more explosive hip extension that kettlebell swings bring about can lead to everything from stronger drives blocks by an offensive guard, or even a safety jumping higher to intercept a pass. Once again, swings will not replace a main barbell lift, but are great as an accessory exercise.


Kettlebell Snatch

Any snatch movement is great for building explosive athletes, but the commonly used barbell snatch has its downfalls. The barbell snatch is often very difficult to not only coach, but perform with great form.

The kettlebell snatch, like the kettlebell clean, has nearly all of the benefits of it's barbell counterpart without the risks. 

Just like the other exercises the kettlebell snatch will most likely not replace a main barbell movement for the experienced athlete, but is great for supplementing or using as a method of contrast with heavier lifts.

Get After It!

The main thing to take away from my rant is to have open mind when it comes to kettlebells while training your athletes.

If you as a coach want your athletes to be more complete, kettlebells should be included in your program.

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About The Author

Andrew is a strength coach at the Underground Strength Gym in New Jersey, along with being the head coach of Silverback Strong team on TrainHeroic. Like many he started his journey in strength with football, playing both at the high school and the Division 1 level. After his endeavor in football he competed in powerlifting and other amateur strength competitions. He graduated from Montclair State University with a BS in Exercise Science and has his CSCS along with various other credentials including learning experience with many industry leaders.