Military-Style Kettlebell Workouts


With its historical roots in Russia and a background as a training tool for the Red Army and Russian Navy, the kettlebell exerts a natural affinity for military members looking for a powerful workout. Russian military branches maintain “courage corners” for every unit, no matter how remote, with supplies of kettlebells to maintain fitness, notes Russian fitness trainer Pavel Tsatsouline -- who now consults with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Secret Service and the Navy SEALs. You can scale your own workouts to match upcoming military fitness tests or achieve personal goals.

10-Minute Snatch Test

  • This benchmark test screens members of the U.S. Secret Service and elite forces, as well as Russian fighters and even civilian participants in kettlebell sport -- timed competitions of your ability. You simply need to perform as many repetitions as possible of the kettlebell snatch, a one-armed lift from between your ankles to above your head, in 10 minutes. You can switch hands at will. Men work with 24-kilogram bells; women with 12 kilograms. You want to surpass 100 reps, shooting for 150 as indicative of decent conditioning, while 200 to 250 puts you in terrific company with the fittest of the fit.

Army Physical Readiness Test

  • Kettlebells provide a crucial link in the “Army Physical Readiness Training Manual,” designed to help soldiers maintain combat readiness and pass fitness tests. The manual includes a strength-training circuit calling for three rotations with one minute at each of 10 stations. Kettlebell components include the sumo squat, straight-leg deadlift, forward lunge, step-ups, supine chest presses, bent-over row, overhead push press and supine body twists. Body-weight work completes the circuit, and consists of pullups and leg tucks. With enough sets of kettlebells, the circuits can be set up and executed even at the platoon level.

Sample Program

  • U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Philip Davis, who holds the RKC or Russian Kettlebell Certification, advises a five-day workout to make passing military fitness tests that much easier. Include the long-cycle clean and press, single-leg deadlift and windmills on Mondays. Involve your 10-minute snatch test and alternating swings on Tuesdays, and on Wednesdays you’ll do 20 to 30 minutes of juggling your kettlebells. Perform the Turkish get-up on Thursdays, and you finish Fridays with snatches and ultra-challenging jump squats.

Specialized Applications

  • You can also tailor your kettlebell workout to specifics of your assignments. If you expect deployment to a rugged area, for example, the Mountain Athlete website advises one-armed swings, figure 8s, the clean and press, slashers-to-halo and lunges. If you’ll be shooting under combat conditions, Greg Mihovich, head trainer of the Underground Gym in Red Bank, New Jersey, recommends challenging variations on squats and the Turkish get-up. These include the Cossack squat switch, the pistol switch to supine, the racked duck walk, a front squat to shin walk and the tactical get-up.

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