How to Structure a Kettlebell WOD (Workout Of the Day)

There are many ways to structure a kettlebell workout of the day, but here’s what we consider the most optimal structure for any type of workout, but especially Kettlebell WODs.

  1. Warm-up
  2. Prep work
  3. Work on mobility
  4. Technique
  5. Training
  6. Demo
  7. Workout and monitor
  8. Cool down and stretch
  9. Provide feedback

Why Warm-up?

You warm up to achieve an increased heart rate, body temperature, get the blood pumping through the system, increase blood flow to the muscles and loosen the joints. Not only is a warm-up good physically but also mentally.

You warm up with body or light weight, gently increasing intensity during the duration of the warm-up. The most important reason for a warm-up is to prevent injury like muscle strain etc. If after your warm-up you focus on mobility, and/or training, then you can reduce the warm-up time to about 5 to 10 minutes.

If you’re using running, then you start with a light jog or high knees, then run, and finish with sprinting. Squats, burpees, jumping jacks, jump rope, and alternating reverse lunges are all good for warming up. A warm-up should be full-body but should focus more on the areas that are going to be worked.

Prep Work

Prep work is the time you invest into preparing for the workout by breaking down the movements, combining the movements, figuring out what alternatives to do, and what weight to use. Prep work is best done right before the workout and after the warm-up. See it as another warm-up between the bodyweight warm-up and workout. Perform each exercise in the workout, start with a light weight, and gradually increase the weight to the weight that you’ll be using in the workout. If you would be working out with a kettlebell flow, you would deconstruct the flow and perform each movement, and then slowly start adding them together until you have the full flow. Your prep work avoids mistakes in the workout and promotes the best performance.

Why Mobility?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to focus on mobility before the warm-up, but a warm body means an increased range of motion.

You focus on mobility, to increase range of motion, increase flexibility to achieve a better overhead lockout, to be able to hold the kettlebell overhead during a squat without it impacting the lower back, and so on.

Some of the areas to focus on are but are not limited to the thoracic spine, shoulders, ankles, hips, and so on. This can also be a good time to focus on mind-muscle connection, lat activation, core activation, glute activation, preventing excessive pelvic tilt, etc. Some of the mobility drills can be but are not limited to resistance band work, bodyweight windmills, and even lunges are great, but to be performed in a slow controlled manner focussing on the range, add rotation to make it even better, put your hands behind your head and you’re also opening up the chest.

With mobility, it’s best you focus on the work to come, if you’re going to do a lot of overhead stuff then you should focus on shoulders, chest, scapula, thoracic spine, lats, lower traps, etc. The plank is great for lat activation, or just hang from a bar and activate the lats, alternating superman or Cobra is also great for the back, throw in some rotational work as that’s mostly overlooked.

Why separate working on strength from the workout? For optimal strength, control, and focus are required, for this reason, removing the competitive aspect of most WODs is required, hence it makes more sense to separate strength.

Why Technique?

The technique part of the session is to break down the exercises and talk about the little nuances that will help people understand the movements and improve their technique. This is also a good time to talk about alternatives and progressions, common mistakes and how to avoid them.

The technique part is the most important part of the whole session but the key is not to turn it into a book and bore the people that are ready and geared to work out. Spread the knowledge across different sessions, each time covering the most important things and paired with something not covered before. Drop those knowledge bombs.

Why Demo?

You can talk and get lots of ‘Yesses’ paired with blank stares, and you know they’re too afraid to say “I have no clue what you’re talking about”, a quick exercise demonstration will prevent this, pair it with some cues, and you’re re-enforcing technique through visualization and verbalization.

A demo is different from training, there is no need to cover the complete exercises and every detail for regulars, you carefully pick the right cues, muscle groups to activate, and common mistakes made. Each time you demo, you try and cover something new, you might even cover something specific you know someone in the group needs to know, this is a great way to cover things that might otherwise be awkward to discuss. For example with the deadlift, you could talk about trap activation, glute activation, full hip extension but not hyperextension, and so on. If you’re lost for ideas, then it’s time to learn more about the exercises.

Why Training?

Training is where you get the group to go through the kettlebell exercises, correct the technique, assess, progress or regress, provide alternatives, and keep an eye out for injured people—yes some people train when injured—you can pick up on this and talk to them, tell them you recommend rest and recovery. If they insist on training, tell them to go lighter or half the reps. Maybe you can see that they’re fatigued, you might know they’re capable of easily smashing this WOD in a recovered state, but today you can see they need rest, and you provide the guidance you’re paid for. Break things down during training, if you’re going to be jerking, then you would start with a push press, and work on the second dip without weight, stand up and reset. You might even work on the drop. Break things down, and work on the issues. Training is also a great time to work on strength and MMC, including static holds, like the plank or hang, all great for lat activation (MMC).

Why Work Out?

Working out is to push yourself further, compete against others, and compete against your yesterdays self. Working out is not about training, it’s about using what you learned during training, it’s about conditioning, repetition, improving muscle endurance, improving cardiovascular endurance, increasing reps, it’s about learning how to pace yourself, listening to your body and above all, it’s about increasing mental toughness. Read about the difference between training and working out.

Why Monitor?

Monitoring is what you do while the participants are working out, there is a plethora of things to monitor for, muscle activation, technique, pacing, effort and so on, but most importantly, monitor the potential for injury. If someone is pressing with a hyper-extended back instead of jerking, it’s time for rest, lower weight, and a scheduled technique session. If someone is squatting RX overhead and their heels are coming off the ground every time, squat depth is minimal, then it’s time to lower their weight for that exercise and make a note to have them work on flexibility. And my favorite, picking someone out of the crowd and monitoring their reps, hey, everyone makes a mistake sometimes, for sure, but always 7 = 10 requires some group-directed motivational talk about why you’re working out, that coming in numero uno isn’t your main objective, well, not at the cost of technique, reps, and potential for serious injury.

Why Cooldown and Stretch?

The body is now in a perfect state for static stretching and foam rolling, well deserved time to thank and take care of the muscles for the performance they’ve given. Static stretches are great for increasing muscle length, which in turn helps prevent injury, and greater range of motion. It’s also a good time to relax and reflect on your performance. Let me tell you a secret, I don’t always stretch, as I don’t think it’s a requirement to always stretch, but this depends entirely on what you do outside of the workouts and/or what was involved in the workout, like for example a session which involved a lot of dynamic stretches and/or grinding moves that go to the edge of flexibility. But having said that, cooling down and stretching after a session is good for the mind. In our kettlebell workouts, we perform a lot of hybrid workouts which include everything I just discussed.

Why Provide Feedback?

Time to talk about the notes you made during your monitoring, it can be a quick addressing of the whole group, if the majority of the group made the same mistake, it can be pulling someone aside, and giving them some tips in private or even suggesting personal training, whether to increase technique, strength, flexibility or other.

We have always made this a big part of our service, we talk to people afterward and if we don’t get to talk to them afterward, we take a mental note and take them aside next time if they’re in early and we have a few minutes to spare. It could even be things like improvements we’ve seen, it doesn’t always need to be about learning more. It would even go as far as life tips, general health tips, and little things like talking about smoking, excessive drinking, nutrition, rest and mental state.

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