Ryan Jankowitz RKC

Kettlebell Complexes And Chains – What’s the Difference?

If you’re reading this article, then you enjoy training with kettlebells for a variety of reasons and you take your health and fitness seriously.

One of the reasons I love kettlebells is because of efficiency, both from a time and total body conditioning perspective. I love how I can work my entire body in well under an hour (45-minutes or less in most of the workouts) while still putting in a lot of quality reps.

I probably save an hour a week or about 4 hours a month of training time compared to how I used to work out in my bodybuilding days. I do this by using kettlebell complexes and chains.


So, what is a kettlebell complex?

A kettlebell complex is a series of exercises strung together without having to set the bell down and rest. You don’t have to go from one machine to the next or change the weight on a bar. Did I mention how efficient kettlebells are???

In a kb complex, you would perform all of the reps of one exercise before moving on to the next exercise and so on and so forth.

For example, a classic complex I use and that I program for clients consists of cleans, presses, and front squats. You perform 5 reps of the clean, then transition to the press and perform all 5 reps and then transition to the front squat for 5 reps. Switch hands by performing an alternating swing and repeat on the other side. That’s 1 set!

So, in that one set, you performed 15 reps per side for a total of 30 reps in a very short amount of time and hit most of your major muscle groups…. phew!

Check out this video for a quick demonstration of how to perform a kettlebell complex.


Okay, now what’s the difference between a complex and a chain?

A kettlebell chain is also a series of exercises strung together without having to set the bell down and rest. The difference is that you perform just 1 rep of an exercise before moving onto another exercise for 1 rep and so on and so forth.

Using the clean, press, and front squat example here’s what a chain would look like.

Perform 1 clean, then 1 press, then 1 front squat, that’s 1 rep, repeat for 5 reps and switch hands and repeat. Again, 15 reps per side for 30 total reps.

Here’s a video demonstration of a kettlebell chain.

I find chains to be a bit more engaging mentally as I have to constantly switch exercises and pay attention to what comes next. I also find that pressing comes a little easier in a chain because I can let my pressing muscles rest while performing front squats and cleans.

I tend to program 5 basic kettlebell exercises for my clients in the chains and complexes they perform. Those 5 exercises are:

  • Cleans
  • Presses
  • Front squats
  • 1-Arm swings
  • Racked carries

If you’re more advanced, then you can work in snatches, overhead carries, and Turkish get-ups. Watch out for those get-ups though! If you add a get-up to your complex or chain, I would do just 1 or 2 reps.

I would love to hear what combinations you put together.

Ryan Jankowitz, RKC II


Note: The views/opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and don’t necessarily align with those of Cavemantraining.

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