An alternative workout: Kettlebells and ropes


There have been some relatively new toys at my gym I’ve been wanting to play with for some time, but truth be told, my training schedule has been pretty well lined up for awhile. Time for experimentation has been minimal.

Thankfully, I did get a chance to go “off route” a little and have some fun using non-conventional training tools to do a different kind of workout using kettlebells.

Of course, when the term “kettlebells” comes into play, a lot of people will huff at that, saying, “Kettlebells are so mainstream now.”

Probably so. But think about it. For every person you see rocking the kettlebells, you probably see another 30 working with barbells, dumbbells and machines. So for most folks, kettlebells are not part of their training regimen.

Another tool: ropes. Big, thick ropes. Put these together with a mat and a timer and you can create for yourself a cool workout that will work your muscles differently than more conventional means and get your heart rate up.

Let’s start with the ropes. What you’re looking for are 20-foot sections of rope that are thick — the sort of girth you might see on ropes at a shipyard, about the thickness of an adolescent’s wrist. These will be pretty heavy. Tie one end of the rope to a weighty kettlebell. The other end will be in your hand. You should have two ropes — one for each hand, both anchored to a weight or some other heavy or fixed object. Stretch the rope out to a point where it’s straightened but still loose on the floor and not tight. You want to have room for that rope to move.

The exercise: Set your timer for 1 minute. With the end of the ropes in your hand, raise and drop your hands up and down rapidly until the timer goes off (think of an up-and-down paintbrush move like Mr. Miyagi taught us in “The Karate Kid”). The action will send the rope into a ripple motion. Do this for three sets with a short break in between sets. And then feel your shoulders begin to burn.

Next, let’s go to the kettlebells. Starting with a lighter kettlebell, you’re going to do kettlebell swings.

The exercise: In a squat position, grab the handle of the kettlebell, which is resting on the floor. Stand up while raising the weight and swinging it up to just above parallel. Then lower the weight in a swinging motion to the floor and squat back down. Repeat this 10 times on each arm for three sets, with short breaks in between. Keep your core tight enough to be in control. Your shoulders, core and legs will get some work here. While momentum will be at play, you should have enough control that your muscles are lifting the weight up and controlling the weight on its way down.

Staying with the kettlebell theme, grab some bigger weights. This time, instead of doing a swing, the exercise is going to be all about power. For this portion, you’ll be doing a one-handed snatch.

The exercise: Starting in the same position as you did with the swings, squat up and explosively raise the weight from the floor to overhead. Completion of the rep will have you standing straight up, with the arm involved in the lift fully extended. This should all be in one motion. So don’t squat, then lift. The lifting of the weight to the overhead position should be timed so that by the time you are standing straight up, you will have pressed the kettlebell overhead.

I chose to alternate hands in sets of eight, and increased weight with each set. If you’re having trouble envisioning this, think of doing a deadlift and a push-press at the same time. As with any exercise where you are standing and pushing a weight overhead, pay attention to form. Start light and don’t go too heavy and sacrifice form. And while you shouldn’t go slow in an explosive move, you should be deliberate about each rep. Don’t rush it. Bad form in any Olympic or modified Olympic lift (like this one) is a great way to get injured.

Time to switch gears. Time is of the essence, and I wanted to work a little core on the front side of my torso. So I went with a hybrid set: 20 crunches, followed immediately by 20 scissor kicks, with my feet elevated about a foot off the floor. Repeat that two more times to round out three sets.

To end the workout, try an interval cardio session of about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s your choice of what this will be — running outside or on the treadmill, hitting a stationary bike or perhaps an elliptical. Twenty minutes should burn at least 300 calories and work up a good sweat if you haven’t already.

This is a short workout, easily completed in less than 45 minutes. But it is also scalable. You can do a whole range of exercises with the kettlebells – Clean-and-presses, squats, farmer’s walks, walking lunges, wood-choppers, etc. Same goes with the ropes. Instead of swinging your hands up and down, go side-to-side. Or have your hands go up and down in unison instead of alternating.

Kettlebells and ropes have been a big part of cross-training, boot camps and Crossfit for some time. But here’s something else: Major sports programs use them as well. Why? Because they’re excellent training tools. If your gym has them, or if you can get these items at home, working with these items might make for a great way to do something different and shake up your routine.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


3 thoughts on “An alternative workout: Kettlebells and ropes

  1. Pingback: Another look at that kettlebell workout | proactiveoutside

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