300 workouts with Kettlestacks

Following the "300" movie there's been a lot of buzz of about an old fashioned idea - athletic "fast circuit" style training. This style of training works really well with kettlebells with their natural focus on strength-endurance. Basically, we want to design a circuit that challenges a variety of larger bodyparts with relatively simple "whole body" motions and avoid burning out any smaller bodypart; These are hard, all consuming workouts so you really want to understand what you're going through (and why) before you start, so please read through.

A good starting point would be at least one "push/press" one "pull" and one "squat". Before going through "our" moves, sets and reps please read through for a paragraph or two to understand how the approach can be tweaked to suit your own strengths and weaknesses.
If you want to get the most out of your training you need efficient high capacity energy pathways to achieve your best results; Consider training the entire body- not just from the different angles of various pressing/pulling motions but with different paces that draw on the different energy systems of your body:

  • Phosphagen: short, explosive max effort.
  • Glycolytic: sustained, intense but sub- maximal effort.
  • Oxidative: aerobic activity.

These are fancy words for the range of pace (and suffering) you can put yourself through. Think about your muscles as the steam engine on an old fashioned locomotive; It's the stokers with the shovels (energy pathways) that are needed by even the strongest engine to get over the steep hills. In particular, a strong glycolytic system is going to give you the energy reserves to blast those last few reps in a "regular" slow pace weightlifting working.

A typical "300" workout involves repeating a "big" superset for a decreasing # of reps at say . . . 21,15,12.

would be run out with

  1. 21 Left hand snatches,
  2. 21 Right hand snatches,
  3. 21 overhead squats (left hand overhead)
  4. 21 overhead squats (right hand overhead)
  5. 21 pullups
  6. 21 pushups

and then repeat at 15 and 12 reps.

With medium high reps (eg. 300) you'll discover the particular challenges and suffering of working the glycolytic energy system; It is like wrestling 3 rounds back to back or running 2 miles at a very fast clip. The urge to stop is always there and since there is no one to compete against you will need to find your own internal motivation- A warrior fighting beside Leonidas is a pretty good mental picture of what it will feel like. A battle!

Depending on your fitness level, start out with a single kettlebell at a weight between 1/5 and 1/3 bodyweight. With the above circuit there's a total of 288 reps- not quite 300 if you were counting. Even though we are handling less weight for higher reps, you will likely find this routine is easily adjusted to make it very challenging. Let's take a moment to understand the kettlebell moves and show you how to modify this routine to your own particular strengths and weaknesses.


The kettlebell snatch is a great "whole body" challenging move- you drive the kettlebell overhead with a hip snap, but it also uses the shoulders and arms in unexpected ways from traditional bodybuilding moves. Like squats, the snatch puts you behind the cardio curve in a way that keeps the rest of the workout challenging. However, for beginners, it has several difficulties in that it requires a good bit of skill and a high aerobic capacity.

If skill at the snatch move is a problem, then swap in two reps of a heavy (1/3 BW) kettlebell swings for each pair of kettlebell snatches. For example, 42 swings instead of 21 LH snatches and 21 RH snatches. The two hands on one kettlebell swing is a simple brutal workout in itself. It also reduces the forearm fatigue which will come in handy later.

And finally, consider trying Bailsnatches ; By themselves, they are a whole afternoon of bailing hay, compressed into 5 to 10 very challenging minutes. In a 300 workout they form a great pivot move.


The overhead squat has some great benefits in a circuit workout. It keeps the core muscles tight, works the legs, keeps the heart rate up.

Since the kettlebell has two unique stable positions in the rack (at the shoulder) and lock (overhead), the kettlebell overhead squat is not nearly the balancing act of its dumbbell equivalent; It is ideal for people that have reduced shoulder flexibility.

If you find that a single 1/3 BW KB isn't challenging enough, here are two variations:

Squat presses

  1. Clean the kettlebell to the rack position
  2. go down to the bottom squat position
  3. Start pressing the kettlebell at the same type that you come up from the squat.
    This is not a jerk press, but one long smooth motion where mid-squat = mid-press.

Overhead + Rack Squat

Rack a second kettlebell while you lock out the first kettlebell overhead.
With two decent size kettlebells you have the weight to make a respectable front squat,
along with the additional challenge of keeping the first kettlebell overhead.
This can be a very real challenge!

Please remember that the second (racked) kettlebell will make it difficult to guide the first (overhead) kettlebell back down. For safety's sake, bring the overhead kettlebell back to the rack position before returning it to the floor.


Snatches are done,
your grip and traps are rested during the overhead squats,
and your lats are warmed up from balance the kettlebell overhead.
Time for pullups!
Note that this is only your first set and there are plenty of snatches to go, so use an overhand hook grip to save the forearms.


Do warriors get a rest during battle ? Remember, that in a no rest, fast circuit workout there isn't much difference between the first and last exercise You might find that pushups aren't so easy in this "300" workout , but if 21 reps is too easy then try some harder variations like

  1. roundup
  2. alternating sets of 1 arm pushups
  3. weighted pushups with a 10 or 20Kg weight plate,
  4. performing the pushups on your knuckles or using kettlebells as a platform.


In sum, we've got a relatively simple "no rest, fast circuit workout" that includes snatches , overhead squats , pullups and pushups and a few very challenging variations. With just 1 or a pair of kettlebells, a pull up bar and 20 minutes you can engage in a battle that will challenge your body and perhaps even your idea of a hard workout.

Heavy Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing should be respected for it's pure simple physical challenge, so "heavy" is enough weight that you don't have to worry about swinging it over your head (a crescent swing btw ). Before you load up on snatches, go back to the swing and refocus on the fundamentals; Basically, a kettlebell is about the best tool for training the hip snap. Swing a kettlebell with purposeful intent and you will definitely improve your basis for seriously athletic things like vertical jumps and short "popping" acceleration off the line (whatever sport you play).


Here are a few differences between men and women to consider w.r.t. kettlebells or