Why Powerlifting and Kettlebells are a Killer Combination

By on September 20, 2021

It may occasionally come across as though I’m not a fan of powerlifting. I’m constantly pointing out that the big three movements do nothing to train rotation, single-leg strength, or explosiveness. The classic powerlifter often lacks endurance and cardio, and mobility is another common complaint.

I’ve complained that for the average Joe, adding 5kg onto a deadlift that is already very impressive will do little to improve their overall fitness. A big squat isn’t particularly useful in a strict sense, because you can’t lift that much weight onto your shoulders to begin with. And a big bench press isn’t all that useful because if you generate that much force while standing up, you’re more likely to push yourself backwards!

Goblet Squat Jump

The truth is I have no issue with powerlifting, though. In fact, I really enjoy it. Particularly the bench! Being able to move that much weight is awesome, it does result in a very comprehensive immovability, and it has countless side benefits like increased lifespan, better grip, increased testosterone, better metabolism, and bone density.

See also: The Many Facets of Kettlebell Training

My issue is with the tribal mindset that leads people to think there is one “optimum” style of training. And the defensiveness that prevents people from admitting that there may be some holes in their training. It’s easy to become so wed to a training modality that you ignore all the signs that it’s time to branch out.

It’s by combining different forms of training that the average gym-goer can get the widest variety of benefits.

But it’s by combining different forms of training that the average gym-goer can get the widest variety of benefits. This is why powerbuilding works so well. If aesthetics aren’t a priority, however, why not try a different combination: powerlifting and kettlebell training.

Just Powerlifting Isn’t Enough

I often use powerlifting as the example because there’s this notion that “strength is strength” and that building a foundation of strength will improve every aspect of your athleticism. Neither of these statements rings true.

Getting a bigger squat won’t result in a stronger punch. If both these statements were true, then it would. You can’t do lots of bench press and magically increase your rotational strength. Your punching technique. Or your explosiveness; and yes, explosiveness can be trained: about 50% is genetic according to current best estimates (study).

Powerlifting and kettlebells

Moreover: max strength is no more fundamental to overall athleticism than strength endurance, or cardio. In fact, I would argue it is slightly less so. Mostly these criticisms are in response to Mark Rippetoe’s sweeping statements about powerfliting vs functional training. But unfortunately, his followers seem to be particularly vocal. And powerlifting is very much in vogue right now.

Many non-competitive powerlifters could benefit from adding a big dose of cardio to their training. Those that are deeply invested in their sport will argue that they will lose strength and size as a result. My response to that, though, is so what? If you are fitter all round, does it really matter if you are only stronger than 98% of the population, instead of 99%?

See also: How to Combine Training Methods (Kettlebells, Calisthenics, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting…)

It’s a different story for competitors, but for the rest of us, variety is the spice of life. And fitness.

If any of this resonates, and you want a simple way to make powerlifting more functional, consider adding kettlebell training to your routine.

Why Kettlebells and Powerlifting Work So Well Together

So, why these two?

Simple: they have complementary benefits while still appealing to the same strength training crowd.

Powerlifting is fantastic for max strength, but kettlebell training is not. Kettlebells simply don’t get heavy enough to challenge a massive barbell deadlift. This minimizes the amazing benefits you get from simply moving something extremely heavy.

Kettlebell training is brilliant for increasing work capacity and strength endurance, powerlifting is not. The best part is that kettlebell training often involves “resistance cardio” meaning that there’s still a strength element. Think churning out 50 reps of kettlebell swing. The result is intense training that raises the heartrate, builds a big engine, and burns fat; but does all this while sparing as much muscle as possible.

Halos

Powerlifting is perfectly suited to progressive overload and tracking progress, whereas kettlebell training is not. But you can use something like a Turkish get-up as an accessory to improve shoulder strength and mobility.

Kettlebell training is amazing for targeting stabilizing muscles and building rotational strength, whereas powerlifting is not. You can improve your single leg strength, core stability, and proprioception with movements like pistol squats, ballistic KB rows, KB cross body clean and press, KB swings, Cossack squats, single leg RDL, Turkish getups, farmers’ walks, etc.

Kettlebell training is amazing for targeting stabilizing muscles and building rotational strength.

Both forms of training have exercises that work as weighted stretches. Combine weighted Cossack squats and halos with deep squats to gain full range of motion in a number of movement patterns.

Closing Comments

Combining the two couldn’t be simpler: just use the powerbuilding-style approach of doing your big lifts first and then higher-rep kettlebell stuff after that (ending with a nice resistance cardio finisher). This might look something like a mix between StrongLifts 5×5 and Simple and Sinister.

Ballistic Kettlebell Rows

For all these reasons, powerlifting and kettlebell training are excellent when trained together. They still don’t cover every aspect of fitness, however, so you could always consider adding something else to the recipe down the line. How about some LISS cardio, or some movement training?

What other modalities complement each other particularly well?

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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