Kettlebells and Deadlifts Go Together Like Vodka and Pickles

By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

Speaks 1,000-pound deadlifter Andy Bolton: “The [Kettlebell] Swing is a great developer of the posterior chain and will teach you how to develop some awesome SNAP in your hips.  For lifters, this makes them a useful assistance movement for the squat and deadlift.”

And if you have never deadlifted a barbell but have been seriously swinging and snatching a kettlebell, you are already ahead in the deadlift game.  Kettlebell pulls have “greased” the hip hinge pattern for the deadlift and strengthened your deadlift muscles.

Brandon Hetzler, SFG II, CK-FMS, has measured the forces generated in the kettlebell swing. In this set of swings with a 53-pound kettlebell the force exceeded 500 pounds.

There are a great many DL styles.  A hip-dominant style such as Andy Bolton’s, rather than quad-dominant style, suits a girevik’s strength.  Learn it from an experienced powerlifter.

Dan Wohleber’s and John Inzer’s styles heavily rely on the hip hinge and are perfect for a girevik.
Photos courtesy Powerlifting USA

Once your technique is passable, it is time to drill it with high frequency practice.  Here is your plan based on an old Westside Barbell DL template.  Use the max estimated by your powerlifting coach (you have no business maxing at this point).

Workout 1: 65% x 1/15 (reps/sets)

Workout 2: 70% x 1/15

Workout 3: 75% x 1/12

Workout 4: 80% x 1/8

Workout 5: 85% x 1/6

Workout 6: Add 10 pounds and start over

Do the above practice/workout three times a week.  Rest for 30-40sec rest between sets.  Stay on the program as long as you are not struggling.  When the poundage in workout five takes 90% of your effort, take 3-4 days off and work up to what Master SFG Dan John calls a “sort of max.”  For example, 50% x 5, 60% x 4, 70% x 3, 80% x 2, 90% x 1, 105% x 1, etc.  Set a PR but keep perfect form and save something for another day.  The deadlift severely punishes those who overextend themselves—and rewards those who treat it as a practice, not a challenge.  Consider the contrast between these two statements by two strength authorities.  Louie Simmons pointed out that heavy deadlifts take a lot more out of you than they give you.  And Dan John observed that building strength with light “grease the groove” type deads is like “stealing.”  Save the killer attitude for competition—when you are ready for it.  Meanwhile, practice.

Start every DL practice with 3 sets of 3 prying light goblet squats and 3 sets of 10 hard style two-handed swings with 30% of your bodyweight (sweet spot for power production, according to research by Brandon Hetzler, SFG II, CK-FMS).

After your deads alternate kettlebell pulls and squats from workout to workout.

For your kettlebell pulls you have multiple choices: swings (one-arm, two-arm, hand-to-hand), dead swings, double swings, double cleans, snatches.  Favor heavier weights and keep the volume in the 100-150 rep range.

On the squat day do goblet squats or double kettlebell front squats. Dan John recommends a squat volume of 15-25 reps.

You are on your own with your upper body work.

Once you have run through this cycle and “sort of maxed,” drop us a line on the StrongFirst forum and we will guide you to the next step.

Double power to you—deadlift and kettlebell!

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37 Responses to Kettlebells and Deadlifts Go Together Like Vodka and Pickles

  1. nico says:

    Completed 3 cycles of the program taking my max of 140KG (311lbs) as base for the program (last time I deadlifted was november last year). I did the goblets with 16KG, swings with 32KG.
    Tested 6 days after the last workout of cycle 3 and ended up deadlifting 170KG.
    Very happy with the result, I’ll probably repeat the program in 3-4 months

    • nico says:

      correction: prying goblets were with 16, goblets, swings clean after DL with 32.. 2 times I did a 16kg snatch test with the last one coming in at 4m25s for 100 snatches. As I also wanted to work on grip more I also added some light (60-70KG) sumo DL’s with fatgripz, 7-10s hold at the top for 6 reps to most workouts

  2. matt rinaldi says:

    Tested today:

    New max 396lbs (180kg)
    The lockout felt smooth and grip was strong during lift.

    Happy with results as old max was 385lbs (175kg), which took a lot out of me.

    looking forward to part 2 of the program.


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