Get Stronger with One Kettlebell


In January 2021 I led the programming section at an SFG Level I certification. I wanted the attendees to grasp some programming concepts and be able to create an effective program with just one weight. So, I decided to build on what I had heard Fabio Zonin, StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor, discuss regarding a program built around only one kettlebell.

In Pavel’s Plan Strong™ approach, the sweet spot for strength training is doing the bulk of your volume at 75-80% of your 1RM. Since I wanted to keep things on the simpler side, I used Fabio’s idea and wrote up a complete month of press programming using only one weight in that 75-80% range. Different from an actual Plan Strong program, this lecture outlined a month where the intensity is fixed and only the volume gets waved. Just to be clear it is better to wave the intensity as well, but to let the students more effectively focus on one major concept I only waved the volume.

How do we know whether we’ve “waved” the volume enough? One of the many key concepts from Plan Strong is the Delta 20 principle. (In my opinion, it is the Holy Grail of programming.) Delta 20 stipulates that the volume must vary ±20% from session to session, week to week, and month to month. For example, if you did 50 reps in week one, you would have to do either 60 (or more) or 40 (or less) in the following week. Following this principle, I put together a press program for the SFG I attendees and was glad to see it was clear to many of them. In fact, one of the students used the idea to get himself to meet his press requirement for the certification!

Pressing a heavy kettlebell

From the Chalk Board to Real Life

I work in film production and as luck would have it, I was hired onto a two-month gig on a TV show shortly after teaching the SFG I. Given the hours we work, I knew it would be impossible to do any kind of “real” training program. So, I took my own advice and wrote up a press program using a single kettlebell that I could complete during our lunch break.

While my long-distance goal is pressing the “Beast”—the 48kg kettlebell— my all-time max is 44kg, but that was around five years ago. I might have been able to grunt out an ugly single with the 40kg if my wife’s life depended on it, but I felt the 36kg was a more realistic max. This made the 28kg the perfect kettlebell since it’s 78% of 1RM and falls perfectly into that 75-80% range. I brought a 24kg and 28kg to the stages where we were filming and for the following two months I pressed three times per week. I used the 24kg for three reps to warm up before pressing the 28kg. That was it.

StrongFirst Kettlebell Fundamentals online course

The Program

I started the session #1 of week #1 with ten reps because following Plan Strong, that’s the minimum volume for a session to be effective. Here’s how the two months broke down:

Military Press Plan Strong table training
Click on the image to enlarge.

You can see that each session has a 20% difference compared to the following session, and the same is true for each weekly volume as well as the overall volume for both months. For sheer simplicity, I increased the volume 20% every week through month one. Then I dropped back down to the volume from week two (20% difference from month one, week four) and increased volume via Delta 20 every week from there. You can definitely play around more with the weekly volumes, perhaps peaking mid-month or week one, but I was going for simplicity.

Since I was only pressing one kettlebell, I wanted to add a bit of variability to how my sets and reps broke down. Easy Strength is an old book of Pavel’s, and it offers a variety of ways to break up a set of ten reps into reps: 1, 2, 3, 4 or 4, 2, 4 or 5, 5 etc. I implemented this approach with a roll of the die, each roll accounting for ten reps. Rolling a “1” meant I did 1, 2, 3, 4. Rolling a “2” meant I did 4, 3, 2, 1, and remaining numbers dictated other rep breakdowns. Since all days, but day one, have more than ten reps, I would continue to roll until I had all reps accounted. For example, week four, session three is 26 reps. I would roll twice for the first 20 reps and then roll one last time to get the breakdown for the last six reps. Variability is your friend when it comes to strength training, and this was a simple way to insert another layer of it.

Kettlebell military press PR

Final Thoughts

Plan Strong has many more variables in addition to Delta 20 that are combined into a complete program, waving the intensity being a major one. And you will most certainly get greater results if you do this. But given my limitations with both access to gear and access to time, this was a perfect plan for me. I had confidence I would make progress (or at least not lose ground) but I did not know exactly what to expect. After two months of just waving the volume and only pressing the 28kg, I pressed the 40kg, which is my half body weight press. Not too shabby for working within such limitations.

If your time and gear are limited, do not be dissuaded from training. Follow something along the lines of what I’ve outlined here, and you will experience amazing results.

Stay strong, my friends!

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Learn more about Plan StrongTM—the undefeated Soviet Olympic weightlifting system applied to general strength training (the powerlifts, the barbell and kettlebell military presses, weighted calisthenics)

John Spezzano
StrongFirst Certified Team Leader, Elite Instructor at Source 1 Martial Arts and Fitness
Located in Los Angeles, CA, StrongFirst Certified Team Leader and Elite Instructor, John Spezzano, has over thirty-five years of martial arts training and has been an instructor in six different systems since 1995: Filipino Martial Arts, Jun Fan Gung Fu / JKD Concepts, and Maphilindo Silat all under Guro Dan Inosanto, Muay Thai under Ajarn Chai Sirisute, Wing Chun under Sifu Francis Fong, and Savate under Nicolas Saignac. John is also a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Prof. Shawn Williams.

John’s thirst for knowledge is unquenchable and he is constantly searching for more ways to improve his training and that of his students.

10 thoughts on “Get Stronger with One Kettlebell

  • Hey John, Thanks for this article. It’s been a great help. I just finished week 1 of my second 4-week block and am feeling good. I hadn’t pressed for quite a while, maybe six months, because of an injury unrelated to training. So pressing with one bell made a lot of sense for me. On the first month I increased volume every week as you laid out. For this month I mixed up the weekly volume order… W1- Medium High Volume, W2-low volume, W3-Medium Low Volume, and W4-Hi Volume. The intra-week volume I kept the way you have it shown. Again, thanks so much for sharing. All the best, Henry.

  • About two months ago, I came across this article. I was intrigued by the simplicity of the program, so I decided to give it a go. The only difference between my own and John’s execution of the program was that John used a roll of the dice to determine the rep scheme, whereas I used a fixed scheme, which you can see in the table.

    No. Reps Rep scheme
    10 3, 5, 2
    12 3, 5, 4
    15 3, 5, 4, 3
    18 3, 6, 5, 4
    22 5, 6, 6, 5
    27 5, 7, 6, 5, 4
    33 5, 8, 7, 7, 6

    Overall, I’m very pleased with the result of the program. I started with a 3RM with the 32 kg kettlebell, which resulted in a working weight of 24 or 28 kg. I went with the 24 kg since I just felt that the 28 kg was too heavy to begin with as my working weight.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have access to heavier kettlebells than 32 kg at my gym, so I haven’t been able to test a proper 1RM single arm press. But I’ve significantly increased my pressing strength. Today, during my max test I managed to press the 32 kg for 8 reps on my right arm and 7 reps on my left.

    I think that the most important takeaway of this program is that it is possible to achieve great results with only minimal equipment at your disposal. You can work with what you have, you just need to have a sound plan and stick to it.

    Many thanks for sharing the program, John.

  • I love the idea of using the die to determine the rep scheme as a sub set of that day’s workload and add variability.
    I’ve just signed up to Fabio’s Victorious but will definitely try this after I’ve worked through the two Victorious programmes.

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