Kettlebells and Deadlifts Go Together Like Vodka and Pickles

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.

The forces in the kettlebell swing
Brandon Hetzler, former StrongFirst Certified Senior Instructor, 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.

Kettlebells and Deadlifts

There are a great many deadlift 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.

Deadlifts by Dan Wohleber and John Inzer
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 deadlift 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 three times a week. Rest for 30-40 seconds 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 three to four days off and work up to what Dan John, former StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor, 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 personal record, 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 the following 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 deadlift 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, former StrongFirst Certified Senior Instructor, 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, or 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—kettlebells and deadlifts!

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

37 thoughts on “Kettlebells and Deadlifts Go Together Like Vodka and Pickles

  • Hello, i wanted to know
    If the program was effectiv also with only two times deadlifting in the weeks

    I have acces to a bar only 2 times, so i can deadlift 2 times and swings 3 times

    Thank you

  • 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

    • 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

  • 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.


  • The workouts stated in the program:

    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

    Are they supposed to all be done in one single workout 3 times a week,
    or broken into different workouts per week?



  • What weight should we be using with goblet squats? I’ve got a 90# dumbbell and was able to get 3 sets of 8 without too much trouble. Would barbell front squats work instead of goblet squats when the 90# dumbbell becomes easy? I don’t have traditional kettle bells, only a t-handle that I can adjust to #125.

  • Thanks for the excellent program. I got my 1RM max from 352 lbs to an easy 370 lbs in little less than 2 months. I weight 176 lbs so I’m solidly lifting 2 times my own weight now. Going to continue with the next protocol for even more gains!

  • I’ve been using the kettlebell swing as a rehabilitation tool for my back, and have been building up my strength and tissue integrity with it for the past few months I cannot wait to start deadlifting!!!

  • So on workout 6 does that mean to add 10 lbs. to workout number one’s poundage and do 15 singles? Otherwise if we add 10 lbs. to workout 5 what set/rep scheme would we do?

  • Let me ask a question. If one wanted to live in the world of deadlift and kettlebells, would the Goblet squat and double KB Front squat be ‘enough’ for leg strength?

  • Privyet, Pavel. Why training for volume as in high reps rather than low reps with higher intensity? Is there a preference for some people more than the other? Thanks.

    • Hello

      I wish I could do on deadlifting barbell but I can not do that since I am having a hip replacement on right side as my best doctor who performed on my hips. He said not use barber with heavy weight so I used heavy KB would be good for me because no stress on my hip. I am pretty sure that some members are having hip replacements like mine. I would like to hear from you to help me feeling better thanks


  • I’m not able to do double kettlebell front squats, and regarding goblet squats, dumbbells only go up to 130lbs in my gym. Would front squats suffice? If so, what type of intensity should I aim for?

      • Sure, use a barbell, Kevin. For a similar style progression use only 45s and one pair of 25s. Your choices then are: 95, 135, 185, 225, 275, 315, etc.

        You will have to build a volume base to make a leap to the next weight.

  • Chief,

    Thank you for this fantastic program. This is just what the doctor ordered for me as I’m wrapping up “no distractions”. I have to say I feel REALLY strong on the pitch and very mobile. I have been able to drop some of my younger athletes 40 times significantly just by adding in maximally explosive, relatively heavy kettlebell swings. I’m looking forward to working this program in myself and with some of my clients.

  • Recently I have becomed convinced that deadlifts, bench press and kettlebells are the fountain of youth. I will try your deadlift/kettlebell presricption and give you my results in two months.

  • First cycle complete.
    When you add 10 lbs, you’re adding that to the estimated 1RM, then recalculating right?

  • Question… when following this workout for example week one would consist of workout 1 on Monday, swings on Tuesday, workout 2 on Wednesday, KB squats on Thursday, and finally swings on Friday?

      • Chuck, if I am reading it right, you do the deads 3 times a week, on the days you do the deads, after you hit them, you finish if off with either one of the pulls, like swing or snatch, prefereably heavy, or the squat loads that are suggested. I could be wrong, but thats how I am reading it. Anyway, good luck with your training, another great training method from Pavel! Thanks!

        • Mark,

          I believe you are right. I’ve read it over a couple of more times. Thank you for the clarification 🙂

          • Hi Pavel,

            I completed 3 cycles of the program. My original lift was a very difficult 305lbs. I did the suggested max routine and pulled 320lbs. The actual movement was much easier. I probably could’ve done more but wanted to end on a good note. I would like to continue progressing with your help! Do you have any suggestions on how I should progress from here.


  • Great article Pavel. Reneta and I are always having a hard time scheduling deads into our busy kettlebell and martial arts training. We both are on ROTK right now and we love it. I love the 2 x 20 double kettlebell deads at the end of the press/grind blocks. We both are able very close to a double body weight dead lift just from our kettlebell training without any extra dead lift practice, I think this validates kettlebells training especially heavy double swings to transfer strength to a barbell deadlift.

  • Excellent article Pavel! I am just finishing up a similar program that you recommended to david whitley in an article he wrote called Deadlift Singles Success Story. I test my 1 rm next week but I already can feel the strength increase from the frequent non-draining practice.

  • Philippe, go through as many cycles with 10 pound as it takes to make 85% x 1/6 feel like 90% (it probably is), then “sort of max”. How long it would take depends on many variables.

  • So, if workout 6 is “add 10lb and start over”, how many times are you supposed to repeat this? The “till you sort of maxed” might take a few 6-week cycles. Right?

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