The Moving Target Kettlebell Complex

Kettlebell complexes rock. A few months ago StrongFirst published the Total Tension Kettlebell Complex in this blog. Those of you who followed the plan as written saw excellent results. Senior SFG Tommy Blom, for instance, gained 3.8kg (8.4 pounds) of lean body mass in six weeks. 

Following is another StrongFirst complex. We put SFG Level I students through it at the last two Certifications in South Africa and Australia.

The Moving Target Kettlebell Complex

The Moving Target Kettlebell Complex

You need a pair of kettlebells that you can strictly press 6-8 times.

Do:

1 clean + 2 presses + 1 squat
Rest
1 clean + 3 presses + 1 squat
Rest
1 clean + 5 presses + 1 squat
Rest

Then repeat the process with squats, using the same bells:

1 clean + 1 press + 2 squats
Rest
1 clean + 1 press + 3 squats
Rest
1 clean + 1 press + 5 squats
Rest

And finally with cleans:

2 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
Rest
3 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
Rest
5 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
Rest

The pattern is clear: a single rep of two of the component drills and a 2, 3, 5 ladder of the third. Systemically, you are getting tired, but the muscular stress target keeps shifting and you can keep going without compromising your technique.

If you do the math, you will see that the above totals 16 reps of each exercise. That is not a lot, but the 1:1 work-to-rest ratio (“I go, you go”) will make sure this brief session will get your attention. If it has not, repeat the whole series once more after ten minutes of rest. Rest actively: walk around, do a couple of Brettzels, hip flexor stretches, etc.

There are many ways to build a four- to six-week training plan around this workout. If you are experienced in program design, give it a shot and post your solution in the comments section. I will select the best ones and include them in a future blog.

Enjoy the pain!

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26 thoughts on “The Moving Target Kettlebell Complex

  • One session. X is number of steps (2,3,5) do complex 1 before complex 2.
    1 clean – x press – 1 front squat
    1 clean – 1 press – x front squat
    X clean – 1 press – 1 front squat

    3 days a week.
    Below is specified in Number of “rounds”. do one round of ALL of the complexes:
    I.e. complex1, all steps on the ladders before next complex. -> complex2 (all steps in the ladder -> complex 3 -> c1 -> c2 -> c3
    Keep tempo low on first step up in volume, just get the reps in. Then try to compress time.
    W1: 1,1,2
    W2: 1,2,2
    W3: 2,2,2
    W4: 2,2,3
    W5: 2,3,3
    W6: 3,3,3

    Or
    1,1,2
    1,2,2
    2,3,2
    2,3,3
    3,3,3

    After this the plan can begin again with 3,5,7 before next sized bell and/or low volume program.

  • Day 1: Clean + 2 Presses + SQ 2 Cleans + Press + SQ
    Rest Rest
    Clean + 3 Presses + SQ then do 3 Cleans + Press + SQ repeat
    Rest Rest
    Clean + 5 Presses + Sq 5 Cleans + Press + SQ
    ——————————————————————————————————————-

    Day 2: Clean + Press + 2 SQ 2 Cleans + Press + SQ
    Rest Rest
    Clean + Press + 3 SQ 3 Cleans + Press + SQ
    Rest Rest
    Clean + Press + 5 SQ 5 Cleans + Press + SQ
    —————————————————————————————————————–
    Day 3: Clean + 2 Presses+ SQ Clean + Press + 2 SQ
    Rest Rest
    Clean + 3 Presses + SQ Clean + Press + 3 SQ
    Rest Rest
    Clean + 5 Presses + SQ Clean + Press + 5 SQ
    ———————————————————————————————————————
    Week 1: 3 sets Week 4: 4 sets
    Week 2: 4 sets Week 5: 5 sets
    Week 3: 5 sets Week 5: 6 sets

    • It should read as this:

      Day 1:
      Clean + 2 Presses + SQ
      Rest
      Clean + 3 Presses + SQ
      Rest
      Clean + 5 Presses + SQ

      >Then do:

      2 Cleans + Press + SQ
      Rest
      3 Cleans + Press + SQ
      Rest
      5 Cleans + Press + SQ

      >Then repeat from the top
      ——————————————————————————————————————-

      Day 2:
      Clean + Press + 2 SQ
      Rest
      Clean + Press + 3 SQ
      Rest
      Clean + Press + 5 SQ

      Then do:

      2 Cleans + Press + SQ
      Rest
      3 Cleans + Press + SQ
      Rest
      5 Cleans + Press + SQ

      >then repeat from the top

      —————————————————————————————————————–

      Day 3:
      Clean + 2 Presses+ SQ
      Rest
      Clean + 3 Presses + SQ
      Rest
      Clean + 5 Presses + SQ

      >Then do:

      Clean + Press + 2 SQ
      Rest
      Clean + Press + 3 SQ
      Rest
      Clean + Press + 5 Sq
      >Then repeat from the top
      ———————————————————————————————————————
      Week 1: 3 sets Week 4: 4 sets
      Week 2: 4 sets Week 5: 5 sets
      Week 3: 5 sets Week 5: 6 sets

  • This complex sounds intriguing but how to program it…
    My thinking leads me to plug it in as part of a hypertrophy program ala armor building from Easy Strength

    Moving Target complex
    DL and some kind of press (low rep/volume)
    Hi rep squats (although other options are certainly possible)

    4-6 weeks and then move on. Just a thought. I’ll be exploring it in the next month.

    • After more thorough reading and reflection, that should be:
      Low rep/volume DL/Press
      Moving target
      Hi rep squat

  • Simple way to program this complex to get stronger and more muscular. Pick a pair of kettlebells you can press 6 times. Workout 3 days a week. Use a step cycle. Do the same workout 2 workout days in a row. Add a little to it. Example:
    Monday- complex for 1 set
    Wednesday- same as Monday
    Friday- complex for 1 set. Rest. Do first series of each part (2 rep series)
    Monday- same as Friday.
    Wednesday- complex for 1 set. Rest. Do the 2 rep and 3 rep series of each.
    Etc. continue until able to perform complex twice.

  • More Thoughts..

    6 Week Program x 3x Per week(as written)
    Week 1 x 1 round
    Week 2 x 2 rounds
    Week 3 x 3 rounds
    Week 4 x 1 round
    Week 5 x 2 rounds
    Week 6 x 3 rounds

    another option

    Changing the focus lift each session. So Press, Squat, Clean complex are on different days

    6 week Program 3x a Week(could add a 4th training day and use the clean complex 2x a week)

    Week 1
    Press Focus x 2sets(day 1)
    Clean Focus x 2sets(day 2)
    Squat Focus x 2sets(day 3)

    Week 2 x 3sets
    Week 3 x 4sets
    Week 4 x 2sets
    Week 5 x 3sets
    Week 6 x 5sets

  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday or (Saturday)

    *If the program as written is not “enough”, take that energy invest it in 1 set of 5 Evil Wheel Kneeling or Standing Jackknifes and 1 set of 5 Full Contact Twist. Work towards increasing those sets by 1 per exercise each week. 2X-wkly. Save the rest of your energy to recover and make the reps on your next practice.

    Week 1 – Complete the program exactly as written with bells you can strictly press for 10, my experience, which I do not confuse as fact, tells me that when complexing you need a higher capacity in order to deliver those reps across the board and have the horsepower to move up. If the start weight while fresh is too close to the target reps when not fresh you will stall the cycle out. Your results may differ, learned this during 3 cycles of Kettlebell Muscle and 1 cycle of Return of the Kettlebell. Your workload will be going up very soon, so build a little momentum and if you feel great afterwards, congratulations you will be ready to move up when the time arrives.

    1 clean + 2 presses + 1 squat
    Rest
    1 clean + 3 presses + 1 squat
    Rest
    1 clean + 5 presses + 1 squat
    Rest

    Then repeat the process with squats, using the same bells:

    1 clean + 1 press + 2 squats
    Rest
    1 clean + 1 press + 3 squats
    Rest
    1 clean + 1 press + 5 squats
    Rest

    And finally with cleans:

    2 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
    Rest
    3 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
    Rest
    5 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
    Rest

    Wk 2 –
    Monday all cleans that are 1 move to 2,
    Wed – repeat Monday to secure your gain and get the conditioning effect of the cleans on the front end of the cycle
    Friday all squats that are 1 move to 2

    Wk 3 –
    Monday all cleans that are 2 move to 3 – except the (2,3,5)
    Wed – repeat Monday, if you feel awesome start working on moving some of the press 1’s to 2’s
    Friday – squat 2’s move to 3’s – except the (2,3,5) squat complex leave that the same

    Wk 4 – Repeat the previous Friday’s practice Mon,Wed, Fri
    This is an active deload. We know the clean practice will condition and WTHE the press. We know the DFSQ will also WTHE the press. We know we could press the bells for 10 so we are gaining the ability to endure that level of strength while complexing. We also know that repeating the practice will make you stronger as your perceived level of effort will decrease.

    Wk 5 –
    Monday – cleans move to 4, presses all 1’s should be at 2, leave the (complex with 2,3,5 cleans) the same
    Wed – repeat Monday, press 1’s should be at 2
    Friday – squats to 4, leave the (complex with 2,3,5 squats) the same

    Wk 6 –
    Monday – cleans to 5, leave the (complex with 2,3,5 cleans) the same
    Wed – repeat Monday
    Friday – Squats to 5, leave the (complex with 2,3,5 squats) the same

    Press is sandwiched in the middle, you are getting multiple “waves” with the press being the bottom of the wave between the clean and the squat from an exertion standpoint.

    You are also getting another wave by increasing on Mon and Friday with Wed being your “consolidate your gains” day.

    Wavy is good.

    Wk 7 – Rest, Feed your body well and you can test by Rep Maxing with your former 10 rep weight to see how much you went up in terms of reps, then increase the weight OR bump your start weight by 4kg then test your Rep Max. You will already know your clean and squat have become stronger.

    • Hunter, yes, but you need to figure out the progression or wait until I select a few from others in a future blog.

    • I think a very simple way to program this complex is to do it 3 days a week and always for 2 sets. The progression would be to take a minute of rest away before the second set every workout (for 4 weeks) or every third workout (for 6 weeks) like a step cycle progression. This way you would progressively do more work in less time.

  • Here’s what I would do.

    Find actual RM for the press with intended bells you will be using. Only count strict reps.

    4 day split:

    Clean day, Press day, Squat day, Unilateral day

    Week 1:

    2,3,(RM-3) ladder x 2 for days 1-3
    C/S/P ladder on unilateral day up to 5 (crisp, explosive emphasis) with bell 2 sizes lower

    Week 2:

    2,3,(RM-2) ladder x 2
    C/S/P ladder on unilateral day for same reps as week 1

    Week 3:

    2,3,(RM-1) ladder x 1, then (RM-1) x 1
    C/S/P ladder on unilateral day up to 6 (still 2 bell sizes lighter)

    Week 4:

    2,3,RM ladder x 1, then RM x 1
    C/S/P ladder unilateral to 6

    Week 5:

    Retest Press RM on day 1. Enjoy stronger cleans and squats.

    Note: Accelerate your progress by eating enough to support hypertrophy.

    • Realizing now this is a “stand-alone” program, I would modify the above to NOT be broken in to press/clean/squat days. Complete the reps indicated for each movement, 3x per week to get in the needed rep volume. If using a lower RM (3-6), make one of the three days a “light” day by using a bell one size lower. Uni day is optional. Cheers!

  • For this progression use bells closer to the 8rm. 6rm may be too heavy to progress.
    Do the workout three times a week. Add a rep to the top set of the 2,3,5 movement every week. Week two it would be 2,3,6.
    After five more weeks you should be at 2,3,10. Take a de-load week doing 2,3,5 again. Start your next week at 2,3,5 with heavier kettlebells.

    The second program option is add a rep to the lower set of the 2,3,5 exercise each day. Much like the fighter pullups. This could be done with a heavier 6RM bell. First workout should be done as listed above.
    Following workouts the 2,3,5 is modified in the following pattern:
    3,3,5
    3,4,5
    4,4,5
    4,5,5
    5,5,5
    At this point a heavier set of kettlebells should bs attempted.

  • What would be main goal to achieve through such program? Muscle gain, strength gain, technique improvement?

  • Another simple approach is to use the ROTK “rules” start with 3 rungs, when you can work up to 5 rungs, start shaving off time.. when you hit a stop, move up a pair of bells

  • Workout three times per week utilising the H,L,M schedule from ROP

    Heavy = 3 rungs
    Light = 1 rung
    Medium = 2 rungs

    Week 1 = 2 sets each of the three days
    Week 2 = 3 sets
    Week 3 = 4 sets
    Week 4 = 3 sets
    Week 5 = 4 sets
    Week 6 = 5 sets
    Week 7 = rest (Original Strength)

  • I have been something similar, but a little different ever since my SFG Grad Workout 6 months ago. For the 2013 Philly SFG we did Dan John’s “2-1-3” workout which consists of “2 cleans – 1 press – 3 squats” with a pair of your snatch size bells. I loved that workout and I have been doing it every week since. I am going to estimate that we did 20 sets of the 2-1-3 which set the baseline for what I did when I resumed my post SFG training.

    SFG 24×20

    Week 1:
    32 x 5
    36 x 3
    40 x 1

    Week 2:
    32 x 4
    36 x 4
    40 x 2

    Week 3:
    32 x 3
    36 x 5
    40 x 3

    Week 4:
    32 x 2
    36 x 4
    40 x 4

    Week 5:
    32 x 1
    36 x 3
    40 x 5

    Week 6:
    TEST

    As you can see, I kept roughly the same volume as my “moving target” became heavier bells. 6 weeks of this took my best press with a pair of 40’s from 3 to 5 reps. I cycled through this again using a single warmup set with both the 32 & 36, adding sets each week with the 40’s. In the 6 months that I’ve been using the “2-1-3” workout I’ve played around with consecutive sets (no put downs), weight ladders, adding pulls ups after each round, decreasing rest and I am currently working on repeating the Grad Workout with 32’s x 20 sets at a 1:1 work rest ratio.

    The “C, P, Sq” complex is great anyway you slice it and I am especially fond of the “2-1-3”

      • In Easy Strength (p. 191), DJ talks about the “1-3-2” workout (1 clean, 3 presses, 2 squats) as his favourite “armour building”.

        Any comments on that one?

        I prefer the “2-1-3” myself!

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