How to integrate kettlebell WODs into your CrossFit programming?

CrossFit is a sport created in 2000 in the United States by Greg Glassman. It is a multidisciplinary sport practice, which is similar to a cross-training methodology. Beyond a training method, it is also a brand and a sport in its own right with its own rules, its own competitions and its own stars. The CrossFit Games, which take place every year, are the consecration of this. They culminate in the nomination of the  fittest  woman and  man on earth , i.e. the people with the most developed physical abilities.

Like all cross-training methods, CrossFit (contraction of cross and fitness) brings together several disciplines :

  • Weightlifting, which includes all exercises performed with weights. Athletes use equipment such as barbells or dumbbells.
  • Gymnastics, which includes all body weight exercises. There are exercises such as pull-ups, gym ring movements, burpees, etc.
  • Endurance sports, which include all cardio type exercises. The main exercises are running, elliptical, rowing, etc.

The principle of CrossFit is to be a training method based on functional movements performed at high intensity, with no or very short rest periods. The logic is therefore different from classic strength training in the gym, which often consists of using weight machines to isolate certain muscle groups. CrossFit is a methodology that can be used as part of a fitness regimen, or physical preparation with the aim of developing athletic ability and physical conditioning. Generally, the sessions take place in specific rooms and are supervised by coaches.

The emblematic exercises of this sport include all variants of Olympic movements such as the clean, snatch and deadlift, as well as gymnastic movements such as the kipping pull-up, butterfly pull-up, muscle-up and handstand push-up .

Within weightlifting-type movements, the most commonly used equipment is the Olympic bar, known to all well beyond the borders of CrossFit : bodybuilding, powerlifting… But less popular types of equipment are also used, such as yokes, Atlas stones, and of course kettlebells !

What is the importance ofkettlebell training in CrossFit? How to integrate it into your sessions? These are questions that we will try to answer in this article.

Kettlebell WOD 2

Main kettlebell exercises WOD CrossFit

The kettlebell WOD exercises that appear most on the official schedule are the following:

  • Kettlebell american swing
  • Kettlebell sumo deadlift high pull
  • Kettlebell snatch
  • Kettlebell lunge
  • Kettlebell thruster
  • Kettlebell pistol squat

The American kettlebell swing :

Unquestionably the most famous kettlebell movement in CrossFit, the American swing is a variation of the classic Russian swing. Generally practiced with lighter loads, it consists of bringing the kettlebell overhead with a powerful hip extension (while in its Russian version the kettlebell is brought only to the chest).

There is significant debate within the CrossFit and kettlebell communities about the merits of this exercise and the risk of injury associated with it, but that is not the focus of this article. We will only take into account that the American swing is the version recommended by the CrossFit methodology.

Here’s how Greg Glassman, creator of CrossFit, justifies the use of this variant (adapted from English by the author) :

“We don’t do pull-up halves, we don’t do squat halves and we don’t do push-up halves. If there is a natural range of motion for any exercise, we prefer to use it. To do otherwise doesn’t feel natural. We would say that partial reps are neurologically incomplete.”

“More work in less time, or more weight moved farther in less time, is largely a measure of the effectiveness of an exercise. When we swing the kettlebell overhead, we almost double the amplitude of movement compared to the Russian swing, doubling the work done with each repetition. For a given period, power would only be equivalent if the Russian swing rate were double the American swing rate. “

Whether we agree or not, if you are doing CrossFit competitively you need to know how to do this exercise.

The sumo deadlift high pull kettlebell :

Another very controversial exercise, the sumo deadlift high pull is one of the basic movements of the CrossFit method. The kettlebell version involves performing a sumo deadlift, finishing with a chin-up kettlebell pull.

This exercise differs from the swing in the following ways :

  • A hip extension without momentum since the kettlebell starts from the ground
  • More upper body work due to the final draw

The kettlebell snatch:

The kettlebell snatch is a kettlebell variation of the Olympic weightlifting snatch. It could be likened to a snatch muscle, but differs slightly in that the kettlebell passes between the legs while the bar remains in front. The hinge movement is therefore more pronounced on a kettlebell snatch than on a barbell snatch muscle. Passing between the legs also allows you to take advantage of the momentum, which is not the case in traditional weightlifting.

In CrossFit, the kettlebell snatch is done more like a hardstyle than a sport style (sport girevoy). Indeed, the hardstyle version allows for a faster pace of execution and therefore better times on WODs.

The kettlebell lunge :

Kettlebell lunges are also often found in CrossFit. The exercise is commonly performed in two ways :

  • Kettlebells in the front rack position (placed on the shoulders)
  • Kettlebells in overhead position (arms stretched overhead)

Whichever version you use, it’s generally a matter of moving forward in lunges with a certain distance to cover.

The kettlebell thruster :

As with the Olympic barbell version, this involves a front squat followed by an overhead press. The thruster is one of the two movements that make up one of the most well-known WODs in CrossFit, the Fran WOD (21-15-9 Tractions/Thrusters).

Physically very demanding, mainly in terms of cardio, it is feared by most practitioners. But this difficulty makes it a fearsome exercise for developing ironclad fitness.

The kettelbell pistol squat or single-leg squat :

The pistol squat is a variant of the single-leg squat, performed with the secondary leg extended in front of you, not bent behind you. The pistol squat can be performed weighted with a kettlebell in the front rack position to increase the difficulty of the exercise.

To a lesser extent, the following kettlebell exercises can also be found in CrossFit :

  • Kettlebell deadlift
  • Kettlebell farmer carry
  • Kettlebell clean and jerk
  • Kettlebell overhead squat
  • Kettlebell front squat

Kettlebell WOD 3

Are kettlebell WODs often scheduled in CrossFit?

On the official website, the kettlebell is scheduled on average between 10 and 15 times per year. For example, it has been scheduled 12 times in 2022. At the CrossFit Games, the kettlebell is scheduled almost every year in at least one event.

Examples of kettlebell WODs at the CrossFit Games (not an exhaustive list):

  • 2010 ” Pyramid Double Helen ” : kettlebell swings
  • 2011 ” The End ” : kettlebell sumo deadlift high-pulls
  • 2013 ” The Cinco 1 ” : kettlebell pistol squats
  • 2014 ” The Beach ” : kettlebell thrusters
  • 2015 ” Pedal To The Metal 2 ” : kettlebell deadlifts
  • 2018 ” Fibonacci ” : kettlebell deadlifts & kettlebell overhead lunges
  • 2019 ” Second Cut ” : kettlebell shoulder-to-overheads
  • 2020 ” Toes-To-Bar/Lunge ” : kettlebell lunges
  • 2022 ” The Alpaca ” : kettlebell clean-and-jerks

Although the kettlebell is much less widely used than the Olympic bar, it is still a key element of CrossFit and must be mastered by those wishing to compete.


Benefits of the kettlebell WOD in CrossFit

Beyond the kettlebell’s use in competition, it’s also worth using it in your CrossFit training for other reasons. Thanks to its atypical shape and eccentric center of gravity, it offers certain benefits that cannot be achieved with other types of equipment :

Ballistic movements:

With its handle above the weight, the kettlebell is ideal for ballistic movements such as swings. This type of movement corresponds to maximum acceleration of the body or an object, with no deceleration/retention phase at the end of the movement (when throwing something, for example). This allows you to work with maximum explosiveness and therefore develop power efficiently.

Activation of the shoulder stabilizing muscles:

Thanks to its eccentric center of gravity, the kettlebell also activates the shoulder stabilizer muscles during upper-body pushing movements. In an overhead press, for example, the kettlebell will not rest on the center of the hand as with a dumbbell, but on the forearm. This imbalance pulls the shoulder into external rotation, forcing it to remain upright. The kettlebell is therefore highly effective in developing upper-limb stability.

More grip work:

All hinge-type movements performed explosively with the kettlebell, such as swings, cleans or snatches, involve a negative phase at relatively high speed (kettlebell descent phase). To retain the weight, the grip is put to the test.

Kettlebell WOD 4

12 kettlebell WOD CrossFit

Would you like to train specifically with the kettlebell or are you on vacation and the kettlebell is the only equipment you have access to ? Here are 12 CrossFit WODs you can do with just 1 or 2 kettlebells and some bodyweight exercises. These WODs are divided into three categories : For Time (on the clock), AMRAP (as many laps as possible), EMOM (every minute for so many minutes).

Kettlebell WOD For Time (sequence to be performed as quickly as possible) :

WOD 1 :

21 double kettlebell cleans

21 pumps

15 double kettlebell cleans

15 pumps

9 double kettlebell cleans

9 pumps

WOD 2 :

50 kettlebell swings

50 air squats

40 kettlebell swings

40 air squats

30 kettlebell swings

30 air squats

20 kettlebell swings

20 air squats

10 kettlebell swings

10 air squats

WOD 3 :

100 single-arm snatches

(50 right arms and 50 left arms, you can change hands as many times as you like)

WOD 4 :

21 kettlebell swings

21 sit-ups

15 kettlebell swings

15 sit-ups

9 kettlebell swings

9 sit-ups


Kettlebell WOD AMRAP (do as many rounds as possible in the time allowed) :

WOD 5 : AMRAP 12 minutes

12 kettlebell swings
12 kettlebell goblet squats
12 single-arm kettlebell push presses

WOD 6 : AMRAP 20 minutes

10 kettlebell sumo deadlift high pulls

10 kettlebell thrusters

WOD 7 : AMRAP 10 minutes

5 double kettlebell front squats

20m double kettlebell farmer carry

WOD 8 : AMRAP 15 minutes

10 kettlebell lunges

10 single-arm kettlebell cleans (5 per arm)

Kettlebell WOD EMOM (sequence to be performed at the beginning of each minute of the allotted time) :

WOD 9 : EMOM 10 minutes

5 double kettlebell overhead presses

WOD 10 : EMOM 10 minutes

Even minutes : 5 double kettlebell thrusters

Odd minutes : 5 kettlebell gorilla rows

WOD 11 : EMOM 20 minutes

Even minutes : 10 double kettlebell high-pulls

Odd minutes : 10 double kettlebell front squats

WOD 12: EMOM 12 minutes

6 kettlebell clean-and-jerks



These WODs are examples of the work you can do with kettlebells. You can also design your own WODs.

For Time and AMRAP are more metabolic conditioning WODs with a relatively high volume of work, which help to develop work capacity : performing a given task as quickly as possible or doing as much work as possible in a given time. The general idea is that it’s a good idea to select two exercises with opposite motor patterns : a pulling exercise (upper or lower body) such as rowing, swing, clean, etc., and a pushing exercise (upper or lower body) such as squat, press, jerk, etc.

The EMOMs are more about developing strength and technique. The volume of work is lower, but the intensity is higher (the loads used are greater). It is the ideal format to progress on one or two exercises in particular.


Other articles that might interest you:


Sources :