Religion and pop culture are both filled with references to chains holding you down, and those chains subsequently being broken. They paint chains as negative things and being free from them as empowering. Chains, in this context are bad. So are chain letters, email and texts. Those stink. If you send them to people, stop it.
But not all chains are bad. Enter the kettlebell chain. So what the heck is a kettlebell chain you ask? Chains fall into the same category as hybrid exercises and complexes. If you missed our post on hybrid exercises, you can read that here. Complexes to quote strength coach Dan John are defined this way, “A complex is a series of lifts back to back where you finish the reps of one lift before moving on to the next lift. The barbell (or in this case, kettlebell) only leaves your hand or touches the floor after all of the lifts are completed.” Bear with me here as I am getting to chains. Chains much like complexes are a series of lifts where you don’t put the weight down until finished. The real difference here is that with a chain, you move from one move to the next after each rep. Here’s an example of each:
Kettlebell Snatch x 5
Kettlebell Clean and Press x 5
Kettlebell Front Squat x 5
Kettlebell High Pull x 5
This would play out as five reps on the snatch. Then follow that up with five reps of the clean and press. You finish with five reps on the squats and five high pulls. A chain on the other hand, using the same exercises would be written out like this:
Kettlebell Snatch x 1
Kettlebell Clean and Press x 1
Kettlebell Front Squat x1
Kettlebell High Pull x 1
The chain would play out this way. One rep on the snatch. Then follow that up with one rep of the clean and press. You finish with one rep of the front squat and one rep on the high pull. Then you would repeat for as many “reps” as your workout calls for before putting the bells down. If you were looking for the same volume as the above complex, you would repeat for four more rounds before putting down your kettlebells. Take a look at the video below to see what that would look like.
So what are they good for? Why would you choose a chain over a complex? Well, for one, like a complex, chains allow you to get a lot of work done in a short period of time. So they are pretty time efficient. Anyone that trains with us will recognize that time efficient also means your heart rate is going up, so there’s definitely a conditioning component to it. In addition, chains might be better for strength work when compared to complexes. I believe that because of the fact that you move from one exercise to another after one rep, you get a longer “rest” from that movement before you have to perform it again. Complexes on the other hand offer a little more localized fatigue since you complete all the reps of one exercise before moving on. To summarize, a chain offers both conditioning work and strength. Where as a complex offers conditioning and might be a bit better for hypertrophy or muscle gain.
Now before the purists get there pants in a twist here, I recognize that a kettlebell chain is not be the best option if you are looking to increase your strength in order to compete in a power lifting meet or olympic lifting competition. I get that. However, they could be a great addition to a program as assistance work for either of these kinds of athletes. The best strength application is for the average fitness enthusiast that wants to get stronger but needs a stream lined, time efficient approach. Okay, disclaimer over.
So if you have never performed a kettlebell chain, give the above series a try. Put 15 minutes on the clock and just total up as many reps of chain as you can in that time frame. If you give it a shot, leave me a comment below and let me know how it goes.
P.S. If a program that uses complexes, chains and hybrids sounds appealing to you, check out our KB 3:60 program. It might be just what you’re looking for.