Kettlebell Flows & Complexes
by Dave Randolph
creator of Spartan Warrior Challenge and 101 Conditioning Circuits
A flow is moving from one movement to the next without rest. With unilateral lifts you flow through the lifts on one side then switch and flow through the other side with no rest until both sides are completed. Depending on the exercises in the flow you may be able to do multiple sets without any rest.You can also repeat the flow on one side many times before switching sides.
A Complex is similar but you will perform multiple reps of a lift then move to the next exercise with no rest. This will make more sense when we look at some workouts. (click workout to see quick video demos)
You will do ONE rep of each of the above lifts. One time through the flow on one side equals 1 flow rep., You can do 1 flow rep on the right then on the left or you can do 5 flow reps before switching sides. That means you will go through the flow 5 times on the right side before switching and doing it 5 more times on the left. You may rest after you’ve done the specified number of flow reps on both sides.
When doing flows or complexes make sure you use the weight that is appropriate for your weakest lift. In the example above, your press weight is what you should use for the entire flow. While that will make the other lifts fairly easy, the press will be challenging, and your conditioning levels will be pushed pretty hard.
You can take the same exercises and turn them into a complex like so:
This translates to 5 reps of each lift, all on the right side then 5 reps of each lift all on the left. The entire complex is done 8 times for a total of 40 reps per side.
In this case you will probably have to go lighter since you now must be able to do 5 presses per arm versus one in the Flow sequence.
Looking again the at the flow, if you do the flow 5 times per side and do 8 sets of flow reps you will have done 40 reps of each exercise on both sides. If you do the complex with 5 reps per lift per side and 8 sets you will also have done 40 reps per side, but you should have been able to go heavier on the flow since you are only doing 1 rep versus 5.
If your press weight for 1 rep is 24k then you will have lifted 120k per side doing 1 flow rep on each side. Assuming you do the flow 5 times on each side and you do the whole thing 8 times you will have moved 9600k or 21,120 pounds.
That’s 24kx5 lifts x5 flow reps on the right = 600k and the same on the left is a total of 1200k times 8 sets =9600k or 21,120 lbs.
Calculating the tonnage of the complex: Assuming your 5 RM press weight is 20k and do the complex 8 times you will wind up moving 17,600lbs.(5 reps x20k x5 lifts = 500k per side or 1000k x 8 sets=8000k or 17,200lbs)
Why choose one over the other? It depends on your goals. Both will give you good conditioning, but the flow will let you go heavier allowing to get more total tonnage. The Complex should be more taxing in terms of conditioning than the Flow.
Obviously, you can modify the flow or complex reps and sets to suit yourself or your clients. You can even do the complex as a ladder.
That looks likes
Ladder 1 ((Snatch 10–>1 Handed Swing 10–>Clean 10–>Press 10—>Front Squat 10) x 1 r/l)
Ladder 2 ((Snatch 8–>1 Handed Swing 8–>Clean 8–>Press 8–>Front Squat 8) x 1 r/l)
Ladder 3 ((Snatch 6–>1 Handed Swing 6–>Clean 6–>Press 6–>Front Squat 6) x 1 r/l)
Ladder 4 ((Snatch 4–>1 Handed Swing 4–>Clean 4–>Press 4–>Front Squat 4) x 1 r/l)
Ladder 5 ((Snatch 2–>1 Handed Swing 2–>Clean 2–>Press 2–>Front Squat 2) x 1 r/l)
As you go through this try to go heavier each time you perform the complex. You might start off with 16k for Ladder 1, 18k for ladder 2, 20k ladder 3, 24k ladder 4, 28k ladder 5.
Here are some other flows and complexes with bells:
This one is a little different. You will start on the floor and do a getup. Once you are standing do an overhead windmill, then do a Hand to Hand Swing which puts the bell in the opposite hand. From there, Snatch it to overhead, then reverse the getup, aka Get Down). Once you are on the floor get up again, then Windmill, H2H Swing, Snatch, the get back down.
I’d keep this to no more than 5 times without rest.
If you want to do 3 to 5 flow reps before switching sides leave out the H2H swing until you are ready to switch sides. If you want to do 3 flow reps you’d do the Getup—>Windmill—>Snatch—>Get Down sequence 3 times. Then, on the last flow rep, you’d insert a H2H Swing before the Snatch which will place the bell on the other side.
While this could be done as a Complex I don’t recommend it. You would spend too much time with the bell over head and your arm will fatigue quickly.
With this one you do each lift by stepping with the right leg, when you complete the flow rep you will do a H2H swing then do each lift by stepping with the Left leg.
- Start with a bell in rack position on the right and stand tall.
- Step to the right into a lateral lunge and dump the bell then clean it and return to standing at the same time
- Keep the bell in rack position on the right and step back with the right leg into a reverse lunge.
- Step forward with the right foot and return to standing
- Press the bell overhead with the right hand
- Step forward with the right foot into a lunge while keeping the bell locked out in the overhead position
- Step back to standing with the right leg. Keep the bell overhead
- Step out to a shoulder width stance with the left foot and do an overhead windmill
- Return to standing and repeat the sequence for the specified number of flow reps on the right
- After you’ve done all the flow reps on the right, do a hand to hand swing so the bell is in the left
- Bring the bell to rack position then repeat the sequence stepping with the left foot
To do this as a Complex
Use the instructions above but do 5 reps on each lift before going to the next – 5 lateral lunge dead cleans on the right then 5 reverse lunges on the right, 5 presses on the right, 5 overhead forward lunges right and 5 windmills on the right. Then do a hand to hand swing and repeat on the left.
You will want to stay on the lighter side with this due to amount of time the bell will be overhead without rest.
Here’s one more, which I didn’t get to film. I learned it from Mike Mahler many years ago.
It requires two bells of the same size.
The basic version is:
Renegade Row—>Double Dead Clean
From pushup position on the bells, row one side then the other. Jump forward so the bells are between your legs and perform a double dead clean.
Place the bells back on the floor and return to pushup position. It’s kind of like a burpee.
You can add more lifts to this:
RR—>Double Dead Clean—>Double Front Squat—>Double Press (or Push Press or Jerk) then return to the RR.
From the RR position: Pushup—>RR—>Double Dead Snatch
As you can see this one can be made very challenging by adding in a few other movements to the mix and with doubles it is VERY tough. You want to keep it in the 5 to 8 rep range
Play around with the flows and complexes above then try to come up with your own, just make sure the transition between lifts and sides is smooth.
Dave Randolph is Author of many workout books including programs for Fitness Pros
101 Conditioning Circuits:30 Minute Done-For-You Conditioning Circuits For Fitness Pros
and Sparatan Warrior Challenge for Men– Rebrandable 6 Week Challenge for Fit Pros