06 Jan Kettlebell Chain Vs. Kettlebell Complex. Which is Better?

Kettlebell complexes are extremely effective, without question.

But what about a kettlebell chain, where does that fit in?

Let’s take a look at both and compare them to better understand the differences.

Just as a refresher, let’s review the definitions.

A kettlebell complex is a series of exercises performed in a sequence with the same weight and without rest.  All reps of an exercise are performed BEFORE moving on to the next exercise.

Personally, I love double kettlebell complexes for many reasons.

They offer massive benefits in a time efficient training session.

I’m talking big time results here, which is one reason why I created The “Shock and Awe” Protocol and it’s also the reason I’m developing a powerful follow-up to that training program right now, but more on that later…

I’ve been doing complexes for some time, but recently I’ve been doing a lot more experimenting with kettlebell chains.

No, not actual chains, but a “chain” or sequence of exercises, performed differently than a complex.

Here’s how a kettlebell chain is defined.

A kettlebell chain is a series of exercises performed sequentially, but the difference is that you perform only one rep of each exercise in the sequence before staring the sequence over again.  Each time the sequence of exercises is performed, it counts as one rep.

For example, a double kettlebell chain could look like this:

  • Kettlebell Clean x 1
  • Kettlebell Front Squat x 1
  • Kettlebell Press x 1 (so, 1 clean, 1 front squat, 1 press)
  • Then repeat the sequence performing 5 reps for each exercise for a total of 15 reps total.

That is a kettlebell chain.

You might be wondering why perform a chain as opposed to doing a similar kettlebell complex?

Great question.

A similar kettlebell complex would look like this (remember, you’re doing 5 reps of each exercise BEFORE moving on to the next):

  • Kettlebell Cleans x 5
  • Kettlebell Front Squats x 5
  • Kettlebell Presses x 5
  • (Note: the reps in one round are the same as the chain listed above, 15 total)

In my opinion, the kettlebell chain demands more motor control and coordination due to the constant change in the flow and dynamics of the exercise sequencing, moving from one clean to one front squat, etc.

In other words, it’s a more coordinated effort to move through the sequence one rep at a time, as opposed to a complex in which you are staying with an exercise for 5 reps before moving on to the next.

Think about the complexity of movement pattern if you have a 5 exercise chain, for example.

Now, for muscle building benefits, I tend to believe that the complex is a better option due to increasing the time under tension for each given exercise (5 reps for a complex vs. 1 rep for a chain).

Is the chain a better option for conditioning and fat loss, as opposed to strength and hypertrophy?


Although this certainly could be debated.

My preference right now would be to stick with the complex for size and strength, although I’m still experimenting with the benefits of the chain and they certainly do have a strong role in strength and conditioning.

There are many options with chains and they are also very physically demanding, just like a complex.

I do like the coordinated flow of movement with a chain and the conditioning is excellent, so it’s a great addition to the kettlebell programming.

Which is better?

All depends on the training goal, skill level, programming, and personal preference.

Kettlebell chains offer another great training option with the kettlebell, or barbell, for that matter.

And, chains and complexes can be done with a single kettlebell or double kettlebells (although my preference is doubles).

If you haven’t done a kettlebell chain, test them out with the example above and see what you think.

Perform 5 rounds and you might be surprised (and gassed) by how effective they are and how different they feel from a kettlebell complex.

Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS writes about training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this article, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff! Subscribe below or go to RdellaTraining.com/join to get your FREE Report, Kettlebell Impact with 12 of my best Kettlebell Workouts.
  • BCF
    Posted at 22:09h, 06 January Reply

    You can also go heavier with chains. Heavy complexes can get a little sloppy at the end. Started Shock and Awe today.

    Great stuff Scott.

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