By Levi Markwardt

Kettlebell Cardio Workout

Functional Stamina

Growing up and all the way through college I wrestled. If you’ve wrestled, you’ll know exactly what I’m saying. If not, you’re missing out! J  There is something about wearing out, outlasting, out working your opponent this why Kettlebell Cardio Workout is so important to add to your training. In a sport like wrestling, strength endurance (or conditioning) must be trained. It’s much more than weight room strength. It’s the ability to ignore fatigue breathing down your back and still be able to perform the tasks and skills required to win. I’ve always been a big believer in conditioning and the mantra – Conditioning is King.

Real life is this way for me as well. Do I have the ability to endure? But more than just endure – do I have the ability to thrive? Can I become comfortable with the uncomfortable? You might be thinking – “All sounds great, Levi, but how?”

I’ve simplified my own training significantly. The kettlebell (KB) is the center of my training world – and for many of my clients a kettlebell workout completes their unconventional training.  Nothing wrong with a barbell and the classic strength lifts. If you enjoy them PLEASE keep doing them. This is just about improving your strength endurance through doing the Kettlebell Cardio Workout. And the Kettlebell Cardio Workout is so effective just adding one or two of these sessions each week (depending on various factors) could really enhance your strength endurance. Kettlebell exercises for stamina work!

The Kettlebell Cardio Workout Method:

1. I always start with the swing. Our first Principle at Strength Matters ( where unconventional training is embraced- the swing is the center of the KB universe. To quote my friend and mentor Mark Reifkind, “It’s been said that a properly executed KB swing is better than 99% of all strength and conditioning exercises – some disagree – but it can be argued that it’s 100% better than ALL strength and conditioning exercises – for 99% of the population!”

But we’ll assume (for the sake of this blog) you’re familiar and trained in the swing. It’s efficient and powerful, but you’re looking for more variation or something that doesn’t require as heavy a bell to elevate your heart rate.

2.  Enter the “KB Snatch”. While the swing is the workhorse the snatch is the star. The snatch works the entire body and gets the shoulders, arms and upper back in an entirely different way than the swing. The bell also travels the longest possible arc, and the forces necessary to propel and control it overhead and back down into the backswing are very high.

So again – I’m assuming you’ve learned how to swing and it’s on auto-pilot. You’ve now learned how to snatch. You’re form is clean, your hands are toughening up, and you’re efficient.

The Snatch and Cardio

One training protocol that has changed my view on “cardio” is Viking Warrior Conditioning by Kenneth Jay. The first protocol (and there is a pre-test you need to complete within) is essentially snatching for: 15 (reps and load determined by test), resting for: 15 – switch arms and repeat – for the duration you’re currently on.

Admittingly, I modified his suggestions. I don’t recommend doing that, but I needed to adjust due to my schedule and family. My adjustments were simple and ended up being highly effective. My load was 24kg and my rep scheme was 8 reps in: 15. Yes, it’s a brutal pace. I only completed this “workout” 1x each week within my own programming.

After each successful kettlebell workout using this method, I added 15% to my working time. So if I completed 18:00, my next workout the next week was 21:00. If I was unable to complete the workout (fatigue, lack of focus, hand tear, etc) I repeated the same duration the next week.

Every 4th to 6th week I took a deload, or a scaled back session, eventually getting to the 640 snatches 40:00.

If you decide to follow Levis professional instruction feel free to submit your video or write up to  UnconventionalAthletes.Com with your Kettlebell Cardio progress!!!

– I certainly don’t expect you to watch that entire video; it’s just a reference.

This isn’t something you jump into. The groundwork must be laid – your foundation set. This is a proven protocol to take your strength endurance and cardio to the next level – or two! You’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process too. Commit and finish! Many don’t think about kettlebell exercises for stamina, but this method is seriously effective!

A few pointers:

  • Use chalk
  • Have a dry hand towel nearby to help keep hands dry.
  • Wear tight, long sleeves. Or Arm sleeves
    • Sweat is your enemy and will ruin your grip. The sleeves will help absorb and thus keep your hands and handle dry.
  • Use two bells and alternate if available. Again – less sweat on the handles.
  • Be patient in your progressions and trust the process
Kettlebell Cardio Workout

“Only when standing at the brink of destruction does man truly realize his potential.”



Levi Markwardt, 38, is a former collegiate wrestler and has also participated in grueling adventure races. He now operates a 24- hour health club and performance training center in Northwest Iowa, USA. Along with being a certified personal trainer (NSCA), Levi is also a hard-style kettlebell instructor (SMK, RKC), utilizing both conventional and unconventional methods to train young athletes, adults and law enforcement officers. Levi is married and has a daughter.

Levi Markwardt, SMK, RKC, NSCA-CPT
Athletic Republic Spirit Lake – 712.336.4040
1390 Lake Street – Spirit Lake, IA 51360