Losing Fat & Building Muscle with Kettlebells

Being a naturally skinny guy, I always like to know what the big guys are doing to get big.  When you've got a former NFL Lineman on the phone who also happens to be an RKC, you listen to what he has to say because he's been to that elite level both with his body and his training.

In Part 2 of my interview with Forest Vance we talk, first, about extreme fat loss and then we talk about programming similarities between losing fat and building muscle.

Again, a lot of great kettlebell training information here.  Make sure you read to the end.  If you missed Part 1, click HERE.


Chris Lopez: Those are great. I find that in my programs as well, pretty much the same thing as you like we are really lacking in true pulling, upper back type of exercises when it comes to the six core hard style drills. I’ll add those in as well. I’ll add in a row a swell every now and then. A staggered row we will add it in for reps and stuff.

Forest Vance: I was going to say the renegade row almost made it in. Like I said, that’s another good one. That’s another row where your push up position and you are doing your row which is a killer ab exercise too. I wanted to keep it simple, I did my top four.

Chris Lopez: I’m glad you mentioned the renegade row as well. So the renegade row requires two kettlebells. If somebody only has one kettlebell what kind of program considerations did you make for them? Let’s say – let’s go from a fat loss perspective first. You want to lose a ton of fat. You only have one kettlebell, one size. What kind of programming considerations would you make for somebody like that?

Forest Vance: That’s a good question. I think that a lot of people that are getting started only have one kettlebell. We have – we, in fact, in my training studio get people like that in all the time . I am just getting started I don’t want to, you know, get too far in-depth into this and have to buy five of them and drop, you know, 500 dollars or whatever. I don’t really know if I am going to like it, if I am going to get into it so what do I do with one, right? I'm sure you get that common question as well.

I don’t think, to first answer your question ideally you would want to have two. Certainly the two core exercises that we always teach everybody are the Swing and the Turkish Getup. And most people are going to be stronger in the swing and need a larger weight to challenge themselves than the Getup. But that means if you only have two one thing is the Swing should be the first movement you try anyways. Especially for fat loss, you are going to get a lot of conditioning. It works nearly every major muscle. It is fantastic conditioning exercise. If you are programming for fat loss and you only have one kettlebell my answer would be make the swing kind of the central focus of your program to start off with. So you can certainly program for the swing and combine that with other modalities like basic body weight movements.

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Another thing we do a lot of at my training center, we do a lot of stuff at the center and also incorporate an outdoor day at a park that is fairly close we will go out there too. We do like a road work type of thing where we will combine cardio with kettlebells so you are doing swings and then you are jogging and maybe you are doing swings and burpees. Swings and you are doing other kind of bodyweight modalities.

The other thing when you are first learning the getup the Turkish getup the right way to do that is with no added weight or a very small amount of weight. You can – I remember at the RKC when we learned the Getup they have to it was like three reps so slowly. It was like and I had never done a Turkish getup that slowly it literally took us 60 seconds to stand up. It is fatiguing –  really fatiguing and you aren't carrying any weight. That is a good way to get down movements technically – it is a tricky movement to get down. I would say you can certainly practice the Turkish getup with no weight once you start incorporating that movement. Then you can use a very light – you can use like a water bottle or something and balance that on top of your fist and do the Turkish getup that way.

You can learn those two movements. Then once you get up to the point let’s say you have a medium size bell you could be doing your Turkish getups and maybe you will start with one-hand swings and two-hand swings and then hand-to-hand swings and you are working up doing high-pulls and snatches. And then once you get your strength up you should be able to do Turkish getups or at least half getups with that same weight. I would say that is how I would approach it if somebody had a single kettlebell and they wanted to get the most out of it.

Chris Lopez: Good stuff. I’m glad you mentioned the getup. I remember I was on a Ryan Lee[ph] conference a few years ago and Dave Whitley[ph] was there and he was putting everybody through a workout and so I participated as well. He brought some kettlebells in. I think I used a 16 kilogram. Basically what he had us do is hold each element of the getup for 30 seconds really focusing on form. So we did getups and it literally took us I think about five minutes to get up and five minutes to get down holding each pose for 30 seconds by the end of it we were drenched in sweat. A 16k isn’t that heavy – I mean obviously it wouldn’t be that heavy for you. It isn’t that heavy for me. That is like a 35 pound bell.

Forest Vance: That’s crazy. That’s heavy. That’s pretty tough.

Chris Lopez: For 30 seconds. It was crazy. I’m not that heavy of a guy either I was drenched. It was like better than a Tabata –  it was like a four minute workout it was crazy. It was really interesting. There is something that people can take away as well. You can take something as light as a 16k or even a 12k if you are using that and make it as heavy as you want just by increasing the time you're under tension.

Forest Vance: Absolutely. Absolutely. If you are inventive you can do a lot with one kettlebell. And just the basic six movements. You can work out probably, for years. It is nice to have more stuff just a little bit it is not necessarily required.

Chris Lopez: Good point. Good point. I want to talk a little bit about gaining muscle. Since we are on the fat loss thing let’s kind of go with that and we will come back to muscle gain. My subscriber there is two types of people. There is the type that has to lose anywhere from 10, 20 even 30 pounds of fat and they are advanced fat loss people who want to get to single digit body fat. So let’s touch on the first type of person. What would you do or how would you program somebody – let’s make it an all-encompassing type of approach. Let’s talk about nutrition maybe lifestyle a little bit and definitely about training. If somebody had like say 10, 20 or 30 pounds let’s say 30 pounds of fat to lose, what type of considerations would you make for that type of person?

Forest Vance: This is a good and timely question. We are right in the middle of a – we are doing a 30 day back to school rapid fat loss challenge at my training studio right now. I would say probably the person with 30 pounds of fat to lose are 80% of the people that are signed up. So that’s good. That is right on the top of mind thing. So if we were going to train specifically with kettlebells what I would do is take the same approach we were talking about learning the swings and the Turkish getup. In terms of a skill standpoint you have to have the form down on those two and all the other movements are building off of those two exercises. We have to make sure they have a base with those.

In terms of – that is from the skill side. In terms of actually programming we would put an emphasis on just like I mentioned doing road work conditioning type of workouts. Especially if someone is trying to lose weight and part of that is trying to burn as many calories as possible. I am a fan of combining that type of workout – maybe a lighter, conditioning road work type of stuff. We are getting outside, we are taking the kettlebells to the park or we are combining metabolic type of conditioning stuff. And with our workouts. We are running around the building a couple of times and doing some kettlebell stuff. That would be our main focus. We might do a couple of strengths. Heavy lifting days per week. But certainly if they are serious about losing as much fat as possible trying to get them to work out from a scientific standpoint of what works the best but also from like a mental standpoint most five to six days a week is the best. Get people into the habit of working out instantly and doing something every day.

The good thing about kettlebells is you don’t have to necessarily workout for an hour and a half – 20 to 30 minutes and you are smoked after 20 to 30 minutes of effective, well put-together kettlebell work out. A typical approach like what I have my challengers doing is they are doing three actual training workouts at the studio which is going to be predominantly kettlebells, body weight, that type of stuff mixed in. Then they are also doing three interval based cardio workouts – running, biking, swimming, etc. it is a total of six times per week. Does that answer your question about the programming side?

Chris Lopez:  I like how you said training five to six days a week. There are so many people out there that say you guys train three times a week and going over that is overtraining. The fact is even from a mental standpoint you are incorporating that habit and getting used to the habit of exercise. Especially for someone who has to lose as much as 30 pounds it is so important. I am glad you mentioned that.

Forest Vance: Absolutely. Not that you – you might not want to be doing the heavy swing and press ladders six days a week for sure. You got to incorporate recovery. That is certainly a factor. But if someone is trying to get into the habit of working out which is for a lot of people that are in that realm of 30 pounds of weight to lose they are still incorporating that into their lifestyle. We have to get them moving every day. It works out great to have inteval cardio day and a strength based day which can vary depending on what your goals are. And alternate back and forth during the week. That is what I did when I lost 60 plus pounds in just over six months.

Chris Lopez: So that is the 30 pounds overweight person. What about the more advanced person? Say going someone wants to go from 11 to 8% or like 10 to 6% or whatever?

Forest Vance: Sure. Sure. I would say – so my personal experience getting into this realm is right before my wedding. I got married it was three years ago. So I had lost about 60 pounds from my point of being 310 pounds down to 250. At that point I had a really strong motivation. Getting down to say 6% body fat or 5% body fat that is one of those things you are going to need – for most people it is a strong motivation to do it, right? Like an event coming up you got something going on or a photo-shoot or whatever it is. That being said, diet is probably 80% of the equation. I know we might get to this a little bit later.

The same goes for the person who is trying to lose 30 pounds. Losing those first 20, 30 pounds in my experience a lot of people can be taking a little bit more – they certainly definitely pay attention to their diet – but not necessarily – if they are 30 pounds overweight, 40 pounds overweight they are probably not eating that great to start off with. They are probably eating out fairly frequently, probably not eating that consistently. They are probably not eating that good. If you are 10 to 12% body fat you are probably eating fairly good, but now you like really have to dial it in. you have to take out all of your processed carbohydrates. You have to make sure you are eating super clean foods. Vegetables, fruit, lean meat, nuts and seeds, very little starch, very little sugar. Probably tracking very carefully you have to see how many calories you are weighing and taking your body fat on a consistent basis and adjusting as you go. Like I said, nutrition would be a huge focus at that point.

I would say on the training side I have had a lot of success with kettlebell circuit, different people it seems like call them different things. Jeff Nupert[ph] has an awesome book on – what is the name of it? Why can’t I think of it right now? What is the book on the kettlebell circuit stuff? You know it off the top of your head, Chris?

Chris Lopez: It’s not Express is it? Or kettlebell Burn?

Forest Vance: kettlebell Burn, exactly. So he calls them – he has two different words for them. He has a change and circuits. Chains and complexes. So the complexes are often. Where you are combining together different movements into a sequence like snatch, squat to a push press. You are doing five reps of a snatch, five reps of seesaw grabs, five reps of hard squat, five reps of swing. And although that book is more oriented toward the muscle gain stuff and the tension stuff you can approach those types of complexes and circuits in a slightly different way to where you are really burning a maximum amount of fat in a short amount of time. I would say doing that kind of stuff – the thing is you are training is fairly similar and your diet can be super, duper dialed in and that can very easily get you down to that low, low body fat percentage.

My answer would be the biggest key is your diet when you are trying to get to a lower body fat.

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